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Historic Cathedrals

Volume 791: debated on Monday 14 May 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to assist England’s historic cathedrals.

My Lords, cathedrals are powerful symbols of our history, and we are committed to supporting these important buildings through the £42 million Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme. We also provided £40 million of funding via the First World War Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund, which closed last year. Cathedrals can apply to the Heritage Lottery Fund for funding for a range of projects, including capital repair. HLF has invested £120 million in protecting and conserving these iconic buildings.

My Lords, I am grateful for what my noble friend said. However, he must realise that we are talking of the most important group of historic buildings in our land. The cost of their maintenance is enormous and, while the money he referred to has been most gratefully received, we really need—I ask him to consider this—an endowment fund for cathedrals, independently administered. If he would like to see at first hand the complexities of maintaining a great cathedral—perhaps the greatest of them all—would he accept my invitation and come as my guest to Lincoln?

My Lords, as I said, we accept that the cost of repairing and maintaining these significant and marvellous old buildings is enormous, so I am glad that 57 of our wonderful cathedrals were able to benefit from the First World War fund. At the moment there are no new plans for new funding aimed specifically at cathedrals—but, of course, the listed places of worship scheme continues, as does the HLF scheme under which cathedrals and other places of worship can apply for maintenance.

Further to that, we are currently exploring new models of financing the repair and maintenance of church buildings through a pilot scheme under the Taylor review. Although the review did not talk specifically about cathedrals, the lessons from it can apply. I know, for example, that my noble friend has already been to see the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to put the case for more funding.

As for Lincoln, a couple of weeks ago I spent some time looking at what was going on at Hereford. In due course, diary permitting, I will be very pleased to go to Lincoln as well—as long as I can go on the roof and have a look.

My Lords, I speak as one who for 21 years had responsibility for the place fondly known around the world as the “Cathedral of Methodism”. For 17 of those years I was also an ecumenical canon and a member of the Cathedral Council at St Paul’s, collaborating closely with Westminster Abbey. Earlier in this Session, we heard Questions about the importance of the tourist industry for our economy generally. Certainly the number of visitors who flock through our cathedrals is a significant part of that activity—but, as the Minister hinted, much of that is concentrated in London. Would the plea of a Methodist to endow the cathedrals of this country for the established Church add weight to any decisions that the Minister might be led to make?

My Lords, I feel that I am really on the noble Lord’s ground here and that I am visiting, as it were. However, I assure him that we are looking not just at the established Church but at other places of worship, particularly those that are listed. There are many examples of places where money, particularly from the First World War cathedrals fund, has gone—it has been spread all around the country.

Has my noble friend noted the sharp drop in the number of people visiting Salisbury Cathedral since the recent nerve poison attack? Are there steps that the Government can take to help revive tourism in that magnificent cathedral city?

My Lords, I am going back to my tourism notes. I am not sure that there is concrete evidence that visitor numbers decline after terrorist incidents, but there is anecdotal evidence to support that. The DCMS has committed £100,000 to VisitEngland and VisitWiltshire to support the recovery of tourism in Salisbury. Indeed, the Minister for Tourism will visit Salisbury a week today to see how the recovery is progressing. We regularly engage with areas that have suffered, as Salisbury has, from terrorist activity. We are of course aware of those issues and do our best to support them.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that underlying this Question is the need for some long-term attention to be given to cathedrals, rather than having one-off initiatives such as the First World War repairs fund? I extend to him an invitation to visit my diocese—I am the only bishop with three cathedrals, so I can take him on a tour.

I would of course be delighted to see at least one of them. I accept what the right reverend Prelate said. We look carefully at these issues and understand that it would be nice to have an endowment fund. As I said, this is really a matter for the Chancellor, and my noble friend Lord Cormack, along with, I believe, the deans of several cathedrals, has been to see the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to talk about this. I believe that that was one of the draft recommendations of a Cathedrals Working Group report, which has not yet been agreed by the Church.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, quite apart from their historic role in this country, cathedrals play a huge role in the community, with all sorts of activities being conducted within their premises? Under those circumstances, surely it is important that the Government consider widening the scope of the finance that cathedrals have at their disposal.

I agree that cathedrals can be used for wider civic events and for things that are not directly concerned with the religion that they deal with. That is yet another reason to support them—and, clearly, the Government have spent many tens of millions of pounds doing just that. I do not think that there is any need for me to reinforce the desire of the Government to support these buildings. We accept that, for aesthetic and many other reasons, they are worthy of support.

My Lords, to return to the long term, does the Minister agree that the supply of skilled workers is essential if we are to maintain these buildings? Bearing that in mind, will the Government have a quick look at what is being done on apprenticeships at the moment? Many dyslexics, for instance, have found skills in areas such as stonemasonry, but, currently, only those with an education and healthcare plan—around one-quarter of those identified—are getting help to take these qualifications. Surely we can help dyslexics and historic buildings at the same time.

I agree with the noble Lord. When I visited Hereford a couple of weeks ago, I went to see the stonemasons’ workshop, which was taking on apprentices who were doing exactly that. It was a very good thing.

My Lords, I, too, welcome support of any kind from the Government for English cathedrals of any denomination. But, given recent threats from down the other end of this building, what is the Minister going to do to ensure the preservation of other great national treasures such as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack?