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Historic Environment

Volume 493: debated on Monday 8 June 2009

7. When he plans to introduce the new planning policy statement on the historic environment; and if he will make a statement. (278194)

The new planning policy statement will be published in draft this summer and consulted on immediately afterwards, with a view to its coming into force early next year. I know that the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) will now take me to task because I promised that it would be available by Easter, but we believe that it is important to get it right.

I thank the Minister for her reply, but does she not appreciate that there is some urgency about not only the reforms and proposals on the PPS, but also the Heritage Protection Bill that the Government should have brought in last year but did not? There is a whole swathe of legislation that we were told would be brought in because we did not need primary legislation, such as reform of secondary legislation to deal with the Shimizu judgment, the heritage partnership agreement, the guidance for investment in and promotion of historic environment records and improved protection for world heritage sites. When will those matters be dealt with?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and I appreciate his concern. My Department and I have been working with heritage groups to address exactly the matters he has raised, not all of which need primary legislation. I should be happy to copy him into the work we are doing in those areas.

Would the Minister be kind enough to tell the new Secretary of State—I welcome him warmly—that one of the biggest disappointments in his excellent predecessor was that he did not bring in the heritage Bill? May we have some real action on that now? There is plenty of parliamentary time.

I share the hon. Gentleman’s disappointment and the disappointment felt in the whole House about that; we argued with L Committee and fought for the Bill and I shall continue to do what I can to advance heritage protection. I know that my about-to- be right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will do the same.

Does the hon. Lady agree that the Government have been short-sighted, mean-spirited and lacking in vision on their duty of care towards the maintenance of the royal palaces? At what stage will the Government agree to play their part in maintaining those vital historic places?

I am afraid that I cannot possibly agree with the hon. Gentleman. I know that the predecessor of my about-to-be right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had a meeting with representatives from the royal palaces last week, and I will follow the matter up with the new Secretary of State.

What progress has been made in resolving the various disputes about the options for development close to, and around, Stonehenge?

We are making quite a few advances on the issue. We have decided that the new visitors’ centre will be at Airman’s Corner.

As the hon. Gentleman says, at last we have agreement. As he will confirm, we are beginning the work.

I am flattered that the Minister knew that I would intervene on this question—and, indeed, knew that one of the things for which I would take her to task was the fact that the planning policy statement has been delayed since Easter. Was she also aware that I would take her to task for the fact that the Government have cut £100 million from the heritage budget over the past 10 years? Was she aware that, like my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), I would invite her to ask the new Secretary of State, whom we all welcome to his new position, to speak to the Prime Minister, so that we can bring forward a heritage protection Bill that has the support of all parties in this House? It would have the added benefit of giving a Government who are currently focused on their own preservation something else to focus on.

I am glad that I can read the hon. Gentleman’s mind. Like him, I am extremely concerned about conserving our heritage, not least because I am Minister for tourism, and people come to look at our marvellous and unique heritage. I will work with the new Secretary of State on that. I realise that there have been cuts, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to pause and consider what his own party has promised in the way of cuts, and what he would do with heritage if those cuts were made.