HL Deb 09 July 1985 vol 466 cc126-8

2.47 p.m.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they will take, in the light of damage to a number of National Trust properties in recent years, to protect Stonehenge and the White Horse in the future.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Elton)

My Lords, Parliament decided to place the care of these monuments with the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission, and responsibility for their protection accordingly lies with it. The commission took the opportunity this year to prevent damage to its monuments and to the archaeological remains on land owned by the National Trust. My department will be discussing recent events in and around Stonehenge and at the Westbury White Horse with the commission, the National Trust, the Home Office and other bodies, to see what lessons can be learnt for the future.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is he aware that I witnessed the efforts by the police at Stonehenge, and that I express the highest commendation for their work? Is he also aware that last week, early in the morning, I hoped to see the White Horse but was prevented by a man rushing at me with an iron bar, so that I beat not a retreat but a strategic withdrawal? Is my noble friend aware that I was unable to see the White Horse, and is it true that it has now become a unicorn?

Lord Elton

My Lords, as to my noble friend's first two supplementary questions, I think that her observations were correct and her conduct prudent. As to the last, I am told that the monument has been defaced but that this has been done with white paint which will soon grow out with the grass.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, with the enormous growth of motor traffic a threat arises to some national monuments which are close to major highways, but that the local authorities are reluctant to spend the money on diverting the roads in these cases because they believe that the cost should fall on the taxpayer rather than on local ratepayers? Will the noble Lord and his colleagues in the department consider whether some special measures should be taken to assist local authorities who would like to divert roads from the neighbourhood of national monuments but do not wish to place the burden on their own local ratepayers?

Lord Elton

My Lords, while I take note of what the noble Lord says and shall consider it with care, it goes a good deal wider than the Question on the Order Paper.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, since, as the noble Lord has pointed out, Stonehenge belongs to the Secretary of State for the Environment but is being managed by the commission, can he assure the House that in the consultations which will take place with the commission on future measures to be taken, what will be borne very much in mind is the need for people who genuinely wish to see the monument to be able to do so without exciting a total ban on it? Further, will the department, probably in conjunction with the Home Office, go into the whole matter of the type, depth and manner of the police action taken during the holding of the festivals?

Lord Elton

My Lords, my right honourable friends will no doubt properly consider the fact that the monuments are being preserved for public enjoyment. They will also recognise that they have to be physically preserved and that the Stonehenge monument in particular is surrounded with lesser archaeological monuments, many of which were severely and irreversibly damaged during the course of the festival last year.

As regards the police action, the noble Baroness will have seen accounts of this and will be well aware of individual instances. Noble Lords who feel that the police went too far should make their complaints known to the chief constable. As to the general matter, my right honourable friend always considers these events when they have taken place.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that this is part of a much larger question of a great many valuable monuments, apart from these, which are becoming damaged through being over-visited? He may not be aware that my family and I have visited Stonehenge and, incidentally, have sat in the eye of the White Horse; but we are aware that the whole country cannot do this any more than can all our very welcome foreign visitors.

Noble Lords


Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, will the Minister consider setting up a central body to protect all our monuments so that we continue to give to our foreign visitors the value that we like to give?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the "public body surcharge" sits behind me on these Benches!

A noble Lord

Waiting to ask a question, my Lords!

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for reminding the House that these monuments, Stonehenge and the White Horse, are the responsibility of the commission. Is the noble Lord aware that in addition to the consultations which he announced would take place between the Government and other bodies, it is the intention of the commission to convene a meeting of other interested parties so that next year we can organise a solstice ceremony, which will be dignified and well-regulated, for people who will respect the stones?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for thus illuminating the fact that he is proceeding cautiously in the direction in which the noble Lords would wish him to proceed.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Yorkshire White Horse and other white horses may object to the appropriation of "The White Horse" to the Wiltshire White Horse?

Lord Elton

My Lords, this is something on which I do not think we can have an opinion poll.