Fifth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.


Wednesday 8 February 1989



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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Geraint Howells

Beith, Mr. A. J. (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Body, Sir Richard (Holland with Boston)

Bottomley, Mrs. Virginia (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment)

Boyson, Sir Rhodes (Brent, North)

Chapman, Mr. Sydney (Chipping Barnet)

Faulds, Mr. Andrew (Warley, East)

Field, Mr. Frank (Birkenhead)

Greenway, Mr. John (Ryedale)

Hayward, Mr. Robert (Kingswood)

Hughes, Mr. Roy (Newport, East)

Knight, Mr. Greg (Derby, North)

Lewis, Mr. Terry (Worsley)

Lord, Mr. Michael (Suffolk, Central)

McCrindle, Mr. Robert (Brentwood and Ongar)

McLoughlin,Mr.Patrick(Derbyshire, West)

Miller, Sir Hal (Bromsgrove)

Roberts, Mr. Allan(Bootle)

Walley, Ms Joan (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Mr. C. G. Lee, Committee Clerk.

3 Fifth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Wednesday 8 February 1989

[MR. GERAINT HOWELLS in the Chair]

Draft Grants to the Redundant Churches Fund Order 1988

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Grants to the Redundant Churches Fund Order 1988. It is a pleasure to consider the statutory instrument under your chairmanship, Mr. Howells, as you have a special interest in this subject. The order seeks to specify a further period during which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment may make further grants to the Redundant Churches Fund, and the aggregate amount of grants that may be paid in that period. It has been laid under powers contained in section 1 of the Redundant Churches and other Religious Buildings Act 1969. The Redundant Churches fund is an independent charitable body set up by the Church of England in 1969. Its purpose is to preserve redundant Anglican churches, or parts of churches, of historical, architectural or archaeological interest vested in it by the Church Commissioners. Our English heritage is rich in fine parish churches but, for whatever reason, increasing numbers of them are no longer needed for worship. The task of the fund is to repair those that are vested in it and thereafter maintain them in good repair and keep them accessible to the general public. The 248 buildings for which the fund is so far responsible are scattered throughought the country, from busy city centres to remote country hamlets. Our forefathers built many of the finest churches in places where now it can be difficult to find a builder to carry out repairs. Thus the members of the fund face a difficult and unusual task, and I should like to pay tribute to the excellent way in which they carry out their responsibilities. How do the Government come into this? A redundant church, by definition, has ceased to be useful to the living Church; but, if it is a building of great antiquity, beauty, historic or architectural interest, it remains an essential part of the national heritage. For that reason, agreement was reached 20 years ago that, in future, the Government and the Church of England should share responsibility for maintaining the very finest of the redundant churches. Since then, the Redundant Churches Fund has been jointly financed by the Church Commissioners and my Department. That arrangement has been authorised by Parliament in the Redundant churches and other Religious Buildings Act 1969. I emphasise first that the fund does not maintain all redundant churches, only the very best; no church 4 is vested in the fund without the recommendation of the Church of England's Advisory Board for Redundant Churches, a prestigious body whose standards of selection are rigorous; nor does the fund concern itself with redundant churches that find alternative permanent uses, whether as flats, offices, community centres or concert halls. The fund is financed not on an annual basis but by quinquennia. Both Church and state set aside a single sum to cover expenditure by the fund over the forthcoming five years, and during that quinquennial period the fund applies for grants to my Department and to the Church Commissioners as needed, up to the maximum of the sum set aside. The current quinquennium is the fourth to be financed in that way, jointly by Church and state. It expires on 31 March this year. Paragraph 2 of the order therefore specifies 1 April 1989 to 31 March 1994 as the next period during which the state shares of contributions to the fund may be made. The maximum State contribution during that period is specified as £8.7 million. The Church Commissioners made a similar order on 9 November, specifying the same period, and providing for the Church's share of contribution to the fund over the next five years—a maximum of £3.7 million. The agreement with the Church Commissioners is that subject to the approval of Parliament, maximum combined grants from Church and state during the next quinquennium shall not exceed £12.4 million; and that of that sum, 30 per cent. will be contributed by the Church and 70 per cent. by the state. Those arrangements have been the subject of hard bargaining and have been agreed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I shall explain to the Committee why I think that they should be endorsed.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North): Is there any evidence that the number of churches being made redundant has risen since the appointment of the Bishop of Durham?

