§ Viscount Caldecote asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ What are their plans for the future of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe)
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence has sought proposals for the future occupation of these outstanding buildings, which he holds in trust for the benefit of the Crown Charity, Greenwich Hospital. He has asked an independent group of experts, chaired by Dame Jennifer Jenkins, to advise on the expressions of interest submitted, and on the future management of the site. Final decisions are not expected before the summer.
§ Viscount Caldecote
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, but it leaves some rather dangerous doors wide open. First, will my noble friend give us a firm assurance that this marvellous part of our national heritage will not be allowed to fall into foreign hands, whether by lease or sale? Secondly, will be give us an assurance that the buildings will remain in public ownership and will only be leased for maritime or educational uses?
My Lords, I am happy to clarify for my noble friend that the freehold of Greenwich is not for sale. It is proposed that a long lease is granted to an appropriate tenant. Ministers have made it abundantly clear that they are seeking a solution which is sensitive to the unique character of this noble site. To that end my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence has invited the group of eminent experts to which I have referred to advise him. I am sure that my noble friend will understand that until such time as the group reports and my right honourable friend has considered its advice, it would not be right for me to rule any particular options in or out at this stage.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, does the Secretary of State still intend to give up the sole trusteeship of the Hospital Trust which, I believe, has been his since the original Greenwich Bill was passed, and which is a measure in the Armed Forces Bill at the moment, or does he propose to drop that provision from the Bill?
My Lords, my right honourable friend has no intention of dropping that responsibility. It is proposed in the Armed Forces Bill that we make 1050 provision for a wider class of tenant than the Greenwich Hospital Act 1869 currently provides for. That Act would constrain future occupation to,the purposes of the naval service or of any department of Her Majesty's Government or for the benefit of persons engaged, or who have been engaged, in seafaring pursuits".
As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will be aware, the expressions of interest which we have invited have been sought from all sectors. We hope that an appropriate tenant will come forward.
§ Lord Clark of Kempston
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Question posed by my noble friend Lord Caldecote asks for an assurance that, whatever the lease or whatever the future is for this college, it should remain in British hands?
My Lords, I endeavoured to answer my noble friend when he posed that Question. I simply repeat that the advisory group has been asked to look at all the expressions of interest that we have received. We have received nine expressions of interest for the entire site. We are seeking a solution which is sympathetic to the heritage of the site. We are also seeking a solution which will allow for a measure of public access. But it would not be appropriate at this stage to speculate on what the advice of the group may be. Until such time as that advice is produced, I do not believe that it would be right for me to go further.
§ Lord Lewin
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for asking this Question. He and I were students at the Royal Naval College 50 years ago, but not on the same course. He was learning how to design ships and I was learning how to sink them! The Minister will recall that in a short debate in this House on 30th October last, I put forward a proposal for the care of the college being put into the hands of a preservation trust. Can the Minister reassure me that that proposal is being given serious consideration?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord. The advisory group has had drawn to its attention the proposals made by the noble and gallant Lord in this House on 30th October last, together with similar proposals contained in the written expression of interest by the National Maritime Museum. I can confirm that the group is considering these proposals, and others, for a possible trust to oversee the future well-being of these fine buildings.
§ Lord Rippon of Hexham
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are many people who, in the words of Lord Melbourne, would say, "By God! Why can't they let it alone!"?
My Lords, I am sure that there is great sympathy among many of your Lordships for the sentiment underlying my noble friend's Question. There 1051 is undoubtedly a sentimental attachment to Greenwich and the fact that the Royal Navy has been there for many years. I also believe that there is fundamental unanimity in the services that the way to meet tomorrow's training needs is to co-locate staff training for all three services and that unfortunately Greenwich is not the right place to do it.
§ Lord Strabolgi
My Lords, I think that it is our turn. Is it intended to include the Queen's House and the old Greenwich Observatory in the deal?
My Lords, no. The Queen's House is currently part of the National Maritime Museum, and the Observatory is not part of the premises to which the Question refers.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, in view of the fact that the historical background of Greenwich is so much respected on both sides of this House, can I be assured that the group includes either a serving or retired senior naval officer among its number?
My Lords, I am not quite sure what my noble friend is asking. The advisory group, to which I referred, consists of Dame Jennifer Jenkins; the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon; the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury; and Sir Jocelyn Stevens. Those four individuals are charged with assessing the expressions of interest that we have received and advising my right honourable friend.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question; this is the third time that I have tried. Is the lease of 150 years assignable?