Thursday 25 January 2007
[Sir John Butterfill in the Chair]
[Relevant documents: Third Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Session 2005-06, HC 912, and the Government’s response thereto, Cm 6947.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Lammy.]
I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the report of the Select Committee on protecting and preserving our heritage. It is extremely gratifying to see the interest that the debate has generated among Members of the House and members of the public who have chosen to attend. That interest reflects the fact that our heritage in this country is perhaps one of our greatest assets: there is no question but that it is envied by many other countries and admired across the world. Our heritage is a wonderful demonstration of creativity in this country, in the work of our artists and architects, for example. It reminds us of our history, it has acted as a focus for regeneration and redevelopment, and it attracts thousands of visitors every year from within these islands and from abroad, which makes a major contribution to our economy.
The Government clearly have an important role in helping to protect, preserve and promote our heritage and that was explicitly recognised in 1992 with the creation of the Department of National Heritage, which has evolved into the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Despite its importance, I believe that too little attention is paid to heritage in this place. When my Select Committee decided to carry out an inquiry into heritage, it was the first time that it had been examined by the Committee for 12 years. Heritage debates are few and far between, which is perhaps reflected by the number of hon. Members who have chosen to come along this afternoon. It is an indication of how few opportunities there are to debate such matters.
During the course of the inquiry, we received a huge number of submissions. The Committee published about 124 of those, held six evidence sessions in public, and visited Lincoln and Liverpool. I would particularly like to thank the Committee’s two expert advisers, Bob Kindred, who is a conservation officer with Ipswich borough council, and David Sekers, who is a trustee of Heritage Link. Both provided us with invaluable advice.
There is no doubt that the debate is extremely timely. We are awaiting the outcome of a comprehensive spending review, which is keenly anticipated, if not feared, by those in the heritage sector. We also have concerns about the future funding of the Heritage Lottery Fund and are awaiting a decision from the Government about the financing of the Olympics, which may impact upon that. We are obviously looking forward to the publication of the heritage White Paper, which has been awaited for some time. I hope that the Committee’s report will have some influence on all three of those matters, and perhaps this debate will, too.
I begin by focusing on English Heritage, which plays a role as the Government’s main adviser on heritage matters. It also acts as a regulator through its responsibility for a large part of the heritage protection system, and it acts as a vehicle for support by giving grants and financial assistance to the maintenance of heritage properties. In recent times, the responsibilities given to English Heritage have increased. It has taken on the role of safeguarding maritime archaeology and it is due to play an even greater part in listed building administration and, in due course, designation. Fears have been expressed that there may be some conflict between those roles which could be made worse by the fact that resources have fallen behind. Priorities have had to be set and certain areas may have had less attention paid to them than others. That situation is now becoming critical.
Since 2000-01, the grant in aid given to English Heritage has fallen way behind inflation. Using the figures projected up to 2007-08, we calculated that there was a cumulative shortfall of £18 million. That is the amount by which the grant paid to English Heritage had declined in real terms by not keeping pace with inflation. It is also notable, as was pointed out to us vigorously by the sector, that English Heritage appears to have suffered much worse than other bodies funded by the DCMS.
It is perhaps a cause for celebration that museums, galleries and libraries have done relatively well in recent times, enjoying a 36 per cent. increase in funding. Funding for the Arts Council is up by 53 per cent. and that of Sport England is up by 98 per cent. We make no criticism of increases to those bodies, but they do draw a stark contrast with the failure to maintain funding, even at a pace level with inflation, that has been the fate of English Heritage. It has led many to believe that heritage is a low priority for the DCMS and that was the theme of the evidence given to us by a large number of our witnesses.
The consequence of the decline in funding of English Heritage has been a steady fall in the level of grants payable. There have been delays in processing applications and a number of the other functions that English Heritage is required to undertake have suffered as a result. Almost all our witnesses highlighted the serious impact that that is now having. The Government’s response to our report was to say:
“English Heritage is funded at a level which is sufficient for it to discharge its responsibilities and to deliver to a high standard.”
I have to say that that is not believed by almost anyone throughout the whole heritage sector. For that reason, the Select Committee recommended that there should be an above-retail prices index increase in grant-in-aid to English Heritage. That recommendation will become all the more important, given the proposals for the improved heritage protection regime, in which English Heritage will be required to play a major part.
I understand that the Minister will not be able to comment on the outcome of the CSR. I asked him on Tuesday whether he would like to comment on my pressing him to get more money for, or at least safeguard the resources available to museums, and he very honestly and frankly said, “No”. I suspect that his answer this afternoon may be the same. However, I urge him to press the case as hard as possible. We have great faith in his powers of persuasion at the Treasury, but it is desperately important, if we are to achieve half of the protection of heritage necessary, that we restore the finances of English Heritage and its ability to undertake its responsibilities.
We hoped that English Heritage might enjoy a period of some stability. It has had to undergo three reorganisations in recent times, and we were slightly alarmed when, in the middle of our inquiry, we discovered that it was to be subjected to a further peer review. We understand that that will not lead to major change, which is welcome, but there is still a gaping hole to be filled, which is the matter of who will be the next chairman of English Heritage. That has been the subject of speculation and press comment for some time, but time is running out and, at the very least, uncertainty has been created. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that an appointment will be made fairly soon.
I can fully understand why my hon. Friend should say that. Obviously, we have to go by what we have read in the press but it has seemed a remarkably unseemly process. On the other hand, I do not think that we want to delay for too much longer and so whatever solution is arrived at I hope that the matter can be resolved relatively swiftly. I look forward to the Minister saying a few words about that later in the debate.
I turn now to the specific responsibility of the Government. Clearly lead responsibility lies with the Minister’s Department, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We found that in fact heritage is important across the whole of government. The Department for Communities and Local Government, because of its responsibility for planning, has a major say and it is also a matter for the Treasury, because of funding and the tax regime, for the Department for Transport—particularly in relation to a national monument, Stonehenge, which I shall come on to—and for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has a lot of responsibility for ancient monuments and so on.
Like many hon. Members in the Chamber, my constituency includes a world heritage site—in my case, Edinburgh new town. Although most of the responsibilities for heritage in Scotland are devolved matters, the fiscal regime is a UK-wide responsibility. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman will come to VAT later in his speech, but for my constituency’s interests I share the concerns expressed by the Committee about the current arrangements, which more or less discourage the repair of historic buildings and favour alterations and new builds. I hope that the Committee will continue to represent that concern for all of us throughout the UK who share that interest.
The hon. Gentleman is correct. I was going to touch on that matter in due course, since this issue provoked more submissions than any other specific matter in our inquiry. However, even though that subject is relevant to what I want to say next, before I move on to it I want to say that the fact that heritage affects a number of Departments across government makes it more important that there should be a strong voice—a champion—for heritage issues in government. That is clearly a role for the DCMS. One would hope that the Department would be at the forefront of trying to put pressure on the Treasury to address VAT.
It was of some concern to us when we saw that the letter from the Prime Minister to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, which set out the priorities for her Department, did not mention heritage at all, although that was rectified in the response sent by the Department. We considered ways in which heritage might rise up the agenda across government. One suggestion was that green Ministers in each Department should also play a heritage role, and that was suggested in the Department’s paper, “A Force for Our Future”. I understand that that idea has not particularly found favour, but more attention clearly needs to be paid to heritage matters across government.
Another issue that we considered, which was put to us by several people, was that heritage might do better if it were not in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport at all. [Interruption.] It was suggested that it might be moved to the Department for Communities and Local Government. A huge amount of heritage issues are associated with planning matters, and we would like to see more attention paid to heritage and closer working between the Departments. Despite the support for that idea, which I heard just now from my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), we did not agree and felt that heritage was in the right place in the DCMS and that, as long as it was given the priority that it needs, it should stay there.
The Department’s key forthcoming heritage initiative will be the publication of the White Paper setting out the new proposals for heritage protection reform. It started life as a consultation back in 2003, and at that time it was envisaged that a White Paper would be published in 2005. When the Minister came to give evidence to the Committee, he said that there had been some delay and that he wanted to take account of the work that we were doing, which was a welcome commitment, and that the White Paper was likely to be published in autumn 2006. We are now in January 2007, so the first question that I want the Minister to answer is where the White Paper is and when we can expect it to be published.
In considering the bodies that have major responsibility in heritage, particularly for financing it, the other major contributor is the Heritage Lottery Fund. Originally, 20 per cent. of proceeds from the national lottery were to be put into heritage, and that figure fell to 16.6 per cent. I welcome the Government’s commitment that it will not fall further and that that proportion will remain for the time being. There is no question but that the Heritage Lottery Fund has made a fantastic difference. There is probably not a single constituency in the country that has not had some benefit from HLF funding. If I might be permitted, Sir John, I shall give three examples from my own area: Blue House farm in Fambridge was acquired by the Essex Wildlife Trust through the HLF; the excavation of Beeleigh abbey and the repair of St. James’s church in Dengie was financed by the HLF; and the Dawn Sailing Barge Trust, of which I am a patron, has received £675,000 towards restoration. I believe that that grant was made before I became Chairman of the Select Committee, in case there was any concern that I might have received preferential treatment.
I fear that I would have to give 103 examples from my constituency, which I suspect gets more from the Heritage Lottery Fund than any other body. I suspect that my hon. Friend will be coming to my point in his next few paragraphs, but although there are assurances from the Government about the 16.6 per cent. that will be taken into the HLF, given the emergence of the Big Lottery Fund surely the big issue is not so much whether it will have the same slice of the cake but how big that cake will be given our commitments to the Olympic games. Does my hon. Friend have any observations on that matter on behalf of his Committee that might help to inform the debate?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. That is the exact subject that I want to come on to and the Committee has some strong views on that.
The concern is about future funding. We already know that the funds available to the HLF will decline significantly. The establishment of an Olympic game will, we believe, cost the HLF some £75 million and the additional amount which it has been announced will be taken out of the main lottery will remove £68 million over four years from lottery funds. The HLF’s ability to fund projects in future will be considerably affected by that. The fund has made it clear to us that in the main large grants are likely to be cut. That is a matter of some concern. When we published our report, we said specifically that the Government should undertake that no more should be taken away from the original good causes to fund a possible increase in costs of the Olympics.
Since the report was published, we have had a second inquiry into the Olympics and we know, because the Secretary of State came and told us, that costs have already gone up by £900 million. We are awaiting a decision from the Government on how that money will be found. The Secretary of State gave us a strong steer in our session that she was looking to the lottery to make a big contribution, if not to meet the entire overspend. That is a matter of concern to us. There is no doubt that if the lottery has to go on giving more and more to meet the costs of the Olympics, its ability to fund other good causes will be severely affected. That risks doing real damage to all of those other areas—the arts, sport outside of the Olympics, charities and particularly the area that we are debating today, the heritage. Again, I do not expect the Minister to give a commitment, but I hope that he will at least take on board our strong view that it is not appropriate for the lottery to fund any more of the Olympic games than is already proposed.
I turn to the other big player in heritage matters, and perhaps the biggest—local authorities. They are doubtless at the sharp end in delivering heritage protection, and they have the key responsibilities. There is a huge variation between authorities in the degree of expertise that is available to them, the resources that they can put into heritage matters and the priority that they can give to it. Not all authorities employ conservation officers, and we are concerned that that position may deteriorate because, as the officers reach retirement age, they may not be replaced.
Our first recommendation was that more information is needed about the number of authorities that have conservation expertise, and about the extent to which that can be expected to increase or diminish in coming years. That is particularly important given that the main thrust of the heritage protection review will be to place new responsibilities on local authorities.
I commend my hon. Friend on the excellent way in which he chairs the Select Committee. Would he agree that world heritage sites can place a huge burden on local authorities such as Saltaire in my constituency? Does he agree that our recommendation that regional development agencies should do more to support local authorities is important in ensuring the funding necessary to support them properly? For instance, Yorkshire Forward in my area could do an awful lot more to support Bradford council, helping it with extra money to preserve our world heritage site.
In return, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who was assiduous in drawing our attention to the particular challenges faced by those authorities that have world heritage sites within their boundaries. It clearly is a difficulty. He is right to say that we believe that regional development agencies could help shoulder the burden. It is a wonderful thing to have a world heritage site close by, but it brings with it considerable costs and responsibilities. It seems unfair that a small authority should be expected to meet them all.
The general requirements on local authorities include maintaining historic environment records and establishing heritage partnership agreements with English Heritage. We are concerned that some authorities will not give priority to the heritage, and we believe that a case can be made for it becoming a statutory responsibility in some areas, as it may be the only way to ensure that they are properly resourced. Without doubt, the new responsibilities will bring significant extra costs.
The Minister told us of the compact that exists whereby, if the Government place extra burdens on local authorities, resources will be provided to meet them. If the heritage review is to work, it will need to be properly financed. I should be grateful if the Minister could assure us that local authorities will receive the funding necessary to meet their new responsibilities.
I thank my hon. Friend for generously giving way a second time. He appreciates, as we all do, the massive constraints on local government finance. However, if we are to believe in localism, we must also realise how important it is to avoid the passporting that has been the tendency over the past 20 years—under Conservative and Labour Governments. Does my hon. Friend recognise that realistically the money needs to come from central Government? The connection between a thriving heritage sector and a tourism industry that is worth £75 billion a year is crucial to the country.
Thank you, Sir John. I concur with my hon. Friend. Local authorities have the job of delivering at the cutting edge, but the Government must stand behind them.
I want to mention a few specific concerns. We feel that the question of existing controls in conservation areas needs to be addressed. We were particularly concerned that the Shimizu decision, which caused consternation across the heritage sector, has allowed the demolition of parts of unlisted buildings in conservation areas. That was acknowledged to be a serious problem, and the Government have indicated that they wish to correct it. We are slightly alarmed at the suggestion now being made by the Government that it is not a priority. Many do see it as a priority, and the sooner that loophole can be closed the better.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has already mentioned world heritage sites. I shall not repeat what he said, but I thoroughly agree with him. One such site—I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) may wish to speak about it if he catches your eye, Sir John—is Stonehenge. Thirteen years ago it was described as a national disgrace. If anything, it is worse now. We have the chance to address the problem and the sooner we put it right the better. It would end a shameful episode for our country. We have responsibility for what clearly is a major monument of world importance, and we are not giving it the attention that it deserves.
