Clause 1: Power to grant a lease in respect of land at Kew Gardens
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, after “for” insert “residential use for”
My Lords, Amendment 1 would restrict the use of extended leases to residential properties on the Kew estate. This amendment follows up on our earlier debates, which have tried to ascertain the longer-term implications of providing longer-term leases of up to 150 years across the Kew estate. As it stands, this short Bill could enable any lease, whether commercial, scientific or residential, to be extended in this way, potentially creating welcome additional income for Kew but also increasing the risks that the special and much-loved site will lose its focus.
Throughout the earlier discussions the Minister constantly quoted the immediate priority, which is to extend the leases on the seven residential properties overlooking Kew Green. As has been said, this is estimated to bring in additional income of some £15 million. I think we all said, in our different ways, that we did not have a problem with this; it seemed to make perfect sense. If this were what the Bill proposed, it would have sailed through its scrutiny stages without amendment but it is not what the Bill says. Instead, it gives powers to the Secretary of State to grant new leases and extend existing leases across the estate for up to 150 years.
At earlier stages of the Bill, a number of noble Lords sought to understand the full implications of this new power. For example, what was the total number of future properties that might be considered for longer leases once the seven residential properties have been refurbished? Were there plans to develop the car park adjoining the river? Were there other residential properties on different parts of the estate in need of refurbishment and which could also benefit from longer leases? Were there sites within the boundaries of Kew which were being considered for commercial development as well? In his response in Committee, the Minister was able to say only that Kew does not have any immediate plans beyond those for the seven residential properties. But he went on to add:
“Obviously, the Bill does not stop future plans for any other property on the non-core estate”.—[Official Report, 21/5/19; col. 1878.]
However, he also acknowledged when asked that there was no clear distinction between core and non-core properties on the estate.
In the absence of further details about the longer-term plans of the trustees for other lease extensions, and taking on board the Minister’s repeated reassurances that the priority of the trustees is to create extra income from the initial seven residential properties, we are proposing this simple amendment to limit any extended leases to residential properties on the estate. It would seem to meet the objectives of the trustees while providing reassurance that there will not be long-term commercial lets on the estate, which might change the ethos and character of the site as a whole. I hope that noble Lords and the Minister will see the sense of this amendment and I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendment is a little too restrictive on Kew, although I recall that at one time it had a plan, or at least a dream, to make available some of the properties for short-term accommodation for Kew’s partners when they needed to spend time in London and with Kew. However, to try to restrict the new power to residential property is going a bit too far.
My Lords, I intervened in Committee and put to the Minister a series of questions to which I hoped he might give me the answers in writing. They have not come, so perhaps he might ask officials to consider the questions I asked during that debate.
The most important protection for the land at Kew Gardens has been the fact that leases could be granted for a maximum of 30 years. The moment you transform that system and change the arrangement such that you can grant leases of up to 150 years, you transform the discussion about the future of that land and its potential use by developers. Even though covenants and restrictions will be in place, developers will look seriously at the long-term potential of the use of the land.
The question for me is: what has been Parliament’s intention during the passage of the Bill? As I have understood it, it is to ensure that no commercial development takes place on the site and that residential development should be restricted to a very small proportion of the land. I am not convinced by that. Parliament is being naive in thinking that the position will remain the same for the next 150 years.
So last night, lying in bed at midnight—as happened on the previous occasion—I went through the documentation that the Minister has provided for us in the past week. That is the framework document, from which I want to cite a number of paragraphs in support of my case.
Paragraph 27.1 refers to a “light touch” annual review of the framework document. It then talks about three-yearly full reviews. What will happen at the end of three years, six years, nine years, 12 years, 15 years, 18 years or 21 years? At what stage do Ministers envisage being under pressure, because the Secretary of State retains powers in these areas, to change the arrangements for future development possibilities on that site?
Paragraph 28.2 confirms the sharing arrangements for developers’ gains—so in the framework document there is recognition that there will be developers’ gains in the future. I am sure developers will study that closely. It may be that, because the intention of Parliament is not altogether clear, lawyers pore over our debates. I am not a lawyer, but I am told that they often refer to parliamentary debates to try to identify what the intention of Parliament was when a particular Bill went through.
Paragraph 7.4 refers to a requirement on Kew,
“to maximise opportunities to increase income”.
Again, that is a pressure point on Kew to maximise income available from the site. In my view, it would be for the development of commercial and residential property.