Mrs. Bottomley: There are 248 churches vested in the fund at the moment, but that is not the whole story. Alternative uses may be found for some of them along the way. The sum of money is based on estimates prepared by the fund and examined both by my Department and the Church Commissioners. Following the pattern first introduced for the current—the fourth—quinquennium, the total maximum sum of £12.4 million includes a contingency allowance of £1.6 million, to be drawn only to the extent that inflation makes it necessary. That mechanism was introduced in the present quinquennium and has proved a successful arrangement. It allows the fund to prepare its estimates well before the start of the quinquennium on the basis of current prices, in the knowledge that any increases in inflation will be met from the contingency sum up to a maximum of £1.6 million. For calculating those increases, we shall use the annual uprating factors issued by the Treasury to Government Departments. Secondly, there is the question of the proportions to be provided by the Church and the state respectively. 5 Whereas in the present quinquennium the state has provided 60 per cent., it is necessary in the next quinquennium for the state to increase its proportion to 70 per cent. That increase in the states share of payments to the fund is one of the three benefits for churches announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State last year to help to offset the increased financial burden of the community charge. The other benefits are that state aid for historic churches in use, which is made by way of grants by English Heritage, will be increased, and that a wide range of church buildings, including church halls, which get an income from lettings, will be exempt from normal non-domestic rates. I should add that those other benefits will extend to Non-conformist churches as well as to the Church of England. I am satisfied that the Church is not in a position to provide more than the £3.7 million envisaged under the arrangements as the Church's 30 per cent, contribution. Of that total, £2.5 million will be provided by grants from the Church Commissioners' general fund, and the remainder from net proceeds from sales of redundant churches and sites. If the latter sum is not forthcoming from sales, any shortfall will be made good by an additional grant from the commissioners. The grant of £2.5 million represents a contribution of about 0.43 per cent, of the Church Commissioners' general income towards churches that they no longer need, in comparison with 0.53 per cent, of general income in the present quinquennium. However, to have maintained the current 60:40 ratio between state and Church would have required the Church to make 0.63 per cent, of its general income available for that purpose. While there is one school of thought which questions whether it is right for the Church to devote resources to support redundant buildings, some of which have now been supported by the fund for close to 20 years, the prevailing view is that the Church has a responsibility to maintain physical links to its, and the nation's, historic past. I hope that there will be a continuation of the partnership between Church and state which has served the nation well during the past two decades. The cost of the Redundant Churches Fund inevitably increases year by year as the number of churches vested in its increases, from around 250 at the beginning of the next quinquennium to an estimated 290 by 1994, when it ends. That may answer the question I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight). The fund has now been operating for 20 years and the costs, to Church and state, have increased steadily throughout those years, with the state meeting an increasing proportion of those costs. In consultation with the Church Commissioners, we have therefore decided to have a review of the fund's working arrangements so that we can see whether any changes are needed in those arrangements, and if so, we shall aim to introduce them in time to incorporate them by the start of the quinquennium commencing 1 April 1994. The review will look into the procedures by which it is decided which churches are vested in the fund; quinquennial financing arrangements; the day-to-day workings of the fund and its staff; and any related matters which seem worthy of inquiry and which are 6 brought up during the course of the review. The review will also seek information on the procedures adopted by other denominations to deal with their redundant churches, chapels and meeting houses. I am glad that the Church Commissioners have agreed to finance 30 per cent, of the cost of the review, which I hope will be completed in the spring or early summer of 1990. The churches of this country are a much loved part of the national heritage and, in the Government's view, it is essential that even when they are no longer needed for worship, the best of them, in architectural and historic terms, should not become totally divorced from their parent Church. That is why we set great store by the continuing partnership between Church and state in maintaining these historic buildings. Parliament and the Church of England set up the Redundant Churches Fund as a joint venture 20 years ago, and we want it to remain a joint venture. I commend the order to the Committee.

