HL Deb 26 April 1994 vol 554 cc518-20

2.59 p.m.

Lord Donoughue asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why the Department of National Heritage is not represented on the new Government Office for London.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, the Government Office for London brings together the regional offices of the Departments of the Environment, Employment, Trade and Industry and Transport. These are the principal departments concerned with economic development and regeneration in the English regions. We are considering with other government departments, including the Department of National Heritage, whether they might also have a role to play in the new offices.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he not agree that the sectors coming under the Department of National Heritage—namely tourism, media, arts, sport and heritage—are among the largest employers and sources of revenue for London? Therefore, is it not inexplicably bizarre that they have been excluded? Does that not demonstrate that the Government undervalue both the Department of National Heritage and London? Is it not time, not for some inter-departmental bureaucracy which excludes a key department, but for a properly elected strategic authority for London?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, in no way do the Government underestimate the huge importance and significance of the contribution that culture and leisure services can make to regional development, not only in London but across all the regional offices. I can say that a regional unit which has recently been formed will liaise with the team steering the new government offices to ensure that this is brought very much to the fore.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is not merely a question of leisure services? The range of responsibilities which the heritage department itself has created, quite rightly, is very wide and is of vital economic consequence, in addition to having its artistic and other aspects. Is my noble friend not right to say that the Government should make sure that the department has a role in this new development, and that in the longer term there should be co-operation with this side of the House in re-creating properly elected government for London?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I can only repeat what I said to the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. This is being taken seriously. These four new departments, presently located in the 10 different regions, are being properly constituted, and other departments, including the Department of National Heritage, will be examined very closely to see whether they have an important role to play in those particular components.

Lord Renton

My Lords, in any event is it not inevitable that such an important departure as a new Government Office for London will be the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, of which the Secretary of State for National Heritage is a member?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, certainly the collective responsibility will be taken by all the Secretaries of State, to whom the regional directors in the 10 regions will report.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, have the Government taken note of recent proposals for removing parked cars from important and historic public places such as Horse Guards Parade and the courtyard of Somerset House, and will they take action on them?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, with the greatest respect, that is somewhat wide of the Question on the Order Paper. I hear, however, the point the noble Lord makes. I am sure that it is close to many of your Lordships' hearts. I shall take that into careful consideration.

Lord Howell

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Department of National Heritage has been excluded so far from similar governmental organisations throughout the country; for example, in Birmingham? If the Department of National Heritage is to be brought into this economic framework, will he ensure that civil servants in that department at all times protect the integrity and independence of the regional councils for arts and for sport, all of which rely heavily upon co-operation with local authorities which must be maintained if we are to provide leisure services for young people in this country?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I quite understand the point that the noble Lord makes concerning the Department of National Heritage. It has great responsibility not only in London but throughout the whole of the country, both on a cultural and leisure basis.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that it is good that he should be responding for the Department of National Heritage? I understood that there was a spokesman for national heritage in this House, but, of course, the noble Earl speaks for the Government, as do all Ministers from the Dispatch Box. Can the noble Earl say what the Department of National Heritage would do for London if it was represented in the new government office? For instance, we have heard about spam fritter parties and walling up the Albert Memorial. Would it really be encouraging the economy of London or the heritage of London? What can the DNH do for London that the Department of the Environment cannot? I am interested in the noble Earl's reply because there may be supplementaries to that question.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I have tried to intimate that at the moment we are taking the whole matter carefully forward. As regards what the Department of National Heritage can do for London, I should have thought that it would have had a very great part to play, possibly in the future from the point of view of representation and certainly on a cultural, artistic and leisure basis.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I understand that the Government are taking the matter "carefully forward". Indeed, they are doing nothing. That is a euphemism which I think is generally accepted. Which aspects are they taking carefully forward? What are they proposing to do about, for instance, the cultural heritage of London which, as my noble friend explained, is in a shambles as a result of government policies? Is that something that they are taking carefully forward?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is trying to suggest that the Government are inactive he is totally incorrect. They are active across all departments. As regards what they might do in London from the point of view of the Department of National Heritage, that will have to be carefully considered, taking into account the most workable, logical, sensible and practical way forward for the Department of National Heritage in London.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, is it not important that this should be taken into account in view of the millennium celebrations at the end of this decade?

The Earl of Arran

Yes, my Lords, of course that is being taken into account very carefully, together with other considerations.