HL Deb 05 November 1992 vol 539 cc1603-40

7.20 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter rose to ask Her Majesty's Government:

What protection they will give to monuments and listed buildings in the light of the recent policy announcement by English Heritage.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as can be seen from the Question, I am concerned with the new strategy recently announced by English Heritage. It is perhaps worthwhile my briefly indicating the main functions which English Heritage has to perform.

Under the National Heritage Act 1983, English Heritage has the following duties:

  1. "(a) to secure the preservation of ancient monuments and historic buildings situated in England,
  2. (b) to promote the preservation and enhancement of the character and appearance of conservation areas situated in England."
As I understand it, in those matters the Secretary of State has the power to overrule the Commission in the performance of its duties.

On 26th October English Heritage launched its new strategy for the future. In the words of its glossy document—which looked like a company floating itself on the market—it said that, "powerful plans" setting forth priorities for English Heritage in the 90s were to be announced. Those powerful plans involved, first, reducing the staff at headquarters by 100 before 31st March; losing 80 of the 380 skilled repair and maintenance workers before 31st March, and what they call "privatising"—a new euphemism for sacking —the rest over the next three years.

Secondly, it announced the breaking up of the integrated service inherited from the GLC in 1986. Your Lordships will remember that the GLC's Historic Buildings Division, which had a high reputation, was transferred to English Heritage. Under the new strategy English Heritage will cease to deal with Grade II buildings in London and its responsibilities will be transferred to the London boroughs. It is not clear to me, and I hope that it will he explained to us by the Minister, what will happen to the London Advisory Committee which advised on building consents, conservation area consents and planning applications affecting listed buildings. It had important and significant advisory powers.

Outside London English Heritage will concentrate its resources on Grades I and II buildings, where possible passing the rest—which it calls "Grade C" buildings, which amount to between one-third and one-half of the 400 buildings for which it has responsibility—to local management. In relation to conservation area grants, which are a matter of high importance, English Heritage will follow its strategy of "stepping back", restricting its aid to areas with "continuing severe problems" and leaving the rest to local authorities.

That is the position in which we find ourselves today. I would point out that those measures, which can only be called draconian and which are described by English Heritage as its "new strategy" and which must be seen as a cost-cutting exercise, were devised and promulgated with the minimum, if any, consultation either within or outside English Heritage. They radically alter the relationship of English Heritage with the London boroughs. The London boroughs were not consulted. They affect ancient monuments, but the Ancient Monuments Advisory Committee was not consulted, nor was the Historic Buildings and Areas Advisory Committee.

One wonders what is the point of engaging the attention, the attendance and the loyalty of distinguished people to give advice on matters of importance when one simply does not bother to discuss one's plans with them or take their advice. That is what I believe is known as a "macho" way to proceed; it is a way to proceed which excites publicity. But one asks whether or not it is a sensible way to proceed and still more, whether it is a sign of good manners or good management.

It is also based on a series of fundamental misconceptions in regard to the role and function of English Heritage. It is obvious that English Heritage was created to preserve buildings rather than to dispose of them; that is its function. It was financed by the Government because the preservation of old, distinguished buildings, buildings which are a part of our heritage, is an expensive matter. It is a function for which neither private individuals nor local authorities possessed the necessary finance or expertise to carry out, and that is why English Heritage was created.

English Heritage now proposes to try to hand back to local authorities its responsibility for, in London, the capital of this country, all Grade 11 buildings—the less glamorous buildings—and outside London all Grade C buildings and many of the conservation areas, to which I shall return. That is a paradoxical thing to do. The body was created because local authorities either were unwilling or unable to undertake those responsibilities. It is even more paradoxical to do it at this moment. Local authorities are faced with a "triple whammy"—imminent reorganisation, the council tax and in general being strapped for money. Over the past 20 years one could scarcely have chosen a less suitable moment to propose to local authorities that they undertake these highly specialised and extremely expensive functions. Some have no conservation staff and others have insufficient.

Let me read what some of the boroughs have said. Greenwich council is quoted as saying, We have not been informed about what the new responsibilities will he". Of course it has not. Under its new dispensation English Heritage never informs people until something has already been decided. The extract continues, However, if newspaper reports are correct then questions do have to be asked whether councils have the resources and expertise to deal properly with some planning applications. Councils do not, for example, employ architectural historians. We would be concerned about the borough's heritage". Camden, which, after Westminster, has the highest number of Grade II buildings, does not employ a conservation office and relies on English Heritage. Recently the council was forced to disband its civic design team. Said one official at Camden, We've never even had a conservation policy". Tower Hamlets is not one of the most affluent of London boroughs but it possesses 2,000 listed buildings. It is quoted as saying, We do have 21 historic buildings staff but it is unlikely that they will be able to take on all the extra workload. We have 2,000 listed properties, and now is not the time for any local authority to be seen to expand the service it provides".

That is a fair sample of the situation in which the new strategy places the people who are crucial to it. Without the co-operation and consent of local authorities, and without their ability to perform the function, the new strategy falls to the ground. Moreover, there is another misconception regarding the responsibilities of English Heritage. Of course it must focus on Grade I and Grade II buildings; that is part of its statutory duty, but not at the expense of Grade C buildings. It is argued by Mr. Gavin Stamp for one, and by others in his field that Grade I buildings are not the problem. Salisbury Cathedral and Blenheim Palace will not fall down due to neglect. It is the Grade II and Grade C buildings which are more liable to be neglected because they are less glamorous and cannot attract huge public attention. But they are an essential and crucial part of the fabric of our heritage. It is a great mistake to think that by concentrating on the great monuments, the glamorous buildings, English Heritage is preserving our heritage. As Mr. Stamp says, English Heritage is the only body that can prevent our land being ruined by crass new shopping centres and UPVC replacement windows. Yet it is from this area that Mr. Stevens proposes to withdraw".

English Heritage has also a very distinguished record in the sphere of conservation of the rather less glamorous areas. I remind noble Lords of some of its achievements. I refer to Bristol, Stamford and less famous places such as Whitehaven and Cockermouth (with which the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, will be familiar) and Berwick-upon-Tweed. They are places where conservation areas have been created by the initiative and with the assistance of English Heritage. That is very important. I also remind noble Lords that the conservation of our cities, as opposed to buildings, cathedrals and structures of that kind, is not something for which this country is famous. If one compares our achievement in this area with that of, say, France, Northern Italy—and such places as Urbino, Padua, Mantua—Holland or Spain, and such places as Salamanca or Santiago de Compostela, from which I have luckily just returned, the standard of urban conservation, taking it as a whole as opposed to particular buildings, is much higher than in this country. Therefore, the role in conservation areas of English Heritage is crucial. It is one of the roles from which it wants to withdraw.

It seems to me that the new strategy looks like a return to an old heresy which concentrated on individual buildings and neglected the importance of the architectural context in which those buildings found themselves.

There are one or two small but important points I wish to make. It was said by the chairman of the Victorian Society that the new strategy document was more like an auditor's report. He said: The tone throughout Managing England's Heritage is that of the auditor, not of the guardian of architecture or craftsmanship or art".

That may be so; nonetheless, I do not follow the auditor's financial calculation. As far as I can understand, it is meant to be some kind of cost-cutting exercise. But let us suppose that the proposals which he makes are in fact carried out. Let us suppose that the poor boroughs of London, and the local authorities outside, relieve English Heritage of the responsibilities which it had inherited and which it now wants to dispense. Presumably, those local authorities will have to defray similar, or quite possibly greater costs, because they will have to employ their own staff to do so. They may have the advantage of a more centralised or regional staff.

In that case the total national expenditure on conservation will he no less. There will be no saving particularly if the saving to English Heritage itself is concentrated on Grade I and Grade II buildings. To my simple mind, the new strategy does not create any saving nationally. It may indeed prove rather more expensive than it is already. The only circumstances in which a saving would be created would he if the local authorities did not expend the money that was necessary on the buildings which they had taken over from English Heritage. In that case it would mean that the new strategy would lead to the neglect of English Heritage. That is what many people fear the result will be.

What of English Heritage's membership? There are more than 300,000 members. The pamphlet says: Join us today. Free entry to over 350 monuments". Will there be 350 monuments when this plan has gone through? The answer is that there will not. Will there be free entry? We do not know. All we know is that the Royal Parks and Palaces Agency which took over Hampton Court and the Tower of London is ending free access to English Heritage members. So there is quite a possibility that English Heritage members who had been promised free entry to these monuments will find that that access is divided by half.

The new strategy is a disturbing document. The number of noble Lords attending this debate and wishing to take part in it at this hour of the night indicates that others find it disturbing. It is disturbing for the reasons that I have tried to set forth and no doubt for others which noble Lords will express. In addition, there is one which we must not forget. The expertise that English Heritage has gathered in its advisory committee, its staff and skilled workforce has been accumulated over a long period of time. If it is dispersed it will be very difficult to put it together again. The work of many years and many dedicated men and women will be lost to the nation.

I have some sympathy for the new Minister of National Heritage who, presumably, was greeted almost on his entry to his new office with this document. I can only think he was like a man who inherited a beautiful china shop and when he went to inspect it found that it was manned by a bull.

7.36 p.m.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for raising this timely Question tonight following the English Heritage press conference last week which was designed to launch a strategy for the future and to set the priorities for the 1990s. Justified or not, the reports and impressions of that press conference caused considerable concern and furore among those concerned with the built heritage. That is a concern which the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, has outlined tonight. I believe that he is suffering from quite a great deal of misapprehension as to what the document really means.

That wide concern is well illustrated by the number of noble Lords who will speak tonight from their long experience in heritage matters. That includes the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, the chairman of the National Trust and my old commissioner colleague, my noble friend Lord Renfrew. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing from one of English Heritage's newest commissioners, my noble friend Lord Cavendish, whom I am sure will inform your Lordships of the latest thinking of English Heritage.

However, it is with considerable diffidence that I intervene in this Unstarred Question tonight. I have always believed that ex-chairmen and recently retired Ministers should not harass or embarrass their successors. Indeed, on giving up my chairmanship of English Heritage I gave assurances to my successor that that would be so. Perhaps the only circumstance when it would be justified is when there is a change of policy so radical that it was in the past chairman's view so damaging that he would be right to warn against it lest all his previous efforts were undone.