Under paragraph 7.2, the Secretary of State can set conditions on grant-in-aid funding. In other words, they could pressure Kew to maximise alternative income streams when deciding on the grant-in-aid funding to be made available in any particular year.
Paragraph 21.1 emphasises the requirement for Kew to have regard to “efficiency, costs and resources”—again, that is a pressure.
In paragraphs 23.2 and 23.3, there is a requirement to avoid balances. Under the agreement as I understand it, Kew must not pursue a policy of having balances at the ends of years. In other words, it cannot save money in that way, which will in itself put pressure on resource availability—so much so that I believe that it will seek profits from the development of land on the site.
In paragraph 25.1, a process is set out for Defra’s approval of breaches of the MPM rules, guidance and advice, and in paragraph 9.2 there is a requirement on the Secretary of State to sign off land sales. This, of course, works both ways: it can put a block on sales, but on the other hand it could serve as a notice to future generations that in 2019 it was envisaged or foreseen that land sales would inevitably take place. The question is: what land? I am not suggesting for one moment that it will be land in the body of the site, but I believe that that site has rich future potential and that developers will look at it and argue that, on the periphery of the estate, particularly near the river, there is potential for substantial development.
In Committee, I pointed to a footage price for flats on the present market. Flats down there would sell, even in today’s market, at £1,500 per square foot. That property in the future, on the river at Kew, will fetch far more money than even today’s prices, because it will become prime property. Ministers have completely underestimated the pressure that will be put on the trustees and the people who will be running Kew in the future to maximise their profits through property development on that site. I heard nothing during the debate in Committee that in any way interferes with my view. I believe that that is what will happen, and what we have in the Bill offers insufficient protection, despite all the conditions that the Minister referred to in his responses on that previous occasion.
My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords for their contributions. I well understand that the noble Baroness’s amendment seeks to restrict the application of the Bill solely to residential properties. It is true that the properties currently in the contemplation of Kew following the Bill are those seven residential properties that are either currently occupied on one-year assured shorthold tenancies or are vacant and require substantial renovation work. That is not to say that these are the only opportunities for Kew, but these are the definite properties that could immediately benefit from the Bill.
I know that noble Lords want only the best for Kew—I absolutely understand what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is saying. In both what I believe I put on record about the protections and, if I am permitted, in suggesting what might follow on the next amendment, Parliament is very clear about the requirement to protect Kew. However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Eccles that restricting leases to residential properties only would have a significant adverse impact on Kew’s ability to benefit from the Bill. All noble Lords have said that we have great trust in the current trustees but we are worried about what might happen in the future. The current trustees and executive feel very strongly that to restrict the Bill will not be helpful to Kew in the future. I want, therefore, to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and other noble Lords by setting out in more detail further properties that Kew might, for example, plan for the future.
Other properties will be considered for the possibility of the grant of a longer lease when opportunities clearly present themselves; for instance, if buildings become vacant and surplus to requirements. As noble Lords know, the care and protection of Kew’s collections is one of the primary duties of Kew’s board of trustees. The board must ensure that its collections are well managed, widely accessible and secure, and provide an optimum environment for scientific collaboration and discovery. This statutory duty will entail developing contemporary world-class facilities for the collections and science research at Kew Gardens, to provide a platform for collaborative, discovery-driven, botanical science to find solutions to the urgent challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.
As these facilities are realised over the medium to long term, this could enable other buildings to be repurposed for a means appropriate to furthering Kew’s mission and statutory objectives. These other buildings could include office accommodation which becomes surplus to requirements or is in need of significant renovation. In such cases, Kew should be able to explore options that deliver the best possible return for Kew, whether for commercial or residential letting, and which can be reinvested to further its statutory functions.
One such opportunity is 47 Kew Green. This is currently an office building for marketing and commercial staff, albeit not fit for purpose as modern office accommodation and requiring significant renovation work. Should Kew identify alternative space for staff to move out of this building into more suitable accommodation, it would be faced with a choice of renovating the building itself or finding a suitable and sensitive lessee to take the building over and improve its condition. I should add that Kew is very clear that, even with renovation, this building would not be suitable as research facilities to further Kew’s purpose—investigation and research into the science of plants and fungi. Kew may not require the office building in the future, but, equally, preventing Kew leasing it out as a business premises would restrict it, even risking that building becoming obsolete. That is clearly one of the key aims that the Bill seeks to remedy.
Another possibility is Descanso House, a grade 2 listed Georgian building on the edge of the Kew Gardens site. It is not accessible to the public and is underutilised due to its condition. It is currently office accommodation for a small number of Kew staff, with a small office let to a Kew partner on a one-year lease. It is in urgent need of repairs. If alternative office accommodation could be found, this building could be considered for refurbishment, subject to listed building consent and in accordance with guidance in the Kew world heritage site plan.
To restrict the Bill to apply solely to the residential properties would not help Kew. On the basis that the protections are already in place, which I have set out at great length—and, if I may be permitted to say, I believe those protections will be considered in the next amendment—there is no reason to distinguish between residential and commercial leaseholds. From my experience of other large estates such as Kew, I would expect a mix of leasehold lets.
I will look into the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I recall committing to write on the specific issue of the car park. A copy of that letter should have been placed in the Library and sent to all noble Lords, but I will check. I know I signed the letter, so I am confident that—
To reassure the Minister, I certainly received a copy of it; I believe my noble friend did as well. I do not know whether other noble Lords did, but it was an extremely reassuring letter.
I will look at Hansard again, because if the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, thinks that I have not attended to other matters, I of course shall.
On the question of the framework document, Kew is protected but it is absolutely essential that there is rigour in that document, given the use of public money, over the arrangements between the sponsoring department and Kew. All noble Lords would be displeased if there were not confidence that there was rigour in the custodianship of public money. I do not resile from the fact that it is important that there is this arrangement between Defra and Kew. From my experience, the relationship between the two is proper, but with a mutual respect that we understand absolutely the functions that the trustees and the executive undertake on our behalf.
The Minister has to accept that what we are discussing today in the Bill is on the basis of the framework document that we can now see. We do not know what the framework document will say in 15 years’ time, yet we are carrying the Bill today.
My Lords, with the greatest of respect, none of us can command the certainty of what our successors may do. We are here, doing what we can. That is why I am pleased that in the next amendment we will be discussing our protections, which I have already outlined in considerable detail. I have taken great care and attention when discussing this with the trustees and the executive, all of whom have the ultimate bona fides with regard to the future of Kew.
I believe that Parliament, in its scrutiny, is undertaking what is right: the Bill gives Kew the capacity to reduce its maintenance liabilities and running costs, which must be desirable. It generates additional income from property that will help Kew to achieve its core objectives—which is desirable—maintain its status as a UNESCO world heritage site, and to improve the quality of its estate. I do not mean to be facetious, but resources are not infinite. I do not yet know any noble Lord who truly thinks that we have infinite resources, however wonderful Kew is. Therefore this approach must be right. I go to Kew often, and there are buildings there which we are not looking after as well as any of us would wish. This is what Kew wishes us to do, because this is the way that will help it to fulfil its statutory functions.
I say in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that, having spoken to those at Kew, I have given examples of buildings that they believe could be better suited to a commercial let but with all the current protections and what I believe we may well go on to. I therefore respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I very much welcome the steps the Minister has taken to listen to the concerns that have been raised around the Chamber in the earlier debates and again today. I know that he has done his best to answer all the issues that we have thrown at him over that period, and he has done so again today. It was helpful to hear the examples that he gave. I felt that in earlier debates there was a bit of a black hole, but he has populated that black hole with some credible examples. None of us wants buildings on the site left empty, obsolete or run down, and if there is a plan to deal with those in a constructive way, I think we would all want that to happen.
My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours was right to say that the lawyers will pore over these debates in years to come, so it has been helpful to have that on the record as Kew’s general intent. The Minister caveated his comments by pointing out that we will shortly have another debate. On the basis that there is more than one way to skin a cat—this was only one way and another is coming up—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out “such a lease” and insert “a lease granted in reliance on subsection (1)”
My Lords, while moving Amendment 2, which is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Jones, I will also speak to Amendment 3—the two are clearly interdependent.
Your Lordships may recall that I expressed my attachment to Kew, its history, scientific excellence and amenity value, and to its aspect and its contribution, as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, said, to that beautiful stretch of the Thames. None of us wishes to prejudice any of that. We want to preserve all those outcomes and benefits, but I recognise that to do so costs money. I was, like the Minister, responsible for Kew for a number of years, and understand that we need to increase the private money going into it. I recognise that the 31-year restriction on the lease was an inhibition on raising some of that money.
However, as my noble friends Lord Campbell-Savours and Lady Jones said, the Bill presented to us was very open-ended and was not restricted to the seven Kew Green properties but applied to any form of asset, building or land within the Kew estate. I therefore clearly felt, as did many other contributors to that debate, that we needed to place some restriction on how leases could be extended. I recognise the need for resources and to update some of the estate, but we need to be pretty firm in ensuring that such leases as are granted by virtue of this very short and apparently innocuous Bill are preserved and that Kew can continue to provide both scientific excellence and amenity value to our people—indeed, to the planet as a whole, because Kew’s contribution to botanical science is a very important element in biodiversity and climate change strategies.
As noble Lords will recall, in Committee I produced an amendment which I thought was pretty good and nailed the restrictions necessary. It referred to any such lease having to be,
“supportive of, or be compatible with the core botanical, scientific, environmental, educational and amenity activities of”,
Kew. I thought that was pretty clear, but since then, after consultation with lawyers—both mine and the department’s—it has become clear that that is too generalised and must be anchored in existing legislation to which future generations can refer. I therefore welcome the discussion that the Minister had and allowed his officials and Kew officials to have with me so that we could come up with a form of words which I hope meets all the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours and others. There is concern in the community around Kew, in the scientific community and in the minds of those who use Kew for recreational purposes that if we allow any open-ended leases, there will be developer interest, with the disastrous effect that we have seen on other stretches of the Thames applied to this very special piece of ground.
I therefore accept the advice of the lawyers to a large extent and have attempted in my amendments to place restrictions on future leases in terms, on the one hand, of the universal World Heritage Site provisions, which are pretty clear and, on the other, under the National Heritage Act, which includes the six principles under which the trustees of Kew are supposed to operate, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred at earlier stages. That pretty much covers the basis on which we must ensure that restrictions are placed on leases.
The amendments place the obligation on the Secretary of State, who would grant the leases, and therefore on the lessee, who would have to abide by the restrictions required by the Secretary of State. That may not be 100% watertight, but it is much more watertight than the original Bill and, I think, reflects many of the assurances which the Minister has tried to give us today and at earlier stages of the Bill. I think we can move forward with confidence and avoid the kind of intrusion on, and misuse of, the assets and land at Kew that some of us have feared. I beg to move.
My Lords, I think that it would be helpful to your Lordships if I confirmed that the Government support both amendments.
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene, particularly after what my noble friend on the Front Bench said. I assure the House that I will not inflict a Second Reading speech on noble Lords.
I proposed the Bill kindly taken up by the Government, which has become the Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill. Therefore, in some senses, I am a guilty party. I apologise for the fact that, because the Bill was taken up at short notice, I could not be present either at Second Reading or in Committee. Having read the proceedings carefully, I express my thanks to all those noble Lords who have demonstrated their love for Kew and their concern for it and its importance as a world heritage site and a world scientific centre. The words used by Peers on all sides of the House have been wise and shown a duty of care. My noble friend on the Front Bench has been wise in negotiating and listening to come forward with a compromise, which I hope will satisfy the House.
I have been in the two buildings mentioned by my noble friend in the debate on the previous amendment. There is no doubt that they have a better longer-term purpose. Something was said about how people may construe the intentions of Parliament—indeed, those of all concerned. When I had the honour some years ago of being the leader of the local authority, I walked the grounds with Mr Deverell, the truly outstanding director of Kew. We discussed this problem and these propositions, which eventually led to the Bill. With the benefit of those private discussions over a number of years, I can assure the House that never at any stage was any intention expressed, either in private or in public, by those involved with Kew that would lead towards the kind of concerning developments rightly raised by some Members.
With that assurance, added to what I know of Kew’s intentions and the benefits that this Bill could secure for Kew, I will not trespass any further on the House’s patience. I apologise for not being present to support a Bill I proposed in my name and support wholeheartedly. I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Let us hope that the Bill goes forward and becomes law, to the benefit of this great institution.
My Lords, it would clearly be helpful to add the amendment to the Bill. When I chaired the trustees, Ken Livingstone was the Mayor of London. We talked with him about resurrecting river access to Kew. Of course, it is no coincidence that palaces such as Kew, Hampton Court and Greenwich are where they are; it is because of their historical connections with the river. In a way, Kew has rather turned its back on the river. Perhaps this point is more appropriate to Amendment 1 than this one, but I can well imagine a situation in future where somebody might come up with an inspired proposal to lease a landing stage, perhaps somewhere where the car park is near the river, to facilitate a sustainable way of getting to Kew. That would almost certainly require Amendment 1 not to pass; indeed, it was not agreed. Secondly, that would require oversight to make sure that there was no adverse impact on the world heritage site or the universal values at Kew. We are right to give the trustees and Defra a degree of flexibility. It is very difficult to predict the bright ideas that might come up in future; it is not for us to try to second-guess them. However, the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would be a very effective backstop.