VAT was mentioned by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) and the subject was raised repeatedly during our inquiry. The fact that VAT is chargeable on repairs but not on new build distorts priorities and creates perverse incentives for owners to neglect buildings and allow them to fall down. It is the completely wrong priority.
An opportunity arose to put it right; the Government had the chance to use a time window and tell the European Union that we wished to have the opportunity at some point to take advantage of a reduced rate for VAT on labour input for repairs. We were extremely disappointed that the Treasury did not take up that opportunity. Indeed, we were somewhat disappointed that the Minister was not able to tell us that he had lobbied hard for the Treasury to do so. That window has now closed, but VAT remains a major problem. We would like to see it addressed, if not by a reduction perhaps by giving grants to those who have pay the tax. However, the problem will not go away.
Many private owners are struggling to maintain historic properties and keep them alive by making them their homes. One that we visited, Doddington Hall, is a wonderful example. Such places would not have anything like the same appeal or attraction if they were monuments rather than living homes, yet those people face major bills. For instance, we were shown the cracks in the walls, but those people do not have access to any help. We believe that a case can be made for limited relief being given to private owners, perhaps to be set against income for repairs.
Places of worship, too, are tremendously important. I am delighted to see the right hon. Members for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) here. I have no doubt that they will wish to say a few words on the subject. They are much more knowledgeable than I am. It is the case that 45 per cent. of grade I listed buildings are churches. The future cost of repairs is an enormous challenge for many of them. A strong case can be made for extra funding to be made available through English Heritage to try to maintain the 14,000 listed buildings that are places of worship.
Clearly, in their response to the report the Government did not have the chance to deal with everything, and we will not be able to do so this afternoon in this wide-ranging debate. Would my hon. Friend join me in saying that we would welcome it if the Minister were arrange to meet the Association of English Cathedrals, go through the list of points that it made to the Committee and then perhaps guide English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund to meet more fully what the association seeks?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That would be extremely helpful. I hope that the Minister will give a positive response.
There are several other areas. For instance, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham may wish to talk about archaeology, as he is more knowledgeable on the subject than I am.
I am afraid that an awful lot of the Committee’s recommendations boil down to asking for more money. Clearly, we recognise that this is a difficult time because there are competing priorities and the Minister has to make his case against the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills. However, there is a strong and desperate need for resourcing, because heritage has lost out in recent years, and a crisis is approaching. Unless we act, heritage monuments will be lost and gone for ever, and future generations would not forgive us if we allowed that to happen.
Order. We have two and a half hours left, and an awful lot of right hon. and hon. Members wish to contribute to this important debate. It would therefore be extremely helpful if hon. Members could be brief and, preferably, confine their remarks to a maximum of 10 minutes. If they do, we might just squeeze everybody in.
I shall attempt to be brief.
There has already been some discussion of the role of local authorities, and in one of its recommendations, the Committee, of which I am privileged to be a member, says:
“We agree that encouragement should be given to local authorities to treat the historic environment as a higher priority. We recommend that a set of statutory services and standards should be developed, possibly along the lines suggested by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation”.
I want to press the Minister on the urgent need to introduce such statutory provisions, because it is not clear from the Government’s response how far they have accepted that recommendation.
In that respect, and with hon. Members’ indulgence, I want to mention a place in my constituency. It is called Turton tower and is the only grade I listed building in Blackburn with Darwen. However, its future is rather in limbo, and that illustrates why we need a statutory set of requirements on local authorities.
Turton tower is situated just off Chapeltown road in Turton, which is near Bolton, although, as I said, it is in my constituency. It was originally built in Tudor times, but it was altered and extended during the Stuart and Victorian times. It now stands as it was in 1850. At one point, it was the home of Sir Humphrey Chetham, the founder of Chetham’s hospital and Chetham’s school of music in Manchester. He had been the Lancashire treasurer for the roundhead forces in the civil war and built the tower to entertain his troops.
After falling into decline during the Georgian era, the house was rescued by the Kay family, who restored and extended it, taking it into the Victorian period. The house dates from the 15th century and is set in beautiful grounds on the edge of the west Pennine moors, which are a popular walking area. It has many thousands of visitors every year and is well worth a visit; indeed, pupils from many schools in the area go there on important educational visits.
Turton tower belongs to the trustees—the North Turton parish council. To meet the costs of maintaining the tower, the council has leased it to Lancashire county council’s museums service, which continues to run it. However, the service has given notice of its intent to withdraw services in April 2008. The trustees and friends of the tower are working together to secure a future for the tower. As I mentioned at the beginning, Turton tower is the only grade I listed building in the borough of Blackburn with Darwen. We therefore strongly believe that the local authority should give special priority to taking over its ownership and maintenance.
To conclude, Turton tower is one example of why it is important to have a statutory set of standards and services for local authorities, and I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance on the issue.
First, I declare an interest as the chairman of the Historic Chapels Trust—it is a non-financial interest, because it is a voluntary trust—and as the president of the North of England Civic Trust. I also represent a constituency in which English Heritage is a big player, taking responsibility for the walls and barracks of Berwick-upon-Tweed, for Norham castle and for providing advice on a huge number of listed buildings.
Let me start by saying how valuable the Select Committee’s report is and how indebted we are to the Committee for identifying a whole range of issues. Not all those issues relate to money; some relate to legislation, priorities and the attention that should be given to aspects of our heritage.
When we discuss British identity and community cohesion, it is important to know where we and the component elements of our community have come from so that we can understand where we are going and how we get there. A knowledge and understanding of history, particularly as displayed in the buildings that communities put up, is therefore immensely valuable. Indeed, it starts to lead to a shared understanding and to shared ownership. That is particularly true of the redundant buildings with which I deal in the trust and the buildings with which the Churches Conservation Trust deals. It is important to involve wider communities, including people of different religions or no religion, in caring for buildings that show the part that religions have played in our history.
Let me make a general point about the Committee’s findings as regards the real-terms decline in English Heritage’s grant. This is a serious matter, but the Government’s attitude to it, as set out in their formal response to the Committee, is complacent. They say:
“English Heritage is funded at a level which is sufficient for it to discharge its responsibilities and to deliver to a high standard.”
Of course English Heritage discharges its responsibilities and delivers to a high standard, but it does so only to the limited extent that its funding allows, and a real-terms decline will further limit the extent to which it can discharge those responsibilities. That is universally recognised in the heritage field. There is real doubt as to whether the comprehensive spending review will address the issue, particularly when, as the Committee identified, the Government’s letter to the Department did not prioritise its heritage responsibilities.
At the same time, we have the anxiety about the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is a crucial player in this regard, because its grant-giving ability is impaired in various ways. It could be impaired by the impact of the Olympics, particularly if that impact becomes greater. It is also impaired by the great pressure to apply criteria that are sometimes difficult to maintain. My trust looks after some extremely remote buildings, and it is completely unrealistic to expect it to identify the number of people from ethnic minorities who pass through their doors in an average week. Some of those buildings are high up on mountain sides in the middle of a forest in areas where there are no ethnic minorities. That is not to say that we cannot or do not try to show ethnic minorities the importance of their buildings and of buildings with a similar history. One building that the trust looks after was built by German immigrants who were sugar boilers in the east end of London. It was built in the 18th century and stands there to this day, highlighting how communities came into this country and became partners with us in our heritage. None the less, the HLF is under too much pressure to tick boxes that are not always appropriate.
As I said, I am worried about the potential of the Olympics. The games are, of course, an opportunity because many of the people who come to Britain to watch Olympic sports will also want to see our heritage and historic buildings, and many of them will visit such buildings. The two things should not get out of kilter.
Before I deal specifically with places of worship, let me refer to VAT as it affects the wider range of heritage buildings. As the Committee identified, the Chancellor has sought to help places of worship in respect of VAT. However, it remains a foolish distortion that, for most other buildings, it is better to rebuild than to repair from a VAT standpoint, and that needs to be addressed.
On places of worship, let me welcome in passing English Heritage’s inspired campaign to direct people to the value for our heritage of the inspirational buildings that the Churches have put up over the years. Let me also pay tribute in passing to the Churches Conservation Trust, which does a fantastic job with a very large portfolio of buildings. There are certain differences between that trust and the Historic Chapels Trust, but it does an enormous job. The Historic Chapels Trust was set up to deal with buildings—other than Church of England parish churches—that had become redundant. In particular, it deals with buildings that have precious but inflexible interiors and which might lose some of their valuable features if converted for some other use.
There is an error in the Government’s response to the report because it describes the trust as dealing with non-conformist buildings whereas in fact the trust was set up to deal with all the categories I have mentioned. The buildings it looks after include three Catholic churches, the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Blackpool—a 1950s building of great interest—and an 18th century Catholic chapel. In future we would expect to have synagogues and some day maybe a mosque among the portfolio of redundant buildings that we look after.
The Committee has been kind to the trust and in the report commends it
“for its vigour in raising funds and its success in sustaining itself”
I fear that we may have oversold ourselves in our evidence by demonstrating the extent of what we have been able to do. That has led the Committee to say, “Well the Churches Conservation Trust has a real hard struggle ahead, but the Historic Chapels Trust is doing a wonderful job”. We will be careful of that in any future evidence that we give.
The Churches Conservation Trust is trying to do some of the things that we were forced to do from the beginning, such as extending community involvement and building up groups of friends and local committees to help support buildings. We had to do that from day one.
Should the wider community not regard it as an obligation regardless of religious affiliation to look after those great buildings? That is something that I have tried to encourage in my constituency. Far too often religious buildings are a minority interest and it is left to the people who chose to worship there to maintain them. That is clearly wrong, but at the same time those buildings should be made more applicable to community use—surely that would be a way forward.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. That is the basis of English Heritage’s Inspired campaign for places of worship in use, which is achieving success in underscoring increasing recognition by people that the local parish church or non-conformist chapel is part of their heritage and that they can enjoy and use it even if they do not share the religious faith for which it was built and that primarily sustains it.
We deal with buildings that are no longer in regular use where there is an even greater reason for the wider community to make more use of them. I can say that they do so and that it is rewarding to find out what they use them for. The trust’s achievements over the years have been quite remarkable and are almost entirely because of the director and those who have given voluntary help in restoring, maintaining, and getting community use out of buildings that were once purely places of worship. Such buildings are now used for concerts, lectures and ballet schools, and in other ways. One of our buildings is a Quaker meeting house in the Yorkshire dales and is a common place for people to stop when walking the Dales Way so that they can have a moment’s peace and contemplation. That is very much in conformity with its historical tradition.
The trust spent £866,000 on a magnificent restoration of St George’s Lutheran church in the east end of London, which I have already mentioned, of which £550,000 came from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a substantial sum came from English Heritage. Again £850,000 has been spent on a small independent chapel, the Salem chapel in East Budleigh, Devon. The Bethesda chapel in Stoke-on-Trent, which is a massive and magnificent non-conformist chapel in the centre of the Potteries, has had £800,000 spent on it during stage one of the restoration, of which £265,000 was lottery funding and £200,000 money from English Heritage. The rest was largely regeneration and Stoke city council funding, which was hugely appreciated locally. Ten architectural awards have been won in the course of our work. Some of the buildings we deal with are in urban locations where regeneration has taken place and some are in remote rural places; some come to us in reasonable order and some are massively difficult to deal with.
When HCT was established through a Government initiative and under the chairmanship of Sir Hugh Rossi, it was expected to be funded on a similar basis to the Churches Conservation Trust—about 70 per cent. funding from the DCMS and the rest from other sources. In practice, HCT has raised roughly a third of its funding from English Heritage, a third from Heritage Lottery and a third from its own efforts, which have made up to £6 million so far. We were commended for the amount that we have raised and for what the trust achieves with one part-time director and one full-time seconded member of staff, which is the total staff that administers all of the projects.
On the differences between HCT and CCT, the latter has a more secure source of funding in its grant. I understand that its buildings, unlike ours, do not have to be insured because the Government take responsibility for them. However, we pay £25,000 to £30,000 a year in insurance costs. There are problems that are particular to HCT as we have to find match funding and 30 per cent. of our office costs. Any organisation in the heritage field, as it knocks on the doors of trusts and organisations, finds that a certain amount of grant fatigue is setting in. There are many voluntary and charitable funds and applicants in the heritage area and people are beginning to limit the extent to which they can give.
The work of restoring buildings and making them available for wider use is hugely rewarding, uplifting and exciting. However, there is a question mark over the future of that work in relation to the funding problems that I have described. I will conclude by mentioning one typical instance of how rewarding it is. One day, we all went into Bethesda chapel in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, which has been empty for 20 years. It was immediately following the appearance of the building on the BBC’s “Restoration” programme and the local newspaper photographer came along with his hard hat on and was ready to take some photographs. As soon as he had taken his photographs, he got his mobile phone out, rang his mother and said, “I am in the chapel. Is this where grandma and granddad got married, where I was christened, and where you told me that you used to go to big events?” There was a great sense of excitement from a member of the community who was not involved in the denomination—indeed, the denomination left the building around 20 years ago. He felt that this was a building really worth restoring because it was part of his history and life. That is what makes such work rewarding and it is the kind of thing in the heritage area that I want to see us able to continue.
I wish to make one point and in doing so I thank and congratulate the Committee on its report. The point of this issue is to raise the strength of the Minister’s hand so that he can punch well above his weight in the negotiations that have no doubt been in process and will continue until we get the next expenditure round announcement.
Some hon. Members may have heard the Secretary of State for Education and Skills on the radio this morning. He was asked his first question and then there was a pause. Considering he had been given notice that he would be questioned on the adoption issue, I thought maybe I had misheard and that it was already that issue he was being asked about and hence the pause, but it was not. The interviewer said to him, “What do you mean by being British if you are having this campaign?” One sympathises with him because it was a nonsense question. Most of us do not think of ourselves as British; we think of ourselves as coming from Scotland, Wales, England or far away places while nevertheless having an identity based on the country in which we live.
