HL Deb 30 June 1997 vol 581 cc57-80

6.20 p.m.

Lord St. John of Fawsley rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any plans to review the position at Stonehenge.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am proud and, indeed, honoured to be opening this short debate on what is a major architectural, conservation and archaeological problem; namely, the future of Stonehenge. Your Lordships have shown by your response in putting down your names to be considered to speak on this issue the importance you attach to it. In fact, I was vastly encouraged that almost as many names were put down to speak to this Unstarred Question as to the Firearms (Amendment) Bill. On this side, more than one Front-Bencher is down to speak and I am glad that the official policy of the Opposition is in the capable hands of my noble friend Lady Rawlings. I also welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, is to reply to the debate on behalf of the Government. The noble Lord has already demonstrated in this House that he is deeply concerned with environmental problems.

What a saga it has all been! The contemporary debate opened in 1984–85 when English Heritage played a leading role and instigated an important report on the subject. I should like to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who was then chairman of English Heritage, for his foresight, tenacity and consistency which at one time seemed to be leading to a consensual solution. O si sic omnes. Since his departure, there has been nothing but muddle, confusion and conflict. Five years have passed but virtually no progress has been made. Debate has dissolved into a welter of fads and fancies, road schemes, visitor centre projects, intemperate language and confusion.

On appointment, the present chairman of English Heritage committed himself personally to solving the Stonehenge problem. Alas, it has not happened. Other things have, however. The distinguished commission, of which I am privileged to be chairman, has been denigrated. I shall not reply in kind. It is part of the small change of heritage life, but what is important is the way in which the civil servants at the Department of National Heritage have been branded as incompetent and ignorant. From my knowledge of working with them, I pay tribute to them for their dedication and knowledge of this cause. I should like also to express my appreciation of the work of the employees of English Heritage. We have always had the most cordial relations with them.

Perhaps I may glance back a few minutes for guidance to facilitate our progress in the future. First, there is the road problem. In one sense, it is simple. There are two roads: the A.303 to the south and the A.344 to the north. Both come too near the stones. One should be closed (the A.344) and the other should be diverted. That is where the rub comes. Diverted where? To the north, to the south, or sunk into a long tunnel beneath the site?

A long tunnel is not the right solution to this problem. That is the considered view of the Royal Fine Art Commission. It is unacceptable on both aesthetic and financial grounds. It would require an eastern portal within the World Heritage Site. It would require link roads, ventilating shafts and a control building, all of which would be unsightly. Furthermore, it would be quite impossible to raise from the Government the £ 300 million that would be required for the project. The obsession with a tunnel has contributed more than anything else to the present impasse. The great Lord Salisbury said that the commonest mistake in politics is clinging to the carcasses of dead policies. I hope that the Minister in his reply will remove the tunnel once and for all from our deliberations. The RFAC' s preferred solution is the northern route since the southern route goes through National Trust land.

Inextricably linked with the road problem is that of a visitors' centre. A visitors' centre is not a blessing; it is a necessary evil. There must be access to the stones, but it must be relieved and regulated. One of the profound problems of our time is how to ensure that people have access to our heritage without destroying the very thing they have come to see. So sites for visitors' centres have multiplied with bewildering prolixity. At one time, eight alternatives were put forward for consideration by English Heritage. They have been moved around so that at times it has been more like a wigwam than a building. First, it was to be at Larkhill. Then English Heritage suggested that there should be two visitors' centres: one at King Barrow and the second at the Countess roundabout, to be linked by a hypothetical train. Then the dual sites were abandoned. The latest hare-brained scheme surfaced only last week: to move the present unsightly car park from one side of the A.303 to the other side of the road. I hope that my noble friend Lord Renfrew will comment from his profound knowledge on the archaeological implications involved. I hope also that the Minister will indicate the Government's attitude in his reply.

Finally, the architect was sacked and the whole mélange was transformed into a private finance initiative proposal and a bid to the Millennium Commission. The peripatetic visitors' centre was sent back to Larkhill at the very moment when the Millennium Commission was nearing a decision. Since the cost was £ 44 million and the private 50 per cent. consisted of a possible £10 million from Tussaud's plus a black hole which nobody appeared willing to fill, the Millennium Commission, which has been much censured, came not unsurprisingly to the conclusion that it could not support it.

So what is now to be done? Perhaps I may with all earnestness suggest this to the Minister. I do not put this forward as my personal view, but speak on behalf of the Royal Fine Art Commission. We offer our full support to efforts to solve the problem because this problem is simply too big, too important and too complex to be left to any quango or private body. There must be a government initiative at the highest level. Will the Secretary of State for National Heritage give the lead? Nothing less than a Cabinet level decision will now suffice.

I go further and suggest that the Prime Minister may help by intervening. After all, Stonehenge is a much better cause than the millennium dome, which is not even a dome; it is a tent. Irrespective of party, I believe that the Prime Minister has won considerable admiration for his vision, energy and willingness to tackle complex problems. If he, the Secretary of State and the noble Lord who speaks for the Government on this subject in this House were to unite together in action this evening this providential project might yet be saved.

6.31 p.m.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, for tabling this Unstarred Question. He has most eloquently drawn attention to the sad state of Stonehenge, which is the most important megalithic monument in Europe and a world heritage site. We seem totally unable to come to grips with the problem of how to protect a monument of this stature, particularly in the days of mass tourism. Stonehenge, which is now called the Gateway to the Wessex Experience—whatever that may mean—is visited by 700,000 tourists a year. The site itself and the visitor centre have been rightly described as a national disgrace by a Select Committee of another place.

