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Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [Lords]

Volume 662: debated on Monday 24 June 2019

Second Reading

I can inform the House that I have certified the whole Bill in accordance with Standing Order No. 83J, for Jemima, as being within devolved legislative competence and relating exclusively to England.

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

As the Minister in the House of Commons with responsibility for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, I am delighted to present a Bill that will provide the ability to grant longer leases on Crown land there, opening new streams of revenue that will support the great British institution and enable it to flourish in the future.

Let me place on record, at the outset, my appreciation of the work of Members in this House—my hon. Friends the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith)—who have promoted similar private Members’ Bills on Kew Gardens. I also note the keen interest of noble Lords in supporting Kew. A similar Bill was promoted by Lord True, and this Bill, before coming to this House, was amended by Lord Whitty so that he and others could be reassured in placing the duty to prevent inappropriate development at Kew unequivocally on the face of the Bill.

Indeed, I think it fair to say that the Bill has already received support from Members on both sides of the other place. Baroness Jones of Whitchurch considered the Bill, and Lord Whitty’s amendment, supported by the Government, provides a double lock on future extended leases. Baroness Kramer and Lord Rooker were pleased that the Bill strengthened the protection of Kew and allowed us to look to a future as distinguished as its proud history.

Kew is a scientific institution of the utmost importance, not only for the United Kingdom but as a global resource—the global resource—for knowledge of plants and fungi. We are facing immense challenges when it comes to the preservation of the natural world, and it is clear that there is an essential role for plants and fungi in that regard.

The hon. Gentleman talks about Kew being a centre of scientific research. For those of us in west London not blessed with wide open spaces, Kew is a treasure house—an absolute treasure trove of delights. The recent exhibition of Dale Chihuly showed Kew Gardens at its absolute finest. I hope that I speak for everybody on the Opposition Benches when I say we entirely support the hon. Gentleman, but particularly those of us in west London who absolutely love this treasure so close to our hearts.

The hon. Gentleman speaks well for the west London posse. He speaks very assuredly and with great passion as always for Kew Gardens, and we are grateful for that. It is a wonderful institution. I assure him that people not just in west London but across the nation want to visit it, and I hope that that is a boost to the local economy.

We are facing immense challenges in preserving the natural world. Within the challenge it is clear that there is a central role for plants and fungi, and Kew can provide answers about how plants and fungi will help us and our planet not just thrive but survive. Kew is a custodian of world-renowned collections, including the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst and the Herbarium at Kew itself. The restoration and digitisation of the Herbarium will need considerable investment and will make the collection accessible globally.

Kew scientific research leads the world. With more scientists than at any time, its research is crucial in solving the challenges facing humanity today. Kew plays an extraordinary global role, in partnership with scientists, educators and communities, promoting research, education and conservation.

Kew does so much to involve the public, as we have already heard. With over 2 million visits to Kew and Wakehurst each year and around 100,000 pupils on school visits, it is building a wider understanding of plants and fungi and why they matter to us. Across the spectrum of public engagement, Kew is fostering a wider understanding of plants and fungi and why they matter to us.

Kew is not only an extraordinary scientific institution; as visitors and scientists will know, the estate includes many special buildings and structures, more than 40 of which are listed. It is a huge challenge to ensure the maintenance of these structures, which due to their historical nature is undertaken at considerable expense. We have a duty to balance public spending against priorities, and Kew is no exception. In view of Kew’s important role, DEFRA has been able to maintain funding to Kew in cash terms over this spending review period, but a key part of that was to support Kew to develop its other sources of income to deliver its ambitions.

Kew has made great strides in improving its financial sustainability. Kew’s Government grant forms just over one third of its income—37% in the 2017-18 accounts—and its mixed funding model is proving hugely successful, for example by using Government funding to leverage significant philanthropic and grant funding for renovation of the Temperate House, which reopened in 2018. Nevertheless, parts of the Kew estate, including some listed residential buildings near Kew Green, badly need investment to maintain and enhance their condition and enable Kew to realise additional income.

Attracting capital investment to refurbish buildings within the boundaries of Kew is one of the big opportunities available, but the current 31-year limit on leases imposed by the Crown Lands Act 1702 has made this difficult to realise. The Bill will allow leases to be granted on land at Kew for a term of up to 150 years. Longer leases will enable Kew to realise additional income from land and property, and will reduce maintenance liabilities and running costs. The additional income generated will help Kew to achieve its core objectives, maintain its status as a UNESCO world heritage site, and prioritise maintaining and developing its collections as well as improving the quality of its estate.

We all support the work that Kew does and obviously want to support its estate strategy and the funding, but the point my hon. Friend has just made is important. Will he confirm that this is less about income and more about capital receipts? The significance of going to a 150-year lease is that the seven or so residential properties around Kew Green can be sold on a leasehold basis. Kew Gardens is also interested in developing the car park area alongside the Thames.

My hon. Friend speaks from experience; he knows this Bill very well. [Interruption.] Yes, very well. I agree: this is about not just income generation but cost reduction because of the maintenance costs of these properties. It is about getting capital in to help to renovate these important buildings and enable Kew to achieve its wider ambitions, so my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, any development will be restricted by local planning legislation and by Kew’s provenance as a world heritage site. Many protections will be put in place, notwithstanding the need to take forward these renovation works.

The Bill has the full support of Kew’s board of trustees and residents in the Kew area, in particular through the Kew Society. It might be helpful to set out the protections that have already been alluded to, particularly to confirm that the various safeguards that apply now would continue to apply to any lease granted under the Bill.

Kew’s activities are overseen by Kew’s board and by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is an Executive non-departmental public body and an exempt charity. It is governed by a board of trustees established under the National Heritage Act 1983. As an exempt charity, although the Charity Commission does not regulate it, it must abide by charity law with the Secretary of State as Kew’s regulator for charity purposes. This regulation is co-ordinated between the Charity Commission and the Secretary of State.

To ensure that Kew’s operational arrangements comply with the National Heritage Act and with public and charity law, a framework document exists between Kew and DEFRA to deal with business planning, resource allocation, the appointment of board members and, pertinently, the disposition of land. Thus, at all times in the governance process, the board of Kew, the Secretary of State and DEFRA play a key role in determining the operational management, and will continue to do so in the grant of any lease under this Bill.

The Bill goes further on that point in requiring that, before granting any lease, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the lease—and anything that the leaseholder is permitted to do with the property under the terms of the lease—would not have any adverse impact on the functions of the board of trustees as set out under the National Heritage Act.

I note from the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) that there might be some question of a car park facility. Will the Minister ensure that, so far as possible, a low-carbon transport policy is developed for Kew? It seems ironic that we would do anything else, and there should clearly be sufficient electric charging points, sufficient public transport and sufficient cycling and walking routes to ensure that this really is genuinely state of the art for the 21st century.

My right hon. and learned Friend makes a good point, and I am sure that these matters will be given due consideration. The car park that may be envisaged in the future would need to comply with planning regulations locally, so these things would have to be considered.

Will the Minister read into the record a fact that is known to many of us, but perhaps not to every one of the vast number of people paying attention to the debate? Anyone who emerges from the main gate at Kew and strolls less than 100 yards up the road will find themselves at Kew Gardens station, where they can take the elegant District line to almost any place that their heart desires. There is also the London Overground. No one actually needs to drive there. There are three buses that stop there and two tube stations very close by. Would he care to note that for the record?

Noted. The hon. Gentleman is well informed, and I thank him. Of course it makes sense to use sustainable transport whenever possible, particularly when visiting Kew.

Another element of protection that will continue under the Bill is that of Kew’s UNESCO world heritage site status, and other designations that offer protection under the planning system. These will apply to any lease granted under the provisions of the Bill. Once again, the Bill goes further, requiring that before granting any lease the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the lease and anything that the leaseholder is permitted to do with the property under its terms would not have any adverse impact on Kew’s UNESCO world heritage site status.

My hon. Friend will be familiar with the fact that it is typical with leasehold properties, particularly flats, for a leaseholder to have an entitlement to extend the lease before it reaches an 80-year cut-off period. With the type of leasehold we are discussing, will it be possible for a leaseholder to continue to extend in the normal way, or will it be a fixed term of 150 years only?

It would be possible to extend the lease in the normal way, except for the fact that a lease would never go beyond 150 years. There are different protections in place because Kew is on Crown land.

It is important to note that the Bill goes further on the UNESCO world heritage site status. Kew was inscribed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2003 owing to its outstanding universal value as a historic landscape garden and world-renowned scientific institution. As a result, the UK Government, through the Kew board and the Secretary of State, have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the protection, management, authenticity and integrity of the site. As part of its world heritage site status, Kew has a management plan to show how its outstanding universal value as a property can be served, and that includes protections and mechanisms in the planning system relating to conservation areas in the London boroughs of Richmond and Hounslow.