That, I hasten to add, is not the case this evening. Indeed, I feel compelled to speak from the opposite point of view. For the truth is that almost everything outlined in the 20 policy objectives was already established, formulated or at least discussed during my term of office. It was most unfortunate, therefore, that the leaks to the press caused massive misunderstanding of some of the key proposals. We heard so much talk about disposals. The question of devolving the day-to-day management of some of the lesser properties to local authorities or charitable trusts is not new. There is nothing new here. This is a broad policy which had been established and put into operation years ago. It can be seen working very successfully at Conisbrough Castle near Doncaster and at other sites.

Before I left office I was in discussion with the Hampshire County Council about Calshot Castle and Fort Cumberland. Several private owners whose families had handed their historic sites over through guardianship arrangements, were in discussion with English Heritage about taking back day-to-day control. What is so wrong about that? As English Heritage will remain the ultimate custodian, be responsible for the fabric and lay down the opening policy, what is all the fuss about? After all, local authorities are already responsible for nearly 500 historic buildings and sites and most are very well run, often receiving grants from English Heritage.

Inevitably, with some 350 properties to look after, some English Heritage sites do get somewhat neglected due to their geographical position or lack of public appeal. Over the years, the portfolio has grown up in a very haphazard way, and there is no doubt in my mind that some sites would be better presented and cherished if the local communities had an interest in their management.

The fact is that no one is being forced to take on any site. Knowing from bitter experience how long it takes to conclude any agreements with local authorities or local government, and hearing in mind the economic situation and the pressure on local government funds, I can hardly see a rush of applicants. Indeed, I would he surprised if more than 10 agreements a year could he worked out. That would mean that it would take about 25 years before all the proposed properties would be transferred.

This leads me to a gentle criticism of my former commission colleagues. I consider that it was a mistake to have made any list of properties at all, let alone identifying them in strict categories. I suspect that the list was intended for internal consumption only, but unfortunately was leaked. Such judgments about the quality of buildings are subjective. Tastes change, and what is considered very important today is not tomorrow, and vice versa. This lesson was learnt the hard way, resulting from the listing of buildings in the 1950s when many fine Victorian buildings were ignored—such was the taste in those days. This led to the need for a massive re-listing survey, in which English Heritage has been involved during the past decade.

I submit that all English Heritage sites are of equal historic importance, whether they are historic houses or archaeological remains. But I admit that in the public mind some sites are considered more equal than others. I trust that the Commissioners will now carefully reconsider the need for putting sites in different categories (except for internal administrative purposes), and that each site will continue to be treated as a special case. There is no site so unimportant as not to benefit from English Heritage supervision, and there is no site too important not to benefit from some local involvement.

Arrangements have already been made to involve the National Trust in the plans for Stonehenge. I should like to think that, in view of the many sites (nearly 20, I think) in which the National Trust and English Heritage are jointly involved, it would be rewarding for the two bodies to have discussions on how their arrangements can be rationalised. Certainly, the idea of partnership between English Heritage and responsible organisations or the community must be one to be encouraged, and if resources are saved to be spent on other sites, so much the better.

However, there is no doubt that this was the right time for English Heritage to give thought to the future. Most of the ideas in the report are to he welcomed: for instance, the devolution to London local authorities of planning powers in respect of Grade II listed buildings only brings London into line with the rest of the country. Indeed, it works extremely well. I do not think there is any question of the London division or the London advisory committee being closed down. We welcome more money for churches; archaeological surveys of our major cities; and the new idea of a conservation fund for emergency use.

Times are hard, and many constructive and far-reaching plans to improve English Heritage's sites and operations which were contained in previous planning documents over the years will, I fear, now have to be postponed. Therefore, it is only prudent to seek economies so that scarce resources are focused where the need is greatest. After all, if a ruined castle on a desolate moor has been happily existing for years, reconsolidation can easily be delayed for a few years unless the fabric is in immediate danger. In my opinion, the list which gives priority to sites according to their need for repair, which was initiated during my time at English Heritage, is the only list that is needed.

I end by making an appeal. English Heritage is still young and is still growing up. Since 1984 it has established itself as a sound and responsible body with many dedicated and expert people working for it. It will not always be all things perfect to all men. It will have friends and successes, and it will make mistakes and find enemies like any other organisation. What it needs now following the recent turmoil, which may have been slightly self-inflicted, is time to consider the criticisms that have been raised in and out of Parliament, and to consult widely with expert bodies, and especially with its advisory committees where so much expertise resides.

It must be stressed that ultimately it is the Commission, not the advisory committees, which makes decisions and which must take responsibility for them. Over the next year or so, let English Heritage be judged by its actions, and not be swayed by misinformed knee-jerk reactions. I have every confidence that the Commissioners and English Heritage staff will prove that most of the policy objectives that they have announced are the right ones, and that they will be administered with fairness and with as little disruption as possible, using as efficiently as possible the limited resources available.

Finally, during the formative years of English Heritage I frequently preached the fact that historic sites in this country belong to everyone regardless of race and creed. I always did my best to prevent any heritage issues becoming party political. I hope that the debate tonight will be conducted accordingly.

7.46 p.m.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for introducing this Unstarred Question. My only disquiet is that it is such a pity that we are having the debate so late on a Thursday night when we could have had a much fuller House if it had been held earlier in the week and at a time more convenient to all of us who wish to speak.

Although I shall not go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, I agree with him that some aspects of English Heritage's strategy are to be welcomed. The promise to encourage and assist local authorities in their conservation work is good. The targeting of education and publication is excellent. Education is a vital part of English Heritage's work, and one in which it has distinguished itself; and there are other sensible ideas.

I venture to suggest that part of the furore to which the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, referred was probably due to the character of the new chairman and to the way in which he goes about things, which is entirely different from the way in which the noble Lord approached matters. I know that Jocelyn Stevens feels that it is perhaps better to blast the eardrums instead of having a quiet reassuring whisper in the ear. That has helped to hype everything up and has disturbed many people, especially those who are currently employed by English Heritage and who are now seriously worried about what the future holds for them.

However, we now have a chance to look into the policy in greater depth than was the case when the Statement was originally made—either last week or the week before. Incidentally, it was a rather short and sparse Statement, but I do not blame the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, for that. As far as I blame anybody, I blame the Secretary of State who did not explain the policy at any length. However, as he was new and was landed with this I should add that I express my sympathy to him as well. When one looks more deeply into the strategy—and we have now had an opportunity to see the comments of many of the experts who really know what they are talking about and who are engaged in one aspect or another of this field—one sees that the strategy is characterised more by narrowness than by breadth of vision. It does not, or cannot, indicate how the aims are to be achieved, except as generalised promises.

As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, resources are to be focused on Grade I and Grade II starred buildings and on a minority of guardianship monuments and urban archaeological strategies. The emphasis is on what is exceptional and outstanding—the bigger money earners—rather than on what is general and characteristic. Yet we must remember the importance of what is general and characteristic—Grade II buildings; not just a few special archaeological sites but also archaeological landscapes; not just 30 historic towns but also the other 751 historic towns in England which have not been earmarked for an archaeological strategy. All these are at risk and are not mentioned; or if they are, it is done in a whisper.

Mr. Stevens, the new chairman, said: We are raising our standards not dropping them". How will raising standards be assisted by losing 80 craftsmen from the directly employed labour force, many of whom are highly skilled, by March 1993; or privatising the remainder within three years? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, that "privatising" is a provocative word. We do not know what it means. How will standards be raised by the loss of headquarters staff before 31st March 1993? What expertise will be lost? In saying that I am sure they are not all administrative staff or pen pushers, I mean no offence to people in those categories, but the experts I have in mind are essential to the maintenance of our heritage.

The most publicised proposal concerns the future of monuments in guardianship. English Heritage is surely wrong to seek to fragment a national collection of monuments, and wrong too to suggest that many of them are of only regional importance. They are of national importance as otherwise they would not be part of English Heritage. That was the view of successive Secretaries of State who accepted them. What is at stake here is the concept of a group of sites and monuments which represent different aspects of England's history.

From 1974 to 1979 I was the Minister in the Department of the Environment with responsibility for this area. At that time English Heritage seemed to have a great deal going for it. Now I am beginning to wonder whether it might not have been safer and better if the monuments had been left under the care of the Department of the Environment. Of course, there would have been disadvantages but I feel that they would have been in safer, if perhaps slower, hands.

English Heritage seems confused by the role allotted to it by Parliament. There are suggestions that its list of monuments is ill-assorted. That misses the point. Monuments in guardianship were not selected like animals for Noah's Ark. They came for different reasons at different times. Let us by all means review our collecting policy. There is nothing wrong with having a look at things rather than leaving them as they are. Meanwhile, what all these monuments have in common is that they have been deemed to be of national significance. To divide them up is to misapprehend English Heritage's proper role. The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, set out the duties laid on English Heritage right at the beginning. I shall not weary the House by repeating them.

The situation is all the more alarming when it emerges that English Heritage has embarked upon this strategy without consulting its own statutory advisory committee on ancient monuments. The chairman of English Heritage did not consult that committee before announcing his strategy. When the Statement on English Heritage was given in this House on 26th October I asked the Minister about this. He replied: The chairman of English Heritage announced today that consultations will now begin".—[Official Report, 26/10/92; col. 932.] What kind of consultation is that when decisions re made first and consultation comes afterwards? That cannot be right. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, who is a member of that committee, will be able to shed some light on the matter.

The transfer of management responsibilities for monuments will not save money. It simply means transferring expenditure from English Heritage to others. Among the others are local authorities. I agree with a good deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, said on that point. The selective transfer of some monuments to local authorities or the National Trust is of course acceptable; but it has to be highly selective. The English Heritage proposal has all the sensitive selectivity of a sawn-off shot-gun.

If monuments will remain under English Heritage's supervision, then where is the saving? Where will the staff come from if most of them have been shed? Does it not mean duplication of expertise if the bodies taking over responsibility for care do the same job as English Heritage? Local authority priorities of today may not be the same as those of tomorrow. In place of unified management we shall have dispersed management. Above all, few local authorities have conservation staff or a conservation officer.

When I was a Minister all those years ago I tried to encourage local authorities to build up their conservation staff and certainly to have a conservation officer. I managed to set up some conservation advisory committees. However, it was very difficult because there were always other priorities for the funds available to local authorities. Today the position is much worse. They are all capped. The council tax will have to be collected. The whole thing promises to be a fund-restricted bureaucratic nightmare. Unless English Heritage obtains a great deal more funding it will have great difficulty in funding the strategy it wishes to implement.

