Considered in the Legislative Grand Committee (England)
[Sir Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]
I remind hon. Members that, if there is a Division, only Members representing constituencies in England may vote.
Power to grant a lease in respect of land at Kew Gardens
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Kew is a scientific institution of huge importance. As the global resource for knowledge of plant and fungal diversity, it plays a critical role in addressing the unprecedented scale and pace of threats facing the natural world, and indeed humanity, including the threat of climate change. It is fitting that our Secretary of State delivered his flagship environment speech last week at Kew. The fundamental purpose of the Bill is to help Kew to invest and support its vital mission in a way that also maintains and enhances this outstanding world heritage site.
The Bill amends restrictions on leases on the Crown land on Kew Gardens estate. Currently the Crown Lands Act 1702 limits leases at Kew to just 31 years; the clause amends those provisions, allowing leases up to 150 years, in line with provisions made for the Crown Estate in 1961. Clause 1(2) disapplies the 1702 Act in relation to leases granted under this Bill. The change will allow Kew to generate revenue to improve the quality of its estate and thereby to support its vital scientific mission and retain UNESCO world heritage site status. All proposals for granting long leases will be in line with Kew’s world heritage site management plan, and Clause 1(3) goes further on this point.
Clause 1(3), as amended in the other place, requires 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 1983. The Secretary of State must also be satisfied that the lease would have no adverse impact on the world heritage site status. The changes do not allow the sale of the freehold of Kew land. Furthermore, the Bill will not change the freehold position of the land, which remains with the Crown; it simply provides the ability to grant longer leases on the land.
Proposals for leases will be subject to scrutiny by Kew trustees and finally signed off by the Secretary of State. Proposals for the development of existing properties and new developments will require permission from the local planning authority advised by Historic England in consultation with local residents and other stakeholders, as well as the Kew trustees. That is unchanged from the existing governance processes.
Clause 2 is a standard provision. Subsection (1) sets out that the Bill extends to England and Wales only, this being the legal jurisdiction for property in Kew. However, the Bill applies only to Crown land at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Subsection (2) sets out the arrangements for the commencement of the Bill, two months following the day on which it is granted Royal Assent. Subsection (3) sets out the Bill’s short title once it has become an Act on Royal Assent. This provides the abridged title as opposed to the long title found in the preamble. The short title of this legislation will be the Kew Gardens (Leases) Act 2019. For the reasons I have set out, I urge that these clauses stand part of the Bill.
I am pleased to speak in support of this Bill. I will start by restating what my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) said on Second Reading—that Ministers can rest at ease, because the Opposition have no intention of dividing the House on this issue. Indeed, this is a Bill that we support and encourage the Government to get on with as fast as they can.
The Bill has been a long time in the making, with previous Bills started by the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) and Lord True. We are pleased that we have managed to come so far on this occasion, and we hope the Bill will pass all its remaining stages in the Commons today.
It is important to remember that the Bill goes back to the difficulties that Kew Gardens faced in 2014, when there was a potential funding crisis. The then director saw that Kew could lose up to 150 research staff, which would have been a tragedy given its international importance—not just for public access, but as the world’s most important research institution in the areas that Kew covers. The Select Committee on Science and Technology noted at the time that Kew had difficulties transitioning away from its pure state funding model to one where it is more self-sufficient.
Kew Gardens is not only an incredible tourist attraction but an international centre of expertise and something that this country should be very proud of. I remember my last visit to Kew Gardens; I was in awe of the natural diversity that thrives in that corner of green in this metropolis of hustle, bustle, concrete and steel. The seeds and samples at Kew are unique and preserve for the future a vital resource for scientists working on tracking biodiversity. The world’s largest herbaceous borders at Kew are also pretty incredible. I can only imagine the weeding and pruning that is required to keep Kew looking so inspirational and attractive. I sometimes struggle with my little garden in Plymouth, but this is on a very different scale indeed.
My hon. Friend is giving an excellent speech, showing the many virtues of Kew Gardens. Something that he has not mentioned is Kew’s important work discovering and helping with the eradication of invasive species that could have a hugely detrimental effect on plants in the United Kingdom. Do he agree that that work within Kew Gardens is also worthy of support?
My hon. Friend is right. Invasive Species Week, which we marked only a few months ago, was an opportunity for us all to learn more about the species that have been introduced to the UK, either voluntarily or without our knowledge, and that are having a huge impact. Greater knowledge of global biodiversity is important in that respect.
Order. This is not a general debate. Members should purely be discussing the clauses at this stage. There will be an opportunity later to speak on a broader range of matters. We just need to get through the clauses in Legislative Grand Committee and then there will be some amendments on Report.
Kew is not only a fantastic tourist attraction, but it has also been a key pioneer in science and research for about 250 years. That is why it needs to be sustainable environmentally and economically, which is why we are looking at this legislation. Labour is supporting the Bill to allow leases to be extended from 31 years to 150 years in the hope that the expected £15 million windfall will make both the gardens and, importantly, the scientific research institution more sustainable. That is not to say that there are not questions that need to be raised now for the record, and there are a number of those—although very brief ones—regarding the clauses that the Minister has set out.
Funding is the key issue in this Bill. It is right that the Opposition continue to ask for the assurances that the Treasury will not deduct from Kew’s core funding the capital sums generated by these reforms. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that the full value of any extra revenue derived from these changes will go directly to Kew and its scientific work, not to the Chancellor? It is a worry that the Treasury will see this as a cash bonus and take some of it away or see it as an excuse to avoid approving funding streams to Kew Gardens in future.
It is important to note that the Government funding for Kew comes exclusively from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has seen its funding slashed in recent years. Austerity is not over, regardless of what the outgoing Prime Minister may have said, and it follows that Kew has had its funding cut. Will the Minister explore getting access to funds from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for International Development and the Department for Education to ensure that this national treasure gets the funding it deserves to properly reflect the broad contribution and range of activities that it provides in support of the objectives in other Departments, too?
In relation to access arrangements, the Bill provides for the sale of leases of up to 150 years, which the Opposition do not oppose. However, can the Minister clarify something? Members of the public have raised concerns about whether the intention behind the sale of these leases is to sell the green spaces within Kew Gardens. I know that that is not the Minister’s intention, but given those concerns, it would be useful to be clear that this is about selling the leases on peripheral buildings to Kew Gardens and not the key assets themselves.
As we know, Kew Gardens is incredibly popular not only with local residents but with the British general public. Kew can sometimes be an expensive day out, at £42 for a family of four or £18 for one person at the gate. I recognise that local residents who live in the immediate vicinity are offered free entry, which is great if one can afford a home in the surrounding area, but that is not something that everyone can do. Will the Minister ensure that the core funding is maintained at such a level that Kew does not need to increase prices further? Not being content only with justice, will he also discuss with ministerial colleagues in DCMS and the Treasury how free entry for museums can also be funded at Kew to bring it into line with other national museums and attractions so that it can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their income? Does he have an understanding from Kew about what purpose the additional revenue derived from the reforms in this Bill will be put to? If so, can he state it on the record, because that would help folk to understand why this is happening?
Kew represents an absolutely essential asset to us in the fight to tackle the climate emergency, and it is right that funding is allocated in support of that. Kew is leading the way on climate change adaptation of crops. Some 50% of the calories consumed by our species come from just three big grasses—wheat, maize and rice—and that is a significant source of vulnerability within the global food system. The work being done at Kew to breed resilience into these crops is critically important and often overlooked. I would be grateful if the Minister set out whether any of the income stream that he expects to be derived from these reforms will go into its research in this area, because that would be very important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, who would usually have been here today, would not forgive me if I did not mention the importance of proper funding for the digitalisation of the herbarium records—which, I am sure, is an issue on all our agendas. It should be, though, because Kew currently holds the world’s largest records in its herbarium. That is an opportunity to learn from a collection of species that has been gathered on a global basis over many centuries, which is especially important as species are being wiped out as part of climate change and as part of human behaviour globally. More than 7 million plants specimens are kept, including 350,000 type specimens—the original specimens on which new specimen descriptions are based. If we saw a repeat of what happened at Notre Dame, this could all be lost, which would be a significant blow to our fight to stop the climate crisis.
We need to digitalise the collection as a matter of urgency. There is a £40 million cost to that work. I would welcome hearing from the Minister how progress is being made and what contributions these reforms could make to this effort. There would be another big advantage. Many people all over the world want to access the records but currently have to be able to afford to go to Kew in person. If those people, especially those from the developing world, were able to access digital records, that could be transformative in the fight against global biodiversity loss. I would be grateful if the Minister set out whether he expects any funding from the sale of the longer leases to go into these important projects.
On the basis of assurances that we have had on Second Reading and the ongoing conversations between the Opposition and the Government, we do not intend to oppose the Bill at this stage.