10.40 am

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead): I welcome the order and take this opportunity to draw attention, first, to the fact that the state will be putting £8.7 million into the fund during the next quinquennium. That should be noted by sectarian members of the Church who call endlessly for disestablishment, because they would have to find that sum. I hope that I have aimed the kick well. Secondly, I speak as an hon. Member whose constituency has benefited from the fund. The Priory church in Birkenhead, which was vested in the fund, has now been taken out of it, and although it is right to assume that many churches will be vested in the fund for ever, there is clearly some movement in and out. When we see the destruction that maniacs have wrought by pulling down most of our churches in Birkenhead—although the authorities now accept that those churches are ideally suited to where the population is—it is a comfort to know that there are at least some churches in the bank, so to speak, on which we can draw. The Minister was right to say that most of the churches are in areas where there is at present no population and where it is unlikely that there will be much population in the next century, but that is not true of all churches. My third point is about the Advisory Board for Redundant Churches which decides whether churches should go to the fund. The board has been chaired by Lord Briggs, with great distinction, but his period of office is now coming to an end, and it has been announced that the next chairman will be Michael Gillingham, who has an enormous knowledge of church buildings. One is reminded of the phrase in the Prayer Book about knowledge which passes all understanding, because that phrase could well be applied to him. I am sure that the style in which Lord Briggs conducted the board's activities will continue under his stewardship. Those brief comments, including what I hope was a well aimed kick, complete what I have to say.

10.42 am


Sir Hal Miller (Bromsgrove): Some hon. Members have cast doubt on the legitimacy of my attendance in the Committee, but I checked with you, Mr. Howells, before I ventured to take my seat that I am an appointed member. I was slightly provoked by my right hon. Friend the Minister whose comments I followed, as usual, with close and rapt attention—that is, until she started to talk about the prestigious body that selected only the best churches. I have a pious interest to declare—pious in the classical rather than the religious sense—in that my mother, with Ivor Bulmer-Thomas, founded an organisation called the Friends of Friendless Churches. It deals with churches that I imagine are outside this cosy arrangement between Church and state, and I shall be interested to learn from my ever well informed hon. Friend whether the organisation's activities have subsequently been brought inside it. I am worried that there does not appear to have been a more regular review of the disbursement to see whether the funds have been sensibly and properly spent. I am delighted to know that there is to be a review, and I hope that we shall be kept informed of its progress. Surely the only long-term way of ensuring the survival of the buildings that we all cherish is to find a use for them and not to preserve them in aspic, empty and a standing invitation and temptation for further destruction. I had hoped to hear from my witty hon. Friend the Minister—

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West): And charming.

Sir Hal Miller: Yes, and charming—of how pressure, however discreet, would be brought to bear on this prestigious Committee to ensure that every avenue was being explored. There has been recent press comment about a distinguished building that aroused a good deal of controversy about its proposed use. It is most important that we find uses for such buildings. As one who spends his summer holidays in a converted Methodist chapel in north Norfolk, I can say—turning to the dissenting faces that it retains a wonderful atmosphere and has an appropriate use. It is important that such use is made of churches and that buildings are kept alive in that way instead of being merely museums as buildings. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

