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English Churches and Cathedrals Sustainability Review

Volume 785: debated on Wednesday 15 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect to receive the report of the English Churches and Cathedrals Sustainability Review, which was announced in 2016.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in doing so, declare my registered interest as president of the Historic Chapels Trust.

My Lords, I understand that the chair and the panel are currently finalising the report and recommendations in consultation with key stakeholders. It is hoped that they will submit the report to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for DCMS before the end of the year.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but does he realise how much concern there has been at the ending of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s dedicated scheme for major repairs to historic places of worship? Do the Government hope that the sustainability review report to which he referred will provide some answer and will it open some doors in the Treasury? If it does, what will be the position of non-conformist and Roman Catholic historic buildings, which do not fall within the remit of that sustainability review?

Of course, I understand the implications of the HLF’s fairly sudden decision to close the grants for the places of worship scheme. As a result, the Minister responsible has had discussions with the HLF. I am pleased to say that it has guaranteed to make available the same proportion for the next two years, so the funding will continue. As for other faiths, it is true that the review concentrates on the Church of England, but any lessons learned from that can be taken forward and applied to other faiths. The main government funding, of course, applies to other faiths.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that some comfort will be drawn from his words, but does he also accept that the churches and cathedrals of this country, of which Lincoln is a prime example, are among the glories of the western world? Will he recognise that the generosity of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, in giving £50 million towards the repair and restoration of cathedrals was most welcome but it is a tiny sum of money compared with the importance of the buildings? Can we have an assurance that the Government will repeat that largesse in the very near future?

The Government have already committed to maintaining the funding until 2020. In fact, there is a good story to tell: over the past 40 years —so this includes Governments of both colours— £1.36 billion has been spent on historic places of worship. During the 2014-16 period, an exceptional total of £185 million per year was spent. Of course, the fund that my noble friend mentioned was just one area in which the Government have spent money. As a result of this 40 years of taxpayers’ money being spent on them, only 4% of those listed places of worship are on the at-risk register.

My Lords, is it not the case that, in France, churches and cathedrals are admirably resourced, even in the most remote areas of the countryside? That is because the state assists with the physical problems of churches. The explanation there is that the people of France, like the people of Wales, have the benefit of a disestablished church.

As I said, the listed places of worship grant scheme applies to all faiths. The taxpayer has spent an extra £95 million in the past two years to support places of worship. As I mentioned in the previous answer, I think that we are in a pretty good place.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for his intervention, Lincoln having recently won a favourite cathedral award—Ely is not too bad either. Of course, these churches, cathedrals and chapels are part of our shared heritage, but does the Minister agree that even more important is the work undertaken by cathedrals and churches in food banks, in supporting economic regeneration and in working with homeless people and the lonely, especially in remote parts of the country? Does he agree that the Government should endorse that work and will he encourage the way in which they can support it through the use and deployment of these buildings?

Of course I agree with the right reverend Prelate that one way that churches can remain relevant is to involve themselves with things that go on in their community. That is exactly what the review is going to look at, among other things, including the uses of listed buildings for purposes beyond worship and what barriers prevent that happening.

My Lords, will the Minister make it clear that there must be parity of esteem, when any state resources are being used, between churches of the established Church and nonconformist churches, chapels, meeting houses or Roman Catholic churches, which are not covered by many of the schemes that cover the established Church?

My Lords, will my noble friend correct our noble friend Lord Cormack? The former Chancellor did not give any of his money to these projects; he merely acted as a siphon for taxpayers’ money. The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not have any money.

I cannot comment on the former Chancellor’s personal finances, but I understand the point—I think it was implicit in what my noble friend Lord Cormack said.