It is great to be back once again in the English Parliament. It seems a bit similar to the UK Parliament that we usually use this building for, but it is fantastic to be here, because I now believe that the English Parliament is a treasured piece of our democratic infrastructure, where English Members of Parliament can secure debates on English-only issues. We so look forward to the many English members of this Committee coming forward to discuss and consider all the great issues of state, free from Caledonian interference.
What has the English Parliament roused itself for today? What great state of the English nation issue do we need to discuss? It is the two clauses of the Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [Lords]. Some may say that the English Parliament is but an illusion, a mirage and a fake, and that this English Legislative Grand Committee does not properly represent and speak for England, but we say no to those doubters and deniers. This is not a sham Parliament. This is the English Parliament.
I wanted you to get that on the record, but this debate is about the Bill’s clauses. You have made a good point, and quite rightly. It is a well-rehearsed point that you make on every occasion, and I welcome that, but we now need to talk about the clauses.
Absolutely, Sir Lindsay, because this Bill gets to the heart of English horticulture and all the associated democratic quandaries that need to be properly resolved and considered in this fantastic English Parliament.
This Bill rightly seeks to introduce powers to grant a lease over land at Kew for a term of up to 150 years. We can almost feel all the great Members of all the ancient English Parliaments saying, “Yes, we need to make sure that this is properly considered. We wholeheartedly agree that there should be not be a restriction in section 5 of the Crown Lands Act 1702 in relation to a lease of land at Kew.” We can almost hear the Stuarts, the Plantagenets and the Roundheads. If they knew that section 5 of the 1702 Act currently prevents the sale of Crown land such as Kew and limits the length of leases over it to a term of 31 years, which is clearly insufficient, they would be turning in their decorative, medieval graves—they would be demanding 150 years for Kew Gardens, and by God this English Parliament is going to secure that for them today!
I want to make it abundantly clear before I go any further that I think that Kew Gardens is a wonderful institution. Of course it deserves to be treated properly, and the Bill sets out how to do that perfectly. We squatters are not members of this august body; we are not Members of the English Parliament. We get to participate in it and make speeches, but our vote is subject to the double majority—
Order. We are wandering again. There is a lot of time afterwards for you to speak, but we are discussing the clauses, not whether you have the right to vote. I accepted it earlier, but I will not allow that debate to be generated again. I know that you would never repeat yourself, but you are in danger of doing so.
Order. We are not going to go through individual plants. I was a little bit worried at the suggestion that we go back to the Plantagenets. As we know, Kew is a royal palace, and it was not Kew Gardens then, so I have allowed a little leeway, but I will not allow much more.
We are going from the Plantagenets to the plants, so perhaps we could skip a few generations if that would help. Maybe you could help me, Sir Lindsay. I thought we were considering all the clauses in the Bill in the Legislative Grand Committee. Is that correct?
Let us be honest: this Bill is purely about the extension of a lease—it is pretty straightforward. Other Members wanted to generate debate in other areas, quite rightly, but I want to ensure that we get through this stage, because I recognise that you want to move your amendments on Report, and it is important that we give you time to do that.
Order. It is not about you personally, but I think we are getting into a debate that neither of us really wants to have. I know you have great plans ahead, but this is what we are dealing with today. The fact is and the reality is that I am in the Chair, and I will be taking the decisions. Let us get back to where we were.
May I say that we very much support this Bill? We understand that the two clauses will help significantly in trying to generate some extra funds. We believe that seven residential properties may be impacted on by the Bill. We look forward to ensuring that this is dealt with adequately, so this can be moved on and the money can be generated. I think that there was talk of up to £40 million that could be disposed of if this money was available to Kew Gardens, so we very much support that.
Sir Lindsay, you are obviously not going to let me talk about anything to do with the environment of this place, what we are doing in particular and how we cannot raise particular issues, with me not being a member of this Committee, so what we will do is look to bring forward our amendments later, if we can, and on that basis, possibly to divide the House when our amendments come forward. It is just unfortunate that we are not able to discuss properly what this place and this particular institution is. I see you rising to your feet again, and you are going to stop me—
I am not taking up anything. I listened to the Labour party spokesperson speaking about these particular issues, but, because I am not a member of this Committee, I am obviously not going to be allowed to do so.
I will conclude my remarks, Sir Lindsay. The last word is that it is really unfortunate that we cannot make a point about this ridiculous institution of the English Parliament. It is unfortunate that we cannot make our points about that today.