I wish to raise a point with the Committee. However one interprets the answer to the question of what it is to be English, to try and wipe out the role of ecclesiastical buildings, whether they are churches or cathedrals, would make that question impossible to answer. Any future idea about the pleasure and pride of being English would be devalued if we lost those buildings. I point out to the Minister that there is a danger of an increasing number of buildings of huge merit being under threat. I will draw examples from the cathedral side as I chair the Cathedrals Fabric Commission—the planning authority for cathedrals—and as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has said, I am a trustee of the Churches Conservation Trust. Just because cathedrals have been successful in the past in raising huge sums of money, we cannot automatically expect that they will continue to do so.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
As I was saying before the Divisions, I have one message, and it is for the Minister. Although those people who are concerned to ensure that the great cathedrals of England, their great parish churches or churches in retirement survive have had success in raising funds in the past, we cannot assume that they will be successful in the future.
The market for finance is changing. St. Paul’s cathedral in the heart of London has the City of London to draw on. The cathedral has recently been massively successful in raising a huge budget for repair and conservation. However, the City has changed. There are fewer great institutions controlled by boards in London, and their numbers will continue to decline. The big decisions about which projects to back are made in Bonn, Berlin, New York and Paris, and the going will become tougher for cathedrals, even those that are strategically placed to raise money, such as St. Paul’s and Canterbury.
The second area on which I sound a note of warning to the Minister and to the Committee concerns the Churches Conservation Trust. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was right to draw Members’ attention to the difference between the Historic Chapels Trust, which brilliantly manages a small number of buildings, and the Churches Conservation Trust, which has about 350 grade I or grade II* buildings. This morning we had a trustee meeting. We had a report from just one deanery of one diocese in this country, which is reviewing the number of graded church buildings that it needs. If that one deanery in one diocese decided to go for redundancy on all those buildings that it does not now require for its parish system, it would flood the trust. We obviously hope that the deanery, the diocese and the Church Commissioners will resist a trend of that nature.
However, I again emphasise that just because the trust has successfully taken on all the churches of outstanding merit that the commissioners wish to vest with it in the past, that does not necessarily mean success in the future. As the Minister well knows and as the Committee notes in its report, our budget over a six-year period has been cut in real terms. That brings me back to my first question. There will be lots of answers to the question of what people identify with being English, but it is difficult to give a sensible answer without thinking about our great ecclesiastical buildings, be they cathedrals or churches.
I end on a note of slight disappointment with one of the comments that the Chairman of the Committee made. I agreed so much with his other comments, which were immensely valuable, but he said that he had one last point to make and one last great institution to turn to. I thought for a moment that he was going to refer to the Churches Conservation Trust, the Cathedrals Fabric Commission or the Historic Churches Preservation Trust, for it is within local communities and civil society that the great treasures of our ecclesiastical and built heritage are kept. I had not realised how far the review by the Leader of the Opposition had gone. Far from the Chairman referring to civil society, he referred to local government as the other big player.
Local government is of course the other big player. However, because the voluntary sector and civil society have done the business in the past, it would be foolish for the House or the Government to think that they can continue to do so without increased support from taxpayers—the Government have no money; the money is taxpayers’ money—on all the criteria that the Committee lists. Not only do many taxpayers contribute directly from their own pockets but, to judge from their actions, would clearly wish the Government not to cut back but to increase their expenditure. I hope that the Minister will not only take that message away, but deploy it with his usual skill in the final round of negotiations with our friendly Chancellor.
I start by congratulating the Committee on its excellent report. In my remarks, I should like to refer to paragraph 134 on planning guidance, paragraph 163 on Stonehenge, and paragraph 199 on places of worship. The Government did not respond to the Committee’s comments on Stonehenge or places of worship, which is an omission to which I wish to draw to the Committee’s attention.
I should also like to point out that evidence was taken from the Association of Gardens Trusts, the Garden History Society, the Historic Royal Palaces, the Yorkshire Gardens Trust, the Hampshire Gardens Trust and the Valley Gardens Action Group, but the report did not refer to gardens. That is an important omission, because listing is not exclusively about buildings; it also covers gardens, a number of which are under threat. In my judgment, there is a grave danger that many of our historic gardens could be redesigned without anyone noticing. We are losing too many historic gardens.
Yes, such gardens are indeed listed gardens. They are protected, and the criteria for looking after them are laid down carefully for planning authorities. However, whether people are interfering or snooping, or are keen gardeners, in general they probably do not know much about listing of gardens. Perhaps local authorities do not know either, so we all need to be more beady-eyed.
I shall make a few remarks about archaeology, although my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) will say more about that. I declare a non-pecuniary interest as a director and trustee of Wessex Archaeology. As the report points out, there are some problems in the planning system. Although planning policy guidance note 16 is working well, I should like it to be reinforced for the future.
For a start, there is a major problem with museums’ capacity to deal with and make accessible the volumes of material that are generated at excavation. That is a serious and growing problem. We would welcome the implementation of heritage planning systems, which go much beyond the narrow definition of what happens with archaeology. Again, there is a shortfall in capacity, resources and training in that respect within authorities and organisations at both local and national levels.
Additionally, archaeologists and trusts such as the Wessex trust would very much like the principles enshrined in PPG 16 to be properly applied to estuarine, coastal and underwater works. We were to have a maritime Bill, which would have included that. As our inshore coastal waters are scoured for infrastructure projects, as well as for fishing, it is increasingly important that we protect them properly. I refer not only to wrecks but to other features, particularly in areas such as the Thames estuary and the Solent.
We would like to see some more joined-up government in general. Responsibility for heritage matters is spread too widely across Departments. Some Departments, such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, have taken steps to ensure that heritage matters are better integrated into their activities, but others do not do the same. For example, the importance of heritage in regeneration and sustainable development projects has not yet been recognised and championed in the Government, as far as I can see. I want to give more power to the Minister’s elbow to do more to raise the profile and the importance of heritage for today’s developments, as well for ancient history.
There is a huge debt of gratitude to be paid to a remarkable organisation which is about to celebrate its tercentenary and which I commend as a voluntary sector model for heritage. I refer of course to the Society of Antiquaries of London, which is a little-heralded organisation. We should pay more attention to what it has to say.
Finally on archaeology, I beg the Minister to ensure that not all the available money is spent on the Olympics. The Olympics are soaking up more and more of future budgets, both of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and of the lottery grant funding bodies. The Minister will of course not be surprised to hear that I believe that a sizeable chunk of money should be available for Stonehenge.
I shall not bang on about Stonehenge at great length—I have done so on many occasions over the past 23 years in which I have had the honour of representing Stonehenge in the House—but I will share with the House my favourite press release from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Headed “‘Stonehenge Will Be Reunited With Its Natural Landscape By 2008’ Says Arts Minister”, it says:
“ This is a great day for Stonehenge. The decision to go ahead with a bored tunnel near the site is a better solution than previous plans for a cut and cover tunnel… I am delighted that this decision has been agreed. We can now press ahead with our plans to complete the Stonehenge project in line with our original timetable of 2008.”
However, the “Notes to Editors” say:
“Subject to the Statutory Procedures being completed on schedule it is hoped to start construction in 2005. The scheme will open in stages with the flyover being completed by 2007 and the rest of the scheme in 2008.”
That is an archive press release from the Department, which was issued in 2002. Of course, nothing has happened since, except more prevarication by the Department for Transport. I do not doubt for a moment the good will of the Secretary of State or the Minister, both of whom have visited Stonehenge. I was delighted to meet and greet the Secretary of State there in September. However, the situation is a national disgrace and not only in the way identified 20 years ago by the forerunner of the Select Committee. It remains a national disgrace that the problem is too great for the Government to crack.
On cathedrals, I shall not repeat what others have said so well before me, but one aspect needs to be drawn to the Select Committee’s attention again: the problem of cathedral closes and leasehold reform, about which I wrote to the Minister on 6 November last year. I pointed out the serious situation developing not only in Salisbury cathedral close, but others as well. More than a score of the greatest, most historic, oldest and best houses in Salisbury cathedral close are passing out of the control of the dean and chapter and into private hands. That has happened already, and only today, I heard of the latest case, in which another remainder of a 60-year lease has been purchased. As a result, the house will be bought freehold and pass out of the dean and chapter’s control.
That matters because it not only fragments the historic environment of Salisbury cathedral close, but deprives the dean and chapter of income that they have had for hundreds of years from houses in the close. How has that situation arisen? As a former chorister, the Minister understands cathedrals; however, he was advised that the problem was not for him but for the Department for Communities and Local Government to deal with. What a pity.
In September last year, Christopher Lewis, chairman of the Association of English Cathedrals, also wrote to the Minister to point out what had gone wrong. It all started with the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, which enabled tenants of houses held on long leases at low rents to acquire the freehold or extend the lease term. The 1967 Act was originally considered unlikely to apply to houses such as those in cathedral closes, but then the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 was passed. It extended the right of enfranchisement collectively to blocks of flats. By virtue of section 96, however, flats belonging to cathedrals were specifically excluded following debates in Parliament in which it was pointed out the significance of deans and chapters of cathedrals maintaining their direct control over those properties. But, of course, that exclusion did not apply to houses.
Later, the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 removed the low-rent requirement of the 1967 Act. As a consequence, more cathedral houses fall within the Act and will be liable to enfranchisement. That significantly affects closes—not only Salisbury’s; Norwich cathedral close is another good example. Flats, however, remain unenfranchisable because of the exemption in the 1993 Act.
The Care of Cathedrals Measure 1990 introduced a specific and comprehensive series of statutory controls over works within the precincts as well as those on the cathedral itself. That overcame the objection that cathedral precincts were hard to define, so there is now clear demarcation of the relevant area. I wrote to the Minister and his officials passed my letter to Baroness Andrews, a Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government. She wrote me a letter—sadly undated, although clearly after I had written to her—in which she said:
“Whilst appreciating that the relaxation of the qualifying rules may mean that more houses within Cathedral precincts now fall within the scope of the legislation, it does not follow that this will necessarily create problems to buildings of historical and architectural importance.”
Quite so, but that is not the point; it goes beyond that. She went on to say that she understood that
“any appropriate restrictive covenants…in place will continue to apply and, when enfranchisement does take place the leaseholder is required to pay a premium to the freeholder”.
That is all true, but that is not the point. Having missed the point, Baroness Andrews ended her letter thus:
“Finally, whilst there are no current plans to amend the 1967 Act in this regard, the issue you raise will be borne in mind for any future reforms.”
We have all said that as Ministers, have we not, Minister?
I submit that this is not good enough. We cannot have buck-passing from Department to Department on important issues of heritage. The Government must get their act together. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), understands cathedrals, just as I know he understands Stonehenge and wants to see the Department for Transport take a grip.
I should like to make another point about places of worship and the Select Committee’s report. It is not made often, but it was made forcefully by the Bishop of London in a magnificent publication of July last year: “The Funding of Church Buildings: the Next Steps”. It is that the Church reaches every parish in this country. The established Church has a physical and spiritual presence that delivers Government policy on a whole range of areas in the social field—from crèches to looking after the elderly; it is using its facilities and opening its doors. That point needs to be borne in mind when the Church says, “Help! There is a huge shortfall of nearly £60 million a year in the requirement to maintain our buildings, but the Church’s real function is ministry.” It is doing the ministry bit to help the Government; please will the Government help churches to deliver that and look after our heritage?
Before I make my final comments, I should like to mention one other aspect of cathedrals: the importance of cathedral music and the choral tradition. I am a member of an illustrious organisation called Friends of Cathedral Music. My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) hosted a reception at the House of Commons, which unfortunately I was unable to attend, to celebrate the organisations latest birthday.
I have always benefited from cathedral music. I was educated at Salisbury Cathedral choir school and went on to sing in the choir of Clare college, Cambridge. Lest some feel that this issue is relevant only to English cathedrals, I should say that it is not. Believe it or not, I was a lay clerk in St. Giles cathedral in Edinburgh, where I learned to loathe the metrical psalms with a loathing greater than anyone can imagine. However, a wonderful tradition of British cathedral music extended north of the border, for which I was grateful.
Returning to English cathedrals and the importance of maintaining their music and the tradition that goes with it, I am glad that the Department for Education and Skills has funded a new initiative that will benefit cathedral choir schools up and down the land. I encourage the Government to do more on that important issue.
I really cannot let the hon. Gentleman get away with his remarks, lest the Minister think that there is not a burgeoning interest in both west gallery music, an important part of our musical heritage, and metrical psalms in Scotland. If we lost those traditions, we would also be impoverished.
I entirely concur. The Scottish Parliament should pay far more attention to the metrical psalms. As long as I am not asked to be nice about them, I shall not mind.
I turn to another very important part of our built heritage: the rural heritage of agricultural buildings, particularly listed barns. At the end of last year, my district council’s planning authority put out a press release headed “Farmer Fined for Demolishing Listed Barn”:
“A farmer who demolished a 17th century Grade II listed barn in Winterbourne Gunner has been fined £12,000 with £2,500 costs by Salisbury magistrates.”
The district council said that that was good because it was serious about looking after our heritage. That is fine, but what happens in a depressed agricultural industry that does not have tuppence to spare, let alone the money to meet very substantial costs for looking after a building of no economic value whatever to the farmer?
Such buildings cannot be used for anything; they cannot house machinery, they are not allowed to take the stock because they do not conform to modern standards. It is not possible to get planning permission to turn them into houses or flats for holidaymakers because the planning authority says that they are listed agricultural buildings.
Although I commend Salisbury district council on its enthusiasm for maintaining listed barns, I was not alone in thinking that that would not be the end of the story. The following week, the local paper published a letter from Jen Carter of East Gomeldon, under the headline, “Farmer has his head screwed on”. The letter pointed out that the farmer had saved himself £3,500 by moving in with a bulldozer and knocking the barn down the night before the arrival of contractors sent in by the district council for which he was going to have to fork out £18,000. I do not condone his actions, but I believe that farmers in straitened circumstances cannot be held responsible for the maintenance of their listed barns.
I started asking questions, because I wondered whether the problem was extensive. I received a letter from a large local landowner who had a farm on his land where the listed building was one of a group on which he had spent almost £500,000 in the past two years. He told me that the planning authority was trying to persuade him that he needed to spend £76,743 on another listed barn, but that the engineers whom he employed said that the work on that one 19th-century, rebuilt, falling-apart building of no economic value whatever would cost £188,000.