10.46 am

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): I am glad that we have a Welsh Calvanistic Methodist presiding over our proceedings Mr. Howells, especially as you will be aware that there is no equivalent body in Wales, still less one for Noncomformist chapels in either Wales or England. However, we can return to that on other occasions. I assure the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) that the Friends of Friendless Churches continues to do an outstanding job, especially looking after churches that the Redundant Churches Fund does not help. The fund is only one of many bodies that look after churches that are no longer in regular 8 use. Many local historic church preservation trusts in different counties also do the job. The fund is but a partner in a wide scheme that involves much voluntary effort and voluntary fund-raising, including raising funds that help the work of the Redundant Churches Fund, which does not receive all its money from the state and the Church. I was worried by the tone of what the hon. Member for Bromsgrove said. He neglects a factor that is fundamental to the work of the fund, and which is one reason why I warmly welcome the order, both for its reasonable settlement of money from the state and the Church, and for the 70:30 split for which it provides. The order is important because although there are many instances of new uses being found for redundant churches and their value as buildings in the townscape being retained, if the practice were followed for all redundant churches, we would lose a priceless heritage of buildings, especially in relation to their interiors. A great many church and chapel interiors can never be recreated. If they were all turned into blocks of flats, supermarkets, cinemas or cottages for the hon. Member for Bromsgrove to spend his holidays in, the loss to the nation would be enormous. The Redundant Churches Fund and the Friends of Friendless Churches have done outstanding work especially in relation to the interiors of churches of the late 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. The impact of the Victorian restorers, the ecclesiologists and the Oxford movement, which went far beyond its theological influence, was to transform the Victorian parish church so that the type of interior that people now associate with Church of England worship is wholly different from what people associate with Church of England worship in the 18th or early 19th century. The form of worship of which Thomas Hardy wrote, which would have been known to the Brontë sisters and to Sterne and Fielding, and which is the basis for a great deal of English literature, would be almost totally unfamiliar had not some churches remained in the ordering characteristic of their period—not an ordering characterised by a long aisle and a distant altar but by box pews surrounding a three-deck central pulpit —essentially, buildings of a preaching format. So few survived the Victorian period that they did so mainly by neglect. It was those neglected churches which the Friends of Friendless Churches and the Redundant Churches Fund rescued. Some churches that were in use in my youth, when I first discovered them, are now in the care of that body. They include Holy Trinity, Goodramgate in York, Shottley St Andrew, Northumberland and that cathedral of Anglican evangelicanism, Christ Church, Macclesfield, which was taken over only recently by the Redundant Churches Fund. That church of major importance would have been unable to survive as a building if it had not been taken over. There are now new claims on the fund, including many of the large Victorian Gothic town churches. These are the most difficult to maintain, so the fund faces difficult tasks. The interiors of some of those 9 churches are of remarkable quality with outstanding craftsmanship, associated with the artists and architects of the period, from Butterfield onward. I am glad that the Minister mentioned the review. I am not sure who will conduct it, but many important issues will arise. I imagine that it will take evidence widely from interested bodies and from people in all the organisations that are connected with the future of the churches. Inevitably, perhaps, there is always a certain tension between the desire of the active Church to ensure that buildings do not stand in the way of its gospel work and witness—buildings may become an impediment to it—and those who see the buildings as contributing in themselves to spiritual understanding and to our ability to recognise the significance of the buildings in the life of those who have gone before. In addition, there is a role for the state in deciding that some buildings have a lasting value over and above their religious purpose, although created by that religious purpose. Getting it right—not impeding the Church, but encouraging it to take its responsibilities seriously—is the essence of the fund's work. It is hoped that many fine churches will never need to seek the assistance of the Redundant Churches Fund because it should be obvious that they can be used for worship and do not need to be abandoned or transformed beyond recognition to provide a location for worship. That is implicit in what the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said about some of the churches that have been unnecessarily lost to regular worship in recent years. I hope that the review will consider the issue of Nonconformist chapels. None of the fund's money will go to them because they have no fund, and cannot have one on the same basis as the Redundant Churches Fund. The essence of today's order is a shared contribution, on a 30:70 basis, between the Church Commissioners and the state. There is no Nonconformist equivalent to the Church Commissioners, which is an endowed body with considerable resources. Great drains are made on the Church Commissioners—I do not suggest that they have an easy task—but there is nothing comparable for the Nonconformist Church. Individual Nonconformist congregations have to maintain their buildings and their ministry without central support. Therefore, it is immensely more difficult for them to maintain the heritage of their buildings. Some of the finest buildings are in the hands of the smallest and poorest denominations. The United Reformed Church, the Congregational Federation, the Unitarians and the Society of Friends have some of the best and most outstanding 18th, and even 17th, century chapel buildings in their care. In the absence of provisions such as the grants in the order, the most appalling things have happened to them. Rook lane chapel at Frome, a Grade I listed building dating from 1707, has been derelict for a decade. Such a building would have been in the care of the fund if it extended to Nonconformist chapels. The Upper chapel in Heckmondwike, in Yorkshire is a remarkable and magnificent building for which alternative use has still not been found. Indeed, any alternative use would destroy its interior. 10 The time will soon come when there will be no 19th century large galleried interiors of Nonconformist chapels unless we find a way of vesting them in a trust or a fund because they are out of scale with the requirements of even a flourishing and lively congregation of today. They face problems similar to those that the order covers, but on a greater scale, because of the absence of the Church Commissioners as their potential partner. I hope that the review will cover the Nonconformist chapels. It is worth remembering that as yet there are no equivalent or parallel provisions in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. However, I realise that that is not the responsibility of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. I warmly welcome the order and the partnership that it represents between the Church and community in taking care of some important buildings. I sometimes think that the name, the Redundant Churches Fund, is a pretty miserable way to describe a body that was set up to help in an important task. Redundancy is often linked in ordinary life to being put on the scrap heap, an that is not how we should see those churches. During our reviews, perhaps someone can think of a better name for the task of enabling future generations to see and enjoy the treasure houses of spirituality and the artistic works of so many of those buildings.

