HC Deb 12 July 1993 vol 228 cc656-7
4. Mr. Cohen

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what proportion of London hospital facilities are listed buildings.

Mr. Sproat

There are some 90 hospitals in the 12 central London health districts, of which 25 are subject to 80 statutory listings.

Mr. Cohen

Did not the 1987 report show that there were 770 listed hospitals in Britain, of which 11 were grade I—the equivalent to this place and Westminster abbey—a further 58 starred grade II and all the rest of historic significance? Has not Save Britain's Heritage been fiercely critical of the neglect of many hospitals, including the neglect emanating from the Government? Is not the position set to get a lot worse with the closure of hospitals in London? Will the Minister step in as part of his departmental responsibilities to save London's heritage hospitals such as St. Bartholomew's, or is the neglect part of a conspiracy with health Ministers, business-oriented health managers and developers, who see listed hospitals only as the source of a quick buck?

Mr. Sproat

The hon. Gentleman asks a very important question. The answer is that the Secretary of State for Health is responsible for ensuring that the heritage aspects of hospitals are maintained. Only last week, we issued general guidance to those who find that they are in charge of listed buildings, but who find that there is no longer a commercial use for those buildings. We are trying to reach an agreement whereby people understand that for the buildings to be preserved for commercial use one or two of the statutory listings may have to be changed. My Department has also set up a task force between the Department of Health and ourselves to ensure that the considerations that the hon. Gentleman mentioned are taken into account.

Mr. Ward

Is my hon. Friend aware that many of us appreciate the work being done by his Department in listing London hospitals and many other buildings? Will he proceed with extreme caution, however, before committing public money to buildings that clearly have no use or no useful life to come?

Mr. Sproat

We will certainly be careful. That is why I mentioned that where it is possible to maintain a building with a commercial use, we quite understand that there may have to be one or two changes in the statutory listings in order that the building as a whole may continue. As to my hon. Friend's question about hospitals, that is primarily a question for the Secretary of State for Health.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the Under-Secretary of State seriously saying that those hospitals that have been maintained over centuries, such as St. Bartholomew's, will not be given any special concessions, and if it is in the commercial interests of the Secretary of State for Health to let that building go, presumably because it is a city centre site for which she can obtain a large amount of money, he will do nothing to ensure protection for existing buildings? If that is his implication, we shall begin to understand rather more clearly why the Secretary of State for Health is so anxious to get rid of that major centre of importance.

Mr. Sproat

I am absolutely not saying that. I am saying that the Secretary of State for Health has a duty to look after the heritage buildings within her remit. Her Department spends £500 million a year on the maintenance of a current estate. Within that, the listed aspects of the building will be protected. If the buildings are sold off, that is a matter for her. The heritage aspects will absolutely not be neglected either way.