I then asked the Minister, in a parliamentary question, how many
“barns and…other agricultural buildings are listed Grade II and above in each county in England.”—[Official Report, 27 November 2006; Vol. 453, c. 279W.]
I shall not read out the list, but I discovered that there are 19,937 barns listed at grade II and above and 69,000 listed agricultural buildings, including those barns. This is a national problem with a national price tag. If the Government seriously expect a depressed agricultural industry to spend huge sums of money on those 69,000 agricultural buildings, they have another think coming. The problem is counter-intuitive because the more that local authorities press for barns to be kept up, the more they will be knocked down. We must have a solution. The Department should take the lead and realise that this major part of the English rural heritage needs to be addressed.
Any hon. Member who speaks in this debate could say that their constituency has a rich and varied heritage, and mine is no different. Indeed, it is added to by the fact that we are a port and therefore have lots of industrial archaeology, which I shall touch on. First, however, I want to look at the national and international picture.
We cannot have a National Gallery unless it has money to buy pictures. Without that it becomes a morgue. We cannot have the V and A, the National Portrait Gallery and the John Donne appeal or the British Museum if they have no capacity to buy. They will constantly depend on charity or rich people to buy them pieces. In the world market, the voracious Gulbenkian and Getty organisations, which have substantially more money than the Government can put to a fund, will always outbid us in Sotheby’s, Christie’s or in private deals.
The problem is that in the 1990s, the Conservative Government mixed the two budgets. There used to be a separate fund for buying art, which was changed in the cuts of that decade and merged with the fund for the running costs of museums. That was a mistake. We must fight to have separate funds for running museums and for buying pieces. That is critical because we will not always be able to save our fantastic pictures.
I am reminded of Joseph Nye’s great book on soft diplomacy. The British Museum is doing magnificent work in Beijing and Addis Ababa, and the V and A is also doing great work. They do countless things, but they have no budget for them. That should be part of our overseas soft diplomacy budget. If we do the British Council, the Open University and BBC World Service, we must find, in the Foreign Office, the money to do soft diplomacy with our arts and music. It is wrong that all that has to come out of one major budget for our major institutions.
I hope that when the White Paper comes, the funds will be separated into three: one for purchasing, one for running costs and one for soft power overseas. Since 9/11, we have lost our ideas about what soft power can do. Part of that soft power is our music, art and, fortunately, through the English language, poetry and literature. It is difficult, when we are bidding against institutions such as the Guggenheim, which is building different Guggenheims all over the world, and the Getty Foundation. If we do not resolve that crisis, we are in danger.
My second point is about the lottery. The original lottery Act in 1996 said that a certain amount of tax would go to the Treasury. I have looked into this and spoken to the Treasury—I am fed up of talking to it—and have been told that the reason for the 12p tax was that when people go into shops to buy their tickets, they displace that 12p. The thinking is that someone will go to a shop to buy some milk and bread but then think, “Oh no, I’ll have a lottery ticket.” That simply is not true. They will go in and buy the bread, the milk, stamps and a lottery ticket, so the premise behind the tax is wrong. I do not know how we got away with that—it was not Labour, but it was wrong then and it is wrong today.
If that 12p in the pound was divvied up between heritage and the Olympics, everyone in the House would be thrilled, because we would not have to raid London taxpayers for the Olympics, and we would not be raiding the rest of the lottery budgets, which is what we want. I urge the Minister and his Department to go back to the Treasury and fight. When I was on the Select Committee, there was, amazingly, an investigation by the Treasury into that 12p tax—I remember interviewing the Treasury about it—but it went into a void and was never completed. That was six years ago.
Clearly, the Treasury is working out how to help, but we are in danger here; we need that 12p. It should be the taxpayer who pays for the lottery, and all of the money from the 12ps should be used for what we need.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for correcting me on the dates, but still the idea makes no sense. There is no displacement and that is the basis of the Treasury’s point.
The lottery is at the root of this issue. The Minister has to understand that if there is to be an election in 2009, it simply is not good politics to have in every constituency three or four lottery projects that are short of money because funds have been raided for the Olympics. That is complete madness and no sane Government would do it. We have to resolve this serious issue quickly, not in 2008 or 2009, and before we start raiding for the Olympics.
Something on which I pride myself is my work on saving ships. The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and I saved, not quite single-handedly, HMS Cavalier, which was about to be towed to Malaysia for scrap. I am pleased to say that we bullied the Heritage Lottery Fund into giving us £800,000, and the ship is now in Chatham naval dockyard.
Although we have won the debate that ships should come under the Heritage Fund, we have the same problems that the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) mentioned about listing. We could list endless boats—hundreds and hundreds—because we are a maritime nation. We have a top 50, but what is the good? They are going to be sunk. They will be properly listed, but it is not just the priority order that matters—funding has to be attached. It is mad to say simply, “Here is the list.” What business runs like that? It is crackers to say, “Here is the list, and it will be the list next year and the year after.” Money has to be put to these things. If it is not, I am afraid they sink or get taken down the day before. It is a madness. We are not dim; we can work this out. It hurts people who served on those boats in the war when they are not preserved. We should see that that is wrong.
I have a rather interesting story about the Tudor mansion in my constituency in which Henry VIII spent his honeymoon with Anne Boleyn. It was falling down—indeed, it has very nearly fallen down—and because of the money shortages in 1996, English Heritage put up £200,000-worth of scaffolding to save the façade. I asked the then Minister whether he would list the scaffolding, because I could not understand how on earth we were going to save it. However, I am pleased to say that Dr. Thurley came to visit and he considers it to be one of the great examples of Tudor architecture. We have finally saved the façade, and for those of us on the Isle of Sheppey, there is not much from that age left, so I say a big thank you to the Minister. It is fantastic, and as he knows, when it reopens I have asked him to open it.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) not only on his report, but on his speech.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt) talked about museums. It was not strictly relevant to the report, but it was certainly relevant to any debate about heritage. The Minister knows that I secured an Adjournment debate on purchase grants last autumn. He and I did not see entirely eye to eye on the issue, although when I secured my debate on churches just before Christmas, a spirit of amity had broken out. I am delighted that the Minister is in that mood this afternoon.
I wish that the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey did not have to plead for the lottery as he did. Those words, coming from the chairman of the all-party Olympics and Paralympics group, ought to be heeded, because when a Member who has made sport his life and been a distinguished sportsman himself recognises that our heritage is in danger if we do not get our priorities right, we should take careful account.
I wish that the Department did not put sports and heritage together. I wish that we had a department of tourism, arts and heritage; it would make much more sense. That is in no way a criticism of the Minister, but I hope that this Government, when they change Prime Minister, or the next Conservative Government, when they enter office, will give some thought to what makes sense as a departmental package.
The tourists who come in great numbers to this country come as much as anything else to enjoy our arts and our heritage. They flock to our cathedrals, our country houses and our wonderful coastlines, and they come to enjoy those unique parts of our country, bringing with them vast sums of money. I have been chairman of the all-party arts and heritage group for a long time now, and no Government of either party have fully recognised the amount that tourism revenue generates, nor that it is generated in large measure by arts and heritage.
We debate the report at a critical time. One might say that all times are critical: way back in 1976 I published a book called “Heritage in Danger”, in which I sought to detail many threats to our historic landscapes, churches and houses. We have made considerable progress since then. We did not in those days have a National Heritage Memorial Fund, still less a Heritage Lottery Fund, and we did not have a Cabinet Minister to speak up for our heritage.
Although considerable progress has been made, over the past few years the perception—I choose my words carefully—has increasingly been that the Government do not care sufficiently about our heritage. That, again, is no personal criticism of the Minister; I have absolute confidence in his personal integrity. However, the Government have not shown sufficient regard for our heritage.
Many people gave evidence to the inquiry that my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford conducted. The volumes of evidence themselves repay careful study. I want to heed your plea, Sir John, therefore I do not want to talk right through the report or beyond it, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) so entertainingly. [Interruption.] He is a very old friend and will remain one. I am bound to say that as president of the Staffordshire Gardens and Parks Trust, I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford included the point that he did. The trust at least gave evidence to my hon. Friend—although he ignored it.
My hon. Friend if he starts barracking like that.
I should like to concentrate on our cathedrals. The evidence given by the Association of English Cathedrals and by individuals such as Michael Coupe shows that our cathedrals are in considerable difficulties. If one needed reminding of that, I had it only yesterday in a letter from the Dean of Southwark, writing not only as Dean, but as a representative of English cathedrals. He said:
“The Department for Culture, Media & Sport’s response was really very weak. If we continue on the present track, our great ecclesiastical buildings will revert to the parlous state they were in fifteen years ago and most will have lost their choirs and their schools (I do not merely refer to choir schools). in view of the incredible achievements of the past fifteen years, that will be extremely sad. I give two illustrations. Last year, by their own determination and voluntary efforts, cathedrals raised over eleven times the finance English Heritage was able to grant for conservation work alone, quite apart from all the other work we undertook and enabled. We accommodated over 600,000 school children of all faiths on educational visits. That degree of energy and commitment seems barely recognised, or worse, that the government is literally banking upon it.”
The Minister has a special knowledge of cathedrals. He was a chorister in Peterborough at the cathedral used in that splendid BBC adaptation as Barchester cathedral. He knows at first hand how crucial our cathedrals are in so many ways, and about the importance and tradition of cathedral music. A cathedral without its music is like a cathedral without its stained glass windows, or a cathedral without its fine misericords, if it has them. A cathedral is an entity, and that entity includes cathedral music.
That the Dean of the cathedral from which Her Majesty gave her Christmas broadcast last year should feel moved to write in those terms is serious and significant. I hope that the Minister will stiffen his sinews so that the Treasury can soften its heart, and that he will argue powerfully and passionately, as only someone who truly knows our cathedrals can argue, for a proper apportionment of funds. To starve those, our greatest public buildings, of the resources necessary to maintain them is an act of cultural vandalism fit to rank with the dissolution of the monasteries 500 years ago. We do not want to be the generation that put our cathedrals into decline.
When the Minister argues, as I am sure he will, he must point out that as we sit here today, our two great metropolitan cathedrals of Canterbury and York are between them appealing for more than £70 million. Canterbury needs £50 million; York needs £23 million, much of it to restore that incomparable glass. My cathedral of Lichfield is about to launch a major appeal for the Herkenrode glass, some of the finest glass in this country. It was brought over to this country at the time of the French revolution from an abbey that was despoiled on the continent. We shall need upwards of £15 million for that, and any country which allowed such great monuments to fall into decay and decline would not deserve to be called a civilised country. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford, in his admirable report, enabled us to raise these issues and for that I am grateful.
I would like to touch briefly on some other matters. However much we excite people’s passions about our great historic buildings, and however much we may persuade a parsimonious Treasury to stump up, unless we are able to encourage young people to consider the crafts as careers of great excitement, we will not be successful. I have been privileged for the past 20 years to run a scheme called William Morris craft fellowships on behalf of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. Every year, we give fellowships to three, four or five young craftsmen or women—and many of them have been women—in a whole range of disciplines because we are conscious that we will not be able to preserve our great built heritage, either secular or spiritual, unless there is an adequate supply of craftsmen.
There will be a meeting in Westminster at the end of next month between my all-party group on arts and heritage and the all-party group on construction skills and training to focus the attention of hon. Members on this issue. I hope that the Minister will talk to his colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills and in the Department of Trade and Industry to find out what we can do to make young men and women feel that there is nothing more wonderfully rewarding than a successful career in the crafts. After all, we rightly celebrate our great architects, but how often do we celebrate the craftsmen who translated their vision into glorious reality?
I urge the Minister to focus on this issue, and as a fellow Select Committee Chairman, I say to my hon. Friend that I hope his Committee might feel it is worthy of a detailed inquiry at some stage. Where are these young people coming from, where are they being trained and what can be done to excite more of them? As we approach the Olympics we are talking about exciting young people on the sporting field—that is good. I am all for that. However, if were able to make people feel that there is worthwhile and lasting career in the crafts, it would redound to our credit.
I finish by mentioning the Olympics again. I wish the Olympic games to be a great success—of course I do. I have my apprehensions about transport in London and all the rest of it, but we have set our hands to that plough and we have to make sure that we deliver. But a great and prosperous country, which is what we are, that delivers a finely organised and presented Olympic games, as I am sure we will, at the expense of the things touched on in this report would not deserve to be regarded as a great and prosperous country. That is our challenge. Sadly, because of the peculiar nature of the Minister’s Department, it is his challenge, and I hope that he will rise to it.
I, too, congratulate the Committee on undertaking this vital inquiry in order to raise the profile of our heritage and ultimately to influence policy to promote, preserve and protect that heritage. I want to take the opportunity to add my own regional perspective to the debate. My speech falls within the original terms of reference for the inquiry. I hope that I have hon. Members’ indulgence and I shall try not to stray too far from the original terms of reference. I am aware that the report concentrates on built heritage, but I note on page 6 that there will be a follow-up inquiry. I hope that my contribution will be drawn on during that inquiry.
As the Government have acknowledged, finding a shared understanding of Britishness requires us to encompass diversity. My work in the Home Office gives me an insight into the challenges of adapting Britishness to the 21st century as we seek to build a society in which people from hundreds of backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities share a sense of national belonging. Many people involved in the national debate seem to forget that that challenge is nothing new. Britain has always been an island of variation, in which regional identity goes hand in hand with national identity.
Those listening to me speak today will be able to identify me with my region, and I am proud to represent Gateshead and Washington and, in doing so, to represent the wider north-east. I have spoken before about the spirit of hard work and camaraderie that runs through the veins of the north-east, which is a region that is fiercely proud of its shared heritage. I was shocked to learn this week that a visa application for a holiday in Gateshead had been turned down because the civil servant in question could see no reason why anyone would want to visit Gateshead for a holiday. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) will join me in being astounded by that. A quick investigation into visitor attractions would reveal that there are more than 54 reasons to visit Gateshead, and those 54 reasons can be found in Gateshead alone. The wider north-east has much more to offer: stunning cityscapes and some of the best beaches in Britain, as well as castles—the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) will testify to that—and rolling countryside. All together, there is a rich regional heritage to explore.
