§ 69. Mr. Tony Banks
To ask the right hon. Member for Selby representing the Church Commissioners, how much money was spent in the last year on the maintenance of archaeologically and architecturally significant churches.
§ Mr. Michael Alison
(Second Church Estates Commissioner, representing the Church Commissioners): Responsibility for the maintenance of the Church of England's 16,400 churches and cathedrals, most of which are listed, rests with the parochial church councils and chapters. It is estimated that in 1989 the Church found in excess of £70 million for maintenance of those buildings, 13 mainly through the giving of its congregations, but including about £7 million state aid towards structural repairs of outstanding churches in use.
§ Mr. Banks
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the importance of these churches of great architectual significance extends beyond the congregations that use them. What support is given from central Government funds to assist in their maintenance? A number of significant Christian churches in, for example, the middle east are falling into a state of sad disrepair. Can anything be done, either by the Church Commissioners or through discussions with central Government, to provide much-needed funds for those wonderful buildings abroad?
§ Mr. Alison
I must ask the hon. Gentleman to allow me to take notice of the latter part of his question about churches overseas, but I agree that there are some fine churches with Anglican roots in European countries. I repeat that about £7 million of state aid flows, largely through English Heritage, into the main pool of resources for maintaining these splendid old churches.
§ Mr. Carrington
My right hon. Friend will be aware that considerable disquiet is expressed from time to time about the effects on the interior fixtures and fittings in churches of changing the use of churches from worship to alternative practices. Will he convey to the ecclesiastical authorities our concern to ensure that not only the fabric outside churches but the artistic heritage inside is preserved?
§ Mr. Alison
Yes, we pay careful attention to that problem. Not many months ago, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) asked about the future of important organs in old churches. We have a procedure for ensuring that the artistic heritage is treated with the same respect as the old buildings.
§ Mr. Cryer
Each year applications are made for consent to demolish listed church buildings. Does the right hon. Gentleman have any idea of the numbers involved, as that would show the shortfall between the money raised locally and through English Heritage grants and that necessary to stop the demolition of churches, which has continued almost unabated for the past 20 to 30 years? We need to take action to stop further demolition.
§ Mr. Alison
The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that, of 1,261 churches declared redundant between 1969 and 1989, only 297 have been demolished. So three quarters of them have been preserved and remain standing. In respect of the 297, a rigorous procedure had to be undergone before demolition could be authorised. Moreover, I am happy to say that more churches have been built than have been demolished. Three hundred and ninety-one new churches have been built, so we have made a net gain in the demolition stakes.
§ Mr. Latham
Is my right hon. Friend aware that members of my own parish church in Gretton in Northamptonshire are pleased to have received a grant of £34,000—I had the sterling support of my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell)—but that that is only a drop in the ocean compared with the needs of many parish churches throughout Britain? We face a tremendous problem in maintaining our great heritage, and we must all bend our minds to deciding how best to achieve that.
§ Mr. Alison
I take my hon. Friend's point, but he will appreciate the significant performance of parishes up and down the country in raising as much as £70 million towards the maintenance of our elderly and historic churches. That shows that there is a vast source of good will and commitment to enable the Church as a voluntary association to do its own main burden-bearing.