A Department of National Heritage which focuses almost entirely on England was arguably a tactless invention. Now we have the risk of English Heritage unilaterally redefining the concept of guardianship, moving out of step with Cadw in Wales and Historic Scotland, creating possible future dissensions.

After the abolition of the GLC there was a proposal to devolve the functions of the London division of English Heritage to the boroughs. However, it was kept as a London division at the time and it had the support of all political parties. It is now proposed to devolve its functions to the boroughs but again there is no guarantee that the expertise will survive. The strategic London-wide view will be lost and boroughs vary in their resources.

English Heritage should be a central source of expertise, inspiration and advice on the care of what is typical as well as what is outstanding. It should be a reinforcement and a spur to local authorities. By its emphasis on generalities on the one hand, and a small number of prestige sites and buildings on the other, much of this strategy is aiming elsewhere. The Government must ensure that both English Heritage and local authorities are properly resourced for their conservation work. We cannot put our faith in lotteries. Even if we have a national lottery the calls on it will be enormous. I have a feeling that what we are discussing will come at the bottom of the list.

Some parts of our heritage can continue if, for a time, funds are not put into them or they are just left or not utilised; for example, the arts, the performing arts, pictures, and so on. But archaeological landscapes and historic buildings are irreplaceable. Historic conservation cannot be intermittent. It must be constant and continuous. I hope that the new chairman and the commissioners will look again at the matter very carefully to ensure that what they are doing is really in the interests of their charges—that is those for which they are responsible—and not just a matter of sharpening things up, developing money earners and devolving properties.

8 p.m.

Lord Chorley

My Lords, all of us who are involved in the heritage world must be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for enabling us to discuss the recent policy document of English Heritage. The document has certainly created something of a stir. That is hardly surprising. It came to all of us out of the blue and was couched in rather telegraphic language, full of, "We will do this" and "We will do that." There was little argument and it was very short on explaining English Heritage's problems. It might have been better to have explained matters and to have said, "These are our problems"; "This is what we think we need to do about them"; and "This is the direction we would like to go in the years ahead."

Coming out of the blue, I suggest that the document was too prescriptive. What was needed was a Green Paper. But if we can distance ourselves from the language used and the rather terse style, it is surely, for example, not unreasonable—at least, prima facie —to recognise that some of the properties of English Heritage are much more important than others and that when money is short it may be better to concentrate on them. But, as I said, that needs argument and analysis. If there had been argument and analysis, it might have dealt with the point made by Lord Bonham-Carter which I certainly take on board.

Nor is it unreasonable to say, subject to suitable safeguards, that some properties may be better looked after —for example, there may be a more caring attitude—by a local management. However, what seems to be singularly lacking throughout the document is any reference to the question of finance. Is it seeking to transfer the financial burden on to others? Is it empowered to give up its statutory responsibilities? Alternatively, is it saying that it thinks a local management can maintain these properties more effectively or, indeed, more efficiently than it can, but that it will make grants available to do that from the money that it saves? What about standards and their enforcement? In short, I suggest that the document raises more questions than it answers. Similarly, words like "disposal" and "sales" and other loose talk have not helped within the context of the debate.

As chairman of the National Trust, I obviously have a considerable interest in these matters. I should like to say right away that we enjoy a close and cordial working relationship with English Heritage. That is not to say that we do not have our differences. Of course we do. We work well together nevertheless. My predecessors the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, and Dame Jennifer Jenkins, had, I think I can say, excellent relations with the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. In the short time in which he and I overlapped, I like to think that we, too, had a good relationship. I have no doubt that we shall achieve a good relationship with its new chairman, Mr. Jocelyn

Stevens. We meet regularly at all levels and we used the opportunity of a meeting yesterday evening, originally arranged to discuss an entirely different matter, to have a preliminary discussion on the proposals.

I should perhaps explain that the trust has some 18 properties where we are closely involved with English Heritage. I shall cite just four of the more important ones as an example. I put Stonehenge at the top of the list. After all, it is probably Europe's most important archaeological site. English Heritage is responsible for Stonehenge itself, but the National Trust owns the 1,500 surrounding acres, most of which, as we all know, is a World Heritage site. I believe that we all agree—certainly the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, and I agree —that the car park and the visitor centre are a disgrace. They need to be removed and distanced from the circle and the A.344 needs to be closed and grassed over. If we are to achieve proper appreciation of' that site, it needs to be managed as an integrated whole on a partnership basis. We have been developing plans to do that over a number of' years.

Then there is Avebury. The trust now owns almost the whole of the Avebury heritage area but the circle itself is under the guardianship of English Heritage. We have been exploring this, too, for some time. For example, it seems to me that it probably makes more sense for us to look after Avebury as a whole as we own the freehold of almost the whole area. A similar sort of situation arises as Housesteads on the Roman Wall.

My fourth example is Fountains Abbey estate in Yorkshire, which is arguably England's second finest 18th century landscape park. I put Stowe first, as I am somewhat prejudiced, having attended school there. The ruins of the abbey right in the heart of the Fountains estate are also under the guardianship of English Heritage, but the rest of the estate belongs to the trust. Here again, it would seem sense to look at the management as a single whole and not as two separate pieces.

What we agreed with English Heritage last night is that we would discuss each of the sites in which we have a joint interest to determine whether they could be better managed to the benefit of both the site itself and the public (the nation) by transferring some or all of the management responsibility, subject in each case to the terms on which the sites are held. In the case of the trust that means subject to the inalienability restriction. We agreed that we would look at it. We aim to do that over the next 12 months. Neither side would want to make any changes without ensuring adequate provision —that will include finance—to maintain at least the present standard of care and presentation to the public.

I do not say that we will necessarily reach agreement on all those matters. I suspect that money may be a problem. But I do believe, particularly where there is an overlap of responsibilities—an overlap which can lead so easily to confused management to the detriment of the site—that it makes sense jointly to look for better solutions.

While I have been critical of' some of English Heritage's document, there is one policy objective, number 15, which I should like to draw to your Lordships' attention and which I particularly welcome. It is the idea of setting up a fund to enable emergency action to be taken to save outstanding properties where other agencies are unable to intervene. I rather assume that that idea arises from the failure last August to save Pitchford Hall in Shropshire and, in particular, to save as an entity the house, the setting and its contents. One of the problems with Pitchford—many noble Lords will remember this and, in the trust's experience, it was not a unique case—has been the sheer lack of time in which to develop viable solutions. We so often need to buy time; we need a mechanism, so to speak, for a holding operation. So we readily welcome this initiative. I shall conclude my remarks on that positive note.

8.9 p.m.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

My Lords, we are much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for bringing the matter to our attention this evening. It was my privilege to serve as one of the first commissioners of English Heritage from 1984 under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu with many of whose remarks this evening I wholeheartedly agree. Although I remain a member of its Ancient Monuments Advisory Committee and sat without interruption from 1974 on the Ancient Monuments Board which was its predecessor, I am speaking tonight in a personal capacity.

To my regret, I have to ask the question whether in recent weeks English Heritage has lost its way.

Since the Ancient Monuments Protection Act—its title is an appropriate one—there have been different forms of protection in this country for our great historic sites and monuments. First, there is scheduling, by which sites are protected by law while remaining in the care of their owners. Listing is the equivalent for historic but generally habitable buildings. At present, there are some 13,500 scheduled sites in Britain, but it is estimated that 60,000 monuments are worthy of scheduling.

The monument protection programme started in 1989 under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Montagu, was supposed to be completed by the year 2000; but, as the National Audit Office report in July indicated, English Heritage no longer expects to be able to fulfil that target. I wonder whether when the Minister replies he will give us the new target date for the completion of that important work. Does he agree that there is considerable disappointment that the fulfilment of that admirable initiative has been delayed?

But the jewels in the crown of the nation's ancient heritage have for more than a century been the ancient sites and monuments —now about 350 in number—in the care of the Secretary of State, and since 1984 in the care of English Heritage. They are the guardianship sites. Some of those sites are small and rural, such as Wayland's Smithy or the West Kennet long barrow which, despite their modest appearance, are of the greatest interest, for they are among the oldest standing buildings in the world, and are older than the pyramids. Others are major and impressive prehistoric constructions like Avebury or some of the great Iron Age hill forts such as Stanwick. Then there are impressive Roman sites; for instance like Birdoswald near Hadrian's Wall; the great city at Silchester; or the Roman fort at Caister-by-Norwich. There are great medieval keeps like Castle Rising or Rochester Castle; famous secular buildings such as the Bradford-on-Avon tithe barn; some of the great churches of this country like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Thetford; and abbeys such as the Bury St. Edmunds Abbey. There are the more recent sites like Old Gorhambury; Martello towers like Dymchurch; forts, and so on.

Every site that I have mentioned in the past two or three minutes is recommended for disposal in the paper prepared by English Heritage for its commissioners whose proposals have been substantially published in the Guardian. I wrote to my noble friend Lord Astor to suggest that that important paper should be made available to your Lordships, but his department did not feel it appropriate on the reasonable grounds that the details in the lists are provisional rather than authoritative. I am glad to know that they are. However, it is not the details but the principle that I wish to question. Does it make sense to dispose of more than half the sites in the nation's guardianship? How does it come about that the new policy document Managing England's Heritage Setting our Priorities for the 1990s speaks of those sites as merely of regional rather than national importance—that is a point that was well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk—when even scheduled sites in this country, let alone guardianship sites, were certified by the former Ancient Monuments Board as being of national importance? Is my noble friend's department setting aside those earlier decisions of the Ancient Monuments Board and the predecessors of the Department of National Heritage? Who is to hold the ultimate responsibility for those sites, for their long-term safety? What if their new custodians go bankrupt? What if they are in the hands of local authorities and those local authorities on occasions fall short in their duties, or lack expertise?

There seems to be some confusion in the policy of English Heritage on this matter. The paper to which I referred speaks of "a programme of disposals", and contemplates legislation, which suggests that it is intended that the sites should leave guardianship. Legislation would indeed be necessary to facilitate the disposal process in some cases. It is not of course suggested that the sites be sold, but that they should be transferred to local authorities and other bodies. The new chairman of English Heritage, Mr. Stevens, stated in his letter to the Independent of 31st October: that there is no question … of English Heritage 'disposing' of our responsibilities towards the monuments in our care". That is gratifying, but it does not tally with the more detailed, analytical paper to which I referred. In his Statement on 26th October in another place (repeated here by my noble friend) the Secretary of State spoke of partnership with local authorities. There perhaps lies a glimmer of hope.

