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World Heritage Sites

Volume 480: debated on Monday 6 October 2008

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, before I answer the question I should like to pay tribute to the work done by my predecessor and friend, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), and wish her husband, Henry, a very speedy recovery.

The Government are reviewing their UK world heritage policy, and as part of that review we will examine the costs and benefits of world heritage status and the future of the UK tentative list. We propose to consult widely on that shortly, and we are also looking to enhance protection for our world heritage sites through the planning framework.

Do we not need to do more to promote UK world heritage sites around the world? Do not the 2012 Olympics give us an excellent opportunity to promote world heritage and world games? Will the Minister agree to meet me—I chair the all-party group on world heritage sites—and the Local Authority World Heritage Forum to discuss how the Government can support the better promotion of world heritage sites in the run-up to 2012?

I would be very happy indeed to do that, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he and the all-party group on world heritage sites do. I know that he has a particular interest in the site at Ironbridge.

May I warmly welcome the Minister to her new role and urge her to put Stonehenge at the top of her priorities? Since Stonehenge was declared a world heritage site, more than 50 Ministers have had some responsibility for it, which is probably why nothing has happened so far. Will she assure me that she will meet the new roads Minister to discuss the current proposals, the consultation on which ends this month, so that she can make progress on Stonehenge, taking into account not only its international and national significance, but the burden put on local communities by the lack of proper facilities at Stonehenge and the gridlock that occurs there every weekend?

I commend the hon. Gentleman; when I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in this Department, I had great admiration for his tenacity on this subject. I will indeed do as he asks and meet the Transport Minister responsible.

In congratulating my hon. Friend on her new role, may I invite her to visit Gorton monastery in my constituency, one of the most superbly refurbished world monuments in this country—

We’ve had MacShane: what about Lucan?

In inviting my hon. Friend the Minister to visit the monastery, may I ask her to consult colleagues about the ludicrous anachronism that prevents civil marriage ceremonies from taking place there, because the Marriage Act 1994 prevents civil marriages from taking place in a former place of worship? In her new role, will she show her dedication to world monuments by consulting colleagues to put that right?

I thank my right hon. Friend, and I would be very happy to visit the monastery. I have a family interest in such matters as my husband writes about them extensively. I will also consult colleagues on the Marriage Act.

Saltaire is a marvellous world heritage site in my constituency, and the biggest problem that it experiences is congestion at Saltaire roundabout. Does the Minister agree that the regional transport board that decides such matters should take into account the visitor experience at that world heritage site, and will she use her good offices to try to persuade the board that funding for improvement of that roundabout should be a priority?

I will indeed. It is a great heritage site, and as a regional Minister I know how important it is to get regional engagement on these matters.

The Minister’s predecessor not only agreed to support the Jarrow-Wearmouth bid for world heritage site status, but agreed to meet a delegation on the issue. May I take it that the Minister will confirm her support for the bid and carry on the commitment to meet the delegation from Jarrow?

I am very happy to do so. I seem to be collecting quite a lot of meetings today, but I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and to confirm my support for the site.

May I also pay tribute to the Minister’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), who brought huge passion and enthusiasm to her job? I regret that she has left the Front Bench, but my regret is tinged with joy in welcoming the new Minister, who also brings huge passion to the job, as well as a close association with one of the greatest literary figures in this country. We will welcome her contribution over the next few months.

I invite the Minister to admit that she feels ashamed that, on this Government’s watch, seven out 27 of our world heritage sites have been threatened with inclusion on UNESCO’s in-danger list. Now we learn that the Government have overruled their own planning inspector on the Doon tower. When will this Government take our world heritage sites seriously?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his gracious remarks. I do not think that my husband would describe himself in such terms, but I will convey them to him. I am only proud of what this Government have done and what we intend to do for heritage. Some of the UNESCO reports have been slightly exaggerated.