Clearly, this is the political box office today. I am not sure what else is going on outside the confines of this Chamber, but this is where the action is taking place. We have just seen it with my hon. Friend—he should be my right hon. Friend—the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) attempting to explain why the two clauses of this Bill are in fact relevant to those of us from Scotland. We are being excluded during this Legislative Grand Committee stage, which we like to see as the English Parliament. It was created by David Cameron when he introduced the EVEL Standing Orders in 2015. And now we rejoice in it, for the first time, in its full glory, and here they all are—all the Members from England who are having their say under the changes brought forward that were going to transform democracy in the United Kingdom.
We can, Sir Lindsay. However, I would note—I do not know whether it was deliberate—that the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack) was the Whip who actually moved the motion to bring the English Parliament into being. I do not know whether that was deliberate on the part of the Government. I know the Serjeant at Arms will be kept busy because the Legislative Grand Committee (England) will have to meet later, after consideration. Incidentally, with autocorrects, typing “LGC (E)” automatically brings up the euro sign. I do not know whether that is some kind of ill omen for the new Prime Minister today.
I should say that it is just as well both the spokespeople, the Minister in particular, do represent seats in England. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs covers the whole United Kingdom on some aspects, and if the Minister had been a Member for a seat in Scotland or Wales, he would not actually be in a position to move that the two clauses should stand part of the Bill.
I fully support both the clauses. It is very important that Kew Gardens has the opportunity to raise additional funds through the granting of leases. We have been in communication with the management at Kew Gardens, and I hope to take up their very generous offer of a visit to the gardens in the not too distant future, because we recognise how important it is. We are not attempting to politicise Kew Gardens, and we are certainly not attempting to disrupt the ultimate passage of the Bill. However, it important that we try to subject it, as any piece of legislation that comes through, to the scrutiny that it deserves, and this is one of the opportunities in which to do so. This also highlights, as my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire tried to do, the inadequacies of the procedures.
I have fond memories of visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh as a youngster. I remember my gran, who would have turned 96 tomorrow, taking me and looking at the goldfish, so I look forward to finding out whether Kew Gardens nurtures goldfish within its boundaries.
The University of Glasgow, based in my constituency, has live connections with Kew Gardens. In January 2016, a three-year collaboration began between Kew, the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian and the centre for textile conservation and technical art history at the University of Glasgow to examine the science and culture of Pacific bark-cloth. The project, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, is investigating the traditional types of cloth worn on the islands of the Pacific—
Order. Mr Grady, I am waiting to hear a connection to the leases. I have allowed you to run on for a little while—[Interruption.] Mr Wishart has just walked out. It is rather unusual for a Member to speak and then to walk out while the next Member is still speaking.
It just occurred to me that we are in a Committee, Sir Lindsay, and there is provision in the Standing Orders for the Chair of a Committee to allow Members to remove their jackets if it is uncomfortably hot, so perhaps we could avail ourselves of that provision now. It would be rare to happen in the Chamber of the House, but we are in Committee.
Thank you, Sir Lindsay. I have an important announcement to make to the Committee, on the back of the significant points that have just been made by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady). I can confirm that, as he will see when he next visits Kew Gardens, there are goldfish there. I am glad that I can answer these important questions of the day that he raises.
I am grateful for the sincere co-operation of Members across the Committee, including the Opposition Front Benchers. The hon. Members for Stroud (Dr Drew) and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) have asked some important questions, and I am grateful to them for their support. I will respond briefly to their points. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport mentioned the concerns that the Select Committee raised back in 2014-15. In 2015 Kew published its science strategy, “A Global Resource for Plant and Fungal Knowledge”, which set out clear research priorities, including research programmes. The delivery of those programmes was all subject to funding and progress has been made on many of those priorities. Kew will be refreshing its corporate strategy and its science strategy in 2020, and that work is well under way.
The hon. Gentleman asked where the extra funding would go. I can assure him that it will go to help underpin Kew’s core priorities and what it is seeking to accomplish, in England and more widely, not least in Scotland and the wider world. I can assure the hon. Member for Stroud that the funding does incorporate significant investment in digitising Kew’s herbarium collection, which is important to him and to all of us, because we want to ensure that it is conserved securely and made globally available. Importantly, it will be available online.