Certainly, different management strategies are appropriate, as my noble friend Lord Montagu said. Some sites have many visitors and are capable of legitimate commercial development. Others are small, rural, sometimes agreeably isolated, and need different treatment. But the nub of the problem is that English Heritage seems to have confused its perfectly proper concern for effective commercial management with its national duty of conservation. Here I quote, as did the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, from the National Heritage Act 1983: to secure the preservation of ancient monuments as historic buildings situated in England". I shall turn briefly to the financial aspects. It is probably the case that none of the 354 guardianship sites in the hands of English Heritage at the moment makes a clear cash profit. I have no doubt that with nearly all of them expenses substantially exceed ticket sales. I have no doubt that my noble friend will confirm that. Will he confirm, as the National Audit Office report states, that in the year it had under review there was a subsidy of approximately £22 million for those sites? Well, properly so!

It was always expected that guardianship sites would require a measure of expenditure. Some sites are of course expensive to run. It is ironic that it is the inexpensive ones which seem to be on the disposal list. I should like to ask my noble friend a question of which I have given him notice. What is the annual expenditure on that wonderful site Arbor Low? It is a small open field site. How much does the department spend annually on the White Horse at Uffington, another site listed for disposal? I imagine that it is well below the average of £60,000 a year. Will my noble friend confirm that Dover Castle, which is on the retention list, costs the Exchequer in the order of £500,000 a year? I imagine that Audley End House is comparably expensive.

It is ironic when we are analysing expenditure that English Heritage seeks to keep the expensive sites, although no doubt it wants to make some money out of them if it can, and to disembarrass itself of the sites which are inexpensive to maintain. If we are looking at the matter in purely commercial terms, I find the policy puzzling.

I believe that mature reflection will lead the commissioners to the view that they should retain all those sites within their formal guardianship—I think I sense that my noble friend Lord Montagu is not averse to such a view—so that the long-term responsibility remains theirs and the great expertise and knowledge of the staff of English Heritage may continue to guide any necessary conservation decisions. That would not militate against the development of partnership arrangements with local authorities which could manage those sites on a day-to-day basis: cut the grass, collect the entrance charges and promote them locally. But they must surely remain in guardianship so that they can be visited regularly by the inspectorate of English Heritage which can ensure that appropriate conservation standards are maintained.

That may be what the Secretary of State had in mind. I believe that it is what the Ancient Monuments Advisory Committee, which has a statutory duty to advise the commission, would have commented had it been consulted before the controversial press launch of the new policy.

As the former Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments wrote in the Guardianyesterday: The most significant result of this national policy was that the government's portfolio of historical sites was managed as a coherent whole and maintained to internationally recognised high standards aided by a dedicated, specialist direct-labour force. If English Heritage opts out, the Department of National Heritage should say how consistency and maintenance standards arc to be continued on the historic estate for which it is responsible". I therefore ask my noble friend to comment on that issue of responsibility.

I ask the commission and the Secretary of State to think again over the ill-judged proposal to divide the national heritage of guardianship sites into three categories in terms of their alleged historical importance. No one who understands our heritage could regard sites like the Rollright Stones or Reculver Fort or Gisborough Priory as of merely regional importance. By all means let them be divided in terms of day-to-day management considerations. But let there be no more talk of disposals. Will my noble friend reassure us that the long-term conservation and indeed the conservation in perpetuity of the nation's historic heritage will come first? After that, there is scope for a whole range of management strategies, strategies of partnership with local authorities, in which the commission's rekindled entrepreneurial spirit may be most energetically deployed.

Finally, perhaps I may make reference to the difference of views—the press has called it a rift—within English Heritage. The Ancient Monuments Advisory Committee has been looking forward to meeting the new chairman of English Heritage who took up his position in April. At its last meeting on 28th October it requested an urgent meeting with commissioners to discuss its anxiety that the new policy appears to contradict the statutory duty of the commission. I ask my noble friend and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to use their good offices to facilitate an early meeting between commissioners and the statutory advisory committee.

8.21 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I was rather relieved to hear that the noble Lords, Lord Chorley and Lord Renfrew, whose concern and involvement in these matters is so much more recent and current than my own, share my alarm and anxiety about the developments notified to us in the English Heritage document and the press comment upon it.

I was sadly surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, say that he wondered what all the fuss was about. I am reminded of the Scotsman who said to the Lord that he "dinna ken". It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Beaulieu, is beginning to "ken the noo". Perhaps by the end of this debate he will wholly ken what the fuss is about.

I understand the feeling that may be shared by some people that a local government is an elected authority and it is the proper authority to exercise the powers we have in mind. After all, as early as 1643, Colonel Rainborough pointed out in Putney that, a man is not at all bound to a government he hath not had a voice to put himself under". In other words, he was rather in favour of the elected authority exercising the power. That is understandable.

So why is not the wish of English Heritage to return to local government the powers thrust upon it as the result of the Government's crazy and ideologically motivated decision to abolish the Greater London Council all those years ago to be commended? Why is this not generally commended? The trouble is that there is no GLC to which to return the powers. These are powers which can be exercised properly only by a body which wants to exercise them, has the experience to do so and is large enough and wealthy enough to employ and house the fairly large number of expert staff without whom it will be working in the dark.

I was a member of the town planning committee of the late lamented London County Council, another victim of politically-motivated abolition. I recall the problems we faced, the painful decisions we sometimes had to take, balancing one need against another with inadequate resources to fulfil either of them and often in the face of public criticism which showed no understanding of the limitations and compulsions we worked under. Recalling all this, I do not wonder that English Heritage is anxious to rid itself of a vast number of such responsibilities.

However, the London boroughs are simply not capable of taking the job on. If that were a real possibility, the Government would have handed these powers over, together with the others with which they lumbered the boroughs when they took a decision which many supporters of the Government now know—and some knew even then—to he sadly mistaken. I refer again to the abolition of the GLC.

There are only, I think, two or three boroughs which could even seriously contemplate exercising statutory powers knowledgeably. Even they would soon realise that it is all kicks and no ha'pence. Besides, the need for skilled advice would soon bring about yet another of those joint responsibility committees to create a larger body which I think most people agree is necessary. These bodies are not joint and they have no responsibility, so they do not work. Not only that, there is a need for some consistency of policy throughout the capital city. That can be properly achieved only by the re-creation of the GLC or a similar body.

The notion of devolving responsibility for Grade II buildings—as some of them are—while retaining that for the major buildings and sites seems to me to be self-serving rather than in the public interest. For, as has already been pointed out, there is less difficulty with Grade I buildings. I do not say that they can look after themselves, but the problems are much less complex in relation to the Grade I buildings than many of the Grade II buildings. The latter cause the main headaches and are where the decision-making is difficult. In short, this is yet another fine mess the Government might easily get us into.

The question is: are the Government going to fall for it? It is being presented to us as a fait accompli, but it does not have to he. The Government can override what English Heritage proposes and I sincerely hope that they will. When we once again have a democratically elected London government, English Heritage will be able to devolve the powers it rightly does not want to a body capable of exercising them in the interests of those of us who live in this neglected capital city, alone in the world in being ungoverned.

Meanwhile, the only body I can suggest to exercise the powers temporarily is a Committee of this House or of the Commons. I hope that no one will suggest the farcical City of London Corporation, which should have been abolished instead of the GLC.

English Heritage is right in saying that its role should, in respect of the responsibilities of government and local government, be like that of the Theatres Trust—advisory and consultative rather than decisive and executive.

However, there is no immediate possibility of the re-creation of the GLC. If none of the other suggestions I have made is adopted, then I think that English Heritage must be required to soldier on, perhaps under a less iconoclastic chairmanship, until such time as an elected governmental body is restored to us.

My noble friend Lady Birk has drawn attention particularly to the problems in London. She was right to do so. I have underlined what she has said. The London region of English Heritage is essentially a continuation of the GLC's historic buildings division. That is why English Heritage has statutory powers in London alone. The proposal to disperse responsibility among the London boroughs goes directly against the undertakings given that the London division, which has so much experience and has such a high reputation, would be kept intact. I hope the Minister will be able to give us an assurance that these proposals will be received by the Government with the scepticism they deserve and that it will be made clear to Mr. Stevens that to propose is not to dispose.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Birkett

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, on this useful and important debate. I apologise in advance to the noble Lord and to the House if I have to leave the Chamber before the end of the debate. The truth is that there is just no late train which will take me remotely near my small, crumbling, listed home.

As I understand it, the concern in your Lordships' minds this evening and the concern felt widely up and down the country since the publication of the strategy document centres upon two matters: first, the loss or erosion of a large quantity of highly qualified, probably unique staff, and, secondly, the disposal of quite a large number of the properties currently managed by English Heritage. As I understand it, those two matters must go hand in hand.

It has been pointed out by too many of your Lordships for me to repeat it this evening that the chances of local authorities or private individuals willingly and easily taking over many of these properties are small. I suspect that few of them, however historic and however beautiful, have serious commercial prospects which would attract an investor in the ordinary commercial sense. As we all know, local authorities find it difficult to make ends meet and they certainly find it difficult to put together something that they have not had in the past, a really expert conservation team.

I was much struck by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, whose chairmanship of English Heritage I have admired inordinately over the years. Tribute should be paid to the noble Lord for that chairmanship as he did a splendid job. With his usual sense of realism the noble Lord estimated that it might take anything up to 25 years before all the properties we are discussing find a new home. I take it that in the meantime they would not simply be allowed to rot away. I take it they must remain with English Heritage until some suitable arrangement is made. English Heritage has said at length that there is no question of anyone being forced to take anything over. I interpret that as meaning that until an acceptable negotiation has taken place with either a local authority or some private individual, the property in question will remain with English Heritage.

I wonder therefore whether there is not a danger that the disposal of staff that is foreseen may not be a little unwise in the sense that English Heritage may find itself with exactly or very nearly the list of properties it had for much longer than it wishes. English Heritage may suddenly find it does not have the staff to cope with the properties on that list. I hope therefore the two matters of properties and staff are linked together and are not simply a question of ideological principle.