Much of that heritage lies in our industrial background. I am working with my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) to try to commission a series of commemorative stamps to mark the 125th anniversary of the Durham miners’ gala. The Big Meet, as it is known locally, has survived the depletion of the mining industry and is an important part not only of the north-east’s heritage but Britain’s industrial heritage. It continues to draw northern communities together and it is a testament to the solidarity of the north-east workers. Many hon. Members have added their support to the campaign and I hope that we will gain the Government’s support.
I believe that the north-east is a leading example of preserving heritage across Britain, especially across the cultural sector. One project that is leading the cultural resurgence is Renaissance North East, which is part of the wider renaissance in the region’s programme that is transforming our museums. So far, it is proving to be one of the most beneficial projects ever run by the DCMS. The statistics speak for themselves. Educational visits to north-east museums have almost doubled, increasing from 80,000 to 140,000 in just three years. Overall visits are up a fifth and the number of children engaged by museums has risen by a phenomenal 6,500 per cent. Much of that increase includes children from the poorest parts of our society.
Polling data show that visitors to north-east museums are more satisfied with their experience than those anywhere else in the country, but numbers alone cannot tell the story. Children on educational visits are increasingly likely to return with their parents. History teachers have described renaissance-funded museums as manna from heaven. The work done by Renaissance North East and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council has been crucial in connecting people through heritage to knowledge, information and inspiration.
The renaissance programme requires renewed funding so that it can fire on all cylinders, not only in the north-east but throughout the UK. The programme has already seen the creation of 500 new jobs and that can only lead to many more. With much departmental funding needed for the Olympics, as many hon. Members have mentioned today, I would nevertheless compel Ministers to try to find the extra £15 million that is needed to take the project forward to the whole country. Of course, my constituency would benefit greatly from a training camp at Gateshead international stadium, as the increased profile that that would provide would leave a sporting legacy and the extra investment would enable us to keep our foot to the floor with regard to cultural regeneration and preservation.
I shall highlight one more project that is capable of further including the people of the north-east in protecting our heritage. I have been working again with my north-east colleagues, especially my hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham and for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor), and with my predecessor as MP for my constituency, Baroness Quin, to try to ensure that the Lindisfarne gospels are returned to the north-east. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is well aware of that undertaking. We have met him and we will soon meet representatives of the British Library. If we all co-operate, the return of the gospels is a real possibility.
The gospels are icons of the heritage of the north-east. The last time they were in the north-east, people queued for half a mile to see them. With the best will in the world, I cannot imagine such queues forming at the British Library. The return of the gospels is also a matter of social justice. As hon. Members in this Chamber will be well aware, it is a 600-mile trip to go from the north-east to London and back, and many people in the north-east simply cannot afford to make that trip.
I think that we might be about to say different things. I fully acknowledge the plea made by the hon. Lady that the Lindisfarne gospels be taken back to the north-east of England, but will she acknowledge that the Lindisfarne gospels are a national, indeed an international, treasure? They can be seen in the British Library by many, many more people, I am afraid, than would go up to Lindisfarne to see them. We should value them in the context of the development of literature and publishing, and perhaps occasionally they could travel around the country to maximise viewing opportunities.
That is a valid point, but all we are asking initially is for the Lindisfarne gospels to visit the north-east. The last visit was a number of years ago. We have been told that a further visit will not even be considered until, I think, 2012, and consideration does not mean that they will actually come. I completely take on board the fact that other people need to see the gospels, but for them not even to be allowed to come to the north-east for people in the north-east to see them for another six or more years is not acceptable.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in the north-east we do accept that the Lindisfarne gospels are a national treasure? We would, however, suggest to the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) that there is no reason why a national treasure cannot be located in the north-east, because we want people to travel to the north-east to see those wonderful gospels in the context in which they were written.
I also point out that the colours used to create the gospels were extracted from local plants and minerals nearly 1,500 years ago in what was the kingdom of Northumbria. They are literally, therefore, a part of the north-east. More than 180,000 people visited the gospels when they were last on display in the north-east, and if they were returned, many more visitors would be expected. I know that the Minister is aware of the case and I look forward to meeting representatives of the British Library. I hope that the Select Committee might look into the case when it next meets. If we are serious about preserving our heritage, we need to be serious about sharing it. The chance to share such an evocative piece of our heritage with perhaps a quarter of a million people is, in my opinion, too good to turn down.
I am grateful to hon. Members for listening to me this afternoon. I hope that I have contributed a regional perspective to the debate. The battle to preserve our cultural heritage is being fought on many fronts. At regional level, people continue to live their heritage, not least through local terminology and local knowledge. That is why I believe in regional renaissance—linking the local with the national to create a shared heritage that we can preserve for many years to come.
I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), and the Committee that he chairs, on the excellent report that we are discussing, and on what has so far been a very well informed debate. I have learned an awful lot about cathedral music, even though it does not feature in the report. The report is timely, given the forthcoming White Paper. This is also the first debate on heritage that I have attended or even been aware of, in the last 10 years. It has enabled hon. Members to debate subjects such as archaeology, on which I shall focus. I declare an interest in that I am treasurer of the all-party archaeological group, and I trained as a Mesopotamian archaeologist, which is very useful. It is gratifying that so many people took an interest in the Committee’s hearings as well as being here today.
I agree that too little attention is paid to heritage by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport both in the House and beyond. Yet heritage, and particularly archaeology, presses so many of the right buttons, particularly those that the Government are rightly trying to promote. It contributes enormously to education for adults and children, not just in history—how we got here and how our buildings, which we value, contributed to that—but in our understanding of the environment. How was it that the Romans, who had no fridges or electricity, no JCBs or gas-guzzling 4x4 vehicles, were able to build fine buildings—for instance, along the south downs—and sustain themselves with minimal pollution and waste, using the land efficiently and sympathetically? We have a lot to learn about how to appreciate our environment more by reference to the way in which our ancestors managed without our mod cons. Heritage is a great environmental learning tool, and that is something that all Members value greatly.
Hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson), mentioned our heritage’s great role in regeneration and in re-establishing local identity. Deprived areas have benefited enormously from the renovation of industrial buildings, canals and waterways, with community use being given to old warehouses and military establishments. Helping people to learn where they came from has enormous benefits in terms of social cohesion and social inclusion. Heritage reconstructions and museums, too, are important.
One only has to look at a programme such as “Time Team”, which has been an enormous success. It is one of the few things that separate my son from his football on Sunday afternoons. It is a fascinating and educational programme. Many hon. Members may still have bare patches in their gardens from the “big dig” day last year, when tens of thousands of people, particularly young people, up and down the country dug up their gardens—much to the chagrin of their parents but to the great benefit of their education. The all-party archaeological group tried to do the same in the Palace of Westminster; alas, we were frustrated by the House authorities, who told us that it is a UNESCO world heritage site, which was a bit of a swiz.
Another area that has been mentioned is tourism. We should not do so, but we underestimate the enormous attractions and commercial and economic benefits to the United Kingdom. The “Heritage Counts” historic environment review executive committee report included the taking part survey that the DCMS commissioned to reinforce the benefits of social inclusion. The survey showed that in the last 12 months 69 per cent. of all adults, 48 per cent. of adults of black and ethnic minority backgrounds, 58 per cent. of adults with a limiting disability or illness and 56 per cent. of adults in lower socio-economic groups visited an historic environment site, with visits to a historic city or town being the most popular way of enjoying heritage. People overwhelmingly visit heritage sites for personal enjoyment and relaxation; that reason was cited by more than half of all adults. Many people would go more often if they had more free time.
Visiting heritage sites is also good for one’s health. There are many benefits. One of the key messages of the Committee’s report is the popularity of the historic environment. Seven out of 10 adults visited a site last year, the majority for personal enjoyment and relaxation; and 400,000 offer their time as volunteers working for a range of organisations that care for the historic environment. That is enormously beneficial in so many ways that go beyond the remit of the DCMS, and it is fun and popular.
I question whether heritage is in the right Department, particularly at a time when it is competing for finance with the Olympics and given the other pressures and topical issues involving the media with which the Department has to deal. I do not denigrate the Minister’s genuine interest and that of some of his predecessors, but heritage is struggling to keep its head above water against competing interests. It is a cross-cutting area. It cuts into so many other Departments.
I congratulate the Government on some of progress that they have made on museums, which have not been mentioned much. I have always been a great advocate of free admission to our national museums: it is morally and educationally right. If we are to justify, as I do, having such great treasures of the world as the Elgin marbles in the British Museum, it is right that people from this country, as well as from Greece and other countries, should go there unencumbered by an admission charge. I am afraid that we cannot say the same thing about the new museum at the Acropolis, which managed to trash 13 layers of archaeology, going back to the bronze age, and now charges people for the privilege of seeing what is left.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) will recall that back in the 1980s and the early 1990s in our party it was not the done thing to refer to culture. As the founding Minister with David Mellor in the Department of National Heritage, I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham why heritage was lumped in with all the other things. It was simply that the Government decided—or rather, John Major decided—that we should have a Department of culture, but agreed that we were not allowed to call it so. That was why heritage ended up with the other bits that now make up DCMS.
My hon. Friend obviously has a great deal more experience, having been at the Department at its inception, but I fear that his use of the phrase “lumped in” belies how we have approached heritage, rather than placing it where it is appreciated in its own right and for its own values.
I reiterate the great concern that the Committee and many of us have expressed about the cumulative squeeze on funding over many years for English Heritage, which does a fine job. Simon Thurley has been a fantastic ambassador for heritage in this country, and long may he continue to be so. However, he has been hampered in what his organisation can do. Three years ago, the all-party archaeological group, without all the back-up that Select Committees have, produced a comprehensive report on the state of archaeology in the UK. We interviewed many witnesses—other hon. Members present were part of that process—and we identified the problems with English Heritage. We interviewed civil servants from various Departments and asked them how many archaeologists their Department had. In none of the Departments that we interviewed—not even in the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, with its responsibilities for planning and local government, let alone in the DCMS—were any archaeologists employed. The Departments rely on English Heritage to employ archaeologists to give expert input into the formulation of heritage policy and decision making about important sites. If English Heritage is downgraded or if we lose it in its current form, we will lose an enormous amount of expertise, which cannot be replaced within Departments.
My hon. Friend rightly paid a tribute to Dr. Simon Thurley, which is richly deserved. However, does my hon. Friend agree that, as Sir Neil Cossons nears the end of his tenure as chairman, he also deserves the thanks of us all for the absolutely exemplary way in which he has conducted English Heritage’s affairs through some turbulent times?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. We owe Sir Neil Cossons a great debt of gratitude, not least for his enormous interest in Stonehenge and other important sites. I reiterate the comments that were made earlier about the debacle over his successor, Two eminent candidates—Lord Marland and Lady Cobham, entirely un-elitist as they are—have not been considered and the whole process leaves a rather unpleasant taste in the mouth. Culture should not be used as a political football.
I share the worries that have been expressed about the future of English Heritage. I hope that the Minister will be a doughty ambassador for the cause of English Heritage and all it stands for in his negotiations with the Chancellor. We ignore it at our peril. We also look forward to the White Paper, which represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure that we properly preserve our heritage for the future.
Back in 2003 the all-party archaeological group made recommendations that have made no progress in Government circles but remain as relevant today as they were then. We recommended that,
“The Department for Culture, Media and Sport…should adopt a new high-level objective of defining, protecting and sustaining the historic environment for the benefit of our own and future generations and it should accept the full consequences of this both in its own spending plans and in the business plans of its sponsored bodies; and the devolved administrations should be encouraged to do likewise.”
For all the reasons that I have mentioned concerning the cross-cutting nature of heritage, we recommended that
“DCMS should also establish an inter-departmental committee on archaeology, at ministerial level, chaired by the DCMS and including the Office of Deputy Prime Minister”—
now the Department for Communities and Local Government—
“the Department for Education and Science and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs”.
We also recommended that
“This committee should meet at least twice a year and minutes of its discussions should be published. This committee should be serviced by a strengthened team to provide policy advice at the DCMS”.
Too often, we found in our interviews with civil servants that one Department did not know what the other was doing, and Departments were often not clear about the extent of their responsibilities regarding heritage, planning, preservation and site listing.
We also pointed out that
“There is an urgent need to improve pay and conditions for employment in field archaeology so that they are commensurate with graduate entry level in allied professions such as local authority planning officers, civil engineers and university lecturers.”
The problem is that the vast majority of archaeology in this country is not led by universities, as it used to be, or by local museums with adequate funding, but is development-led. It is rescue archaeology, simply because developers have to pay in order to develop a site and usually do so at the lowest possible price, for understandable commercial reasons. Are we actually getting a full record of some of the sites that are going under concrete and will be lost for ever? We need to consider how best to record some of those important sites before foot upon foot of concrete or tarmac is poured upon them.
A third recommendation from the report is that
“Sites and Monuments Records… should be made statutory with additional funding from central Government to ensure that they meet a minimum standard of content and service delivery. Public accessibility should be improved, and recognition of the community and educational values of SMRs must be included in their development. The national, regional and local SMRs need to be reviewed to streamline the infrastructure.”
The problem is that we have very sketchy sites and monuments records throughout the country. We desperately need to know what we are dealing with and what we have got before it disappears for good.
I would like to put in a plea for one of the most successful schemes in archaeology in the past few years—the portable antiquities scheme, with which the Minister is very familiar, having been at the British Museum for the launch of the latest report last year. He has been very supportive of the scheme. Since its introduction in 2003, the portable antiquities scheme has given rise to more than 245,000 finds, which have been recorded by the scheme’s find liaison officers. I pay tribute to Liz Andrews-Wilson, who is the finds liaison officer for Sussex, covering the counties of East Sussex and West Sussex, as well as Brighton and Hove. She has done a fantastic job with limited resources.
Many previously unknown archaeological sites have come to light because of the work of the scheme, including a prehistoric henge monument in Kent, Anglo-Saxon cemetery sites in Norfolk, and Cumbria’s first Viking-age inhumation cemetery. Many important archaeological finds reported through the scheme have been acquired by museums, including the fantastic Ringlemere gold cup and the Staffordshire Moorlands pan, inscribed with the names of forts on Hadrian’s Wall.