The funding will help Kew in its ambition to increase further its self-generated revenue and become more financially self-sufficient. I understand that it will not be used directly to reduce funding; this is to help it achieve its ambitions to grow its funding further. What is reassuring to hon. Members is that since 2009-10 we have seen the grant in aid funding from DEFRA increase from £28.6 million to £40.8 million, and at the same time—this is credit to the team at Kew—Kew’s self-generated income has increased from £20 million to £70 million. This is therefore part of an ambitious and much wider scheme to help move things forward.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport was absolutely right to mention green spaces. Yes, they will be protected. The leases are around peripheral buildings at this stage and will not affect the core purpose. As I have said already, the funding will be used for the core purposes that are so vitally important for all that goes on at Kew.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the entrance fee. The Natural History Museum and others are designated as national museums and are sponsored directly by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, although they do get funding from special exhibitions. Kew is different, and the admission and membership fees there help to raise much-needed funds of £18 million. The broader discussion about how that would shape things is for some point in the future and is certainly not for this Bill. It is good to know that the board is making significant steps forward.
The other point the hon. Gentleman raised was about extra funding from DCMS and elsewhere. He may be aware that it already receives £3 million of official development assistance funding administered from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Those are important issues, and it is worth noting that there will be a visit in due course so that Members from Scotland and elsewhere can come and see all that Kew has to offer. We will talk more about that later on.
The Bill is not large, but its impact is significant. It will enable the release of value from land and property at Kew Gardens through a variety of commercial options, such as long leases for residential or office use. It will also reduce maintenance liabilities and running costs and enhance the site through restoration and ongoing maintenance. It will help Kew in its ambition to further increase its self-generated revenue and become more financially self-sufficient. For those reasons, I hope that the Committee will approve the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.
Bill reported, without amendment.
Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Legislative Grand Committee (England)
I have decided to select as manuscript amendments, to be proceeded with on Report, amendments 1 and 2 tabled in the name of Pete Wishart for the Legislative Grand Committee (England), to be debated together. Copies of a Report stage amendment paper will be available from the Vote Office shortly. In the meantime, we may proceed using the texts on the amendment paper for the Legislative Grand Committee (England).
Power to grant a lease in respect of land at Kew Gardens
I beg to move manuscript amendment 1, page 1, line 13, at end insert—
“(3A) The Secretary of State must issue a report to the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform on any lease granted in reliance on subsection (1) to businesses or individuals based in Scotland, within four weeks of the lease being granted.”
With this it will be convenient to discuss manuscript amendment 2, page 1, line 13, at end insert—
“(3A) As soon as possible after the end of each annual reporting period the Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament which includes an assessment of the income accruing to the Treasury as a result of the grant of leases in reliance on subsection (1) during the annual reporting period.
(3B) ‘Annual reporting period’, in relation to subsection (3A), means—
(a) the period of 12 months beginning with the date on which this Act is passed, and
(b) each successive period of 12 months.”
We are now back in the United Kingdom Parliament. Can anyone spot the difference? There are some subtle changes. As we have said, the Serjeant at Arms is getting quite the workout in moving the Mace up and down. Later on, it will keep them busy when we go back into the English Legislative Grand Committee, which I think we can all agree has been an overwhelming success. Such an overwhelming success has it been that my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has had to go and have a wee lie down in a darkened room somewhere. It falls to me to move the amendment standing in his name and those of several of my other hon. Friends.
As I was saying—I was about to say “before I was so rudely interrupted”, but that would not be respectful to you, Sir Lindsay—before proceedings were concluded in the Legislative Grand Committee a moment ago, we do not object to the Bill. We completely accept that most of its territorial extent applies to a very small part of Greater London, but there could be unintended consequences for the whole United Kingdom. What we have said since the introduction of the English votes for English laws procedure is that the Speaker or the Chair should not have to be in the invidious position of having to make what might at times become a very political or politicised decision about whether a Bill should be subject to the EVEL procedures. Perhaps there is a case for further devolution, of some description, to different parts of the United Kingdom of ways in which legislation that is relevant only to England can be discussed by directly elected representatives from that part of the United Kingdom. However, we have been able to prove demonstrably—today in particular, and since they were introduced—that the EVEL procedures are not the way to do it.
The EVEL procedures have their own little chapter in the new edition of “Erskine May”. I pay tribute to its editors—I am the proud owner of a signed copy. The EVEL chapter is nicely self-contained; it is almost like an en-suite chapter of “Erskine May” with the possibility of its being deleted almost entirely without notice, when the inevitable day comes when the EVEL Standing Orders are wiped away. They will be wiped away either because there will no longer be Members of Parliament from Scotland, because Scotland will have become an independent country—I believe that day is coming very soon—or because they are simply not convenient for whichever Government come into power and have the majority to do that, so they completely defeat the purpose for which they were set up.
EVEL was only ever set up as a convenient political tool for the then Prime Minister, David Cameron. It is ironic that we end up having this procedure on the day when his old Etonian friend finally takes power. If people are baffled by the procedure that has taken place today in the House of Commons, and which will continue to take place as we go back into a Legislative Grand Committee for a consent motion, goodness knows how baffled they will be when they see the drama beginning to unfold on Downing Street.
