Skip to main content

Royal Parks

Volume 448: debated on Monday 3 July 2006

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Secretary of State is a trustee for the nation of the 5,000 acres that comprise one of the most priceless assets that London has—the royal parks? Will he explain to the House why his Department’s grant to the royal parks has slipped by more than 20 per cent. since 1993? Will he further tell us why he is allowing these fragile environmental fabrics to be seriously degraded by too many unsuitable large-scale commercial events? Finally, will he deal with the £110 million backlog that the National Audit Office found in repairs undone?

If I were not aware that my right hon. Friend is a trustee of the royal parks, that would be seriously remiss of me given that I have spent quite a lot of time over the past year in the royal parks, meeting the Friends of the Royal Parks and the chief executive.

The hon. Gentleman’s tastes may well not be the same as those of Londoners and much of the country, but the Prince’s Trust concert and the success of Live8 indicate that the Royal Parks Agency has been very successful at some of the events that it has put on. However, he is right that there is a balance to be struck between those events and the more reflective enjoyment of those in the parks. That is why this year there have been fewer events in Hyde park. We keep those things under review, working with the Royal Parks Agency and, as I said, I shall be meeting the chief executive shortly.

As to the money, the hon. Gentleman should remember that the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee said in his report that there was

“untapped potential for the Agency to generate income from its considerable assets.”

It is right that the Government bear that in mind when making their grant in aid.

On a beautiful day like today it is obvious how very many people—visitors to London, those who work in the city and tourists—make intensive use of the royal parks such as Hyde park, Richmond park, St. James’s park and so on. Would the Minister care to pay tribute to the work of the Royal Parks constabulary, which is responsible for the safety, enjoyment and relaxation of those many people in the parks, and will he lay to rest the rumour that it may fall victim to the merger mania of forces and be absorbed by the Metropolitan police? That would be a dreadful step, would it not?

I am happy to pay tribute to the Royal Parks constabulary. Two of our parks have been awarded the green flag for 2005, and five are being put forward for a green flag for this year. A key criterion of that is that people who enter the parks feel safe, and that is largely down to the work of the constabulary. We ought to remember when thinking and talking about these issues that on Friday in Regent’s park there will be a memorial for the victims of the London bombings. The parks play a huge and important role in our national life.

In answer to the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), the merger has already taken place. The Royal Parks constabulary is now part of the Metropolitan police; I am assuming that the Minister was aware of that fact.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mr. Soames) rightly pointed out, our royal parks should be an oasis of calm and quiet contemplation for Londoners, commuters and tourists alike. The notion that in summer 2012 they should become one huge campsite to house those in London for the Olympic games, as suggested by the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward), is barmy. It is also in direct breach of the assurances given by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in this House in a debate initiated by me on 24 May 2004. Moneys can be raised to preserve the royal parks by other means, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) will point out—he was acting as an auctioneer at one such event last week. Will the Minister assure us that he will keep the Treasury at bay and his Department’s hands off our royal parks?

The hon. Gentleman is confused; the Royal Parks is an agency of the Government. The idea that the Government could keep their hands off is ridiculous given that we are funding it to the tune of £25.6 million. The hon. Gentleman’s tastes may not be the tastes of ordinary Londoners, but the Royal Parks always consults on its strategy for events, as he would expect, and it is right that we support it on the events taking place this year and in coming years.

Is the Minister aware that the financial position of the royal parks is now so dire that routine maintenance is having to be funded out of lottery grants? Is that an appropriate way to manage either the parks or lottery funds?

The national lottery, in particular the Heritage Lottery Fund, is funding parks throughout the country, and the constituencies of many hon. Members have benefited. Funding for the royal parks is increasing this year to £26.1 million. The hon. Gentleman knows that we are in the middle of the spending review, and it is right and proper that we consider the PAC’s comment that there is “untapped potential” to raise even more revenue from our parks. That is the position, and it is one that the Government have maintained for many years.