Stonehenge stands on virtually an island site, with a main road on each side. English Heritage proposes that the A.344, which runs close to the great stones, should be closed and grassed over and 2,000 acres of Wiltshire downland should be restored to a natural setting. There would be a new visitor centre one kilometre away and most visitors would be required to approach the monument on foot. The scheme, which would cost £44 million, would be financed by £22 million of lottery money and a similar investment by the Tussaud group. This proposal has been turned down most disappointingly by the Millennium Commission. The commission says that it is oversubscribed and that this great plan is in competition with a number of other projects, notably, one supposes, the stately pleasure dome decreed for Greenwich, which one understands is to be only a temporary structure.

The English Heritage scheme may have faults, particularly as the scaled down scheme does not address the long-term problem of the A.303, yet it is an attempt to deal with the present situation. If finance had been forthcoming the scheme could have been approved in detail. At least there would be some action instead of the stagnation that has existed for a number of years, as the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, has said. This shabby treatment of Stonehenge, which is surely an eminently suitable candidate for the millennium celebrations, is an absolute disgrace. I hope that my noble friend can give an indication that the new Government will do something at last to give this great monument the protection and setting that it deserves.

6.34 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend for introducing the subject this evening. Stonehenge represents a collective failure of government over the years to implement a successful scheme both to provide public access and protect this world heritage site. However, I believe that English Heritage has made huge progress in recent years. The main problem is that, although Stonehenge is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for National Heritage, a successful scheme requires the co-operation of both the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Transport. The problem is an inter-departmental one. But it requires more than co-operation; it requires their active support and encouragement. The Department of Transport does not really want to spend any money because this is not one of its priorities. The MOD does not want to become involved with its excuses of bunkers and bangs, but in reality it too has a money problem.

English Heritage put forward a bid to the Millennium Commission but was turned down without any proper explanation. I do not believe that that is good enough. The Secretary of State is responsible not only for Stonehenge but for English Heritage. As chairman of the Millennium Commission, he is responsible to Parliament. If progress is to be made I believe that the Government must come clean and provide an answer. Knowing that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, believes in open government, I hope that he will he able to enlighten us this evening. Was the bid considered unsuitable because it involved PR funding? Was it not "millennium" enough? Was it because it was a pagan and not a Christian monument? Was it not capable of being completed by the year 2000? Will the Millennium Commission spend all of its money in Greenwich?

Endless routes have been proposed to the stones: under, through and round. I believe that the only alternative not yet considered is over. The two routes for the A.303 that appear to offer the best chances are a tunnel, the final estimated cost of which is I believe £80 million and not £300 million; or the northern route, with either one or two short tunnels. I do not argue the merits of either; both have advantages and disadvantages, but at some point we require a decision from the Government. Both will cost a large amount of money and will probably take 10 years to complete. We must now consider what can be done to improve access and to provide a visitor centre with the closure of the A.334. Should a bid now be addressed to the National Heritage Memorial Fund? We require an answer from the Minister.

I remind the House that the bid did not involve the A.303. It involved simply the visitor centre, parking, access and closure of the A.334. I believe that a cheaper temporary alternative is being mooted which involves moving the centre into a dip nearer to Larkhill. I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on that. I should also like to know whether the Government believe that there should be free access to Stonehenge. I understand that that would cost £0.5 million per annum. That is a small sum when it is considered that English Heritage now sell-generates a revenue of over £24 million per annum.

We believe that the Secretary of State should give a lead. All noble Lords on this side of the House wish him the best of luck. We hope that he will be able to bring forward a scheme. I very much agree with my noble friend Lord St. John that to achieve success will require more than one Minister.

6.38 p.m.

Lord Chorley

My Lords, in my five-and-a-half years as chairman of the National Trust I was almost continuously involved with Stonehenge. My first meetings were with the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, when he was chairman of English Heritage. I hope that when the noble Lord comes to speak he will agree with me that we worked together well.

Much of the world heritage site is in trust ownership, although the stones themselves are in the care of English Heritage. There are two separate but closely linked problems: the A.303 road improvements and the issue of the visitor centre and the A.344. I believe that the A.303 is the more intractable of the two problems.

The original routes proposed were completely unacceptable to the trust and English Heritage. They would unashamedly have destroyed the very qualities that give the whole area its international importance. The Government withdrew those two proposals. We then worked to find an alternative route to the north. The then Minister, Mr. Stephen Norris, was helpful in getting the MoD on side. The costs were reasonable. However, we allowed ourselves perhaps to be beguiled by the ideal, but hugely expensive, plan of a very long tunnel.

I dispute the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, that the cost of that tunnel would be only £80 million. I believe that that figure should be multiplied by at least three. The net result was a rather dangerous stalemate. But we now have a government with new ideas and I ask them to look again at the northern route. It is the only practicable route. It is one which also respects this archaeological jewel. There was not a great deal of difference between us and the Highways Agency in 1995.

I turn now to the visitor centre. The current centre is widely recognised as a disgrace. If Stonehenge is to be respected, the centre must be moved out of the world heritage site or to its edge. At the same time, and for the same reason, the A.344 must be closed as a public highway and grassed over. Everyone to whom we have spoken has agreed with that. Generally speaking, everyone has always accepted that. There is, after all, a good alternative route for the A.344 traffic.

In the past few years—that is to say, during my time on the trust—English Heritage was looking at a site on the A.303 at the Countess roundabout. Land was acquired. Plans were drawn up. A PFI scheme was proposed. A commercial developer had been selected, as has been said. I am not clear why the scheme was turned down by the Millennium Commission. At any rate it was turned down. I have not been able to determine the reasons, although I note what the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, said. I hope that the Minister will tell us something. Perhaps it was too big, or too commercial, or kept changing. I do not know.

Nevertheless, the vision of Sir Jocelyn Stevens and others of marking the millennium by turning this wonderful place—this world heritage site—into a millennium park is a good one. We, English Heritage and the trust, need to go back to the drawing board and perhaps approach the problem in a lower key and step by step. We must never lose sight of the vision and the integrity of the site. We need to march in step with the Government.

There is much important detail which I have not been able to discuss. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister will endorse the three key points: to reconsider the northern route for the A.303; to relocate the visitor centre away from the world heritage site; and to grass over the A.344.

6.42 p.m.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, in welcoming my noble friend's timely Question, I feel strongly that the situation at Stonehenge today is a terrible reflection on our nation. Here we have our most famous international monument treated over the years more like a neglected site in eastern Europe. Ironically, we are the envy of the world in the way that we have looked after our historic buildings and monuments, but Stonehenge is a blot on that reputation, for as decades have gone by successive governments have brushed the problem under the carpet. So in spite of many different plans, basically little was decided—and all this against a background of increasing pressure on the site.

Today's public opinion was aptly reflected by the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons when it described the Stonehenge visitor facilities as a national disgrace. When I was appointed first chairman of English Heritage in 1984, one of the first decisions of the commission was to set up a study group to investigate the situation and suggest solutions. That group, which represented all interested parties, consulted widely and worked commendable fast but thoroughly, and so by January 1985 we were able to present a report to the Secretary of State for the Environment.

The report embraced four main principles laid down by my commission: first, to restore Stonehenge in its natural landscape; secondly, to close the A.344; thirdly, to build an interpretation reception centre and museum at Larkhill, invisible from the monument; and, lastly, to open up a pedestrian access by way of a three-quarters of a mile walk from Larkhill to the stone circle through the historic landscape.

The report was widely welcomed and accepted, but the scheme got bogged down, particularly as a result of objections by the Ministry of Defence to the access road. In order to find an agreed solution, I remember taking a whole series of Ministers to Stonehenge, although none of them remained in office for very long, and one of them was literally promoted to higher office by a mobile telephone call while he was inspecting the site. That was our present Opposition Chief Whip.

When in 1992, with great frustration, I handed on the problem to my successor, I felt that he was right to seek alternative solutions, and I have followed with interest the various plans produced in the past six years. The so-called near perfect solution entailed a very long tunnel, which many felt was not entirely necessary, too ambitious and, worse still, politically unobtainable.

The time has now come to practise the art of the possible and forget about ideal solutions. In my view it is time to go back to the Larkhill solution, but this time to make it happen. No government department or institution can solve the Stonehenge problem alone, however ingenious their proposals. It demands firm political will. There is now no alternative but urgently to ask the Prime Minister to form a Cabinet Committee which should contain Secretaries of State for the Department of National Heritage, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of the Environment and Transport, and give them a firm brief to find a solution and fix a programme for its completion.

Most important, it equally behoves all interested parties to be more flexible. The Ministry of Defence must fully co-operate to facilitate northern access to the Larkhill site and the Department of Transport must agree to close the A.344. English Heritage should be encouraged to restart negotiations under the private finance initiative to involve a commercial company like Madame Tussauds to create a proper information centre and museum. English Heritage should be able to contribute some finance, and so it must drop its suggestion that entry to Stonehenge be free. Charging is essential, as Stonehenge will then be able to make a contribution to English Heritage which would be available for investment, together with private resources, to build the reception centre.

The National Trust may well have to agree to some compromises and the local authorities and pressure groups must equally be encouraged to co-operate. The striving for the perfect will be an enemy to the good. One thing is certain: no solution can be imposed without upsetting someone. That may include some local people and even some distinguished archaeologists.

Admittedly, any solution will cost money, but I believe that the nation would agree that this was an ideal candidate for lottery money. People are puzzled that Greenwich has been allotted so much money for a temporary exhibition, whereas here we have an opportunity of improving—or perhaps I should say saving—our most visited national monument. There must be no more excuses. The buck has now firmly stopped at the feet of the present Government. The fact remains that Stonehenge belongs to the nation. It is a government problem, not English Heritage's which only manages the site on behalf of the Government.

I conclude by saying: no more cheap compromises; urgently dust off and study the English Heritage 1985 Larkhill plan. With political will and resolution, jointly financed by government, English Heritage, lottery and private resources, the scheme can be in place by the millennium. The nation and the world have waited too long; it now time for action.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

My Lords, my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley does us all a service when he draws attention to Stonehenge, our greatest national monument, and to the lamentable manner is which it is displayed—a national disgrace and a sordid example of government neglect.