The Kew Gardens site is also listed as grade I on the Historic England register of park and gardens of special historical interest in England. Much of the Kew site is designated as metropolitan open land, which applies similar protection to that offered to green belt land. Forty-four of the buildings and structures within the site are listed, and Kew is part of an archaeological priority area.

All the protections mean that any building work or alterations to any leased property, including the interior declarations in some cases, would require local planning permission and compliance with the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, the national planning policy framework, and the Government’s policy for the historic environment.

Finally, of course, conditions would apply to the lease itself. In accordance with the duties that the Kew board and the Secretary of State must carry out, the lease itself, while seeking to be commercial, will include any restrictions that the Secretary of State decides are required—for example, to the extension or change of use to protect Kew, its UNESCO world heritage site status, or to ensure that the functions of the board of trustees under the National Heritage Act 1983 are not interfered with in any way.

As I set out earlier, the Bill disapplies the restriction in section 5 of the Crown Lands Act 1702 in relation to the maximum duration of leases of land at Kew. The Bill will remove the limit of 31 years on leases on land at Kew and apply a maximum of 150 years, bringing Kew into line with the provisions made for the Crown Estate by the Crown Estate Act 1961. The changes provide the ability to grant longer leases on the land. The Bill will not alter the many existing protections in place for Kew and its status as a world heritage site. In fact, the Bill strengthens the protections by formalising the duty of the Secretary of State to uphold them.

All proposals for granting leases are subject to scrutiny and must go through both Kew and DEFRA’s governance and comply with the protections in the planning framework, and in every case the lease itself will contain any restrictions that may be necessary.

The Bill will ensure that Kew’s historic properties are afforded the best protection. It is all about empowering Kew to manage its assets on a sound and sustainable commercial footing to enhance the estate and to pursue its core objectives. Kew’s trustees need the Bill to do what is necessary for the future of this national institution, which is part of our shared global heritage.

The modest dimensions of this two-clause Bill belie its importance in helping to safeguard Kew and its invaluable work. This is an opportunity for us to support Kew’s mission, because enabling Kew to maintain and enhance all parts of its estate will be crucial to its long-term success and to its global role in addressing today’s challenges for plants, fungi and humankind.

I am pleased to be able to speak on Second Reading. The Minister can relax because the Opposition have no intention of dividing the House. In fact, we hope that the Bill gets on its way speedily. I thank him for arranging for me to go to Kew last week. It was the third time that I have managed to get to Kew, which is a haven of peace and a wonderful facility. It is no wonder that it is a UNESCO world heritage site, and we must maintain that status and do everything we can do to improve it.

I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Danielle Rowley) to the Opposition Front Bench. It is apposite that this debate comes before the debate on the motion relating to climate change. The Labour party believes that climate change must be given greater emphasis both in this place and outside. I hope that my hon. Friend can take part in future debates, but perhaps not this one because it will be fairly short.

I will not interrupt again.

My hon. Friend just mentioned his visit to Kew, which I have visited many times. I was delighted to be shown around by Eric White last weekend, and the all-party parliamentary group on gardening and horticulture has also arranged such visits. Given that other things are happening in the world of politics and we are not blessed with a huge attendance, does my hon. Friend agree that it might be an idea to invite the director of Kew to set up an invitation to parliamentarians to visit Kew? Those who have not tasted the delights of this glorious oasis of peace do not know what they are missing.

I thank my hon. Friend, and I am sure the director will have heard him—particularly if he can get £18 off us all individually as our contribution to keeping this wonderful facility in place. I did not pay my £18, so if the Minister wants to take it off me later, I willingly make that offer.

This long-awaited Bill has been around for some time, and it is urgently needed. The enthusiasm of the staff for their wonderful facility is only enhanced by their need for this Bill, because they need more money. We will talk a bit more about that.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) will no doubt say a few things about the Bill, because he, like Lord True and the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger), tabled a previous Bill. This Bill has been round the houses. It may not have been scrutinised before, but it has been known about, and it is a short Bill that should not take us much time.

