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National Heritage Bill Hl

Volume 439: debated on Tuesday 15 February 1983

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3.30 p.m.

My Lords, I have it on command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the National Heritage Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

Clause 29 [ Establishment of Commission]:

Page 17, line 3, leave out ("Commission for Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings") and insert ("Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, on Report stage we voted on a name that I had down in an amendment, the Heritage Commission for England. That was lost by only four votes. I think the voting was 79 to 74. The general feeling without any doubt in the House was that the title in the Bill at the moment is far too cumbersome—the Commission for Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings for England—and another name should be found. Views were also expressed that one should get away from the word "heritage", which appeared to be used everywhere and had almost become, not exactly a dirty word, but a very abused word.

Thus, the amendment I am now moving seeks to insert the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, which would neatly be HBMC. It covers exactly what the Bill is about, what the commission is set up to deal with, and its also does away with the word "heritage". I hope that this will have the support of the House. It has been extremely difficult to find something else, but I think this is an improvement on the original title. I beg to move.

My Lords, in supporting the amendment. I think the House knows that a great deal of thought has been given to a more convenient name. I hope that perhaps what has been suggested now is the best compromise. The one thing I like about it is the fact that the famous Historic Buildings Council, which we all know, has the initials HBC, and the new commission will have similar initials—HBMC. However, having said that, I hope the House will now agree that this is a much more convenient title. I hope the Government will see their way to accepting this amendment.

My Lords, the noble Baroness in moving the amendment said that she hoped she would have the support of all the Members in your Lordships' House. I should perhaps indicate that it at least has the lukewarm support of those on these Benches. It certainly does not have any opposition. I agree with the noble Baroness that this new title perhaps is better in many ways. It deals with some of the difficulties to which the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, referred, but I am not wholly in sympathy with the noble Baroness's desire to drop the word "heritage" altogether. As she rightly said, we have been talking about "heritage" for such a long time. It is a pity to say goodbye to the word when we are coming to the title. This is the wrong time to suggest another title but, had it been possible, I would have suggested Historic Heritage Commission, the initials HHC, not being in any way ambiguous in relation to other existing bodies. Perhaps that would have been another possible solution. But it is too late to have other solutions now and at this stage we should accept the noble Baroness's suggestion as being an improvement on the words in the Bill at the moment, though perhaps we should have liked to see them improved still further.

My Lords, I am sure that the House would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, that there is still scope for improvement, but possibly not today and not now. This suggested form of words is slightly shorter than the present title and avoids the word "heritage"which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has said, the House has already decided is inappropriate in these circumstances. While Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England seems to me to be slightly preferable to the present title, the improvement is, I suggest, not particularly marked, chiefly consisting in the omission of the word "ancient".

It will be obvious to your Lordships that in accepting this it will be necessary to make other changes in various places in the Bill where the name of the commission occurs. While I am perfectly happy to accept the will of the House, it might be considered slightly better to allow the Government to produce a complete package when this Bill goes to another place. But, as I say, I am not objecting in the least to the new title.

My Lords, is my noble friend saying, in effect, that he think that this amendment contains a good idea which should be supported, but that the Government do not want this House to make the amendment until all the consequential amendments are ready? If that is all that it comes to, I dare say we might agree with him. But if he is shilly-shallying or stalling, which would be out of character, I would, speaking for myself, be disappointed. If I may say so in passing, I think that the word "historic" covers about three-quarters of what we mean by the word "heritage" and that the dropping of the word "ancient" means that we shall lose nothing because antiquity in itself is not always a virtue. It is the fact that it has an historic connotation that has made it interesting in the past, but if we have the word "historic" that is good enough.

My Lords, with the leave of the House, to my noble friend's second point I agree. To his first point, however, I am certainly not shilly-shallying around.

My Lords, may I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who in a very succinct way said exactly what I wanted to hear. I was not sure whether the Minister was accepting it or not. But I now take it that the amendment is acceptable but that it is a question of weaving it right through the Bill, which means that it will then come up in the Commons, presumably then as a Government amendment. May I say something in answer to the two points about heritage raised by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley. It is not a question of my disliking the word or feeling that it should not be used, but there was a feeling that there could be some confusion with the National Heritage Memorial Fund; indeed, the chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, said he was not happy about it. It has also been used by a great many other bodies, and this proposal seems to tailor it down. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, made the point that one could do better. I am sure one could, but up to this point nobody has and that is the trouble. I am grateful to the Government for accepting this change, and I hope to see it woven into the Bill when it goes to another place. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.