I put on record our support for Kew Gardens’ work. I was talking about the connections that exist with institutions in Scotland. The Glasgow Botanic Gardens, which are a jewel in my west end constituency, also have long historical links with Kew. Professor Sir William Jackson Hooker was appointed professor of botany in 1821 at the University of Glasgow and he went on to become a director at Kew Gardens. He was succeeded by his son, Joseph Dalton Hooker, who was also a graduate of the University of Glasgow. I was speaking briefly about the collaboration between Kew, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History at the University of Glasgow on traditional culture and practice in Pacific islands. I suspect I am now lining up a visit to that institution in the University of Glasgow as well as a visit to Kew Gardens. That is an example of cutting-edge research and the importance of leveraging adequate finance to support it. That is one of the purposes of granting the lease set out in clause 1.
The other thing that Kew Gardens is working on, along with other institutions, is tackling climate change. There is a climate emergency, as anyone who was watching footage from the Mall 25 minutes ago will know. I was very interested to read that this year, Kew Gardens has awarded the Kew international medal to Dr Mary Robinson for her work on climate justice. Glasgow Caledonian University, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), has a fantastic research institute on the concept of climate justice. Dr Robinson is a patron of that institute and I have had the huge privilege of meeting her. I am delighted that she has been given that award by Kew Gardens. The Scottish Government have long espoused the importance of climate justice as a way of tackling climate change and helping people who have been the worst affected but have done the least to cause climate change to mitigate and tackle it. That is one reason why we wanted to make the point about the extent of the Bill and the importance of unintended consequences, and it is why we have tabled the amendments.
Amendment 1 would require a Minister to inform the Scottish Government of any business or individual based in Scotland who is granted a lease under the terms of the Bill. That could be useful and important for a number of reasons: the new leaseholder, for example, might be applying for similar development rights in Scotland, or they may be a stakeholder in an ongoing policy consultation or policy developments of some other kind north of the border. If we had a statutory reporting mechanism of the kind that we propose in the amendment, it would provide an opportunity for Scottish Government Ministers to be fully aware of what was happening.
Amendment 2 is more to the point. It is about the tax take and the sums that will accrue to the Treasury from any lease granted. One of the key purposes of the Bill, as we have heard in the various debates, is to raise badly needed funds for the gardens’ research and investment programme—I again pay tribute to the gardens’ work.
Does the hon. Member intend to let hon. Members who have gathered in the House for the debate on youth services, or lack thereof, to discuss that important matter? The number of pages left of his speech indicates that he does not. It would be nice if he could inform the House of his intentions so that we can get to that important business.
The hon. Lady raises an important point. I do not intend to detain the House desperately long. I want to ensure that that debate can be had. It is particularly relevant, of course, to Members from England and Wales. We just had a procedure of the so-called English Parliament. This was what was supposed to happen as a result of the independence referendum and the reform of devolution, but it is patently failing, as she demonstrates. There are only two amendments, however, and I am speaking about the second, so her patience should not be tested for too much longer.
One of the key points is that the leases will raise money. That money will generate tax take, that tax take will go to the Treasury, and that money will eventually work its way into public expenditure, first through the UK consolidated fund, and then, presumably, some of it will end up in the Scottish consolidated fund through the Barnett formula. This has been the crux of our problem with the EVEL procedure from the very start—We do not see the full consequences and knock-on effects. That is why the amendment suggests that the Minister make an estimate or report on the sums expected to accrue to the Treasury as a result of any lease granted.
We were told when the EVEL procedure was introduced that we would be able to scrutinise all these things through the estimates process, but this is not the only time my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire has been called out of order and required by the Chair to resume his seat, because previously when he tried to talk about estimates, he was also ruled out of order and was unable to speak. There has been a small reform to the estimates process, which we have welcomed, but it is still not sufficient for us to have the kind of say we want. We cannot table meaningful amendments and the subjects and time available for debate are still limited.
We are demonstrating, even in the frustration of the hon. Member for High Peak (Ruth George) about the squeeze on the important debate to follow on youth services in England, the fundamental failures, first of the EVEL system, and secondly of the overall impact of the attempt at reform and the potential silencing of voices from England and Wales. The EVEL procedure, sadly, is becoming a laughing stock. There is a risk of Parliament falling into the same trap. Certainly, laughing stocks will not be in short supply outside our doors and down Whitehall.