The matter all comes down to money, as I realise. The only moment when my spirits rose during the rather gloomy prognostication for the future given by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, was when the noble Lord did his sums and calculated that if enough sites were taken over by local authorities or by the private sector suddenly there would be an increase in expenditure nationally. He suggested that was hardly an exercise in cost cutting. My spirits rose at that point. I thought perhaps it was the intention to create an increase in national expenditure on our heritage. However, then realism dawned and I realised that was an unlikely scenario. At that point my spirits sank again.

There may of course be other sources of revenue in due course. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, believes I am incapable of addressing your Lordships without referring to the national lottery. After some reflection, I think he is right. However, I have no shame in doing so this evening because the lottery is mentioned in the strategy document. I hope it will start in 1995; but I suspect it will not develop properly until two or three years after that. Large sums should be available at that time. Our heritage is precisely one of the things on which those sums should be spent. Certainly the lottery promotion company of which I am co-chairman has always maintained that view. I maintain to this day that the arts, sport, the environment and our heritage are what a national lottery should support.

In that connection, I hope your Lordships will permit me to mention one small aside. We have been speaking so much this evening of buildings and of archaeological sites. I hope it will be remembered when the lottery funds are disposed of in that far off rosy future that I foresee, that our heritage is as much concerned with the landscape as it is with buildings. There are great tracts of this country covered with plantings, forests and the coastline which constitute as great a part of our heritage as any of the built environment. I was therefore extremely pleased to sec in English Heritage's document a plan for historic gardens. I have believed for a long time that the landscape and gardens should be regarded on the same footing as buildings.

In the last resort it is the matters of the staff and of the disposals that are at the heart of the controversy surrounding this new document. English Heritage hopes that all the expert staff will find employment. That is devoutly to be wished. However, I cannot think there will be many places where they can find employment. Unless local government is to re-equip itself as a conservation body, despite all our gloomy prognostications, it will not be able to offer much employment. Little work of this kind is available in the private sector. Responsible householders may be able to offer employment, but their stock is small in comparison with the nation's stock of monuments. I am concerned that English Heritage's desire to see the staff employed will not be realised.

As regards the disposals, English Heritage hopes that each site will be cared for and displayed as well if not better than is the case at present. That too is devoutly to be hoped for. However, I should be surprised if either of those wishes are fulfilled. If that occurred, I dare say many of the worries in your Lordships' minds would vanish forthwith. I gloomily predict that neither of those wishes will be fulfilled. I beg the Government to do their very best to ensure that I am wrong.

8.39 p.m.

Lord Crathorne

My Lords, I too join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for the opportunity to debate this matter. In my capacity as chairman of the Georgian Group I attended the launch of the document entitled Managing England's Heritage. Apart from my noble friend Lord Astor, I believe I was the only person now present in the Chamber who attended the launch. Having attended that event, I can understand the reaction of the press and of conservationists. The problem was simply that many more questions were posed than were answered. That allowed people to reach a whole series of different conclusions about what might or might not happen. The fact that Managing England's Heritage is a discussion document rather than a final plan was for some reason not properly appreciated. That misconception caused widespread resentment and worry.

The week before the launch two weeks ago, the chairman and chief executive of English Heritage accepted an invitation to attend a meeting of the joint committee of the amenity societies, which includes representatives of the five statutory bodies. I have already mentioned the Georgian Group. The others are the Ancient Monuments Society, SPAB (the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings), the Victorian Society—which has been mentioned this evening —and the Council for British Archaeology. Those bodies were made a statutory part of the planning process about 20 years ago. The Georgian Group, for example, considers about 7,000 planning applications a year.

Our meeting with Mr. Stevens and Miss Page was very useful, interesting and lively, although clearly nothing was divulged at that stage about the new plans. One point which was stressed was the importance of English Heritage and the amenity societies working closely together for the general good of our heritage. I was most encouraged by the importance which Jocelyn Stevens placed on that aspect of our work. We have already discussed the possibility of further talks.

I turn now to the plans for the London region of English Heritage, which is important to all the amenity societies. As I understand it—and I hope that my noble friend will confirm this—the London division of English Heritage will continue, and the important power of direction over Grade I and Grade 11* buildings, and also over the Grade II buildings when a planning application entails partial or total demolition will continue.

That leaves the problem of the remaining Grade II buildings, a point which several noble Lords have raised. It is planned that those will be dealt with individually by the 32 London boroughs. The problem with that proposal is that the boroughs vary greatly in their ability to handle cases. In Westminster, for example, there is an excellent planning division but that is the exception rather than the rule. A number of the London boroughs do not even have a conservation officer.

Another problem which has not been mentioned is the prospect of the leasehold reform Act and the possible ever-widening ownership of property which it will create. I suspect that that will mean even more careful scrutiny of listed buildings in London than at present.

I hope that English Heritage will hold more discussions and think carefully about the position regarding its London region before taking any action. There is no question but that it is highly regarded, as it was in its earlier incarnation.

I turn now to the section of the proposals which the press describes as selling the family silver. That is an unfair assessment. However, I question how worth-while that exercise will be. I suspect that the number of authorities and charities taking advantage of the proposal will be very small. That is a point which has been made by other noble Lords. I wonder whether it will make very much financial difference to English Heritage. I see English Heritage and its portfolio of buildings rather as I see the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum or the Tate Gallery—as a wonderful accumulation of buildings. Having said that, it is always possible for museums, or English Heritage, to consider a little weeding of the collection without hurting the overall collection.

If English Heritage follows the programme of disposals route, I hope in the form of management agreements—and I am sure that my noble friend will confirm that there is no question of sales being contemplated—it is essential that English Heritage should have a watching brief on the buildings and undertake inspections at least annually if not more frequently. I should be pleased to hear more from my noble friend on that subject this evening.

English Heritage is considering these options in order to make sure that each pound is spent as effectively as possible. I fervently hope that after all the options have been discussed in detail and decisions taken that the result will be that our unique heritage will be better cared for.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I, too, apologise to the House and to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for having to leave before the end of this discussion, which was called at such short notice but for obvious reasons. I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, will not feel inhibited from answering any of my points by the fact that I am not present. I am sure that he will not be.

I am sorry about English Heritage. I always wished it well, but I often feared the worst. The document issued last week by its chairman is, in my experience, unique. Others may have seen one but I have not before seen a proposal from a statutory body to commence its own destruction, relinquishing control over what it was set up to protect, dismissing its skilled staff, and all without a breath of consultation. That ordinary adjunct of democracy was not for Mr. Stevens.

It is hard to believe that whoever appointed Mr. Stevens instructed him to conduct himself in that extraordinary way. Certainly nothing like that appeared in the Conservative manifesto or in any of the Government's many and often admirable environment statements. Noble Lords will no doubt have seen Private Eye's version of what happened. I hope that it is not true. I also hope and trust that the Arts Council, under the architecturally controversial Lord Palumbo, is not to have its role enlarged as a result of this row.

The letter of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, to the Independent says it all. The two statutory committees within English Heritage itself were not consulted. We heard the noble Lord only a quarter of an hour ago appeal to the Secretary of State to obtain for him and his statutory committee an interview with their own employer. The whole wealth of archaeology and building history, the corresponding administrations and learned groups which are admirably well developed in this country were not consulted. I repeat that Mr. Stevens consulted nobody, not even his own staff below the very top level, and those I suspect he merely instructed. I must emphasise that I hope and believe that we are talking about a personal initiative of Mr. Stevens. He has produced no cost benefit analysis, and no evidence that it would cost the taxpayer less or be more efficient if the specialist workforce whose expertise has been built up for English Heritage's own statutory purposes were to be dismantled and "privatised".

Mr. Stevens has produced no cost benefit analysis and no evidence that dismantling the existing, very effective, system for London would cost less or be more efficient. We must remember that Grade II listed buildings are 92 per cent. of the listed buildings in London. As we all know too well—and my noble friend Lord Jenkins spoke eloquently on this subject—London is the only capital city of a democracy not to have democratic city-wide government. The party opposite abolished that because Mrs. Thatcher took exception to the policies of one elected leader. The abolition of an elected body by one party when it dislikes the policies adopted in that body by other parties who have won a majority in the polls is the beginning of dictatorship. Indeed, it has often been more than the beginning of dictatorship. But even a Prime Minister capable of abolishing the GLC was persuaded of the merits of preserving its historic buildings branch, which was rightly admired throughout the country and abroad. It went to English Heritage and it now falls to Mr. Stevens to seek to abolish it. He has produced no evidence and no cost benefit analysis to show that it would cost less, or be more efficient, to disperse to others the management of some of the monuments in English Heritage's care. Indeed, it is not clear whether that is what he proposes. In the main document, issued on 26th October, he says that his "main policy changes" are to, include dividing English Heritage's 400 properties into three categories of importance … [and passing] properties in the third category into local management". But then, in a letter to the press five days later he stated that, there is no question whatsoever of English Heritage disposing of our responsibility towards the monuments in our care. This is not an option open to us". But English Heritage's responsibility is one of care, not of ownership, and that is precisely what he proposes to dispose of.

What did he really want? Was he talking about wholly commercial management by the private sector, about wholly commercial management by English Heritage or about commercial management by joint private-public enterprise? This seems to be in someone's mind for Stonehenge. Was he talking about partly commercial and partly publicly funded management by English Heritage? Above all, what was to be the role of local government?

Are we talking now about monuments in guardianship which are privately owned or monuments vested in the Secretary of State? If the former, what is the opinion of the owners of the monuments, who remain unconsulted like everyone else? Moreover, the Secretary of State in his turn is simply the largest of the owners. What is his opinion? What is the interim opinion of Ministers? Will they give us one tonight?

Such has been the storm of protest which has greeted these proposals that the Secretary of State no doubt will think very carefully before coming to Parliament to say what he thinks. No doubt he will be thinking above all about his duties to those who have placed their property under public protection in the past and those who may do so in the future. It is a fair guess that if these vague and crass proposals are put into effect, there will be no more in the future.

