HL Deb 21 February 1995 vol 561 cc1029-31

2.44 p.m.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which historic buildings are eligible for financial assistance towards repairs from the National Heritage Memorial Fund from moneys derived from the National Lottery; and what criteria are used to assess such applications.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Viscount Astor)

My Lords, repairs to historic buildings may be eligible for financial assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund if the buildings are owned by a public or charitable body.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he agree that certain Ministers, Members of Parliament and the general public certainly need enlightening on this fact? Does the Minister further agree that by precluding any financial assistance to the large majority of our historic houses—which successive governments have recognised as in need of funding even since 1953—t is going to be very difficult to see how the national heritage is to survive? Can the Minister tell the House whether this statutory discrimination is deliberate or a legislative mishap? Will the Minister further agree that a simple amendment should be made to the National Heritage Act 1980, whereby the National Heritage Memorial Fund can allot funds as to need, otherwise the national heritage will suffer as a whole?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the position as regards eligibility of privately owned historic buildings for funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund is essentially the same as before the lottery Act and the lottery were introduced. The tests applied will be the same as in the National Heritage Act 1980 under which private individuals and companies operating for profit are ineligible for funding. However, privately owned historic buildings may be eligible if ownership is transferred to a charitable trust. I know that the trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund are keen to be flexible in their approach and to help the private owner; for example, through assistance to charitable trusts which ensure clear public benefit.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, why cannot these properties be eligible for assistance if they are open to the public? Does that not qualify them? It always has.

Viscount Astor

No, my Lords, that is not the case. In the types of cases which the noble Lord referred to, it is up to the historic buildings agency, English Heritage, to provide support to private owners of properties who require support for their houses.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend explain how it is that VAT is charged on repair work to historic buildings? Is that not wholly contrary to the general approach which my noble friend has adopted?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we recently had a debate on VAT and historic houses. I only wish to add that the National Heritage Memorial Fund gives a grant for the total amount of expenditure which includes VAT and professional fees.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that churches and cathedrals qualify under the heading of "charitable"? If that is so, on what principle will be the division of the funds available between church and lay buildings respectively?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the position is clear as regards churches. They are in charitable ownership for the public benefit. I know that the trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund have had many applications concerning churches.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, can the noble Viscount please explain why the Government discriminate against the private sector? That does so much to preserve our built heritage.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, that the private sector does a lot for heritage. It plays an extremely important part in repairing and looking after our heritage. It was the clear intention of Parliament that lottery funding for good causes should be for the public good. There are other issues here; for example, the National Heritage Memorial Fund trustees may consider applications for in situ purchases if they are convinced of the public benefit and if the proceeds of the sale are to be applied to the preservation of the building.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be very delicate and difficult to provide public money which would add to the equity value of private houses for their private owners? I believe that that was one of the reasons behind our approach to the Lottery Bill and earlier. In that context, will the Minister also restate that our common aim is to secure the maximum aid to heritage? Will he agree to look again to see whether it is possible to introduce any further flexibility into this matter?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord's first two comments. The historic buildings agencies for each of the countries of England, Scotland and Wales provide substantial help to private owners through their grant schemes. English Heritage alone this year is offering £30 million towards the preservation of historic secular buildings and monuments, so the Government take the issue very seriously. As I have said, we want to ensure that there is a clear public benefit from National Lottery funding. I know that the trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund are keen to be as flexible as they can be within their clear guidelines.

Lord Annan

My Lords, are schools which occupy historic buildings eligible for such moneys?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, yes. They are charitable, so they are eligible.

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