Politics is a bit chaotic at the moment, and these kinds of procedural shenanigans do not enhance that, but they serve to prove the point. In the interests of consensus and not delaying the Bill any further by sending it to ping-pong with the Lords, I do not intend to press my amendments, but I hope the point has been made, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I will be brief, because I am aware that the hon. Member for High Peak (Ruth George) and others want to get on to the next debate. I fully understand that.
I am grateful for the support we have received from the Opposition Front Benchers. In these situations, it is important to learn lessons from other hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who, I always find, uses good humour, a probing wit and maximum respect for the subject and the people involved. I was getting a little bit nervous at the tone of an hon. Member whom I like, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). I was concerned that some of his understandable comments about the process were beginning to reflect on to Kew itself, so I am pleased that the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) clarified that that was certainly not the case. One thing’s for sure—Kew is certainly not a laughing stock. It is a much valued asset, and I am pleased he reinforced that.
Amendment 1 is not necessary and is not clearly drafted. Should information on the granting of a specific lease be required by anyone, including the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, in line with the Land Registry publication requirements, the price paid for the lease and the relevant details of the leaseholder and the lease document itself will be available from the Land Registry when the lease is registered. I think the hon. Gentleman is aware of that. It is unclear what information the amendment would require to be in any report, but information on a lease, including price and lease conditions, will be available to the public and any Government Minister.
On amendment 2, under the National Heritage Act 1983 a statement of accounts for Kew is prepared, examined and certified in respect of each financial year. This annual report and accounts is reviewed by the Comptroller and Auditor General—the head of the National Audit Office—and laid before each House. Details of Kew’s income, including Government, commercial and charitable donations, are set out in the report, which is a public document. As already stated in the other place, income received by Kew in respect of those leases will be reflected in the report.
I hope that assures the hon. Gentleman that the issue has been taken care of. He was probably already aware of the points I have made, and he has had an opportunity to make his wider points, so, for the benefit of this particular Bill and the impact it will have on the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
I do not get to say this very often, but I accept the Minister’s reassurances. I think our point has been made and I look forward to seeing whether the Government Whips Office tries to use this procedure again at any point, ever. If it does not, perhaps it just needs to get rid of the whole procedure. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I remind hon. Members that, if there is a Division, only Members representing constituencies in England may vote. I call the Minister to move the consent motion.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Committee consents to the Kew Gardens (Leases) (No.3) Bill [Lords].—(David Rutley.)
I am just trying to beat the record of my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) for being the Member from Scotland who has spoken most frequently in the Legislative Grand Committee. It is not just the occupants of the Serjeant at Arms chair who are getting exercise; you are, too, Sir Lindsay, as you move up and down, from Chair to Chair. This should not just be a formality. It defeats the entire purpose of the process. I hope that has been heard by Members on the Treasury Bench.
Question put and agreed to.
The occupant of the Chair left the Chair to report the decision of the Committee (Standing Order No. 83M(6)).
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair; decision reported.
Queen’s consent signified.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I am pleased to move the motion for the Third Reading of the Bill, which will provide the ability to grant leases of up to 150 years on Crown land at Kew Gardens, opening up new streams of revenue that will support this great British institution and world heritage site to flourish.
Kew is a scientific institution of towering importance, not only for the UK but as a global resource for authoritative specialist knowledge on plant and fungal diversity and its role in supporting essential ecosystems, which play a critical role in addressing the unprecedented scale and pace of the threats facing the natural world and indeed humanity. Kew is custodian of one of the largest and most diverse collections of plant and fungal specimens, living and preserved, collected from around the world over 170 years, with 25,000 specimens added each year from the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst to the herbarium at Kew itself.
These collections are of immense use and fundamental importance to science in determining how species differ and develop, and which ones are threatened by extinction—an issue of grave international concern. To restore and digitise this incredible collection to make it accessible across the world requires considerable investment, as has been set out. This Bill will enhance Kew’s ability to attract non-governmental funding, providing further income for these and other important investments.
Kew is home to more scientists than ever before, working in partnership with scientists, educators and communities to promote research, education and conservation. And Kew does much to involve the public too: we make more than 2 million visits a year to Kew and Wakehurst, and around 100,000 pupils learn from its many wonders on school trips. Across the spectrum of public engagement, Kew is fostering a wider understanding of plants and fungi and why they matter to us.