My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity to thank the Minister for the very detailed letter he sent me on the car park, which I think other Members have seen. I had some underlying concerns that it might be a site for development because it is right on the river, but he was able to reassure me that all the protections that apply to Kew apply also to the car park property; even though it is outside the rigid wall of the garden’s limit, it is still an inherent part of the site.
Over the recess, I had the opportunity to speak to Richard Deverell, the director. I was delighted to find out that the car park is a major source of income for Kew, and that nothing would horrify him more than the thought that he might have to give it up. I feel, therefore, that this is an additional motive that sits alongside the protections.
As the Minister pointed out, there are so many levels of protection. The House has just heard from the noble Lord, Lord True, who was leader of Richmond Council, which, from a Conservative perspective, has always protected the character and significance of Kew and not allowed inappropriate development. I can say with confidence that that will be true of any Liberal Democrat administration, and, if I may be bold and daring, I suspect it would be true of any Labour or Green administration, or any other, that found itself elected in that part of the world. The site is valued so broadly that any proposed planning strategy that made Kew vulnerable in any way would put at risk the credibility of any council.
With all those protections in place—and acknowledging the extra effort from the Minister to reassure me on my one issue of concern, which I very much appreciate—it is with pleasure that we can work with these amendments, which strengthen the protection, and look forward to a stronger future.
My Lords, I add to the widespread support for the Bill. I served as Minister for Kew twice; once in the other place and once here. I have been a friend of Kew for over 30 years—indeed, I was there this morning. Over the years, in my different roles of member of the public and Minister, I have been in virtually every building on the site. I congratulate the Government, the Minister and those who brought forward the Bill to secure what will be, I think, an even better future for Kew.
My Lords, as the Minister said, Kew does not have access to unlimited resources, and I welcome the recognition of this by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I fully support his amendment, and am pleased that the Government have decided to accept it. Like my noble friend Lady Kramer, I am pleased we have had the opportunity for a contribution from the noble Lord, Lord True, given that this was his Bill in the first place. The amendment before us strengthens the Bill and I am pleased to support it.
My Lords, as somebody who is not based near Kew but who has really appreciated my visits there, I am delighted that this very small Bill will secure Kew’s future. I understand the questions raised about Clause 1, but, having looked at the amendments in this second group, I think they will reinforce it and give us a good balance. We will be able to look at future developments that may happen, because otherwise it will not be sustainable in the long term. The most important thing is the valuable work that goes on at Kew. With climate change and everything else that is coming along, Kew is a precious commodity that we need to keep in hand, without restricting it from developing in ways that we do not yet know will be possible in the future. I am delighted with this, and very supportive of it, as I have been throughout the passage of the Bill.
My Lords, I very much support Amendments 2 and 3 from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Proposed new subsection (3)(b) refers to,
“the ability of the Board of Trustees … to carry out its functions under section 24 of the … Act”.
The first of these functions is to,
“carry out investigation and research into the science of plants and related subjects, and disseminate the results of the investigation and research”.
That is a very widely drawn function. It was drawn that way because, when the draftsman drew up the 1983 heritage Act, he discussed what Kew was doing and was looking for continuity. He was not looking for change.
The point I want to stress concerns the related subjects. In a period of climate change, biodiversity problems and environmental problems, the status of and the concentration on related subjects will change. Kew could help us, particularly with some of the points raised in the course of the Bill, if it gave its interpretation of its policy at a given moment in relation particularly to this first function, but indeed to all of them. The rest are a little easier to interpret. At the moment, in its annual report Kew states these functions, but says nowhere what it has concluded these functions mean it should be doing.
As has been said, completely correctly, Kew is constrained by its resources, particularly money, and by all sorts of history and agreements. It is in a context. If Kew wishes to explain how it sees that context, it should set it out. I hope that my noble friend, in his conversations under the Memorandum of Understanding or in any other way, will seek agreement from Kew that it will volunteer its own policy approach to the functions in Section 24.