In the 20 years since I have been a member of the Ancient Monuments Board and its successor under English Heritage, we have seen successive Ministers, encouraged by the chairman of English Heritage, now the redoubtable Sir Jocelyn Stevens, for whose energy, commitment and persistence I have the greatest admiration, seek to enlist Cabinet support to overcome the relatively minor practical problems of rehabilitating Stonehenge. But each has been thwarted by inertia, and by those two great founts of inertia and recalcitrance, the Ministry of Defence (in its domestic aspect) and the Highways Agency.

The latter, just a few years ago, announced its intention of widening the main trunk road (the A.303) which runs near and to the south of Stonehenge. It engaged the nation in a whole polychrome cartography of pink routes and green routes and hypothetical tunnels, only to conclude after a so-called consultation exercise that to do anything would be untimely and far too expensive. To place the A.303 in a tunnel so that visitors to Stonehenge are no longer distracted by the sight and sound of vast lorries lumbering by may well be a long-term objective, but it is not the present concern. It can await the next brainwave of the Highways Agency.

There are three main problems facing Stonehenge today: the sordid car park, right beside the monument; the minor road (the A.344) which runs through the monument, separating the heel stone from the Stonehenge Avenue, and the need for an adequate visitor centre to offer interpretation and other facilities for tourists.

There is a minimal solution to two of those problems. There is near unanimity in the archaeological and conservation world—and I speak here with the authority of English Heritage—that the right access point for Stonehenge is from the north, on foot, from Larkhill, some three-quarters of a mile away. There is near unanimity that the A.344 should be closed so as to form a great landscape, uninterrupted by cars, with Stonehenge at its centre and where the numerous other prehistoric monuments—the Stonehenge cursus, the various long and round barrows—could be visited on foot. That could and should be a millennium scheme.

It follows that the right place for the car park is at Larkhill. I agree with my noble friend Lord St. John that the Fargo proposal is an absolute non-runner. Aspects of that have been agreed already by the Ministry of Defence but there is the problem of the access road. It understandably does not wish to afford public access to the military base. But some practical way can surely be found to overcome that problem.

The third problem is the visitor centre. There are arguments for placing it at Larkhill. But to do that would be to build within a world heritage area, and there are legitimate reservations. Perhaps the main visitor centre should be at the Countess roundabout, near Amesbury, the location for the failed millennium bid in its earlier form. But in any event that need not be part of the initial, minimal first phase.

The essential minimal package is to close the A.344; to create a great landscape around Stonehenge once again; and to shift the car park to Larkhill where it could be accompanied by toilets and a modest, minimal sales point, as at present at Stonehenge, but intelligently designed to avoid the present squalor.

Is it too much to hope that the Secretary of State for National Heritage might actually speak with the Secretary of State for Defence and make it possible for English Heritage to implement this modest scheme in time for the second millennium of our era and the conclusion of Stonehenge's fifth millennium?

6.51 p.m.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, is to be congratulated on introducing the subject of Stonehenge at a critical moment, following the election of a new Government and the rejection by the Millennium Commission of the English Heritage scheme.

Those, such as myself, who have not spoken previously on Stonehenge find the story of the failure to conserve it worthily very depressing reading. Its name, so he has told us, is engraved on the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and possibly also on that of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn.

We are now faced with the possibility of entering the next century with an arrangement which is generally regarded as being a national disgrace—tawdry, inadequate and even dangerous. That sense of disgrace will be intensified greatly if nothing is done in conjunction with the millennium celebrations.

The allocation of so many hundreds of millions of pounds to the transient festival dome at Greenwich seems altogether disproportionate. Whatever our personal view about how that portentous moment in time should be recorded, one really would think that Stonehenge would merit the £22 million that it sought.

What I find particularly sad is that English Heritage, in its final proposal, has come up with what seems to me to be the optimal solution. It represents a middle way between doing too much and too little. I am greatly relieved that its original proposal of last winter was scrubbed. Certainly it would have doubled the amount of land to be put back to pasture and its visitor centre would have been 4 kilometres away from the stones and largely underground. But it would have involved also the creation of a theme park of ancient history. I imagine that that would be along the lines of the Yorvik Exhibition at York. The awesome mystery of the stones and earthworks in their lonely setting would surely have been immeasurably diminished by such contemporary animation and commercialisation.

Above all, I deplore the concept of a train system, however well designed, which it was suggested should waft millions of visitors around the area. Under the modified scheme, I admit that the visitor centre is only a kilometre or so from the stones and on National Trust land, but from there visitors will have to take to their feet. They will thus approach the monuments in the only correct way, and I hope that they will get there for free.

Of course, the situation is complicated also by the road problem and the Department of Transport's endorsement last year of the proposed grassing over of the A.344 and the concept of the A.303 long bored tunnel, although it has made a statement that the tunnel, not surprisingly, is not affordable at present. The grassing of the A.344 everybody agrees on. I am reminded that there is a most admirable precedent for it in the grassing of the A.33 along the banks of the Itchen near Winchester as part of the M.3 motorway scheme where for a mile, where there was a road, there is now complete silence. That is what we should find with the A.344.

As to solving the problem of the route of the road, that clearly will take longer. One hopes that at this stage the Government will grasp the nettle and remove the frustration which everybody feels in relation to the question of how to deal with the united suggestions of English Heritage and the National Trust on improving Stonehenge.

6.57 p.m.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, in speaking this afternoon, I must immediately declare an interest as a commissioner of English Heritage. I too thank my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley for providing the opportunity to discuss Stonehenge, although I did not altogether recognise his version of events when he described the long and very difficult debate about Stonehenge in the past few years. I am grateful to those noble Lords who have supported the efforts of English Heritage and its chairman, Sir Jocelyn Stevens.

On 13th June, the millennium commissioners turned down the bid prepared by English Heritage in respect of Stonehenge. If that bid had found favour—whatever criticisms one might make—significant public benefits would have flowed. But it did not happen and, as is their perfect right, the commissioners gave no reason for turning down a lottery bid. I make no complaint about that. However, in the absence of an explanation, speculation is legitimate, as it is indeed inevitable.

My strong hunch is that the commissioners felt that in the case of Stonehenge, the private finance initiative route was not appropriate. If that were so, I have some sympathy. I cannot pretend that I have ever been entirely comfortable with that approach.

By any judgment, Stonehenge is a site of epic significance. That feature of our country's past pre-dates even the great pyramids. It is internationally revered by laymen and scholars alike. It is etched indelibly on our consciousness. As a world heritage site, the whole of mankind has a stake in it. But responsibility for Stonehenge is a British responsibility and the world looks to, and will continue to look to, the British Government to discharge that responsibility.

The PFI element of the millennium bid was strong and imaginative. It was an honourable attempt at partnership by an honourable group in the private sector. Yet I am left wondering whether it was not an ill-judged approach. Even if it is beyond the powers of most of us to conjure up a picture of the origins of that great monument, any vision we can bring to mind will portray an ancestry of awesome power, energy, faith and authority. Have we really fallen so low, are we so devoid of a sense of history, is political will and leadership so far decayed that we cannot even maintain, still less feel a sense of pride in, our foremost ancient monument without having to call in a leisure company to shore up the enterprise?

How then was the decision arrived at to incorporate a PFI dimension into the bid? As an English Heritage commissioner, I never challenged that approach for one simple reason: I never considered that there was an option. My understanding has always been and remains that it was an imposed decision.

Let us draw a line. English Heritage has a new proposal to which reference has been made. It is known as the Larkhill solution. In heritage terms, that plan embraces the same vision which underlay the millennium bid. In a sense it is minimal and it is by many magnitudes less expensive. The solution on offer has the support of those who know and understand the site, and the House will have listened with great interest to my noble friend Lord Renfrew. It has the enthusiastic backing of local authorities.

Stonehenge is a national monument. Its present squalor is a national disgrace. The Government have it in their gift to redeem the neglect of Stonehenge. Such difficulties as they will face will entail, not warding off public opposition, but solving disagreements as between one department of state and another. What is needed is for the Secretary of State for National Heritage to broker a deal between the Department of the Environment and Transport, now under one Minister, and the MoD, which will need to allow access if the Larkhill solution is to succeed.

I was greatly encouraged to learn that the Prime Minister is taking a personal interest in this issue. I urge the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to play his part in willing the means of a solution to the Stonehenge question. A great opportunity presents itself. It will be a test both of the Government's character and of their will.

7 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord St. John for giving us the opportunity to debate Stonehenge tonight. I declare an interest as an occasional consultant to the British Tourist Authority.

When one arrives in Salisbury by train one is greeted with signs in several languages advising you how to find a bus or taxi to reach Stonehenge, our most visited ancient monument. The locals obviously appreciate its importance to trade, but what a depressing sight it is when one gets there. As the Select Committee in another place pointed out, it is a disgrace.

Are the present arrangements really the best that we can make for a world heritage site? I think all noble Lords who have spoken tonight would answer no. Or should we admit that while hundreds of millions of pounds can be raised for the Millennium Experience we cannot cope with a problem much smaller in size but vastly greater in importance? It is something uniquely British, which the millennium is not; something which has seen three or more millennia come and go and which will still be there for millennia to come. Our visitors come here for culture, for heritage and for the countryside. Stonehenge is all three. It is a jewel in the crown, but we seem unwilling or unable to present it in the manner that its importance deserves.

As has been mentioned, numerous authorities have had their inputs as we struggle to reach a solution. To me, the most positive was that of English Heritage and I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu who arguably knows more about tourism management, heritage and presentation than any other speaker tonight. He sets Stonehenge as a priority for action. But, alas, faced with all the interests that have already been mentioned, he is powerless to achieve his solution, practical though it is.

We advise the world on principles for sustainable tourism and promote them throughout the world as best practice. Others we help. But perhaps we should be looking closer to home. And perhaps, as suggested by several noble Lords tonight, we should start again at the top. If the Cabinet Office is involved in a one-off, such as the Millennium Experience, should it not flex its muscles on Stonehenge's prior claim as already being with us and as being millennia ahead of Greenwich in terms of the history of time? Mid-summer and mid-winter remind us of that every year. Either we find a solution or we admit that we cannot cope with a world heritage site of Stonehenge's importance. In that case, we should, I fear, apply to UNESCO for its deletion from the list of such sites. What a setback that would be; what a shame; and what a national disgrace! No, as several noble Lords have said, let us get on rather than get out.

7.3 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, shortness of time imposes machine-gun style. My declaration of interest, with a small "i", is as president of the Avebury Society. Avebury is the other half of the joint Stonehenge and Avebury world heritage site. The Government have undertaken concrete international obligations in the World Heritage Convention which apply equally to both parts of the site.