I am delighted by the support from parliamentarians in the Second Reading debate, and an invitation has been extended for interested parliamentarians across the board to visit Kew on the morning of 9 October from 8.45 to 10.45; hopefully they will have received the invitation already. I am still more delighted that the Government have had the opportunity to bring this Bill forward, building on the efforts of those who have promoted similar Bills on Kew through the private Member’s Bill route: my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and Lord True in the other place. In the other place the Bill was amended by Lord Whitty to ensure robust protection for Kew’s core functions and the world heritage site. I am grateful to Members in this House and noble Lords in the other place for their contributions.
I extend my thanks to the team at Kew, including the trustees, for all they do, as well as the officials on the Bill team, my private office, the Parliamentary Private Secretaries, the Whips on both sides and of course the Clerks for their work and support on this issue.
As the Minister in the Commons with responsibility for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, it has been an honour to lead on this Bill. Our debate in this House has enabled me to underline the global importance of Kew and the Government’s commitment to its future. I believe that the Bill’s progress through both Houses has been a model of Parliamentary process, working together effectively to ensure that the Bill is fit for purpose. I look forward to the Bill’s speedy progress towards Royal Assent.
There is very little to add to the remarks I made earlier, so as I want the House to come to the next debate as soon as possible, I shall briefly say that I am grateful to the Minister for his support for the ongoing digitalisation of the herbarium records and the recognition that the income derived from the sale of these leases will go to support Kew’s ongoing work. We need more, bolder and swifter action to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss, and Kew Gardens plays an important part in Britain’s soft-power and hard-power interventions in doing that, and I wish it the best of luck in selling these leases so we can make sure that work continues.
I just want to reinforce what we said earlier: we have points to make on procedures in this place, but the work that Kew does is immensely valuable. We hold it in the greatest of respect and look forward to the success of this Bill.
I also wanted to say before I was cut short earlier that we have been fortified in our contributions in the House this evening by some tea and cakes we were having in celebration of the birthday of Anne Harvey who works in the SNP Whips Office; she celebrates a very significant birthday next week, and we hope that goes on the record for her. But we wish the Bill every success.
It is a sad commentary on—or almost a tragic indication of or a metaphor for—our times that a Bill like this which every sane, sensible person would support wholeheartedly seems to have run into the mire of parliamentary procedure. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) normally exhibits a warmth and amity so typical of his Caledonian cousins, and he normally extends this warm cloak of friendship over all of us and wishes nothing more than to accelerate the proceedings of the House, but on this occasion there was a smidgen of sarcasm about his words; it pains me grievously to say that. He implied that somehow this was not a matter of great moment beyond west London—although west London is obviously a place of great significance.
Kew Gardens is a global treasure store. It is a world bank and a world centre of excellence, yet the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire—one of the very few Members of this House to have exposed himself to the nation on “Top of the Pops” when he was playing with Runrig—somehow implied that this was not an issue that stretched beyond west London. I immediately thought of F. E. Smith during the Established Church (Wales) Bill, when he suggested that the eyes of the entire world would be on us. Hon. Members may remember Chesterton’s comment at the time:
“Are they clinging to their crosses, F. E. Smith,
Where the Breton boat-fleet tosses,
Are they, Smith?
Do they, fasting, trembling, bleeding,
Wait the news from this our city?
Groaning ‘That’s the Second Reading!’
Hissing ‘There is still Committee!’”
This is an important Bill, and I have to say that the Minister has exhibited many of the great skills of the horticulturalists. He has been patient and allowed the Bill to grow before us. He has battened off invasive species using only organic principles—
The parliamentary secateurs—if not the snips—certainly should have been exhibited earlier on.
Kew Gardens is not just a world centre and seed bank; it is also a place of huge entertainment. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) talked about a concrete and steel part of the world that is illuminated and enlivened by this patch of green. Actually we are not all concrete and steel in west London, but we are grateful for that patch of green. Many of us will go along to the exhibitions, and not just the incredible Christmas celebrations—[Interruption.] What? I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker, but it always hurts me when a voice from the Rhondda is in any way attacking me. Kew is not just a place of great entertainment and an extraordinary resource for the world; it also has a new function nowadays. All over London we have these pop-up gardens on large, soulless council estates, and it is Kew that people go to for information on this. It is Kew that provides the details of plants that do not need a huge amount of watering or that can be resistant to problems. I am glad to see that the leader of the all-party parliamentary group on horticulture and gardening, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), is on the Front Bench today. I trust that that means she has been promoted. All I can say is that Kew is for the world; it is not just for us in London. The Minister has done an excellent job, and I hope that we can leave aside the sourness and bitterness that may occasionally have been exhibited this afternoon and celebrate the glory that is Kew.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.