When I was the Minister concerned—a decade before my noble friend Lady Birk—the present responsibilities of English Heritage were borne directly by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. We carried them out without turmoil and with ever decreasing loss of the built and archaeological heritage. When Michael Heseltine decided to hive off English Heritage from what had then become the Department of the Environment, he had his reasons: to ensure that the effective possession of vulnerable and ancient monuments and the protection of extremely vulnerable historic buildings, both of which are quite important elements of our national life and wealth, should remain in the public eye under constant parliamentary scrutiny, should be seen to be properly funded and properly protected from financial shenanigans internal to the department and the Treasury, and should benefit from a long-term specialist staff. But now his successor is challenged by an obscure bid to destroy that system in turn.

I end by quoting Sir Peter Middleton who, until last year, was Permanent Secretary at the Treasury and is now number 2 at Barclays Bank. Yesterday's press reported him thus: If you have a problem solve the problem. Don't change the organisation. If you do, you'll end up with two problems". If Mr. Stevens' ideas were in any way put into effect, not only he but the Government themselves would have a lot of problems, which the Government at least could surely do without.

We can only assume that the Government are being urged to begin the dissolution of the system of state protection which has now lasted over 100 years. Thank God the voluntary system is still with us. In my opinion, the performance of the National Trust in recent years has been public spirited, energetic and constant.

8.55 p.m.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, the marked and increasing public awareness of all aspects of our national heritage together with the extensive media coverage which followed publication of the strategy document Managing England's Heritage make today's debate timely. I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for raising the issue in your Lordships' House this evening. Before saying anything further, I must formally declare an interest, although it has been informally declared on my behalf. I was appointed a commissioner of English Heritage with effect from 1st October this year, which hardly makes me a veteran of that institution. In any event, I speak tonight in a personal capacity. I have listened and I hope gained some understanding of the concerns of those noble Lords who have contributed to the debate.

The chairman of English Heritage has attracted a certain amount of what I might describe as personal criticism in the debate. I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, was referring to him as a bull but he has been described as iconoclastic. Mr. Stevens can well stand up for himself. I remind your Lordships of the enormous esteem that he earned for himself as rector of the Royal College. If he serves English Heritage as well as he served the Royal College, there will be small reason for complaint.

When I returned from abroad at the weekend I found an impressive bundle of press cuttings depicting English Heritage's new strategy document in many and varied guises. The content of some drew on the original document barely at all. In the time available to me this evening, I want to focus on just some of English Heritage's proposals by reference to the document rather than to the sometimes somewhat hysterical response it has evoked. I should like to tell the noble Lords, Lord Bonham-Carter and Lord Kennet, that the proposals were considered by the commissioners at the one and only meeting that I was able to attend.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will bear with me for a moment while I assure him that I did not say that they were not. I said that they were not considered by the advisory committees below the commission.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

There may be many interpretations of what "a breath" of consultation is. But certainly the commissioners in a strategy document which seemed to be central to the matter were consulted. That is the point I wished to make. English Heritage is currently responsible for over 350 properties ranging in size from field monuments in the countryside to 36-acre sites like that of Dover Castle or stretches of Hadrian's Wall. It is not, as has sometimes been suggested and as I saw in a letter to the press, a coherent portfolio. But it has been assembled over the years, responding to different policies, different priorities and sometimes almost by accident.

The nature of the properties varies widely, and size is by no means the main criterion of importance. By way of example, the cross in the middle of Geddington village in Northamptonshire is an Eleanor cross from the thirteenth century, which is acknowledged to be the best preserved mediaeval cross in the country. No one would deny its importance. On the other hand, the Butter cross at Dunster in Somerset is of comparable size and yet of essentially local interest. At the other end of the scale are Grade I listed buildings and monuments of the first importance, such as Audley End House and Carrisbroke Castle.

The English Heritage document proposes that its portfolio should be divided into three categories. In the first category would be buildings, monuments and sites which are of the highest quality whose presentation as well as conservation merit national management. In the second category would be buildings, monuments and sites which are nationally important to English Heritage's historic estate. In the third category would be buildings, monuments and sites of more regional importance, fully meriting continued protection but more suited to local management.

I should not like to be drawn into how those categories are precisely defined. It has not been decided. Nor will it be decided until more specialist opinion has been sought. I hope that my noble friend Lord Renfrew is reassured by that. I do not believe that he can sustain an objection to a list which has yet to go through the procedures of being advised upon. This I can say: in every case the first principle that will inform that decision will not be commercial but what is best for the monument.

English Heritage proposes that it should concentrate on the conservation and presentation of the properties in the first two categories—the highest quality and nationally important—and seek management agreements with regional or local bodies for the management of properties in the third category. That hardly seems to me a question of selling the heritage. Rather it is a proposal by English Heritage to proceed in a sensible and businesslike way and to make the best use of resources available.

Those of your Lordships who follow English Heritage affairs will understand when I say that the proposals amount to no more than a continuation of existing policies, as other noble Lords have said. Conisbrough Castle in South Yorkshire, Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire and Mortimer's Cross Watermill near Hereford are already the subject of successful local management agreements. The management of the Tribunal Building in Glastonbury has also been transferred to the local authority.

Properties will be transferred only when, first, the property is of essentially regional interest and its management does not warrant the full-time attention of a national body such as English Heritage; when, secondly, it would be more economical for an organisation or body with local staff to manage the day to day care of the monument; and when, thirdly, an organisation, conservation trust or other body is keen to assume the responsibility of management. English Heritage has said that the continued conservation of the property will be paramount in any new arrangements.

Aside from the steps which English Heritage will take to make absolutely sure that any monument passing out of its own management will be cared for by a sympathetic and, above all, competent manager, there are powerful additional safeguards. Any work on a scheduled monument (it is scheduled monuments to which we refer in the main) is subject to detailed statutory controls exercised by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State—and that upon the professional advice of English Heritage.

While the objective would be to look to the new managers to fund the day-to-day maintenance of the site, major repairs to the fabric would, if the usual criteria were met, be eligible for English Heritage grant, as indeed English Heritage helps many owners of important monuments now.

Attitudes have changed since the days when there was scant concern for the conservation of the past and there was a reason for a national organisation to seek to take the nation's heritage into guardianship. While there are still valid reasons for such a body, it has to be recognised that many more people than before are committed to, and able to participate in, the management of the heritage. Indeed, over the past 15 years, the competence of many local authorities has developed to a point where they are not only capable but eager to assume greater responsibility. I wonder whether that point has not been slightly underestimated by noble Lords. I believe that in part it explains the paradox to which the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, referred.

Yet there seems to be an inexplicable hesitancy about encouraging this new enlightenment. In my view it would be both shortsighted and wrong to deny people the opportunity to participate in this great endeavour. That English Heritage must decide on priorities and make the best use of limited resources cannot be gainsaid. However, the dynamic behind the strategy is not purely commercial. Over the past eight years, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Montagu, English Heritage has demonstrated that it can effectively care for, conserve, manage and present the properties in its care. Hugely important conservation schemes have been completed and a raft of new exhibitions, explanatory graphics and publications have been produced of interest and education value to visitors. No fair minded person could accuse English Heritage of having turned our heritage into a theme park. One of the great tributes that should be paid to my noble friend Lord Montagu is that he transformed many lifeless and sterile properties into refuges of sheer delight without in any way damaging their intrinsic value.

As the new chairman, Jocelyn Stevens, has identified, more needs to be done. English Heritage does not have the money that it needs to continue its programme of conservation and presentation of the largest and most significant properties to a standard that it would wish. By making better use of resources, the new strategy will free up funds for the continuation of work at the most important properties and will bring in new partners who are ready and willing to play their part in managing the country's heritage.

These are emotive issues and capable of generating heated debate. I make no complaint about that: it is good. However, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that we are debating a strategy not a plan. It is not cast in stone. The list of properties for possible transfer is not finalised and there is by English Heritage's own admission a series of protracted negotiations to come. If responsible, willing and able local managers are not forthcoming, then let it be clear that English Heritage is committed to retaining direct management of the properties concerned.

Perhaps we may judge English Heritage's proposals by the answers to three simple questions. First, does it continue the necessary protection of the nation's heritage? Secondly, does it make the best use of the public funds dedicated to the conservation and presentation of the heritage? Thirdly, does it guarantee the public a benefit from the expenditure of those funds? In my submission the answer to all those questions has to be yes.

My views are necessarily personal ones. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend Lord Astor whether my confidence in English Heritage's strategy finds echoes with the Government. I believe that the new strategy represents not just a way but perhaps the only way that we can travel to protect the glories of England for posterity.

9.8 p.m.

The Duke of Somerset

My Lords, I must declare an interest as the owner of an ancient monument subject to a deed of guardianship with English Heritage. I should like to say immediately what splendid and skilled repair work the staff of English Heritage has done there over the past 20 years.

I understand why I have been placed towards the end of the list of speakers in today's Unstarred Question; that is, after all the expert speeches made by noble Lords hitherto. I should like to air a few worries of those who are not expert.

I understand the need to take account of the country's general economic situation but feel that the care of unique historic properties should not be subject to the short-term swings of the economy. They are too valuable as part of our heritage. English Heritage has done tremendous work under its last chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Montagu. I ask whether it needs such a public shake-up now and I ask why a policy review and press release should be issued without naming names, except by leakage. Staff and concerned locals now need urgent reassurance because it is not clear what is envisaged or into what category certain properties will fall —hence the immediate anxiety and general uproar. An instant loss of confidence has arisen.

What does local management mean for the Grade III or Grade C category properties? People would like to know which local authorities have spare cash to take on that management. Will the original owners be expected to continue the old work? If so, will they have access to the expertise, skills and cash that was previously available?

Some of the lesser properties may be less valuable in touristic terms but they still deserve management and preservation. Therefore, there will be no cost saving to the country but rather a duplication of resources.

Were it to be the loss only of the jobs of the grass cutters and ticket collectors, one might identify a very small saving. However, alas!, it appears that all 380 skilled tradesmen are to be made redundant or are to be subject to privatisation. The skilled work of repair using old methods —for example, using the authentic mortars for pointing—does not lend itself to the profit-driven ethos of privatisation. Time and care are of the essence. Those old skills are valuable and I do not believe that it is too strong to say that it is vandalism to throw them away, as would undoubtedly happen under these proposals.

I hope that these plans are not the edge of a wedge where any remaining members of English Heritage will eventually have very few properties left to visit.

