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The noble Lord said: My Lords, at the end of the Grand Committee stage we raised the question of whether it could possibly be right that researchers should be liable to criminal penalties in advance of the publication of the codes of practice for which the Bill makes provision. Although the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said,
Lord Warner: My Lords, this is a listening and a reflective government. The effect of the Government's amendment is similar, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, to that proposed by him and others. It puts a three-month gap between the publication of the codes of practice relating to consent and the implementation of the penalties relating to consent in Clauses 5 and 8. That will enable practitioners to prepare to meet the necessary standards so as to eliminate any risk that they may inadvertently commit offences during the transition period.
We recognise the importance of allowing people the opportunity to become familiar with the implications of the new legislation, including the provision of codes of practice that will help to support the standards that are required. Consultation during the process of drafting the codes of practice will, in any event, keep stakeholders in the picture about what they will say, and the three-month delay introduced by these amendments will allow everyone to be confident that they are compliant with any new standards before the offences take effect. I hope that this will provide reassurance to practitioners outside this House and to noble Lords. I beg to move.
"(6) No day may be appointed under subsection (2) for the coming into force of section 5 or 8 which is earlier than the end of the period of three months beginning with the day on which the Authority first issues a code of practice dealing with the matters mentioned in section 26(2)(h) and (i).
(7) If the Authority first issues a code of practice dealing with one of the matters mentioned in subsection (6) before it first issues a code of practice dealing with the other, that subsection shall have effect as if the three month period were one beginning with the later of
(a) the day on which the Authority first issues a code of practice dealing with the matter mentioned in section 26(2)(h), and
(b) the day on which the Authority first issues a code of practice dealing with the matter mentioned in section 26(2)(i)."
Lord Grocott: My Lords, before we start the Unstarred Question I simply remind noble Lords that as it now comeswe are happy to sayat the end of business rather than mid-way through it, the maximum time allowed is one and a half hours. That means that contributors can, should they wish, take up to 14 minutes. That is a maximum time and it is not compulsory.
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What contribution they make to maintaining the architectural heritage of England's churches; and what is their view on combining the function of churches as places of worship with other ways of serving the whole of their local communities.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, today is my wedding anniversary. Nearly a quarter of a century ago my wife and I, loyal members of God's opposition, were happily married in Chester's modern but anonymous register office. Later Chester's then MP, Gyles Brandreth, pioneered legislation enabling unconventional venues to host civil weddings, thus satisfying people's need to marry locally and in buildings of distinction.
Why not have a third option; namely, being married in a civil ceremony performed in a couple's local church? Indeed, why should not the local church house other non-religious activities for the local community? Is it not time to put England's church buildings back at the heart of the very communities which in the past built, succoured and developed them? Most of the buildings are beautiful and many are at the heart of the local community, but they are also sadly now underused and need repair as congregations diminish, finance shrivels and modern legislation such as the DDA beckons.
My debate tonight suggests that England's churches are a shared responsibility for churchgoers, for non-churchgoers and for the Government alike; and if we truly value our local churches, it is literally time to stop the rot.
This summer the Harrison family holidayed in East Sussex where we came across the magnificent church of Lydd, dubbed locally as the "cathedral of the marshes", such is its towering grandeur. But on talking to older parishioners kindly welcoming visitors to the church, we learned of a dwindling congregation of some 30 hardy souls. We were grateful to these volunteers for keeping the church open for our benefit. They told us of the desperate need for maintenance and repair funds. We gave a donation on leaving and purchased a guide book to the church, itself lovingly written by some unseen Milton. But each of us here tonight could furnish similar examples of fading finances and congregations.
No wonder the Church of England's repair bill is something like £80 million a year, of which only some £30 million is reimbursed through grants from the state. Tonight I confine my remarks to the buildings of the Church of England, although my thoughts may have application to other denominations and faith groups.
There is a pressing need to bring people and resources back into these venerable and venerated buildings. Some churches with enlightened leadership have made a good start in welcoming non-religious activities consonant with the need to respect faith and
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fabric. We are used to beautiful churches echoing to heavenly music in concert recitals in local churches. We are perhaps less used to the idea of black-tie dinners for corporate functions, as pioneered at Ripon Cathedral, where a champagne reception held at the west door was followed by a dinner served in the nave; or the sight in some local churches of football fans watching Euro 2004 on large screens in the transept. But why should Highbury and Old Trafford be the only cathedrals packed with worshippers?