You cannot have the visitors centre and the car-park at Larkhill. The car-park will be enormous to begin with and will grow as time goes on. It will glitter because that is rising land. The only way that it can be hidden is by planting. If you plant hard-wood, which will look nice, it will be visible in winter. Cars will glitter through and destroy the whole impression. If you plant soft-wood you probably plant Cypressus Leylandi which provide a solid wall 40-feet high of a disgusting grey-green colour, which is completely out of place.

The car-park and the visitors centre have to be at Countess. It is awkwardly far away, but it is the only safe place for them. You can get access from there up to the top of King Barrow Ridge by any means you like because it is out of sight. From there on, there must be nothing to be seen at all except for the stones and the green grass. You must walk. It is nearly two miles, it is longer than the other way. But let people walk. If they are disabled, whenever there are enough people to justify it let there be a special vehicle going over the grass on huge soft tyres. It will probably not be more than three or four times a day.

The A.303 must go in the deep, long tunnel. You cannot cut and cover. That destroys all the archaeology to the full width of a dual highway and further than that by a long way because of all the subsidiary work that must be done. You must have a deep bore tunnel and it must start east of King Barrow Ridge, otherwise the portals will destroy the whole impression. In my view, those are imperatives.

Is it reasonable to demand them of a government through whatever channels seem to be convenient to the arrangements of the moment? I believe that it is. What do we have lotteries for if not to provide relatively enormous sums of money to do things which otherwise would be difficult to do? I believe that the way forward is to return to what I might call in shorthand "Stevens 1". There have been Montagu 1, Stevens 1 and Stevens 2. Stevens 2 was a rotten idea. I believe that his people were scared off by the millennium heritage people only a week before, and he halved his bid. I understand that that is what may have happened. I hope that under the leadership of the Prime Minister—personally, if necessary—the proper thing will be done, which I have attempted to outline. I also hope that it will be linked with Greenwich. Greenwich is about the future of this country. Stonehenge marks the beginning of Britishness. The two things belong together. I mentioned the Avebury Society, of which I have the honour to be president. The Stonehenge Society is, of course, the British people themselves.

7.7 p.m.

The Earl of Strafford

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, for tabling this Question. When I saw the impressive list of speakers I had reservations about adding my name, but I have a lifelong interest in archaeology and I have seen the stones at least once a week for the past 16 years and I decided to keep it there.

I was delighted at the failure of English Heritage to win millennium funds for the visitors' centre. That was not because I am against the project—I believe that it is vital—but because I believe that to build a visitors' centre before the route of the improved A.303 is decided must be putting the cart before the horse. The admirable 1993 survey by English Heritage and the National Trust highlighted the options which exist for a site. The route of the road is likely to influence its position. To choose a road must be a priority. Incidentally, selecting the Berwick Down section of the A.303 without a decision on the Stonehenge section seems curious and shortsighted. The two will have to join up and at a logical place.

We need an understanding of vision about Stonehenge. It is a unique stone-age cathedral and should not be divorced from its landscape. The core of that landscape is a half mile circle centred on the henge. The landscape is a cathedral close and it is bisected by a major road needing major upgrading. That provides us with a great opportunity but also a puzzle. The best option—a long tunnel—is very expensive and the surface options will cause unacceptable damage to the landscape. The funding of the tunnel requires some lateral thinking. I do not believe that the taxpayer should pay all of the costs; visitors to Stonehenge should also contribute. One approach would be for part of the capital cost to be converted to a loan payable by the Stonehenge trust—the trust proposed by English Heritage and the National Trust to manage Stonehenge. The trust should draw up a plan to maximise the income from Stonehenge and its surroundings which is compatible with maintaining its qualities.

My next point could be slightly controversial. One significant method could be the holding of festivals. Everyone has said, "Heavens, you cannot possibly do that". However, I travelled past Stonehenge on a number of occasions in the early 1980s at the time of the annual festival. It was rather delightful. The only problem was that the festival was free and it was badly organised and when it was over the field in question looked like a public rubbish dump and stayed like that for the best part of a month. However, the festival at Glastonbury, which is well organised, does not have those problems. Such a festival would bring much income to the National Trust and to English Heritage and would help pay for the costs of the tunnel and would be in keeping with the character of the place. After all, in ancient times there were regular festivals at Stonehenge. Stonehenge has been there for, I believe, 4,000 years. The important point is to get this matter right. If we do not have the visitor centre before the millennium, so what? We have to make the right decision and that requires quite a lot of political will.

7.11 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

My Lords, I speak as a constant user of the A.303, and as someone who lives near the stones. I have long supported the idea of a long tunnel. However, it seems that the immediate cash is not available. Therefore there has to be an alternative. It is most important that something is done immediately. As everyone has said, the site of Stonehenge and the proposed visitor centre are a disgrace. As the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, said, the A.344 divides the site. It is monstrous that such a road should be allowed; it should be closed.

The question remains whether we are to have the visitor centre at the Countess roundabout, at Tidworth or on the northern route. With a tunnel, we can have the visitor centre at the Countess roundabout. If there is no chance of a tunnel, that means the northern route with the car park and the visitor centre situated north of the stones. What a good thing if visitors could walk to the site and have some sense of the adventure of arriving at Stonehenge on foot, as our forefathers did. There might even be an element of pilgrimage in that. It is vital that something is done. The noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, may know that the chairman of English Heritage had a word with Mr. Smith on Friday, I understand. If that is correct, perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us whether he reached any conclusion. I shall say no more because I believe that he may be able to tell us something that we all want to know.