Finally, I turn to Stonehenge. I support strongly English Heritage's struggle to improve upon the shambles at that vital site. Indeed, it is a national disgrace and the failure of all parties to come to agreement is astounding. Not only should the present minor access road be completely closed and removed but the A.303, the other great intrusion, which is surely due for upgrading and dualling, should be rebuilt away over the incline to the south. The recycling of the reception area as planned would then be meaningful. I hope that proper weight will be given to those arguments at the forthcoming public inquiry. A halfway house is not acceptable to the many visitors which Stonehenge rightly attracts.

9.13 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for initiating this valuable discussion. I am glad that we have had the benefit of the long experience and knowledge of my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. That has helped to illuminate to some extent the thinking behind the strategy, as have the remarks of my noble friend Lord Cavendish of Furness.

I speak as the chairman of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, the body responsible for the curating of the national records of archaeological sites and historic buildings. The royal commission has a natural interest in the strategy announced by English Heritage. Our recently revised Royal Warrant requires the commission to record and describe; and our functions thus naturally complement, although they are quite distinct from, those of English Heritage, whose role is to manage. Therefore, we look forward to the consultation on the application of the strategy which has been promised.

One of our anxieties must naturally be as regards any repercussions from decisions taken which will affect records which may be dispersed in any disposal of guardianship sites. I feel sure that English Heritage would share our strong hope that there should be no inadvertent repetition of the unfortunate wholesale destruction of files relating to guardianship sites and scheduled monuments which took place in 1990. It would be particularly unfortunate if any local authority or other body accepting the responsibility for the management of guardianship sites were to prove unable, through lack of funds or expertise, to retain and curate the associated archives or records.

We are already in discussion with English Heritage over its proposed archaeological strategies and are advising on the creation of the necessary databases. Our interest in this stems from our lead role in the promotion of the local sites and monuments record as set out in Her Majesty's Government's White Paper, This Common Inheritance. The largest urban database is of course the Greater London Sites and Monuments Record and we secured agreement just this week to early discussions to clarify the intentions of English Heritage in this area.

Another aspect of the need for consultation over English Heritage's plans for the transfer of responsibilities to the London boroughs is its implications for our own statutory duty to record listed buildings subject to demolition or alteration. At the least these plans, if implemented, could result in a considerable increase in the workload of our own London threatened buildings section.

The royal commission looks forward to full consultation with English Heritage, and no doubt if necessary with the department, on areas of proper concern within English Heritage's new strategy. Individual royal commissioners, perhaps naturally, cannot but share, as I do, the general anxiety about the possible implications for the heritage of some of this strategy, so eloquently expressed by my noble friend Lord Renfrew, himself formerly a commissioner in both the royal commission and English Heritage, and by other speakers. I have every confidence that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, whose own known interest in heritage issues should prove a great asset, will hear our concern. Meanwhile, I look forward to my noble friend's reply.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, there are many occasions when one speaks in this House when one is keenly aware both of the privilege of doing so and of the responsibility of doing so. That cannot he more so than when one is discussing what perhaps may be described as the very soul of England. It is a great privilege also to follow so many eminent speakers, but they present a problem for someone such as me—an amateur in all this—in that so much has been said and said so much better than I could do.

I recently received some general information from English Heritage prior to this rumpus. I have to admit that I did not look at it very carefully until last night when I wondered whether there might be anything useful in it that applied to the problems. Two points struck me. It described proudly how, last July, new standards of service had been introduced in accordance with the principles of the Citizen's Charter. It said that leaflets are available which explain to members of the public what they are entitled to expect from English Heritage at properties in care, and from conservation teams.

In another paper, referring to the report of the National Audit Office, two particular comments are made. This is English Heritage's own summary: despite a special survey by English Heritage of buildings which are at risk, there is relatively little information on the current physical condition of listed properties generally". The second point was that neither the Department of National Heritage nor English Heritage have enough information on the performance of local authorities in implementing heritage policy. It seemed to me that those two points were somewhat ironical and pointed out a lacuna in the sequence of events.

I should like briefly to mention just two aspects —the relationship between English Heritage and local authorities, and the London situation. As other noble Lords have said, local authorities have not yet been consulted individually, although I believe that a letter has gone to chief executives, nor by the local authority associations. The preliminary comments that I received from two of the associations will not surprise your Lordships. The Association of County Councils said that it would have to rely on English Heritage for funding. The Association of District Councils said that there is no indication of the funding implications or whether local authorities can cope with the task.

For me this issue has something of a philosophical dilemma because I support local autonomy and democratic accountability. That might suggest that I would support local authorities having more control, both in the legal and practical sense, than they do now. However, the reality is that described by other noble Lords: the capping of revenue expenditure and constraints on capital expenditure. Local authorities rely on English Heritage and, as we have heard, some local authorities do not even have a conservation policy. I do not support that for an instant, but it is the fact.

I apologise to the Minister for not having given him notice of this point, but it did not occur to me as an issue until during the debate. In his reply perhaps he will deal with one matter raised in background paper 5 to the recent Statement. That is the paper dealing with conservation in London. It sets out the powers of English Heritage and goes on to say: With the agreement of Ministers, we propose to withdraw from what are essentially local authorities' responsibilities". I had understood those powers to be statutory powers. Is it a matter simply for Ministers to vary those? I shall be glad of the Minister's comments.

In the debate we discussed the position in London and the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, assured us that, as he sees the situation, the London region office will not he disbanded. It is clearly a source of considerable and scarce expertise which must not he dissipated or dispersed. It is clear that the London boroughs cannot replicate either the range or depth of knowledge and experience to be found in that office. As the proposals are presently drafted I cannot see how the London region office will be funded and, in particular, for whom it will work.

I cannot resist picking up comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, about our not being governed in London. As I see it, I am afraid that we are governed not by London's government but by central government.

My other dilemma is that we are not only talking of individual buildings but also about the conservation of the whole fabric of our built environment, and local authorities should he ideally placed to deal with that. I am sure that many local authorities would like to assume that responsibility and to have greater freedom than they now have. My own borough, Richmond upon Thames, has more than its share of history and more than its share of concerned residents. We know how wide-ranging the issues are. For instance, they include tourism. Heritage is a major attraction and a source of inward investment. If for no other than that crude reason the Government should be concerned about our discussion tonight.

Last week—was it only last week that we were discussing the pit closures, or was it the week before? —my noble friend Lady Seear gave what I thought was a crisp description of the ideal consultation: the sharing of a problem and the ownership of a decision that arises as a result of that consultation. She said that consultation must not simply be, "Here are our plans. Have you any comments?" Sadly, that seems to be the type of consultation that English Heritage has presented to the public.

Noble Lords said that the paper is not a plan but a discussion document. That is what the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, said. There can be no surprise that the public expressed alarm and read it as a plan. English Heritage's press release begins, Powerful plans were unveiled today", and the term "plan" is used throughout the press release except where there is a reference to the chairman's vision of the future. It tempts me to say that now we have seen something of the future it is clear that your Lordships' response is that we fear that it will not work.

I give one further small warning. An apparent system, an apparent safety net which does not work, is much worse than everyone knowing that there is no system in place.

9.23 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for giving us this opportunity to discuss last week's publication by English Heritage of its new strategy for the 1990s, Managing England's Heritage. Last week I repeated an Answer to a Private Notice Question. Tonight your Lordships have the opportunity to discuss the details of that strategy again.

It is clear from the nature of the noble Lord's original Question and from some other contributions to this evening's debate that there has been a great deal of misunderstanding in regard to the English Heritage proposals. Perhaps it is not too surprising in view of the speculation in the media about those proposals several days before they were even published and repetition of quite alarmist stories despite constant denials by English Heritage and the Government. That only served to convince the noble Lord that he needed to ask the Question of what protection will be given to monuments and listed buildings in the light of the English Heritage proposals.

The impression has been given in the press that ancient monuments are about to be abandoned and that our built heritage. is to be sacrificed. That is simply not true. Many of the detailed points raised this evening can be answered by my placing on record what English Heritage's strategy actually is and the process which needs to be gone through before the strategy becomes a practical reality.

The new chairman, Jocelyn Stevens, has looked carefully at what English Heritage does and has had discussions with his fellow commissioners and senior staff. His intention has been to set out his strategy which looks to the end of the decade. In announcing his proposals he has opened up to public debate both the new emphases which he and his fellow commissioners consider they should put on their responsibilities and the changes that they propose to enable others to carry forward some of the work English Heritage previously carried out.

There is no question about English Heritage not discharging its responsibilities. The new strategy is about discharging them more effectively and enabling others to play a greater part than perhaps they do at present. Grant-in-aid to English Heritage increased by 35 per cent. in real terms between 1983 and 1992. But there will never be enough taxpayers' money to do everything. So it is eminently sensible that English Heritage should propose 20 key policy objectives to get the best value for money from the resources at its disposal.

In order to make the heritage pound go further English Heritage proposes to focus its powers, skills and resources where the need is greatest and to step back from work which can be done by others at a more local level. It has undertaken to improve its efficiency, raise its standards and reinforce its commitment to excellence by streamlining its organisation, improving access to its historic properties and becoming more responsive to public needs.

The three proposals which have excited most attention have been those concerning properties in care, responsibility for listed buildings in London and the directly employed labour force. In proposing to divide its historic properties and sites into three categories of importance and to concentrate its resources in the first two categories, English Heritage has been met with the claim in many newspapers that 200 heritage properties are to be sold. Who has proposed to sell anything?

What has actually been proposed is that out of the 350 or so properties in English Heritage's care, a certain number will be categorised as of regional importance, fully meriting continued protection and perhaps more suited to local management. No final decisions have been made as to which or exactly how many sites will fall into that category. English Heritage's initial assessment is that 200 might be so categorised. But Mr. Jocelyn Stevens told last week's press conference that the final number might be 150 or 250. It will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, has again made much of the fact that English Heritage's advisory committees were not consulted about the strategy. But advisory committees do not make strategy; that is the job of the English Heritage Commission on which sit the chairmen of the advisory committees. It has been made abundantly clear that before final decisions are taken on which, and how many, sites are suitable for local management, English Heritage will consult its own Ancient Monuments' Advisory Committee both on the general criteria and on a site-by-site basis.

It has also been made perfectly clear that no sites will just be abandoned. No local authority will be forced or perhaps coerced into taking over any particular properties. English Heritage has stated that its strategy proposals for the management agreements with local authorities or local charitable trusts offer the most likely and appropriate means of managing properties in the third category and that there may need to be lengthy negotiations and a continuing cost to English Heritage before complex existing guardian agreements can be sorted out. That must entail a case by case approach to the new strategy, not just a cut and dried list.

