In a short debate in the House of Commons, Michael Fabricant said that a
voluntary charging for admission policy is always preferable to an enforced
system like at Westminster Abbey where visitors must pay £10 to gain entry.
He praised Lichfield Cathedral where voluntary donations are sought.
The debate went as follows:-
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What the Commissioners’ policy is on
charging admission to churches and cathedrals; and if he will make a
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): For the most part,
access to church buildings is free. In relation to cathedrals and a
statement, the General Synod passed a motion urging the Church to continue
to exercise sensitivity in raising money, but ultimately the decision to
charge rests with individual cathedrals.
Michael Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman will know that Westminster cathedral
has a mandatory charge for people wishing to go in and look round. At
Lichfield cathedral, the charge is voluntary, although the majority of
visitors pay the recommended amount. Does he agree that a voluntary payment
is always preferable to a mandatory payment when visiting a cathedral?
Sir Stuart Bell: The hon. Gentleman knows that three of our major church
buildings are the focus of world heritage sites: Durham cathedral,
Canterbury cathedral and Westminster abbey. It is a privilege for the Church
to take responsibility for their upkeep and one that the whole nation should
share. On whether charges should be voluntary or mandatory, I have seen the
queues outside Westminster abbey, but I have also visited Lichfield
cathedral. They are both splendid buildings and a great joy to the Church.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): I have great sympathy for
cathedrals and the need to maintain ancient buildings, but does my hon.
Friend agree that it is slightly tacky to be unable to enter a cathedral,
such as York, without having to pay? That creates a bad impression in
people’s minds. In comparison, Chester cathedral has a quiet dignity. I hope
that he will be able to persuade the cathedrals to think again.
Sir Stuart Bell: As my hon. Friend knows, English Heritage announced last
week £1 million in grants for 2006 for 25 cathedrals. She refers to a
profound dilemma for Church and state. The state should contribute more to
our cathedrals, because they are part of our national heritage. It is a
debate that we are having with the state.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Do the Church Commissioners notice
any difference in attendance numbers between cathedrals that have a
compulsory charge and those that have only a voluntary levy?
Sir Stuart Bell: We have not made a study of that, but there are queues a
mile long outside Westminster abbey every day and my visits to Lichfield
show the same thing. The Church’s dilemma in keeping up its buildings is
profound: £900 million a year is spent on keeping up churches, which is an
enormous amount. How the Church deals with that in relation to the state is
a matter that I shall take up shortly with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): The 600-year-old great east window of York
minster is the biggest and greatest expanse of medieval stained glass
anywhere in the world. Its restoration has just begun and will cost about
£23 million. Does my hon. Friend agree that the charges that my hon. Friend
the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) criticised would be lower,
or not made at all, if the Government provided more support for our great
national heritage in our cathedrals?
Sir Stuart Bell: I return to my original point. How to handle the charges is
a matter for each cathedral, but York minster shows just how much work
cathedrals will continue to need to keep their fabric in good repair. The
major project on the east front will take time, effort and money.