To date, all historic environment records have signed a protocol to have full access to the portable antiquities scheme data. A code of practice for responsible metal-detecting has been endorsed by all key stakeholders; 55,000 copies of advice for finders of archaeological objects have been distributed; 1,073 talks have been given about the scheme; 1,187 find days were organised by the scheme in the past three years, which were attended by more than 45,000 people, many of them young people; 47 per cent. of the finders are from socio-economic groups C2, D and E, which compares favourably with the figures for museum visitors, with a particular emphasis on children; and 128 people have worked as volunteers. The scheme is fantastic and we should have had it before now.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
I shall finish in just a few sentences, to let others get in. I want to make a plea to the Minister. Having picked up the lottery funding for the portable antiquities scheme, the proposed cuts, which are potentially as high as 7 per cent., will lead to seven full-time equivalent posts being lost out of 47, which would be devastating. I know that he values the subject and the scheme. Heritage and archaeology bring people together, and as the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt) said, they also bring nations together and their value goes beyond buildings and artefacts; we can all further culture, international understanding and education more by valuing more greatly our heritage.
I congratulate the Chairman of the Select Committee, of which I am a member, on securing the debate. Hon. Members present might like to know that we are carrying out a lengthy investigation into museums, which is heritage part two, I think, although it has been going on for so long that it feels like heritage parts three, four and five to 10. No doubt the Chairman will be suggesting gardens next to mend the heinous error of his ways.
I want to thank the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) for highlighting the work that has been done to restore the Bethesda chapel in Stoke-on-Trent, which is next door to my constituency. The report is not only about chapels and cathedrals or about a plea for more money for English Heritage. I want to say a few words about another part of the terms of reference, which is the availability of conservation and heritage expertise, particularly to local authorities, and how the network of architecture and built environment centres sponsored by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment is helping to plug the skills gap.
Sadly, the Potteries cannot boast a cathedral or a large circle of stone age megaliths—I do not think that we even have a listed barn—but we are fortunate enough to have one of the 19 CABE centres in Urban Vision North Staffordshire, of which I am happy to act as patron. It has been an uphill struggle, particularly with respect to funding, to get it up and running, and it has taken an enormous amount of dedication and commitment from a small group of people.
Local authorities clearly bear much responsibility for conservation and protecting our heritage, particularly from poor piecemeal development and, in some instances, from poor box-ticking regeneration projects that have a feel for quantity but not for quality. The availability of skills has suffered in part because of the degradation of public service as a career for people to aspire to, which started in the time of the Select Committee Chairman’s mistress, Lady Thatcher, and has gone on since.
It is a testament to economic success that there is an awful lot of development going on, but an awful lot of developers poach good local authority officers. My conservation officer in Newcastle-under-Lyme was poached a few years ago by a developer. A great deal of effort is going into regeneration—my area has two agencies, a regeneration zone and a housing market renewal pathfinder—and those quangos recruit from the limited pool of expertise. Second-tier councils such as Newcastle-under-Lyme and even unitary authorities such as Stoke-on-Trent suffer from gaps in personnel and expertise. Advice from people under intense pressure is often of poor quality; officers retreat into comfort zones and deal with small and big applications at the same length. They often roll over in the face of determined big developers. In some instances, training and experience are not up to date; officers are still mired in questions about the best way to use land, rather than being at the cutting edge of urban design and heritage-led regeneration.
In Newcastle-under-Lyme, we finally recruited a new conservation officer to fill the gap, but there is not much evidence of a wider improvement. That issue affects other local authorities. My traditional market town has a good town centre, which has been preserved and has many conservation areas. However, I am afraid that the latest draft town centre action plan within the new planning framework would simply legitimise a lot of inappropriate and piecemeal development. I shall take that up with the Government office, which has made critical comments, and my own council before it appears in front of an inspector.
The key issue is the limited availability of expertise. The architecture and built environment centres have been started by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, and they are helping to plug the gap. Urban Vision North Staffordshire grew from the efforts of a small number of individuals about five years ago. I highlight two people. Mick Downs, a former planning manager at Stoke-on-Trent council, has been responsible for running the centre. Boy, what a liberation getting out of the local authority has been for him; he can say much more and contribute much more constructively outside its confines.
The chair of the centre, Chris Taylor, a local architect with a thriving small practice, has put much effort into getting the initiative off the ground. The aims are simple—to promote design-led regeneration and best practice in our area. At the end of the day, areas such as mine, which are affected by industrial decay, need well-designed things for people to talk about. Clearly, we also need to make the most of our heritage, and conservation plays a great part in that.
The centre has been involved in a great deal of training for local authority officials. In October 2004, it set up a design review panel chaired by an eminent, nationally known architect, Ted Cullinan. We are fortunate to have him. As a matter of course, major projects now go through the design and review panel, which comments on their design and how they fit into the built and historic environment.
We now have the support of Advantage West Midlands, which is the local regional development agency, RENEW, which is the housing renewal pathfinder, Stoke-on-Trent city council and Newcastle-under-Lyme borough council, as well as of CABE. Approaches have been made to English Heritage; we are not shy of asking everybody for funding.
I shall give an example of the uphill struggle that is involved. Although the regional development agency bought into our proposal, it took more than 12 months to process a contract. I had to go to a steering group meeting, look an official in the eye and say, “If at the end of this month that contract is not signed, can Urban Vision North Staffordshire pay the staff that it is finally recruiting?” The answer was no, so the contract was finally biked round the next day. I should not have had to do that. Fortunately, since then AWM has been fully committed. I thank Marie Greer, an official there, for her support.
Like the other 19 centres around the country, the centre is a valuable source of expertise to fill gaps. It has an urban design focus, but there is no reason why centres cannot be, as we mentioned in the report, a one-stop shop for proper advice and expertise and, as a matter of course, include people with conservation and heritage skills. Clearly, we would like English Heritage to sign up to as many centres as possible. There is a funding issue, but a small amount of funding for centres goes a long way.
I should like encouragement from the Minister that funding bodies will take a longer-term view than they have so far. The centres live from hand to mouth, with funding that lasts one year rather than three. I would like the local authorities and the regional development agencies to be encouraged to take a longer-term view. I would welcome some encouragement from the Minister about the work of the centres. I would like some encouragement for all the partners in those centres to view the work of funding bodies as absolutely central and instrumental to the regeneration and preservation of our heritage—particularly in areas such as mine, which is not untypical of industrial centres around the country.
It is a credit to the Committee and its Chairman that so many people have expressed an interest and a passionate enthusiasm for some of the issues raised. Many hon. Members have stayed on to make their points despite the murk and the mire of voting—not just for their area, but because of their own experiences, the people they have met and the wonderful work that goes on.
I want to make a point about winning the argument. In political circles, we still have to win the argument about heritage and what it means. In some ways, it sounds like a funny kind of word and it perhaps needs to be rebranded. We all know what it means, but many people out there do not really understand it. I represent an area of Norwich where we have a church for every day of the year and a pub for every Sunday, and I have been to every one—I mean pub, not church. It will be of no surprise that I am about to talk about the churches and historical buildings in my constituency, where the cultural heritage includes the largest collection of mediaeval churches in northern Europe. The local newspaper, the Norwich Evening News, has said that we need £75 million over 10 years spent on heritage in Norwich to safeguard the city’s historical buildings.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said, heritage is one of the ways in which a nation constructs a collective social meaning; it tells us who we are, where we are and how we are, and gives us a sense of identity. All over the country, people shout, “Who are you?” at each other at football grounds. The answer is not simply, “I am heritage”, but heritage is part of people’s desire to identify what is going on around them and to express that. Heritage helps people to understand the story of the country, the area in which they live, and the representation that they have had throughout the historical past.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead made the point about Britishness, so I will not elaborate on that. A friend of mine, Bill Bryson, who sits on the English Heritage commission, is captivated by English Heritage in general. He lives in Norfolk and says that he looks out of his window at an 18th century Norman church. He loves it and says, “Gosh, if you had it in Iowa, people would come from miles around to see that church”. He has not been attracted to anything else around where he lives in Norfolk. He describes it as an anonymous country church that is treasured by a few ageing parishioners and one obese American—he said that, I did not. It often falls to an objective observer such as Bryson to say what our heritage is. He says that we have
“the most superlatively park-like landscapes, the most orderly and agreeable cities, the handsomest provincial towns, the jauntiest seaside resorts, the stateliest homes, the most dreamily-spired, cathedral-rich, castle-strewn, abbey-bedecked, folly-scattered, green-wooded, winding-lane, sheep-dotted, plumply- hedgerowed, well-tended, sublimely decorated 50,318 square miles the world has ever known”.
That is not a bad CV for the work that goes on in this sceptred isle. What goes on is often unnoticed and this debate is reflecting that.
We have talked a lot about the money that we need to help build communities, and heritage is part of that through social inclusion, economic regeneration and so on. In Norwich, we have the Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust—HEART, as we call it. There are 12 major heritage attractions from the 12th century Norman cathedral to the 21st century millennium library. They work together, not in a competitive way; they try to combine to address the problems in that city, attract tourists and make people proud of their heritage. The trust also regenerates areas. A small amount of money can help fashion an area and suddenly there will be an explosion of activity, as is happening at the moment in King street in Norwich. A few pounds invested in a building can lead to homes, schools and cafés being developed—at times it is almost like Paris. We have the same situation in Norwich Lanes, where small changes are happening. There is a sense of identity, and people are interested in trying to develop the area.
Norwich guildhall dates from the early 1400s. It is the largest mediaeval city hall in Europe. It has been a council chamber, a court and a prison in its time. Its staircase is a lesson in mediaeval police methods—the Home Office might be listening to this. The idea was that the prisoner could not make a run for it without stumbling on the uneven steps. Presumably they ended up in the mediaeval equivalent of accident and emergency, but they could not get away. The guildhall features a café on the ground floor, owned by Caley’s, the chocolate firm, which used to have a huge factory in the city, employing many local people. The factory site is now home to the millennium library, while the café is a reminder of the city’s industrial legacy. There is a clear correlation between the historic environment and quality of life. Heritage gives a city character. It earths us in many ways. It makes us feel part of an inherited community and combats the alienation that we often feel in the modern world.
The Forum building in Norwich is a fine example of millennium architecture. It was designed with older buildings around it, such as the 15th-century St. Peter Mancroft church. The same man who designed Portcullis House designed the Forum. The idea that it could fit in with those old buildings was quite a concept, but it works. The Forum is a centre for various activities. All sorts of events take place there, yet the church is just 100 m across the road from it. Everything melds together well. Everyone said, “It will never work. It will never fit,” but now they are all calling it an architectural wonder. It was a result of lottery money.
I support the partnership between the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment—CABE—and English Heritage. I hope that that interaction between the old and the new will also address problems such as climate change. Sometimes we save a lot of energy and address the problem of climate change if we make use of an old building. We do not have to get all the bricks and do all the work that would be needed for a new building. If an old building is already there, refashion it. As climate change hits the top of the political agenda, we can combine ideas to combat it with ideas for maintaining cities that are both modern and rich in heritage.
Churches, of course, are used for many functions. We see that in our constituencies all the time. The halls are used for fairs and so on. Indeed, they are used as community centres. There are people called heritage champions, who operate in this field. It is the bidding for grants that is the problem. I think that the voluntary sector often has a much better ability to obtain funding than statutory bodies do. Almost half the churches in Norfolk see their bids for grant aid refused by English Heritage each year. There is a huge backlog of repairs that are needed. We need to decide how, over a period of time, we are going to fund seriously that aspect of national heritage. There is a 14th-century parish church, St. Mary and St. Margaret’s, in Sprowston, in my area. It needs better access for the disabled, lighting to facilitate its use by the public and so on. It needs £60,000. That is about a day’s wages if you play for Tottenham Hotspur, I believe, so it is not a lot of money. A partnership there, a voluntary innovative scheme, could be built up with some support from English Heritage or, indeed, the Government.
I want to say something briefly about volunteers and heritage. Volunteers must never substitute for real activity and money coming in from professional bodies, as has been said. We need volunteers and they do sterling work, such as at Blickling hall, home of Anne Boleyn. Such sites are supported amazingly by volunteers, but we need professionals there to guide them and develop that heritage.
The Government have to recognise the importance of heritage and move it up the agenda. We have to put it at the heart of our community development. As we have said, it is not an add-on or a box to be ticked. People are passionate about heritage. It is a vocation, rather than a job, for many people. Their work is a labour of love. It is tough, but we must encourage them from the political perspective. Heritage has a unique ability to inspire interest and support and it is, I believe, the fabric of our experience in our environment, both now and in the past.
This is a very welcome report, Sir John. I was going to give you a tour of my constituency and the north-east of England, but I will not, other than to say that we have a long and proud history of culture in the north-east. The report is about whether we will have a long future of culture in the north-east. I particularly hope that people will agree with the statement in the report that
“to allow further loss of our…heritage through neglect would be a calamity for which future generations would not forgive us.”
We should all accept that.
The report is also right to question how well the Department has performed in cross-departmental negotiations. I hope that it will act with more energy and particularly that it will impress upon the Department for Communities and Local Government the importance of heritage issues when planning guidance is being updated and scrutinised. Being well-meaning is not enough.
I mention a particular case to show that a more powerful Department could play a key role. In my constituency we have Gibside hall and estate. The property was built about 250 years ago by the family of the Queen Mother, the Bowes-Lyons. It was built on the profits from coal. Inside the hall, a crypt chapel has a mausoleum with the bodies of five of the Queen Mother’s ancestors. The grounds are magnificent. The stables have been beautifully renovated by the National Trust, and they are now used for educational purposes.
