Oral Answers to Questions — Church Commissioners – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 5th March 2007.

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Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:30 pm, 5th March 2007

What discussions the Church Commissioners have had with the Wolfson Foundation on the maintenance of the fabric of cathedrals; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

We welcome the recent announcement of the foundation's partnership with English Heritage and its commitment to match, until 2010, the £1 million per annum in English Heritage's grant scheme for repairs to Church of England and Roman Catholic cathedrals. This restores the grants available to pre-2004 funding levels. In relation to the hon. Gentleman's specific question, we have had no direct discussions, but the commissioners are following these events with great interest.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Opposition Whip (Commons)

This has created a useful precedent because, as the hon. Gentleman says, it has brought the level of funding back up to £2 million. He will be aware, however, that the cost of running a cathedral such as Lichfield is in the order of £2 million per year anyway, and that the money has to be spread among more than 40 cathedrals in England and Wales. What can the commissioners do to try to encourage more partnerships, not only with the Wolfson Foundation, which is to be congratulated, but with other organisations, to try to expand funding to beyond the £2 million level?

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As he will know, I do not have the exact figures for Lichfield cathedral, but I know that it does a very good job of welcoming visitors. He is perfectly right that cathedrals are centres of cultural and community activity. Some £11 million per annum was spent on the constant round of repairs and maintenance for our English cathedrals.

By way of an aside, at the previous Church Commissioners Question Time the hon. Gentleman sensibly suggested that knowledge might be shared between churches and cathedrals so that they can benefit from each others' good ideas for welcoming visitors. I have looked into that and can tell him that the Pilgrims Association enables those responsible for the care and welcome of pilgrims, tourists and visitors to exchange ideas and solutions to common problems. I welcome his intervention.