7.14 p.m.

Lord Harding of Petherton

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley, for initiating this Unstarred Question. Living as I have done in the west country for the past 30 years I have driven past Stonehenge frequently on the A.303. Like thousands of others travelling along this road I have enjoyed seeing Stonehenge as I have driven past. I am afraid that I do not agree at all with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and some others who have said that this road should be put in a tunnel. That would be extremely expensive.

Whatever is eventually decided about the site and the arrangements for people who want to visit the monument and learn what is known about its history, I hope that people driving past will still be able to see the stones. If it is considered necessary because of exhaust fumes—I find it difficult to believe that the stones are at all disturbed by the traffic on the A.303 at 300 yards distanceߞto move the A.303 further away, I hope that Stonehenge will still be visible from that road.

With due respect, I cannot understand the argument of those who speak for the National Trust that because it is National Trust land the road should not be put further south on that land. I believe to argue that is to get into a mind set about various bits of land. Just because land is owned by the National Trust does not mean it is necessarily any different to any other land.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, does the noble Lord know that there is archaeology under all the grass to the south of the A.303 on the Stonehenge plain? By "archaeology" I mean things of interest to archaeologists.

Lord Harding of Petherton

My Lords, I realise that the whole site is of archaeological interest. That is why it is important to get this matter right. However, it is also important that people can see the stones. Why should they not see the stones as they drive past? It is not necessary to go right up close to them to see them. That is the point I want to make. I can see no reason why this road—if it is moved further south—should not be a dual carriageway. It is only one of a few stretches of the A.303 which is not dual carriageway.

7.16 p.m.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I rise to speak in the gap in the speakers' list. I had intended to put my name down on the list and went to do so but I was distracted and absent-mindedly went away without having done so.

I speak not as an expert, which I am not, nor as a Minister who was responsible for two years for Stonehenge, nor as an Opposition spokesman but as a layman. The remarks I want to make are quite deliberately general in nature and personal in tone.

Every nation has its symbols and icons, many of which are architecturalߞthat most political of arts. They provide a focus for our identity. For example, France has Versailles and Notre Dame; Italy has St. Peters and the Coliseum; we have ours, which include Stonehenge. The place that many of these sites have in our collective consciousness crosses national boundaries. Stonehenge is one such and symbolises more than anything or anywhere else the pre-Roman, non-classical history of western Europe. That is why it has been designated a world heritage site by UNESCO.

For all the debate in Budget week about economic means and shortage of money we must not forget that contemporary Britain is a rich country—one of the richest on earth. We both can and should ensure the health of our icon sites in the interests of the nation as a whole. The concept of re-establishing Stonehenge's setting, placing it in isolation away from roads and the other detritus of contemporary civilisation, is one which is noble and should commend widespread support on its own merits. As my noble friend Lord Renfrew has pointed out, this was the idea behind the most recent proposals for the stones which have run into difficulties.

At this point it is important not to cast about trying to apportion blame. Rather, we should coalesce around what I believe is a hugely exciting and worthwhile aspiration to try to take the matter forward. I mention briefly Stonehenge's relationship with possible interpretation and heritage centres. Never must such places, worthwhile and useful though they are, be permitted to be an alternative or substitute for the stones themselves. Stonehenge after all is not a self-conscious 20th century tourist attraction; rather it is a unique and remarkable survival of our past which quite rightly draws many visitors like me to marvel and to wonder.

Further, the mechanisms for access must accord with the dignity of the site and its inherent importance. The stones and their surroundings must not be impugned or debased by the way in which they are displayed and shown. I believe that the proposal to establish a new setting for Stonehenge, a minimalist setting of open downland framed by the natural skyline and the open sky is right for these magnificent megaliths. I also believe that if the excitement of that vision can be conveyed through the length and breadth of Britain, a huge momentum of support will be generated for it. That in turn will mean that a way will be found to resolve the very serious problems that must be overcome to realise it. After all, where there is a will there is a way; and in the meantime it would, I believe, be wrong for short-term expediency to prejudice the proper long-term solution. To do that would be to sell Stonehenge, the present and posterity, short.

7.20 p.m.

Lord Hankey

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, I ask your Lordships' forgiveness for speaking in the gap. I am told that I have a strict two minutes.

I declare an interest as a planner and specialist in cultural heritage conservation, dealing with cities throughout the world. I believe that over time the problem has been management of the development of the idea of what to do with Stonehenge. Many complex subjects are dealt with in your Lordships' House. The subject is reviewed; papers are produced to inform all parties. There are White Papers, green papers, Bills and statutes, and it all comes to logical fruition.

Parallel care is required in managing complex planning subjects. Perhaps I may recommend a formal process, as for any Bill in your Lordships' House. The problem of how to manage the process and to develop consensus among the stakeholders must be addressed. Over 15 years, that has been the problem as regards Stonehenge. There is so much good will and good intention, but has there been a clear management structure on how to deal with a complex subject? There should be an assessment of historic and cultural values, followed by consultation. There should be a development of options and costs, followed by a consultation process. The preferred options should be selected, with consideration of costs incurred and revenues generated to overcome the financial questions, followed by a consultation process to develop consensus.

We are arguing here about basic factors. We are talking about solutions to problems. But quite often the values that we seek to satisfy are not clear. We have talked about solutions when we should have sought better agreement with primary and secondary stakeholders at all stages of the development of the idea.