Everything there is going well, except for the fact that it is under threat: a coal contractor is attempting to operate an open-cast mine within 400 m of the site. Only 500,000 tonnes of coal can be mined, and it will take three years to mine it. After massive opposition from all concerned, the application was rightly thrown out by the local authorities. However, a national appeal has been launched. The level of disrespect shown by the contractors is not unique, but their answers to the genuine questions raised by the National Trust about what will happen at Gibside are difficult to believe. I shall quote some of the National Trust’s comments in its submission when trying to get information about the impact on Gibside. It said:
“an initial scoping report did not refer to the impact of the proposal on Gibside Estate…the environmental statement did not provide sufficient information to satisfy the Trust that there would not be an adverse impact…supplementary information documents…did not provide evidence to clarify any of our initial concerns…despite the fact that we have, from the outset, asked for proper detailed information…Our case…in some areas (in particular, hydrology, noise, vibration and dust) is difficult to clarify due to continued lack of information. We are unable to make a sound judgment on a proposal which provides insufficient information on impacts and mitigation.”
That property is one of the gems of our countryside, part of a green lung for Tyneside. Everyone opposes that development—the local community, the local authorities in Durham, Derwentside and Gateshead, and many public bodies including the airport and Northumbrian Water. They will not be happy with what is going on.
I believe that the Department could play a key role in such cases. If the Department punches its weight; if it says to people, including the Department for Communities and Local Government, that it wants a stake in, and to stand up for, the built environment and the rest of our heritage, I believe that it could do so. It could be done, and it should be done. With cross-party support, we in Parliament could ensure, through the Minister and the Government, that culture has a proper role.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) on securing the debate and I congratulate the Select Committee on its extremely useful report.
I start by focusing on the report. Its summary states:
“We entrust protection of historic buildings and sites to the planning regime. Planning guidance has served us well but not perfectly”.
It goes on to warn against too much reliance on local authorities without adequate resources. I concur. I emphasise the Committee’s statement that the Government should
“give a stronger signal to local authorities that the historic environment matters”
and that it may need additional statutory duties in order to be able to stress that it matters; and I concur with that also.
Members will realise from my introduction that I want to focus on the need for local authorities to take their role in protecting the historic environment incredibly seriously. The Minister should tell his colleagues in the DCLG that if they want to make changes to the planning system, they must not jeopardise the conservation of our heritage. That is particularly so when planning applications relate to the area of a world heritage site, or the buffer zone around it. I am thinking particularly of the one in my constituency of Durham city, although I stress that Durham has a number of beautiful listed buildings that belong to our mining heritage, the university and churches.
I hope that the Government will continue to press local authorities where necessary to produce world heritage site management plans. Durham city council with its partners has produced such a plan. It has significant weaknesses, most notably because it cannot overrule local authority planning policies. It is not always up to the standard required to protect the built environment—in particular, to protect it from development around the buffer zone. I want the Minister to think about how his Department and the DCLG can monitor management plans and, in particular, the impediments to their effectiveness.
I agree with the Committee that more must be done. My local authority may be surprised, but it supports paragraph 155 which states that if the Government are serious about their historic protection reforms, they must fund local authorities adequately so that they can take that role seriously. Officers who are in charge of and can provide good advice about conservation must not have their time taken up with routine planning applications. The issue is not all about more funding and time, because the officers must use their powers more effectively; however, the Government must take that point on board.
I agree with the Committee that more must be done to support English Heritage. It does a wonderful job in my constituency. The more development there is in historic towns, the greater the need for such organisations. They must be not only valued, but properly supported.
It is notable that four MPs from the north-east have attended today’s debate. We take our culture and heritage extremely seriously, and I hope that we can continue to raise such issues in Parliament.
I congratulate the Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), and Committee members on producing the excellent report before us. Having spent much of the past five or six years on the Select Committee on Education and Skills, I know how much work is involved—how many weeks it takes to read vast amounts of expert evidence and to take vast amounts of oral evidence. At the end, it is not that one does not see the wood for the trees, but one takes the final report for granted after spending so much time on it. It is only when an outsider—in this case, me—reads the report with fresh eyes that one realises the excellence of Select Committee reports. The report before us is a tour de force.
I congratulate all hon. Members who have spoken. They have ranged widely— from St. Paul’s cathedral through Bethesda chapel, Turton tower, Stonehenge, the Lindisfarne gospels and listed ships to demolished barns. They have highlighted the role of heritage in enhancing community well-being, tourism and the projection of soft diplomatic power abroad, and they have highlighted the sector’s chronic underfunding, which is further threatened by the comprehensive spending review and by Olympic overspend robbing it of more lottery funds. There has been eloquent testimony from throughout the UK about the way in which heritage is central to our lives.
The Committee’s report is an excellent review of the state of the heritage sector in England. It is a devastating indictment of the Department’s failure to understand heritage, to value its full potential or to make the case for it to other Departments such as the Treasury, the DCLG, and the Department for Transport in respect of Stonehenge. The report is also an indictment of the failure even to maintain the already inadequate funding of the heritage sector.
As people have said, this debate is timely given the looming tourist opportunities associated with the run-up to the Olympics in 2012, the ongoing heritage protection review and the soon-to-be published heritage White Paper—or, at least we hope it will soon be published. I hope that the Minister will give us a firm publication date for it.
The Government’s response to the report was weak and complacent. It showed little understanding of the heritage sector’s concerns and in many cases failed to reflect the reality experienced by heritage organisations and practitioners. The report found that funding for the heritage sector, and for English Heritage in particular, has fallen dramatically over the past decade, with cuts of nearly £10 million in real terms since 2000-01, further cuts up to 2008 and the threat of even more devastating cuts in the comprehensive spending review, with cuts of between 5 and 7 per cent., or the so-called flat cash cuts that we now hear about. English Heritage funding has already reached a level that threatens its ability to carry out its current functions, let alone the extended responsibilities being discussed in the review. Government plans to demote the chair of English Heritage to a one-day-a-week role further underlines the DCMS’s failure to fight its corner against other Departments.
Let us remember that the sums involved are quite small—they really are the small change of Government spending. In the Department for Work and Pensions, which I shadowed for four years in the previous Parliament, or in the Department for Education and Skills, which I have scrutinised for the past five and a half years on the Select Committee on Education and Skills, the amounts that we are discussing would just be rounded up at the end of a page. They are not that significant. The portable antiquities scheme, which was referred to earlier in detail, is one small example of that.
The scheme is invaluable in recording archaeological finds. It has brought many previously unknown sites to the public eye and has saved many finds that would have otherwise been lost in overseas antique markets, flea markets and so on. The portable antiquities scheme is a booming scheme. Rachel Atherton, who is the field liaison officer for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, recorded 1,476 finds last year, compared with just 693 the year before. The scheme also plays a massive role in education, yet there is a great fear that it will be hit badly by the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.
What does that fantastic scheme cost? For 2008-2011, which is the period for which those involved are most worried about future funding, it would cost between £1.5 million and £1.6 million a year of DCMS funding to maintain it, yet there is a fear that unless such small amounts are ring-fenced and protected by the DCMS, we could lose the scheme.
The heritage protection review aims to simplify and streamline the listing and scheduling systems into a single system. Doing so would bring greater transparency and community involvement, which everyone in the heritage sector supports. However, as the Committee’s report makes clear, although that would mean reduced costs in the long term, there would be significant set-up costs in the short term. Will the Minister give us an assurance that English Heritage will be given the additional funding to cover the extra costs and duties that will required under the new regime?
A large proportion of the heritage sector’s work takes place in local authority planning offices, which host the historic environment records. Those offices will need the resources to upgrade and digitise hundreds of thousands of paper documents, when the changes to heritage protection that are anticipated in the forthcoming White Paper take place. They are valuable changes, which would help increase transparency, cut bureaucracy and simplify management procedures, but there are heavy up-front costs to pay to achieve them.
Many local authorities employ only a single heritage officer and almost half—43 per cent.—do not even have a heritage champion. For the heritage protection review to work, local planning authorities need a local professional heritage service with sufficient clout and funds to deliver what is proposed. Unless a statutory duty to provide costly historic environment services is included in forthcoming legislation, there is a danger that the aim of universal access to high-quality heritage planning and records will be destroyed by local authority cuts, owing to funding shortages.
Hon. Members have already commented on the danger to the Heritage Lottery Fund if it has to shoulder a further burden in the next few years in order to meet the costs of Olympic overspend. That would endanger the principle of additionality, which is what the fund was set up for in the first place, and reduce overall resources for an already underfunded heritage sector. The Committee was right to say that the Secretary of State should give an assurance that no further money than that that has already been promised will be diverted from the lottery to the Olympics. The loss of yet more lottery funds to the heritage sector is potentially devastating. The Government’s response to the Committee was not reassuring, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a commitment that no further lottery funds will be lost—
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
I finish with three brief points that the report deals with. It recommends that the merger and replacement of planning policy guidance on the historic environment and archaeology should be undertaken without delay after the publication of the heritage White Paper. However, the Government’s response suggested that amendments may be made to PPG15 in respect of the listing of buildings, but not until some years after the legislation, leaving a hiatus of five, six or—who knows? —seven years.
Five-year delay or not, why should PPG16 on archaeology not also be updated? Many issues could be considered—for example, the requirement that archaeological work must be undertaken by an accredited professional. Perhaps the definition of archaeological assets could be widened to include artefact scatters and paleo-environmental deposits. Perhaps class consents could be looked at again. It has been thought that once a scheduled ancient monument has been ploughed, the damage is done and no more harm will occur. In fact, ploughing causes incremental damage every time it takes place and archaeological material previously below the danger zone gets brought up into it each time ploughing takes place.
The Shimizu decision has already been discussed; I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that the simplification of procedures for conservation areas will not lead to a watering-down of protection, and that a resolution to the Shimizu decision will be reached rapidly without undermining heritage protection.
VAT on repairs has also been discussed. The current VAT regime encourages damaging alterations and the neglect of building maintenance, encouraging demolition and the loss of important historical assets and community locales. The Government should take action to create a scheme analogous to the listed places of worship grant scheme or extend that scheme to secular buildings and refund the VAT on the maintenance of historic assets.
In conclusion, heritage is an essential national asset, critical to our economy and tourism industry. It consistently features among the top reasons why visitors choose to come to the UK. It is highly important in developing strong local communities and local identity and in aiding regeneration. Heritage is not elitist, but extremely popular; 70 per cent. of adults visit historic locations. More than a million people supported the “History Matters—pass it on” campaign last year.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport must make the heritage sector a higher priority in the Government, both by emphasising its importance across Government Departments and fighting with the Treasury for better funding. The heritage protection review will greatly improve planning guidance, maintenance agreements with owners and community engagement with heritage, but it must be given the necessary legislative strength and funding to enable it to fulfil its potential. Good planning requires community involvement and consideration of broad issues of community well-being. The heritage White Paper could deliver that, but DCMS must fight its own case against others in the Government who seek to water down planning protections and speed up decisions for the benefit of business rather than that of communities.
Thank you, Sir John, for guiding the debate through such tempestuous waters. The fact that such an important debate has been interrupted so many times could be a metaphor for the difficulties that heritage faces.
I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) and the members of the Select Committee on their excellent report. As he pointed out, it is the first major report on heritage from a Select Committee for a dozen years.
I also pay tribute to the many hon. Members who spoke. The debate reflected the important links of Members of this House with so many vital heritage organisations, such as the Historic Chapels Trust and the Churches Conservation Trust, and with Stonehenge and our maritime heritage. Indeed, we have a resident expert archaeologist, and those with an important understanding of local authorities. I hope that it is not invidious to pick out two important contributions. The first was from my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), who does such crucial work as chairman of the all-party group on arts and heritage. It is worth remembering, particularly for a whippersnapper like me, that he was tabling a Bill to protect our historic churches even before the Minister was born.
I had been born; I was three years old.
I pay tribute, too, to the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Mrs. Hodgson). A fortnight ago, I paid a cultural visit to Gateshead. It is worth making a point to bolster her case. Gateshead technically has a town council representing 290,000 people, and it has built two of the most important new arts centres in the country. That is a formidable achievement, and shows what can be done when a visionary leader and a visionary chief executive work together.
I do not need to tell hon. Members about the importance of our heritage. We have more than 400,000 listed buildings and monuments in this country, 9,000 conservation areas and, beyond those designated assets, a wealth of heritage that is all around us: distinctive landscapes and buildings with features that might not reach criteria for formal designation but enrich our lives and our experience of places. The key point is that our heritage is not simply preserved in aspic. It is a living, breathing sector that contributes not only hugely to our economy but to our general well-being.
Some 3 million people are members of the National Trust, 2.5 million school children visited heritage sites last year and 400,000 volunteers work to look after our heritage—the largest voluntary sector of its kind in Europe. Heritage plays a vital role, as hon. Members have pointed out, in our urban and rural regeneration and in our sustainability. It is estimated that investment in our heritage can spark investment from the private sector that is four and a half times greater. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire pointed out, that is probably the chief reason that people visit this country.
Our heritage does not stand still. English Heritage has just listed the American air base at Upper Heyford, which 20 years ago was a working air base at the front line of the cold war. Now it is an important part of our heritage. As a country, we are a world leader in adapting our heritage for modern use, whether at the Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester, the Tate Modern or the Baltic, or through converted churches, new housing in listed warehouses or artists’ studios used by Brit artists in the east end. In short, our heritage not only matters but is contemporary in every sense of the word.
One of the reasons that heritage continues to matter is because of the astonishing commitment and hard work of our main national heritage organisations and their regional and local branches and of other important groups, too—not only the Historic Chapels Trust and the Churches Conservation Trust, but the Victorian Society, the Twentieth Century Society and many others.
It is with a heavy heart that I have to say that the overwhelming message that came out of the report was a depressing one. As the report stated at the beginning, “anxiety pervades the sector”. There is widespread alarm throughout the heritage sector. Every single heritage organisation that I have contacted said the same. Heritage Link described the Government’s response to the report as “complacent” and “carelessly drafted”, and as showing
“little understanding or acceptance of widespread concern over Heritage Protection Reform and funding issues”.
The National Trust has described the Government’s response as “disappointingly complacent.” Heritage, said the trust,
“appears to remain something of a Cinderella issue within a Cinderella Department—lacking resources and ambition”.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England said that it is
“very disappointed by the Government’s apparent failure to act on the Committee’s recommendations”.
The Archaeology Forum also said that it was
“disappointed with the Government response”.