In fact, we offered to get through the Bill much quicker, because it will come back again on Report and Third Reading. We were quite happy to consider the Bill in one sitting. We are not tabling any amendments, because the amendments moved by my noble Friends Baroness Jones and Lord Whitty have already been made. We have got what we wanted on giving greater protection to this heritage site, and we are happy the Government agreed to that.

It is important to recognise that the Bill dates back to the difficulties in which Kew Gardens found itself in 2014-15, when there was a potential funding crisis. The then director identified that Kew could lose up to 150 research staff, which would have been a tragedy given the facility’s international importance not just in terms of public access but in being the world’s most important research institution. I will say a bit more about that shortly.

Kew’s particular grouse in 2014-15 was that, in 1983, it got 98% of its funding from the state through grant in aid, which the Minister says is now down to just over 40%. By comparison, the Natural History Museum still draws the vast majority of its funds through the state. There is a lack of parity, at the very least. When and if Kew gets this money, I want assurances about what happens to that money, and I will say something about that in a minute.

The Select Committee on Science and Technology called the Government to account in 2014-15, and one of the things the Committee was clear about is that the Government did not have a clear strategy with regard to Kew Gardens, so it would be interesting to know what progress has been made on the strategy. This Bill may be part of that progress, and there may be other things that the Minister wants to say about the progress that can be made, but progress there needs to be. Protecting and enhancing this wonderful facility will take money. The cost will partly be defrayed by what we are talking about today, but there is no substitute for the fact that the state has to put its hand in its pocket. It has done to some extent, but it needs to do more—again, I will say more about that in a moment.

In a sense, things are on a more even keel than they were, because the cost of going into Kew has risen and now stands at £18 per individual. There are discounts and family tickets, but for people in many walks of life £18 is quite a high contribution, despite the fact that it is a wonderful day out, given that they can go to museums for free. One problem in attracting people, particularly tourists, to Kew is that additional cost they face. Will there be any implication here in terms of additional rises in the entrance fee, even though this may give Kew some extra money? My worry always with this extra money is whether it will go to Kew directly and will not be intermediated by the Treasury, which may just see it as a little cash bonus and take some of it away. We are talking about £15 million, as a maximum. In terms of what Kew gets, that may be a considerable sum, but it will get that hit only on one major occasion. It would therefore be interesting to hear from the Minister that he has got assurances from the Treasury that the money will go to Kew, will be ring-fenced and will not be taken for anything else. I say that because I want to talk about what this wonderful institution will have to do.

We welcome the Bill, but I just want to establish that we are talking about 11 properties. When I walked around the estate, it was apparent that other houses were already in the private sector, so it would be interesting to know exactly what properties we are talking about. I know it is a mixture of houses and flats, but the Minister could certainly clarify that. Again, it would be interesting to know, following on from what the Select Committee said, some of the ways in which the charitable context, which the Minister has explained, is fully understood by all concerned. A slightly different arrangement does apply, because this is not subject to the Charity Commission. We have all received a briefing note from the Charity Commission, but it has very little say over how this charity operates. It is entirely dependent upon the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and therefore DEFRA has to be the agency that protects Kew more than anyone else.

I have a big ask of the Minister, and I hope he is listening. The one thing I did learn was about the need to digitise the herbarium records. They are the most important records of flora—there are some of fauna—in the world. I, for one, would be exceedingly worried if we did not digitise that record as a matter of urgency. There is a £40 million cost, but I hope the Government will look to make a big contribution towards it, because if that building was to catch fire and those thousands of exhibits were lost—I know that is a big if, but these things could always happen—the world’s greatest collection would be endangered. So I hope the Minister might have some say over the way in which the Government’s future strategy takes us towards digitising those herbarium records, and there would be another big advantage, because many people from all over the world want access to those records but currently have to arrive in person at Kew. For people on the other side of that world that involves a big cost, and it is important to recognise that is our obligation to make those records more easily accessible.

I just want to share a few stakeholder views, which are important to put on the record. These largely came out of the inquiry of nearly five years ago, but they are still pertinent. One key thing was about Kew’s status in the global strategy for plant conservation, where it has an important part to play, as it does in terms of the convention on international trade in endangered species, livelihoods, and UK and international biodiversity strategies. All that is tied up with where Kew is and what it does. I hope the Minister accepts that the Bill will contribute towards that, so we can be clear on where the Government’s strategy is taking us.

