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Volume 42: debated on Thursday 5 May 1983

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Amendment made: No. 127, in line 11, leave out

'repeal section 4(2) of the National Gallery and Tate Gallery Act 1954'

and insert

`amend certain enactments relating to the heritage'. —[Mr. Channon.]

Order for Third Reading read.[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

10.11 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

At this hour, the House will not expect me to speak at great length on Third Reading.

Not all of us have the stamina of my hon. Friend.

The Bill is important, and has been much improved by its passage through both Houses of Parliament. I should like to say on behalf of the Government how grateful we are to hon. Members on both sides of the House and to those in another place for the immense amount of work that went into considering the Bill, which has been much improved. I should like to add my personal thanks to hon. Members who were helpful in Committee and in the House in trying to improve the measure.

I shall not go through the Bill in detail, as hon. Members know what is in it. The changes in status of the Victoria and Albert museum and the science museum, the armouries and the royal botanic gardens, Kew, will be long-term improvements in those organisations and will be widely welcomed. We rightly spent much time discussing the creation of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, which is a great reform.

As a result of the work of both Houses of Parliament we have been able to consider the future of local purchase grants, and adding trading companies. We have discussed the merits of trustees and how they should be appointed, and we have been able to add the national history museum, the British library and the armouries to the list of institutions that can transfer objects. We have been able to do work on historic gardens and historic land. A whole host of improvements have been made by both Houses.

This is a Bill that is to be welcomed. I am grateful to the House for its reception of the measure. I am sure that whatever may be our course of action in the next few weeks or months, one thing will be commonly agreed by all parties, which is the Bill is a modest but useful measure of reform. I hope that the House will give it a Third Reading.

The House may not expect the Minister to speak for two hours, but it may expect me to do so. However, I shall refrain from doing so. I join the Minister in thanking our colleagues on both sides of the House for the work that they have done on the Bill. I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt that it was a useful exercise. The Bill was improved enormously in the other place. If it is not self-congratulatory, may I say that we in this place we have improved the Bill considerably. If the Minister had listened more carefully to us, it would have been even better, but we cannot expect miracles. We are grateful for the way in which the Minister has responded to the suggestions that we made as positively as possible.

I have one or two regrets. One is that we are discussing the Bill on local election day, when more hon. Members should have been here to discuss an important measure, which will affect people in the longer-term more than many of the other measures that we discuss.

The establishment of the new commission is a major step forward. I hope that it opens up a new era in the promotion of and education about the preservation of our heritage. The one thing that has united both sides of the House has been that we wish the new commission well and hope that it achieves all that we want it to. I also have great hope that, when the commission comes into existence, it will announce new developments such as building the Roman fort at South Shields. However, I am not entirely sure that it will. I am glad that we have this new quango. It is a pity that the Secretary of State is no longer here, as I should have liked to remind him of that. We wish the Bill well and hope that it passes through the other place and receives the Royal Assent quickly so that the new commission can get on with the task of protecting the environment and our heritage.

10.15 pm

Unfortunately, I was unable to take part in the debate on Second Reading so I am glad to be able to add a few words of welcome to the Bill now.

It is an important Bill. It is a pity that more hon. Members are not present, but those who have been involved with it have devoted a considerable amount of time and attention to it. It is a model of how Parliament at its best can work. Hon. Members who have widely differing political convictions have been determined to make a good piece of legislation even better and have brushed aside doctrinal differences and concentrated on the merits of the case.

The Bill will be far more than my right hon. Friend the Minister claimed for it. It is not a moderate measure but a landmark in heritage legislation. It will come to be regarded as such. I hope that, in 30 years' time, it will be regarded with the same respect as that which in 1953 set up the Historic Buildings Council which has served the nation extremely well. The new commission can go on from strength to strength.

I am immensely encouraged and fortified by the knowledge that, whatever happens, this Bill is unlikely to be deleted from the statute book. Indeed, it is more likely to be added to. That is tremendously important. I have always believed that the arts and heritage should never become a political football. They have not been under successive Governments and this Government's record in that respect is notable.

Three years ago, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, to which we have all properly paid tribute, was set up by Act of Parliament. We all played our part in making that Act better. However, without the initiative of the Government, that would not have happened. By putting this measure at the forefront of the Queen's Speech last year, the Government did the heritage and arts world a great service. It is a significant measure, and I wish it well. We now await with eager anticipation the names of the commissioners and we want to know where they will house themselves. We also wish the new museum structure, for which my right hon. Friend is so responsible, well. The Bill is a major landmark in heritage legislation and I believe that 5 May 1983 will be remembered not as the day of local elections but as the day when Parliament set its seal on a heritage Bill of incalculable worth.

10.18 pm

Everything that can possibly be said has been said, and I merely echo with great sincerity the sentiments that have been expressed.

I agreed with the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) when he said that the Minister has been rather modest about the importance of the Bill. It is an extremely important measure and the right hon. Gentleman need not be modest about it or his achievement in presenting it to the House and bringing it to fruition. Improvements were made in Committee, and we are grateful for them. I should have liked other measures to have been accepted, but, in the fullness of time, we might persuade the Government to accept our proposals or, perhaps, they might be able to persuade us not to introduce them. I wish the measure well. It is a considerable achievement and we shall watch the commission's work in future and hope that it will have every possible success.

Before the Bill completes its passage through the House, and we hope successfully navigates any remaining shoals or storms in the other place, it is right briefly to reflect on its importance. That importance is best illustrated by the fact that the word "heritage" is in the title. When one considers that "heritage" means

"that which is or may be inherited",
it is immediately apparent how far-reaching, in terms of both time and space, this measure is destined to be.

The Bill's importance is also well shown by the inclusion of the word "national" in the title. Although the nation referred to on this occasion is England, when enacted this consequence of our deliberations will be of great and lasting benefit to the United Kingdom, which will gain from our endeavours further to protect, preserve and provide for our inheritance.

I add my congratulations to my right hon. and hon. Friends on launching and piloting the Bill and on their determination to ensure that it reaches safe harbour as an Act. Once again the Government have shown clearly their commitment to conserving and promoting all that is good about this still great country of ours. I feel immensely privileged to have had the opportunity to support such determination and achievement, which links a magnificent past with what I am confident can be a splendid future.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed, with amendments.