My Lords, I obviously support any amendment that in any way restricts potential future development, but I want to clarify how, in my view, these amendments will be interpreted. If a developer surfaces who wants to build a block of flats on the edge of the Thames, who can go through the planning hurdles and all the covenants and somehow satisfy all these restrictions, he is left with this final restriction:
“The Secretary of State may grant a lease in reliance on subsection (1) only if satisfied that the lease would not have an adverse impact on”,
paragraphs (a) and (b). Would a block of flats on the Thames have an adverse impact on,
“the outstanding universal value of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, as a World Heritage Site”?
I can see lawyers on behalf of applicants going to an inquiry and saying, “We don’t think it will have any adverse effect. We are not in any way interfering with the heritage site. It might even enhance it, because it is a beautiful block of flats. It’s some of the finest accommodation in the country and fits nicely into the Kew Gardens arrangement”.
Secondly, in relation to,
“would not have an adverse impact on … the ability of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to carry out its functions under section 24 of the National Heritage Act 1983”,
I cannot see how building a beautiful block of flats on the side of the Thames could in any way have an adverse impact on the,
“ability of the Board of Trustees to carry out its functions under section 24 of the National Heritage Act 1983”.
In the future, lawyers may drive a coach and horses through those words. I still support them, because at least someone is trying to introduce some restrictions.
I am sure the Minister was very pleased when he had to deal with this amendment because his officials may well see the dangers in the amendment that I see. We support it because it is a little shift in the territory—at least lawyers in the future will have to argue their case before some kind of inquiry. That is my case. I support the amendment but with huge reservations.
My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to these amendments and to hear the support that the Minister has now pledged for them. I am thankful to my noble friend Lord Whitty for the well-crafted words he put forward, which seem to be receiving widespread support around the Chamber.
In contrast to my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, I argue that it provides a double lock on future extended leases because, first, they must not endanger Kew’s status as a UNESCO world heritage site. UNESCO does not grant world heritage site status lightly; it looks at integrity, beauty and function. Before a block of flats was even built in the middle of Kew, UNESCO would have made its views very clear. Having looked at the UNESCO judgment on Kew, I was very impressed by the detail it went into before it made its final recommendation about world heritage status. I am pretty confident that it would intervene before anything that would be considered a scar on the site was allowed to be developed.
Secondly, the National Heritage Act 1983 states that development must not endanger research, education, open scientific access and public enjoyment of the site. The public enjoy visiting Kew because it is such a beautiful site. I think the comments we have made in the Chamber would be echoed and magnified if we asked the public what they thought should happen on that site. I am sure they would have very strong views and would be quite conservative about any proposed developments. I have more confidence than my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours that the provisions about UNESCO and the National Heritage Act provide the reassurance for which we are looking.
Of course, nothing is ever watertight—as we said in the previous debate, lawyers will pore over the wording, the intent of our discussions and so on—and we cannot legislate for the future or the difficult choices that the trustees and the Secretary of State may face. I accept that this is a compromise, but these amendments go as far as could reasonably be expected at this time. This is a good way forward and I am grateful that we have resolved this matter so effectively.
My Lords, I am most grateful for all noble Lords’ contributions. I am struck that, as is so likely in your Lordships’ House, I am looking at two former Ministers responsible for Kew and behind me on the Government Benches are two former chairmen of Kew. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked: what is the worst that can happen? We have all worked tremendously hard to ensure that the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, set out the right position. I am very pleased that the Government support them.
The conditions centre on Kew’s status as a UNESCO world heritage site and the functions of the board of trustees of Kew as set out in primary legislation. I was struck by what the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said about the political composition of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Thinking back to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, I cannot imagine any local authority of any political complexion, given all the safeguards I know there are in the borough, allowing this theoretical block of flats getting into any sort of starting stall. The point about the local authority was precisely put. I regret that my noble friend Lord True, who earlier pioneered this Bill, has only now had an opportunity to demonstrate his expertise and experience of Kew and the sorts of properties that the Bill is designed to help remedy in order to provide important resources for Kew.
I share noble Lords’ aim to protect Kew when granting these leases, and I believe that the amendment provides a robust assurance in response to many of the points raised in debate in your Lordships’ House. As I have stated before, the strong and multilayered protections already in place, together with planning permissions appropriately tailored in accordance with listed status, ensure that only development in keeping with Kew Gardens and its status as a UNESCO world heritage site will be permitted.