The Historic Houses Association found the Government’s response “extremely disappointing”, “brief and general” and clinging
“to an unfounded hope that…all would nevertheless be well for the heritage”.
The Joint Committee of the National Amenity Societies described the Government’s response as “not good enough”,
“light on commitments and long on flannel”,
and that word again, “complacent”.
What has led those organisations to act as one and to speak out so boldly? The main and most obvious reason is the lack of funding for the heritage sector. On a personal note—I have been reflecting on this during the debate—we, as Members of Parliament, work in a heritage site, and we are spoilt. If we want £500,000 for a glass-covered walkway that nobody knew we needed, or a few million pounds for a visitors centre, we can get it. If we want a few million pounds for a website, we seem to be able to get it. Would not it be great if Member of Parliaments could vote some of that money to the heritage sector?
It is absolutely clear that English Heritage is chronically underfunded. Over eight years from the beginning of the new century, it will have lost just over £24 million of funding in real terms. As the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) pointed out, that is an enormous sum for English Heritage, but a pittance for many Departments. The Select Committee is right to conclude that the decline has
“led to justified fears that English Heritage will in future be unable to carry out its functions to the standard required.”
More importantly, the Committee points out that without financial and political support, the sector could
“lose confidence in English Heritage, which would be disastrous.”
I completely concur with those conclusions.
To see how badly English Heritage is being treated, one need look only at the debacle over choosing its new chairman. It is astonishing that it should be pointed out in the pages of our national newspapers that two well-qualified, leading candidates have not got the job, one of whom has sat on the English Heritage board and now sits on the National Trust board. It might seem facetious to say this, but it seems as though the only qualification that one needs to sit on a prestigious arts or heritage body these days is to be a member of or active campaigner for the Labour party, whereas links with the Conservative party will disqualify one even if one’s CV is eminently suitable in all other respects.
We now learn that the new chairman will receive a lower salary than the previous chairman and be expected to work for fewer days of the year. That sends out a huge signal about the importance with which the Government regard English Heritage, on to which they have loaded additional responsibilities time and again—through the National Heritage Act 2002 and the new responsibilities that it took on from the Department in 2005—while all the time cutting its budget.
As the report pointed out, direct funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has increased by only one fifth for architecture and historic environment, while that for sport has trebled and that for the arts has increased by three quarters. I again echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford when I say that while those increases are welcome, the fact that heritage is falling so far behind is another signal of where it stands in the pecking order.
The biggest single boost to heritage funding in British history came through the Heritage Lottery Fund. We estimate that that sector alone has lost £1.5 billion since 1998 because of Government changes to the lottery. Our approach to this issue at the last election was well known: we wanted lottery money to be returned to the original good causes. We estimated that that move would bring around £4 billion of extra money to arts and heritage over a seven-year licence period. Instead, grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund are set to fall by almost £100 million a year between 2003-04 and 2007-08. Given all that, it will not surprise the House to learn that the heritage sector views with enormous trepidation the comprehensive spending review and the impact of the lottery.
Another important aspect of the Committee’s report was its focus on fiscal policy. The Chairman was rightly critical of what he sees as the missed opportunity that the Chancellor was given by the European Union to reduce the rate of VAT for repairs to listed buildings. The position on VAT is strange indeed. We know that new buildings attract no VAT. We know that approved alterations to listed buildings attract no VAT. Yet repairs and maintenance, the most common undertaking for listed buildings, attract VAT at the standard rate. Somewhat perversely, that regime encourages the alteration or demolition of listed buildings but not their repair.
As the Select Committee pointed out, the current situation rewards neglect and works against the conscientious maintenance of historic assets. We need less regeneration and more new build. Furthermore, the current situation discriminates against small, non-VAT rated bodies that are unable to reclaim VAT after carrying out repairs with English Heritage grant money. The Treasury recognises the peculiarity of the situation as regards churches and memorials, and under the listed places of worship scheme it returns the VAT in the form of grant. The report makes a strong recommendation that the Government should consider a similar grant scheme for listed buildings, or at the least to relevant charitable institutions. Heritage Link is waiting for the Government to make detailed proposals.
On the privately owned sector, which opens private houses to the public, the Historic Houses Association has called for the introduction of limited fiscal relief for the maintenance of historic buildings, which would be particularly beneficial and cost-effective. It could help some 500 owners a year. The revenue for many is insufficient to fund maintenance and repairs, and grant support from English Heritage is now inadequate to fill anything more than a small part of the gap. As I said, heritage lottery funding support, which is already dropping, is not generally available for that purpose. These are factors that need to be closely considered.
A White Paper is imminent. It has been expected for a couple of years, and it will be welcome when it arrives. It has been 25 years since the last major update of heritage legislation, and although the Minister and I were not still in nappies, we were at school. Currently, various Acts deal with planning, listed buildings, ancient monuments, burial grounds and churches. Legislation is needed to clarify the situation.
Let me list what we would welcome in the White Paper. We would welcome a single register for historic sites and building. We would welcome an enhanced role for local authorities, but we will certainly want to question the Government closely on what resources will be available to local authorities. We would welcome a proposal to introduce management agreements for the conservation of heritage sites. We would also welcome moves to make the system more transparent and to allow the public access to information about the historic environment. However, we will ask the Government to strike a sensible balance between access and confidentiality. We would support any measure that increased community involvement, although we have serious concerns about the remarks made by the Secretary of State last November. We do not particularly want to see a free-for-all, and we hope that English Heritage will still maintain a lead role in designating heritage sites.
At the last election, the Conservative party manifesto was an arts and heritage manifesto. I pay tribute to my predecessor as shadow Minister for the Arts, not least because he is now my boss; the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) did important work in making the heritage an important part of our thinking in the run-up to the election. It is no doubt painfully obvious that I am relatively new to my post. However, I hope to make the same commitment to the heritage and bring the same passion to bear as we lead up to the next general election.
It is a pleasure to follow my good friend, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey). We were together last night at the Oxford Union, and he roundly beat me in debate by seven votes.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) on the work of his Committee. I am particularly grateful that the Committee decided to inquire into this subject. Its current inquiry into museums, libraries and archives is hugely important. Much has been said today about strengthening my elbow in relation to conversations with the Treasury, and I am grateful that so many Members from all parties have said that heritage is important. That point came up in discussion; the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) certainly raised it. We have been in a place as a country where it was deemed that there was no such thing as society. To refer to my party, we have also been in a place where the “new” of new Labour suggested that modernity was everything. I do not think that we are in that place any more. It is absolutely clear that our history, social cohesion, sense of community and sense of civic pride is absolutely underpinned by our heritage and culture. It is hugely important, and I am grateful for all that hon. Members have said in that regard. That is my position and that of the Government on these matters.
Since becoming a Minister for culture, I have thought a great deal about how our shared past helps to define identity within the communities of 21st century England, and it seems to me that this sector is absolutely central to the very helpful debate that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has started on Britishness. My Department has a huge contribution to make to that discussion, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor knows and understands that.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote about the role of the Government in protecting and improving the built environment in her essay “Better Places to Live”, which was published in 2005. In that essay, she said that decision making about the built environment could not be left to an elite who claimed to understand such things better than the rest of us; that we needed to increase public engagement and widen the sense of ownership of our historic environment. She also acknowledged that, if we are to preserve the things that embody our history and our identity, and leave a strong legacy for future generations, we need a system of protection that is prepared, when necessary, to make unpopular decisions that go against current fashion or commercial pressures.
Since the publication of that essay, my Department, together with English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Trust, has carried out a great deal of work on the value that the public attach to heritage, including a major conference a year ago today on the public value of heritage. We are working to improve the rigour of the evidence base and raise the profile of the built and historic environment in public debate. I am pleased about some of the figures that hon. Members have been able to cite. A great many of those figures came out of the work done to establish and verify that this matter is hugely popular with our constituents throughout the country. Part of that debate has been the consultations that we have completed on the review of the heritage protection system, which have paved the way for us to publish concrete proposals to increase the openness, efficiency and effectiveness of the heritage protection system. I shall say a little more about that a bit later.
It is important for me to point out the amount allocated by the Department to all of its sponsored bodies with responsibilities for our cultural heritage in this country, lest the debate and the report give the impression that a lot of money is not going into the sector. In fact, half the overall departmental expenditure in the last comprehensive spending review—more than £1.6 billion in grant in aid—was allocated to English Heritage, our sponsored museums and the British Library. That is a clear indication of the strength of the Government’s commitment to the protection and preservation of our heritage.
The Committee also highlighted the importance of encouraging a culture of preventative maintenance.
Sir Neil Cossons himself has put it on record that
“English Heritage’s grant in aid from Government increased by only 3 per cent. between 2000 and 2006. Inflation during this period was 8.5 per cent… Over the same period, the Government’s grant to Sport England has increased by 98 per cent.”
That does not really square well with the Minister’s figures.
The hon. Gentleman is right in relation to English Heritage, but he may recall that in the previous spending review, English Heritage was subject to a quinquennial review that was quite critical. Much has been said about the role of Sir Neil Cossons and Simon Thurley in turning that organisation around. However, following the review it was clear that the organisation was bureaucratic and in need of serious modernisation, and that it was not the time to provide it with further funds. Owing to the efficiencies that it made during the previous spending period, largely due to the efforts of all its staff, it will be able to plough about £28 million back into the organisation in the next spending period.
It is important to understand where English Heritage has travelled from and where it is now, and we are obviously pleased that the most recent peer review has brought us up to date with the changes that have been made. The review has a bearing on the type of discussions that hon. Members would expect the Department to have with the Treasury at this time.
Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also promotes environment-related options as part of its environmental stewardship schemes. That support amounted to an estimated £90 million between 2000 and 2005, which is why the Treasury remains committed to negotiating at EU level a permanent reduced rate of VAT for repairs and maintenance work on many of our most important heritage sites, and particularly on our listed places of worship.
I recognise that the heritage sector feels strongly that there should be a zero rate for building repairs generally. We will continue to work with the sector to consider the evidence, and we will continue our discussions with the Treasury on that point. I cannot of course say much about the forthcoming spending review, except that I am grateful to all hon. Members for maintaining the case and for helping to articulate the contribution that the sector makes not only to the economy through tourism but to the life of the nation.
We welcome the involvement of the heritage sector in the Department’s advisory forum for the cultural Olympiad. English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Historic Royal Palaces and the Royal Parks are key partners in that work, as are other bodies such as Heritage Link. The Government have renewed their commitment to heritage as one of the lottery good causes beyond 2009, and they have pledged that the percentage share of the non-Olympic causes money that is dedicated to heritage will remain until 2019. We accept that using national lottery funding for London 2012 represents a loss of income for the non-Olympic good causes, but we rightly remain convinced of the huge benefits that will accrue to the sector.
I remind hon. Members that, although Australia’s heritage is not as old as ours, Sydney and Australia, and their museums and heritage sector in particular, gained hugely from the Sydney Olympics in the years following the games. All estimates suggest that we will benefit from the tourism and the spotlight on this country. I shall visit Sydney shortly to find out how its sectors benefited, but I am told that according to estimates, there was an increase in income of up to 30 per cent. That must have a bearing on discussions, notwithstanding what the Secretary of State said to the Committee last year. I am not able to add to that, because the discussions with the Treasury are ongoing.
The Government also remain committed to helping to preserve our historic churches. We are considering whether there is a role for the Government in ensuring that the guardians of all our listed religious buildings are able to tap into the expertise that is available. The listed places of worship scheme has given more than £54 million since 2001 and more than 8,500 buildings have benefited. Cathedrals have received £43 million from English Heritage since 1991 and the latest round of grants will soon be announced.
My commitment to cathedrals in this country is on record. They make a huge contribution to cities way beyond the people of faith in those cities. In the present context, there have to be determinations about the priorities within the family formed by our church buildings. We recognise that there are real needs, particularly in relation to our rural churches. We were pleased to be in partnership and to respond positively to and welcome the “Inspired” campaign earlier this year. Against that backdrop, it is important to understand that it was widely accepted 10 years ago that many of our cathedrals were on their knees, and that the money that has gone in has been very helpful.
I hear what hon. Members have to say in relation to cathedrals and churches—particularly rural churches, and I applaud the work of the Historic Chapels Trust and the Church Conservation Trust. They have done a fantastic job for the churches in their care. All of that, together with the “Inspired” campaign, must be part of the conversations that we continue to have with the Treasury as we go forward. Hon. Friends also drew attention to the need for adequate resources at a local authority level. My Department and English Heritage have made a full assessment of the costs of implementing the new reforms, which will be considered as part of the spending review. It is, of course, the case that we would expect those new burdens to be funded and for the capacity to be there. We are working with English Heritage on that. Online resources put out by English Heritage are available for everyone on historic management at a local level. We have, of course, considered that issue.
We are in the final stages of the heritage protection review, and it was right that we waited for the Committee’s report. I undertake to publish the White Paper before the Easter recess and I hope that hon. Members will be pleased about that.
On world heritage sites, I am grateful that so many colleagues from the north-east are here today. Although my Department has a leading role in protecting the historic environment, we work closely and effectively with other Departments, particularly in relation to world heritage. We now have 27 world heritage sites across the UK and in our overseas territories. They are all outstanding in their own way and the UK is in the top five of well-represented countries in terms of the number of sites that we have inscribed. Last year, the World Heritage committee added the Cornwall and west Devon mining landscape to the world heritage list, and this year the committee will consider Darwin in Down for inclusion—Charles Darwin’s historic home and workplace.
The inscription of the world heritage list is only the beginning. All of our sites must be and, indeed, are managed to the highest professional standards. We take our responsibility for world heritage very seriously. That is why we were pleased to welcome the UNESCO missions to London and Liverpool at the end of last year. We will be reporting back constructively to the World Heritage committee at the beginning of February. We will take the opportunity in the heritage protection review to clarify and strengthen our protection for world heritage sites. I also note the importance of management plans as part of that process.
The hon. Member for Salisbury rightly raises the profound and deep concerns that he has had over a long time in relation to Stonehenge. I put it on record that I agree that, notwithstanding the important issues of affordability, it is a national disgrace that successive Governments have been unable to sort out that problem. Despite the —
It being fifteen minutes to Seven o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.