10.55 am

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West): I welcome the order also, but is there a chance of the Department giving us an overall view of the issue of redundant churches and its role in this, because the order will last for four years? At present, when district councils and similar bodies are landed with planning application for extensions of any sort, they are usually requested and sometimes are required to consult English Heritage. On page 10 of its latest report for 1977–78, English Heritage expressed disappointment at the progress that has been made on this subject. I have in mind a church in my own constituency. What is most important is that that churches are used by the community do not become redundant and a drain on resources. I have a fairly old-fashioned view of churches and I do not believe that activities that take place on church ground—other than church services—should take place in the body of the church. Nowadays, such activity increasingly takes place in the body of the church, and I do not particularly like that. A number of churches are considering making special buildings available for such activities and a fine church, St. Helen's church in Darley Dale, has brought a particular problem to my attention. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) said about the heritage of many wonderful small churches throughout the countryside. The problem at St. Helen's church is that while the parochial church council agreed to try to have an extension built to increase its use, make it more of a community facility and to try to involve more people in the church atmosphere, it came up against tremendous problems when dealing with English 11 Heritage. I should like to quote from a letter which the reactor of that church, Reverend Dr. Yates, wrote to me. He stated: "I owe you an update …on the church extension. After the last refusal at the Derbyshire Dales Council in September, when English Heritage stuck to their objections but offered their expertise to surmount the council's difficulties with us, we wrote to them proposing a site visit as soon as possible … our architect had some difficulty in arranging this with Mr. Brereton who was the signatory of the letter of objection … In November they did meet on site. It is, I think, an indication of what we have to swallow from English Heritage that Mr. Brereton's first comment was: 'oh, this is quite different to what I had imagined'—such lack of first hand experience had not prevented two letters of objection, which formed the basis of DDC's refusal on 'expert' grounds, one of which (as he himself had to admit in a subsequent letter to the council) was wrong on substantial matters of fact!" It is hardly surprising, therefore, that there is little progress between English Heritage and the Church in getting some common ground between them. It is important to look at the issue as a whole. When the order ends, we may decide that English Heritage should play a greater role in saying how to use the money for redundant churches. We may decide that English Heritage is a better body to help progress in this area, and that may solve the problem of being able to aid only Church of England churches, to which the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) referred. However, if English Heritage is to have a more overall view, it must act more responsibly in exercising its right to object to proposed developments. I welcome the order. It is a good measure and will go a long way to help to deal with a number of problems. However, I should like there to be a more co-ordinated view from the Department of the Environment, which also has responsibility for English Heritage, rather everybody seeming to go off in different directions.

11 am

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East): I am wedged here between two authorities on ecclesiastical matters—my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) from the Established Church and the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) from the Nonconformist Church—but I am still wondering about the position of Wales. The Church there, of course, was disestablished by popular demand, but nevertheless there are still many churches of considerable historical value with other noteworthy feature, besides many Nonconformist temples that are also of considerable importance. Can the Minister enlighten us? What provision is being made for Wales, given our anomalous position?

Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central): I had not intended to join the debate, but the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) have made me change my mind. I represent a constituency called Suffolk, Central, and Suffolk is noted for its many churches. In fact, it is sometimes called "silly" Suffolk, which is a warping of the word, "selig", the Anglo-Saxon for "holy". That describes to some extent the nature of the county and certainly reflects the number of 12 churches in it. Many beautiful country churches are scattered throughout Suffolk. To reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend, I refer to the church of Meliss, which is quite close to my home. It has recently had problems with its roof, and so slow has English Heritage been to confirm and carry out its intentions that we have now had to carry out emergency repairs to the roof ourselves while waiting for the original repairs to be done.

Mr. McLoughlin: I forgot to make an important point. While there are such delays, churches have to face the problem of the vastly increasing costs of building materials and of getting the jobs done. It has been a problem for that church in my constituency. Building material costs increased astronomically while objections to the proposed development prevailed.

Mr. Lord: The point is now well made by both of us; that bureaucratic delays and lack of information can lead to the problem of escalating building costs and increased damage because the original repairs agreed to have not been undertaken, as in the case of the church of Meliss. I hope that if she can, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will comment on the points that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West have raised. If she cannot, I hope that she will take them seriously on board, because I am sure that they relate to churches in the constituencies of many other hon. Members as well.

11.3 am

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): I have no wish to detain the Committee, but when some of us were amusing ourselves at the start of the Committee wondering why we had been selected by the Committee of Selection, we should have recognised that it was perhaps far wiser in its judgment than originally appeared. I was treasurer of my parish church for seven years and know only too well about the type of problem raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin). As a result of a quinquennial inspection, the parish church tower was condemned, but we managed to raise the necessary funds. I want to draw the performance of English Heritage to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister. In Malton in my constituency, there are two fine parish churches—both Anglican. About two decades ago, the most prominent church in any view of the town was given by the Anglican Church to the Roman Catholic Church. It is now a vital church. Although we are discussing redundant churches, through this generosity the church was saved from becoming redundant. St. Leonard's church is visible from east, south, north and west. It is impossible to imagine a view of the town without the church and its beautiful tower, which has stood for several centuries. However, when St. Leonard's church approached English Heritage for help with the cost of some £100,000 worth of major restoration work, English Heritage took the view that the church was not of sufficient architectural importance to warrant any subsidy or gift. 13 The order is most welcome. I can think of a number of churches in my constituency where it could be put to good use in this or a future quinquennial period. Nevertheless, I ask the Minister to look closely again at English Heritage's work on churches. We must ensure that we are doing everything that we can to make use of its funds to respond to local representations because considerations that are unimportant on a national scale may be crucial to people in the area. We must take the opportunity for review to ensure that fewer churches become redundant because they fall into disrepair and their congregations have to move out.