We must also bear in mind that even where local management arrangements are made, the properties will still be eligible for English Heritage grants. Many of the sites likely to be placed in this category have low maintenance costs and few are likely to he among the 120 or so properties for which English Heritage currently charges admission. Should any of these come into the third category, English Heritage has made it clear that its existing membership would continue to have free access.

On the three further points about the proposal: first, I believe that it is a positive strategy which can open up the possibility of better care for some local monuments. There is real scope for harnessing local pride and enthusiasm for conservation—for example, by enlisting the help of local archaeological trusts, perhaps working together with the local council. Monuments which inevitably come at the back of the queue in terms of English Heritage's national priorities stand to get better care and attention.

Secondly, while we all know that there are fewer constraints on local authority spending, it is just not true to say that there is no interest in taking over individual monuments. My noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu made that point last week and again tonight. Last week I mentioned Fort Cumberland in Hampshire where the country council is in discussions about terms. Since the announcement, English Heritage has already had inquiries from authorities such as Chester city council and South Hams district council which are interested in managing properties in their areas, and no doubt there will be more in the coming months. English Heritage is fully aware that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will need to approve the terms of these agreements. The department will need to be convinced that arrangements for continuing access, management and maintenance will be fully satisfactory.

Much has been made of the proposal by English Heritage to withdraw from listed building casework in London. I must stress that this is very much a matter for consultation with each borough. Some boroughs will find it easier to manage without English Heritage's help than others; and it will be essential to ensure that each authority is able to provide an adequate service before English Heritage disengages.

There is no question of immediate additional burdens on hard-pressed boroughs. There will be no changes before 1994–95 unless individual boroughs want it and there will be full transitional arrangements, to be agreed by negotiation. English Heritage will not be adding to the responsibilities of London boroughs, but merely withdrawing from areas where there is currently a large measure of duplication of effort.

The stories that, "This is the end of London's heritage as we know it", are sheer nonsense. English Heritage will still be closely involved in all Grade I and Grade II* building casework, in all cases involving the proposed demolition of Grade II buildings, and in strategic issues. The proposals, once negotiated with the boroughs, simply mean that English Heritage's level of involvement will be as great as in Bath, Chester, Oxford and all other historic cities and towns outside London. There is no proposal to alter or end the London Advisory Committee's work.

With regard to English Heritage's direct labour force, the commission has taken the view that it is out of balance in skills and in geographical location. The proposal is to rationalise the direct labour force and make it competitive, putting its relationship with managers of properties on a proper contractual basis. This approach has been widely successful in the local authority world and in central government, and it is almost an anomaly that English Heritage has not yet pursued this course.

Over the next three years, the direct labour force will be required to compete with the private sector for increasing percentages of the English Heritage work it does. It will have an opportunity to demonstrate its commercial effectiveness, and any approaches made to English Heritage regarding the transfer of its direct labour force, either in part or as a whole, will need to be considered. The approach may be made from within in the form of a management buy-out or from an external body.

Some 80 volunteers have been sought to take redundancy terms before the end of next March. I fully appreciate that this is a difficult decision, particularly in the current economic climate, but English Heritage has had to take a view about the right size of its direct labour force, both in terms of available work on its own properties and the critical mass necessary for it to compete. But skilled workers will not necessarily be lost to the conservation cause. It is simply that there is no compelling reason why they should have to he employed in the public, rather than the private, sector.

I shall turn to some of the specific points of detail raised in tonight's debate in a moment, but I wish to refer to some of the other proposals in English Heritage's strategy that have perhaps received less attention than those to which "selling our heritage" and "end of London's conservation" headlines have been so erroneously applied.

One such area is the proposal to focus resources on Grade I and II* buildings and to review the operation of conservation area grant schemes. Of course, the major part of English Heritage's grant resources already go to Grade I and II* buildings, whether secular or ecclesiastical, through its existing schemes. However, grants to buildings in conservation areas are not very well focused at the moment. Some £9.5 million per annum is spent in selected conservation areas, mainly on repair grants, and English Heritage intends to develop, in consultation with local authorities, clearer criteria for better allocation of resources. These will be based on the quality of the historic area concerned, its financial, material and social needs, and the willingness of the authority concerned to commit its own resources over a defined period of time. This will result in the curtailment of some long running schemes in areas where significant improvements have been achieved in partnership with the local authority, but it is important that English Heritage concentrates on areas of greatest need.

Some critics have even claimed that there will be no help for Grade II buildings outside conservation areas in future, but the plain fact is that under existing legislation English Heritage is not allowed to help Grade II buildings outside conservation areas. This is yet another instance of the strategy being cited as the vehicle for change when no such change is in fact proposed.

I welcome the support for the new strategy given by my noble friend Lord Montagu. As the first chairman of English Heritage, he was responsible for establishing the organisation as a major force in the conservation world. Under his chairmanship, membership and visitor numbers rose, and presentation of sites was greatly improved. I pay tribute to my noble friend's achievements in steering English Heritage through its first eight years.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, referred to the announcement made jointly by English Heritage and the National Trust. We welcome that announcement. English Heritage and the National Trust have agreed to discuss each of the 17 sites in which both have an interest in order to determine whether any could be better managed to the benefit of both the site and the public by transferring some or all of the management responsibility to one or another body, as allowable under the terms in which they are held.

My noble friend Lord Renfrew asked various detailed questions about Dover Castle, the White Horse of Uffington, and other monuments. Matters relating to expenditure and income at individual monuments are essentially a matter for English Heritage management. My noble friend Lord Renfrew, as a member of the English Heritage Advisory Committee, is in a privileged position to discuss such matters. He will no doubt follow this up when he and other members of the Ancient Monuments Advisory Committee attend a meeting with the commission on 18th November which has been arranged with Sir David Wilson, chairman of the committee.

My noble friend Lord Renfrew asked about completion of the schedule. As was made clear to the Public Accounts Committee in another place earlier this week. English Heritage now expects to complete about 80 per cent. of the original scheduling target for the monuments protection programme by the year 2003.

There has been delay caused partly by restrictions on resources and partly by the need to spend more time than English Heritage expected on the preparatory documentation. However, the rate of new schedulings is now expected to rise very swiftly over the next 10 years. Much of the preparatory work has now been done. I can confirm to my noble friend Lord Renfrew that the figure of £22 million is in the recent report of the National Audit Office on the net cost to English Heritage for caring for its properties during the year 1991–92.

I was asked this evening about guardianship. The legal position relating to the guardianship of ancient monuments is set out in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. Section 14 of the Act makes provisions as to the termination of guardianship arrangements. The key points are that termination has to be by agreement with those immediately affected by the operation of the guardianship deed; and that before terminating a deed the Secretary of State must be satisfied that satisfactory arrangements have been made for ensuring the monument's preservation after termination of the guardianship; or, that it is no longer practicable to preserve the monument—but, of course, that is not the question here.

The agreement of the Secretary of State will be needed before guardianship agreements are altered or terminated. As full provision was made in the 1979 Act for variation or termination of guardianship agreements, the great majority of cases are not thought likely to give rise to any need for legislation. However, in some cases there may be a need for legislation to facilitate transfers into local ownership or management. Individual cases requiring legislation cannot yet be identified.

My noble friend Lord Crathorne and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the London boroughs and the London Regional Committee. The London region will continue, although it will be smaller. The power of direction cannot be removed without primary legislation. The change proposed by English Heritage is that it should no longer be notified about proposals to alter or extend Grade II listed buildings. In future, such matters will be decided by the boroughs. That is already the position throughout England; that is, outside London. English Heritage will continue to be closely involved, as I said before, with proposals for Grade I and Grade II* buildings —again, in exactly the same way that they are in the rest of the country.

The notification arrangements can be altered by direction under Section 15 of the 1990 Act made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who I see is no longer present in the Chamber, talked about the destruction of English Heritage, and so on. All I can say is that I do not think he could have read the strategy document because it is nothing to do with that. I very much hope that he will read the report of what has been said here this evening.

I turn now to my old and noble friend Lord Cavendish. In just a month, he has already grasped the important issues that English Heritage will face. I am sure that his expertise will be most welcome. We must congratulate him on winning an important garden award this summer. His explanation of some of the finer points of the strategy was, I am sure, very useful to all noble Lords present here this evening. My noble friend Lady Park, who is chairman of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, raised a number of anxieties which will be discussed both with English Heritage and of course with the Department of National Heritage.

Such a body as English Heritage which receives £100 million of the taxpayers' money to carry out the duties placed upon it by Parliament needs to have clear policy objectives if it is to carry out those duties effectively and efficiently. I quote from the new strategy document: When there are so many calls upon the country's public and private purses, particularly in times of recession, we have chosen to reassess objectives and priorities and look at the part that our heritage plays in our daily lives". The resources available to English Heritage are finite. There is no pot of gold into which one dips when an historic property needs repair or a site of great archaeological value is under threat. The money to preserve the built heritage comes from the taxpayer. English Heritage has to set its priorities within the broader public expenditure limits set by the Government.

I believe firmly that we should welcome the key objectives which English Heritage has set for itself for the rest of this century. It identifies areas where there is scope for drawing on new sources of private funding for the heritage, but it does not disguise the fact that substantial public funds will continue to be needed. English Heritage's corporate plan to be submitted for government approval next year will need to develop its new strategy into a costed, prioritised plan for the next five years, taking full account of the Government's funding decisions following next week's Autumn Statement.

English Heritage is under no illusions as to the difficulties of the immediate outlook for public spending programmes, but the financial constraints do not invalidate the strategy. They make it all the more important that English Heritage has a clear understanding of its role and a clear definition of its objectives.

The noble Lord, Lord Birkett, who I see is no longer in his place, as he said, could not talk about English Heritage without mentioning the lottery. I am sure that in the future proceeds from the lottery will go to our heritage. The new strategy should be welcomed warmly. I hope that with the reassurances I have given tonight your Lordships will now welcome the strategy.

The chairman of English Heritage and his fellow commissioners have taken an important step forward in the development of the conservation policy. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State looks forward to considering in due course the detailed results of the consultation which publication of the strategy has signalled.

House adjourned at fourteen minutes before ten o'clock.

Back to