HL Deb 02 April 1987 vol 486 cc693-5

3.21 p.m.

Baroness Birk

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 when they expect to receive the London Residuary Body's recommendations on the ownership and management of Hampstead Heath.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords, we expect the London Residuary Body to put forward recommendations on the ownership and management of Hampstead Heath after it has completed its consultations, the second round of which is due to end on 30th April.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is it not the case that on 17th June 1985, during the passage of the abolition Bill, the then Minister, Lord Elton, said that he expected to come to a solution before abolition day? Then on 4th October 1985 he announced an invitation to the City of London to take over the heath. This decision was deferred to consider an offer by Camden, and the heath then passed to the London Residuary Body, which as the Minister said has been consulting for some considerable time now. Does this not show how difficult it is to find a solution satisfactory to all in the absence of a London-wide body?

Lord Skelmersdale

No, my Lords, I do not think it does. I observe that one of the options on which the London Residuary Body is consulting is that the heath should be owned and managed by the London Borough of Camden. Two of the three boroughs involved would agree with this and the third would not. Therefore, I do not think that it is a plus for a London-wide solution along the lines that the noble Baroness has identified.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, is it likely that the London Residuary Body will produce a report of its work since it was set up, so that we can know exactly the position not only with Hampstead Heath but with other matters as well?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I have a feeling (but I am speaking entirely from memory now) that the residuary bodies individually are obliged by law to produce annual reports. If I am wrong I shall advise my noble friend and certainly look into the matter.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, can the noble Lord say what the next stage will be after the second stage of consultation which is currently going on if there is no consensus arising from that? I understand that the present front runners are the London Borough of Camden, the City of London and a new trust or authority. If no firm favourite emerges among these from the present consultations, can the noble Lord tell us what the next step will be?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the London Residuary Body has identified the three options referred to by the noble Lord, since when there is a fourth option which is that the City of London should own and manage the heath, partly financed by the City itself and partly by a capital endowment from the London Residuary Body. It is these four options which are currently being considered and consulted upon. Once the results of those consultations have been studied by the residuary body it will then put a preferred option in front of my right honourable friend and a decision will be made.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, could there not be a further option whereby the heath could be vested in the Crown and managed by the Department of the Environment, as is the case with the Royal parks?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I do not think that that would fit in with the promises given by my noble friends Lord Whitelaw and Lord Elton during the passage of the abolition Bill.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, while everybody is talking about it, will the Minister tell me who is looking after the heath now?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords; the residuary body.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that yesterday was its first anniversary?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes; it was the anniversary of the transfer of the heath to the London Residuary Body, and it was also the first anniversary of the abolition of the GLC.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, since the Minister mentioned, as we are all aware, that the consultation period is being extended, may I ask how soon after the end of that consultation period the residuary body will be making recommendations and when we will finally have a decision from the Secretary of State?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I expect a final decision will be made in the spring of 1988.

Lord Elton

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that it is better to have the right answer than an answer got out in a hurry?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords; I absolutely agree. This is why I am pleased that the London Residuary Body has taken this matter extremely seriously. It has issued, as I have said several times, two consultation papers on the matter. The first three options in the second consultation paper are there because they are the front runners as a result of the first consultation; and there is the new option that has been added, to which I have just referred in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock.

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