Others have gone further. St Paul's Church at The Crossing in Walsall is an outstanding example. By installing a mezzanine floor, the upper floorpresumably now with a superior view of the stained glass windowsis maintained for traditional Sunday church services. On the ground floor a chapel is maintained for daily worshippers, while the remaining space is allotted to retail units, offices and even an examination hall for a local college. It is a happy marriage of religious and non-religious activities, which now draws 3,000 people through the doors each week in a city centre location that had previously lost 5,000 from the local electoral roll and is a benefit to all in the local community, including a revived church.
However, the Church itself must be more nimble in instituting change and innovation. It cannot afford to harbour prejudicesfor example, excluding judo clubs on the tenuous grounds that judo resonates of a rival religion. Surely there is more to be gained from rubbing shoulders, not cold-shouldering the world outside. Why should not the local bridge or chess club meet in the local church? What about old persons' luncheon clubs, ending with the flourish of a rousing round of bingo? Why should not the local church house other local services, such as the post office, library or bank, sharing premises with parties which have common needs with the church, such as secure buildings, for instance? It makes economic sense.
I ask the Minister and, indeed, representatives of the Church here this evening, whether research has been undertaken to establish the viability of billeting such local services in churches; or, for instance, have the Government asked the English Tourism Council to speak to the Church about locating tourist information centres in appropriate church settings, to the mutual benefit of each party?
What about markets in the nave, as suggested by the venerable Geoffrey Sidaway of Gloucester, echoing the use of medieval churches as the regular place for the community to meet and trade? Why not today have farmers' markets in the nave, especially before harvest festival?
I address each party in turn. First, I shall deal with central and local government. I ask my noble friend the Minister what assessment has been made of the grants given to the Church through English Heritage,
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the Heritage Lottery Fund and historic churches funds, and indirectly through, for instance, VAT remissiona matter warmly welcomed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, whose track record on these issues is well established?
Incidentally, I was pleased on another family holiday in Lincolnshire to come across EU-funded guides extolling the remarkable history and beauty of local churches. I wonder whether government are talking to our EU partners about the upkeep and use of church buildingssurely, a problem we share.
I recap: will the Government undertake to talk to the Church about developing a strategy for public money spent on church buildings so that we can assess value for money, as well as the appropriate size and directions of the budget? Indeed, do the Government believe it is right to suggest to the Church, as the quid pro quo for receiving these grants, a programme of widening the access to the broader community? And I have in mind more than a physical access that implementing the DDA would encourage; we need a truly open-door policy for all.
I turn to the Church. Is it mentally prepared to throw open its doors, within reason, to all the community, and to encourage other non-conventional activities, consonant with a civilised and caring society? Such a change in attitude can have startling consequences: a new warmth and openness, which will encourage local people with organisational and financial skills to help the Church because they value the building, if not the message. The Church's dire need for such skills is highlighted by Trevor Cooper in How Do We Keep Our Parish Churches? Returning to the Disability Discrimination Act, help in kind in installing ramps, toilets and kitchens might be an appropriate contribution from local builders, plumbers and electricians, if the object were to help the wider community rather than the narrower Church.
My colleague in another place Frank Field, chair of the Churches Conservation Trust, suggests that local trusts might be asked to run historic churches in the absence of viable congregations. But why not make a virtue of enlisting the help of the local community? Why not recruit non-believers on to local church boards or the rosters of volunteers who keep our churches, such as that in Lydd, open for the benefit of us all? And what of the proposal of the dean of Chester Cathedral to issue citizenship cards to local people, inducing a sense of ownership of a prized landmark, the local cathedral?
Matthew Arnold's sea of faith may still be receding, but it is time now for the Church to undergo a further sea-change in its engagement of the local community and to cast off the idea that you must be a Christian to use your local church. Incidentally, there is anecdotal evidence that, where such openness is practised, congregations have returned. Has the Church the wit, wisdom and willingness to grasp that opportunity?
Responsibility also falls on those of us who do not go to church other than as visitors or for our friends and relatives who do. Incidentally, when I return, I
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love singing as gustily as anyone the hymns I learnt as a schoolboy. I may not believe the words but I do not see why God should have all the best tunes. But we stay-aways also have a responsibility for our local churches. We should be their local flying buttresses, supporting the fabric and foundation of our local churches, for if we lose these local jewels we will be partly to blame.
My wife and I value the local church bell that tolls near our house. It sounds a note of optimism that there is such a thing as society. Now is the time for all of us to bring up to date that ancient idea of the church building being at the heart of the local community. I hope that tonight's debate lays a foundation stone for that shared hope.
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