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Bletchley Park

Volume 710: debated on Tuesday 19 May 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they will give to the restoration and development of Bletchley Park.

My Lords, English Heritage and the Homes and Communities Agency have provided advice and funding for the development of the Bletchley Park site. In 2008, English Heritage provided a grant of £330,000 towards buildings conservation repairs and has offered to provide a further £300,000 in funding for the area. The majority of the Homes and Communities Agency’s investment is towards the purchase and redevelopment of land on the site and related infrastructure.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that response. I should declare an interest in that my parents met at Bletchley Park; so, without it, I would not be here to ask my noble friend whether he is aware that the fundraising effort to restore the buildings and museum facilities is going well. Visitor numbers are rising rapidly and the business plan for Bletchley Park shows that it will be self-sufficient once the capital works are completed. But it is suffering considerable difficulty in surviving in the interim between now and those works being completed. Will he encourage his colleagues at the DCMS to reconsider their current unwillingness to support this important project?

My Lords, I am glad to hear yet another commendation of Bletchley Park, about which we hear nothing but good for its wartime record. But I had not realised it had such significance on the membership of your Lordships’ House and I am glad that my noble friend is able to ask me this Question. Support to Bletchley Park is a complex issue. The Bletchley Park Trust receives no external support, but, as I indicated in my Answer, there is substantial support for the areas of architectural and historic interest such as the mansion and several of the key huts in Bletchley Park. I assure my noble friend that, although I cannot answer in the affirmative to her particular suggestion, the department is well aware of the necessity to ensure support for such an important, historic site.

My Lords, this might not commend itself so much to the Minister: my parents met in Hut 3 at Bletchley Park, as did the parents-in-law of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. So there are nests of Bletchley Park supporters surrounding the Minister. He has given a lukewarm reply. Is there not some form of scientific heritage funding that could be found for a short period to assure the revenue funding of Bletchley Park before it becomes financially viable? It could then turn into one of our major tourism attractions, demonstrating the full wartime history and the importance of computer science in this country.

My Lords, the Bletchley Park site is important not only for computer science but also for its record of code-breaking in the Second World War, for which it has subsequently received world recognition. English Partnerships has invested money in the core site and is putting in substantial resources. It supports the Bletchley Park Trust by contributing funds for the revised ticketing facilities, the completion of works to the new entrance and roundabout, and by financing works to some of the blocks. Along with that support the local authority, Milton Keynes Council, has put in £300,000 in recognition of the importance of the site to the locality. I would not want the House to be in any doubt about the extent to which Bletchley Park is the focus of interest of a number of funding contributors.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the father of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, was one of my bosses? When I went to Bletchley I was one of 400 people, and when I left I was one of 6,000. The place when I left was in pretty good order, and in a way that has not changed. Does the Minister agree that those people who have taken a long time using their expertise to replace the vital machinery—which, curiously, Churchill decreed should be destroyed—should have our wholehearted congratulations and thanks?

My Lords, I am happy to join the noble Baroness in offering our congratulations to those who have ensured that the machinery is preserved. Significant investment is going into the site, and this summer an exhibition will be held to which people from abroad will contribute their resources to put on displays, which will be an added dimension. Bletchley Park is often celebrated for the contribution made by outstanding women to its work and I am delighted that the noble Baroness is one of those outstanding women. I am also glad to hear that from time to time men, too, played a part.

My Lords, I declare an indirect interest in that my father was a beneficiary of the Ultra intelligence derived from the work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, and others. To go a bit further than what other noble Lords have proposed, does the noble Lord not think that Bletchley Park should be turned into a full-scale national museum on the same terms as the Imperial War Museum or many of our other national museums? As has been alluded to, the work was of vital importance to what happened during the war and was the foundation of the entire computer industry in this country, which is now a worldwide phenomenon.

My Lords, the noble Viscount has succinctly identified the significant historical position of Bletchley Park; I want to assure the House that government departments and agencies are fully aware of this, as indeed is Milton Keynes Council. We have no plans at present to associate it with the Imperial War Museum. The House is all too well aware of the significance of designating any area in association with a museum of that rank, but I want to give an assurance that Bletchley Park will continue to develop under the resources made available to it.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, as well as my noble friend Lady Trumpington, the noble Lord, Lord Briggs, played a key role at Bletchley Park? Will he recognise that subsequent generations believe that invaluable work was undertaken there and it was not merely a collection of the public explanation given at the time that they were gathering government statistics?

My Lords, because of the nature of the work, it was a long time before the nation appreciated what had been achieved at Bletchley Park. Plays, television programmes and general information have now become available so that all generations now appreciate it, but perhaps none more so than the one represented in this House most fully.

My Lords, given that the Freedom of Information Act was not in operation during the Second World War, would it now be possible to make inquiries about the drug invented at Bletchley Park which enabled these people to clone their staff with such success in such a short period of time?

My Lords, I am under the distinct impression that there is nothing beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.