I have some questions that the Minister needs to answer on the record, because Kew is such an important aspect of the heritage of not only London but the whole country. I have already mentioned the cost of entry, so I shall not labour that point. Another argument that the Select Committee put forward was that in a sense the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has become the sole funder of Kew, which is largely understandable. However, Kew draws no money from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, let alone from the Department for International Development, even though both Departments draw benefit from what Kew has to offer. It would be interesting to know what discussions the Minister has had with those other Departments to see whether they could contribute to the funding as we take Kew Gardens forward.

There is an issue with how we balance what Kew is in respect of its research work and public access. None of us will want to see it become more commercialised, let alone a theme park, which has been a prominent idea in some people’s views on how to deal with the financial shortcoming at Kew. We want to keep it as it is, open for public access, but the back-office elements are important. Kew is crucial to our understanding of climate change. Much of the research that will have to be done on how we feed our future population will be undertaken by Kew scientists, so it would be interesting to know where it fits into the Government’s climate change strategy. One hopes it will play in important part.

I have two more issues to raise quickly. In respect of the action on biodiversity, it is crucial that we do not in any way downgrade Kew’s status because of lack of funding. I hope that the Government will make it clear that Kew has an important part to play in the biodiversity strategy that the Government wish to address.

Finally, the recent report by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which was published in January 2019, showed that the UK is on track to miss 15 out of its 20 Aichi biodiversity targets. By which date does the Minister expect the UK to be on track to meet those biodiversity targets, given that the only way we can do so is through Kew’s active participation?

Overall, the Bill is good, short and pertinent, so we give it our support and hope that the Government can get it through as a matter of urgency.

It is a rare opportunity for a Member to be able to speak on legislation that pertains almost exclusively to his or her constituency, but I have that honour today, because the magnificent Kew Gardens is in my constituency—

That is absolutely right.

I am delighted that the Government have taken up this small, uncontroversial but nevertheless important Bill. Members who have visited Kew Gardens will know what an extraordinary place it is. With 2 million visitors a year, including 100,000 schoolchildren, the gardens are one of the great wonders of the world. There are stunning landscapes, extraordinary plants and peaceful walks—except when they are punctuated by the noise of aeroplanes flying over, but that is a debate for another day.

Kew is a great deal more than a beautiful garden or a tourist attraction: in addition to hosting the world’s largest collection of living plants, its herbarium contains a collection of more than 7 million plant species. It is an extraordinarily valuable international resource, which is in the process of being digitised, as we have just heard, and made freely available worldwide. Kew Gardens is at the forefront, the cutting edge, of international plant science, which is crucial in providing a response to the existential threats of climate change, antimicrobial resistance, and diseases such as cancer, diabetes and more. Kew is simply a priceless national asset, and we should be doing everything we can to support it.

That brings me to the Bill. Very briefly, let me say that I first brought it to this House as a ten-minute rule Bill in January of last year, following similar efforts by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) and by my friend Lord True in the other place. Unfortunately, it was blocked, I think, nine times by a friendly colleague on the Government Benches. I want to repeat my thanks to Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for their decision to bring the Bill forward in Government time, and I welcome the changes that have been made to the Bill in the Lords. Although the intention of the Bill was never to allow Kew to lease out core parts of its estate, it is welcome that that is now clear in the Bill, with explicit protections for its UNESCO status.

Having visited Kew many, many times, including this morning, I can assure hon. Members that the clear intention is to use the powers in this Bill to lease out the residential buildings on the periphery of Kew’s estate. In fact, I saw a number of those buildings this morning, all of which are beautiful and all of which have been empty for more than a decade. The anomaly of Kew Gardens being Crown land means that it has several buildings that can be leased for a maximum of only 31 years, which is not commercially attractive compared with the 150 years that the Bill will now allow.

Like the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew), I want to caution against the suggestion that passing this Bill into law will provide some kind of windfall for Kew. There is no doubt that the potential financial gains are significant, but they must not be seen as a substitute either for visitor income or for Government funding. I hope the Minister agrees that this Bill is an opportunity for Kew to do more. With the spending review on the horizon, I urge him to make sure that Kew continues to receive significant support from Government. I want to reiterate that this Bill must not be used as a pretext to reduce such funding sources.

I thank the Bill team for their support and their willingness to take this Bill off my hands, out of the risk of its being blocked by some on the Back Benches, and on to the statute book. I look forward to it passing its first Commons stage this afternoon.

What a well balanced debate, as a result of which we go straight into the wind-ups and immediately back to Dr David Drew.