11.6 am

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley: From our detailed, thoughtful and knowledgeable debate it is clear that the maintenance of some of our finest heritage buildings—our churches—is of great interest to hon. Members. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) began to discuss the question of disestablishment, but I am sure that he will understand if I do not respond. I was pleased to learn that the fund has played an important part in his constituency. He and other hon. Members, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) were right to emphasis that an alternative use is often the best solution. An alternative use is not immediately apparent in all cases, but sometimes one emerges in due course. I also welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments about Michael Gillingham, who is a worthy successor to Lord Briggs as chairman of the Advisory Board for Redundant Churches, which does a most important job. As I said earlier, it is a prestigious board, which in no way detracts from the splendid contribution of the mother of my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove, whose organisation, the Friends of Friendless Churches, has made a splendid contribution to the campaign, especially for many of the Nonconformist churches. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has rightly been a long-standing campaigner for the interests of Nonconformist churches. He spoke eloquently and at length about the special needs of those churches, especially their interiors. A few months ago I had the pleasure of visiting the Jireh chapel at Lewes, where the interior is perfect, intact with galleries. It was exactly as the hon. Gentleman described. It has a small congregation without the means to maintain such a magnificent example of a Calvanist chapel. I am pleased that English Heritage is generously funding that chapel's restoration. The help available to Nonconformist churches from English Heritage is substantial. In 1987–88 grants totalling nearly £350,000 were offered to 16 Nonconformist churches, but the key issue is the fact that none of those Church bodies has yet established centralised arrangements for dealing with their redundant churches. I know that there is increasing interest in their fate, which is shown by the establishment of the Chapel Society under the auspices of the Council of British Archaeology. English Heritage also wants to fund out 14 whether there is scope for arrangements to look after redundant Nonconformist and Roman Catholic churches. The review that I outlined this morning will look at the working of the fund and consider whether there are lessons to be learned about Nonconformist churches. We envisage that the person appointed will wish to consider the issues in a broad context and we shall make an announcement in due course about who will take on that important and timely task. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) referred to St. Helen's church, Darley Dale in his constituency, and to a planning application to extend the church which is still in use and not directly relevant to the subject of our discussions. Hon. Members will fully understand that I cannot comment on individual planning applications because they may in due course come before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on appeal. However, local authorities are required to notify English Heritage of development proposals that are likely to affect the setting of II-star or grade I buildings. English Heritage's role in such consultations is purely advisory. The local authority remains fully responsible and is free to make a decision if English Heritage has not commented within 28 days. In the case to which my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West referred, I understand that the local planning authority has refused two planning applications for the proposed extension but that English Heritage has sought to suggest ways in which the extension might be accommodated in a manner that it considers sympathetic to the listed building. In that case, communications have gone astray and a satisfactory conclusion has not yet been reached. I shall certainly pass on to English Heritage the remarks made by my hon. Friend. Other hon. Members including my hon. Friends the Members for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) and for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), have referred to the work of English Heritage. Grants to churches in use are made by English heritage. In 1987–88 it offered grants to 322 churches, worth approximately £4.7 million, plus increases of approximately £1.4 million to grants previously offered. As I said earlier, we are increasing the grant to English Heritage to enable it to increase its grants to churches of all denominations by £3 million from 1990. I understand that English Heritage is considering carefully how best to use the money to increase the number of churches to which grants may be offered. Clearly, hon. Members have cause for concern in cases where their particular churches have not been selected for help. However, in my own consituency, the magnificent Godalming parish church has received generous help and assistance from English Heritage in the restoration of its magnificent spire. We are anxious for the arrangements to work well and effectively and I shall certainly do what I can to draw this fact to English Heritage's attention. The hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) asked a question about the Church in Wales and I have no doubt that you, Mr. Howells, as our 15 distinguished Chairman, have an interest in this matter although you are not free to raise it on this occasion. The Redundant Churches Fund covers the Church of England only. I gather that discussions are in progress about the possibility of arrangements to deal with redundant Anglican churches in Wales although no firm decisions have been made. However, members of Nonconformist churches there will be having many discussions, as are those in England. This is a matter for my right honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and the Church in Wales, but I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's concern and comments. I am grateful to the members of the Committee for the interest that they have shown in the debate. It is clear that the fate of historic churches continues to excite considerable feeling not only among the worshipping community, but also among those who care for the undoubted contribution such churches 16 make to our national heritage. That is particularly evident among Members of the House. It is almost impossible to disentangle the secular and the religious aspects of that concern. The conservationist can rightly claim that the parish church is part of the local architectural heritage, even if he dissents from what it stands for. The worshipper can equally gain inspiration from a beautiful, historic and well maintained building. That is why it is so important for the Church and the state to continue to co-operate in this partnership to preserve the best of our redundant churches, through the fund.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Grants to the Redundant Churches Fund Order 1988.

Committee rose at sixteen minutes past Eleven o'clock.


Howells, Mr. Geraint (Chairman)

Beith, Mr.

Body, Sir Richard

Bottomley, Mrs. Virginia

Chapman, Mr.

Field, Mr. Frank

Greenway, Mr. John

Hayward, Mr.

Hughes, Mr. Roy

Knight, Mr. Greg

Lord, Mr.

McLoughlin, Mr.

Miller, Sir Hal