The amendments would ensure that leases tailored for Kew under the Bill were compatible with its world heritage status and with the board of trustees’ functions under the National Heritage Act. It is worth noting that Kew’s annual report and accounts include the statutory functions of the board of trustees, setting out the strategic objectives in response to these functions. Kew’s corporate strategy is reviewed every three to five years and Kew is already in the process of refreshing its corporate strategy for 2021-22 onwards.
I say in particular to my noble friend Lord Eccles that I am very pleased that he will be visiting Kew. I think that he will have a very interesting meeting with the director and the scientists. The staff at Kew have already said to me that they will be very happy to discuss any suggestions that my noble friend, and indeed other noble Lords, might make about further publications and about the whole emphasis on science. Kew has a specific science strategy and that work is essential. I very much look forward to hearing that my noble friend’s visit reassures him that science is paramount at Kew. With the work that we have to undertake on climate change, which my noble friend Lady Byford mentioned, and with the need for biodiversity, which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to, we absolutely need Kew.
With this amendment in place, alongside other scrutiny, I believe that Kew will be well protected. It will be clear on the face of the Bill that no lease may contravene Kew’s objectives as the trustees go about seeking to achieve them under their functions as set out in the National Heritage Act. The Bill is about giving Kew options to access investment in underutilised properties on this large estate. The layers of protection offered by planning consent, the executive board, the trustees and the Secretary of State should be entirely adequate and, with these amendments, they can surely be placed beyond doubt.
The amendment reinforces the objectives and specifically references the functions of Kew’s board of trustees under the National Heritage Act, preventing a lease allowing activity incompatible with the functions of the board of trustees. These functions are to carry out investigation and research into the science of plants; to provide advice, instruction and education in relation to the science of plants; to provide other services in relation to plants; to care for Kew’s collection of plants; to keep the collections as national reference collections; and to allow members of the public to enter land occupied by Kew for the purpose of gaining knowledge and enjoyment. With those functions, I say again to my noble friend Lord Eccles that it is very clear, as I have seen for myself during my many visits, that science is of paramount importance at Kew. The amendments place a clear obligation on the Secretary of State to be satisfied before any lease is granted that permitted use under a lease could not have any impact on the functions of Kew’s board of trustees or impinge upon its world heritage status.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty—partly for his patience, because obviously we have been in discussions—and to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and to many other noble Lords for bringing their experience of Kew and Richmond and for their understanding of the importance of getting this right. Of course I respect the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, but I believe that one would be prone to having an ulcer all the time if one always felt that we were going to get this wrong. We have all tried to get this as right as we can. We have entrenched protections, and I believe that what we have achieved is a very good example of the importance of your Lordships’ House. We have found a resolution that satisfies most of what noble Lords have been concerned about—that is, to protect Kew—so I commend the amendment tabled by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for that, and for the discussions that he and his officials have had in reaching this point. I welcome the widespread support throughout the House for these amendments. The House, the Minister and his successors, the trustees and their successors all recognise the anxiety that my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours expressed, which these restrictions are intended to assuage; this will need constant vigilance both by them and by Parliament. I welcome the fact that Parliament has paid a lot of attention to Kew in the last few weeks and, as a result of the intervention by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, may look again at the more detailed provisions on the scientific contribution of Kew.
On a lighter note, there were two unexpected contributions to this debate: the first was from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, who envisaged the possibility of Richmond upon Thames becoming a Labour council, for which I am grateful; the second was from the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, about the river entrance, which took me back 70 years to when I was a small boy. What they used to call Isleworth Gate was already closed but, as a nine or 10 year-old, you could still get in and avoid the one old penny that you would have had to pay at the turnstiles—that gave me a great afternoon out in those days. I hope it did not contribute to Kew’s financial difficulties in later decades. Given the recognition both of Kew’s need for resources and of the need to ensure there are restrictions on what can be done under this Bill, I hope we will see a positive and united future for the scientific and amenity value of Kew Gardens. I beg to move.
Amendment 2 agreed.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, at end insert—
“(3) The Secretary of State may grant a lease in reliance on subsection (1) only if satisfied that the lease would not have an adverse impact on—(a) the outstanding universal value of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, as a World Heritage Site, or(b) the ability of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to carry out its functions under section 24 of the National Heritage Act 1983.(4) In subsection (3), “World Heritage Site” means a property appearing on the World Heritage List kept under article 11(2) of the UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted at Paris on 16 November 1972 (list of properties recognised by the World Heritage Committee as having outstanding universal value).”
Amendment 3 agreed.