I haven’t even written my notes yet.

With the leave of the House, I will say a few things. It is important to do so, because various people have made contributions to this whole process over quite a long period. I welcome what not only the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) but my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) and the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) said, because they have all played a part in making sure that we get this Bill into play as a matter of priority.

I have two very quick things to say. First, I hope the Minister will answer some of my questions. I welcome the Government’s commitment to this Bill, because it is important. As I have said, the enthusiasm of the staff at Kew took me aback. It made me realise how much people care for this institution. Secondly, I hope that we will now be able to move forward with some of the other business that needs to come back to this place, such as the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill, and, dare I say it, the environment Bill, which should be an environment and climate change Bill.

With the leave of the House, I will respond to the debate. Indeed, it is my pleasure and privilege to do so. I think there was one other Bill that the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) had in mind as well.

There we go. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am a reasonable man, and I am trying my best to move forward with this legislation. With support from the Opposition, Government Members and those across the House, we are making progress. Hopefully we can make more.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is appropriate to hold the Bill’s Second Reading ahead of the climate change debate. I wish to join him in welcoming the hon. Member for Midlothian (Danielle Rowley) to her place. It is also good to see my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth in his place for what will be another important speech.

I want to respond to many of the points made in the debate. With characteristic enthusiasm and passion, the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) has persuaded people at Kew in no time at all that it is entirely appropriate for a group of MPs to come along. They would indeed like to extend that invitation to Members here, so I hope that he can join us on that occasion. It is rare for our suggestions to be put into action so quickly, but the hon. Gentleman has managed it.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) mentioned low-carbon transport. Kew’s transport policy is, of course, not within the scope of the Bill, but we will pass on his comments to people there. My hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) talked about extending the leases; I responded by saying that leaseholders could apply to replace the original lease with a new one of no more than 150 years. The hon. Member for Stroud also asked which properties would be included.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) made a very important speech; I say a huge thank you to him for his remarkable work and support for Kew over the years. He also does a huge amount on the wider debate about biodiversity and climate change, for which many Members—not least DEFRA Ministers—are extremely grateful.

Of the properties that we are talking about today, five are currently let on a one-year lease following renovation work, partly funded by a loan, and two are unoccupied and require substantial renovation to bring them up to a habitable condition or make them fit to become office accommodation. In the first instance, Kew would like to focus on that portfolio of properties, particularly the unoccupied properties. That portfolio can itself generate a capital sum or remove liability for renovation or maintenance works—a cost avoidance of about £15 million over a 10-year period.

The hon. Member for Stroud also asked about funding and what would be done with it. The Government’s intention is for Kew to receive the income to support its mission, including investment in its infrastructure and the quality of the world heritage site itself. Although I cannot prejudge the outcome of the forthcoming spending review, the importance of Kew’s mission and of securing the institution’s future means that my Department will be working closely with Kew to put forward the strongest possible case. That includes significant investment in digitising Kew’s herbarium collection, which the hon. Gentleman called for and which my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park said was so important, so that it can be conserved securely and be globally available.

Kew’s work is vital for our biodiversity and in tackling climate change. The hon. Gentleman can be assured that we will push hard to get the right funding for these tasks. It is vital that we get behind that work and further support Kew, because it is a global centre of knowledge about plants and fungi, and that should never come under any question. Given my remarks, I hope that the hon. Gentleman and other Members will be assured that we are in this for the long term. We need Kew to thrive and survive, and the Bill will help it do just that.

I hope that Members are now fully aware of the necessity of the Bill and the benefit that it will bring to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the wider role played by Kew generally. I also hope that hon. Members feel reassured that proposals under any new lease will be subject to scrutiny by trustees, the Secretary of State and through the planning process with the local planning authority, as well as being in line with Kew’s world heritage site management plan.

It is an honour to have participated in this debate. We care passionately about Kew, and we are grateful to the team there for their important work—I think everybody would echo that—and for their sheer enthusiasm.

Long may they flourish, grow and prosper—absolutely. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and we are grateful for it. We want them to continue to succeed in the work they do. I hope the Bill will continue to make positive progress through Parliament, so that we can take this work forward.

For the avoidance of doubt, and particularly for Mr Pound’s information, I should say that that was entirely unintentional.

I thank the whole House for dealing so swiftly with this important matter after the many months that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) spent trying to get the Bill through the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.