I recommend observation of the development of Bristol harbourside—it is a project in the UK with which I have been dealing—as a good example of a consultation process over a 15-year period with development of consensus. I hope that we shall review the management process of the past 15 years which has got Stonehenge where it is.

7.22 p.m.

The Earl of Haddington

My Lords, I, too, rise in the gap to state my appreciation of the great and wonderful monument of Stonehenge. Whatever moneys are given towards the development of Stonehenge, I hope that it will be left in as natural a state as possible—without signposts and roads around the site. Stonehenge does not comprise just the central monolith. A huge complex of burial mounds and barrows extends for several miles around. With modern technology tourists attracted to Stonehenge can be equipped with electronic listening devices rather than having unsightly signposts stuck around the countryside.

I believe that the planned tunnel underneath the stones would be totally inappropriate. Those who know the stone circles realise that beneath them are blind springs for aquifers which rise up in the chalk. Any tunnel which interfered with that would also interfere with the stone circle.

I hope that the present Government will find the money to do away with the two roads and that Stonehenge will be returned to its original landscape.

7.24 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, the discussion is becoming more like a Committee stage of a Bill than a debate.

I much enjoyed and agreed with everything said by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, in introducing the debate. I was at Stonehenge on Friday, not by intention, but in passing the site I stopped. It is inconceivable that in a nation of the size and reputation of ours we should have allowed such a site to deteriorate into its current condition, with a tatty fence, a tatty car-park, rubbish everywhere and disconsolate-looking people wandering around clearly without any guidance, probably leaving the site, in the words of the famous song, thinking, "Is that all there is?".

That is half the problem with the site. It led to what I consider to be the mistake of involving the Millennium Commission in the first place. Stonehenge is not like the Tower of London, Hampton Court or any of the great castles around the country. It is a site with a mystical quality which requires a certain amount of effort on the part of those who visit it to appreciate and understand it. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn—I understand what he said—that the only way to see Stonehenge is on foot, but that is certainly the best way.

We now are in a similar position to one who invites members of the family to help with a crossword. There comes a point where one has to tear up the crossword because everyone has put in wrong solutions, and you have to buy a new paper and start again. I should like to see us going back to, I think, 1992 when we had what has been described as the Montagu solution. I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, said. We then had this dreadful millennium thing. (On this issue I do not represent any views from these Benches. I shall find some way of getting out of the country. It will be difficult to escape because all countries will be celebrating the millennium, but I shall go to the country with the least record of alcohol abuse.) The site of Stonehenge is of international importance. We need to keep the site simple so that it attracts people who will come and enjoy it on repeated visits.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, mentioned free access. I believe that that is a good idea which should be considered. Larkhill, a kilometre away, is a pleasant site for a reception area and seems ideal. If one is able to, one can walk—noble Lords shake their heads. I have been around the site. I think that the noble Lords who shake their heads are those who favour this extraordinary road solution which will cost at least £300 million. What is the point of moving the A.303? I can see the point of closing the A.344, turfing it over and creating some return to the natural environment which existed 100 or 150 years ago around these incredible monuments.

But surely the solution should be simple. If at some later stage, after we have got over this dreadful millennium, future generations decide that they wish to improve or extend the facilities, let them do so. But, for heaven's sake, let us get on with the process now. Let us go back to the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu.

The Prime Minister seems strong on these matters. Let him get to grips with the MoD. That seems something that he as a strong man can deal with where lesser men have failed. Let us in short order hope that the Government will gain access to Larkhill. We can have a simple solution, encouraging people to visit Stonehenge. If they wish to know more about it, they can return at a later stage or read about it. Alternatively, they can go to some place far away where, if they like that kind of thing, there is more of a theme park attitude. But let us leave Stonehenge in its original condition, with its original spirit. Let those who make the effort to visit the site enjoy it. They are not just our own citizens but people from all over the world. As I said to the Minister: do it quickly and do it now.

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, I should first like to welcome the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, to his new government post. It is my first opportunity from these Benches to do so, especially such a distinguished man of this House, who carries great respect on this side of the House. We wish him well.

Like other speakers, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley for instigating the debate on a matter of such cultural and historic interest. He introduced it with his considerable knowledge, drawing on his former ministerial experience, and with his usual eloquence. My noble friend has certainly given the Minister, the Government, and indeed all of us, something to consider. The debate was enlightened by several very expert interventions, with a level of expertise which I cannot aspire to match.

In the brief four minutes available, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I do not mention all the points raised by previous speakers or go into the details of the complex arguments, especially concerning the A.303 or A.344. That there were so many speakers is surely indicative of the interest and concern Stonehenge rightly evokes, despite the many previous debates in Parliament (109 parliamentary Questions since 1983 and seven debates since 1992).

The root dilemma is that the problems so rightly identified by many noble Lords involve a number of genuine, legitimate but conflicting interests. In nearly all the questions concerning Stonehenge there is often an environmental issue linked to the particular heritage issues. Moreover, there is usually a local community interest combined with a transport issue.

As clearly demonstrated in the debate today, this is an extremely complex subject, like one of those Chinese puzzles in which all the pieces stubbornly just will not fit together. Stonehenge is Britain's greatest ancient monument and the most famous prehistoric site in the world. It is a world heritage site, no less, with over 750,000 visitors a year.

With the millennium discussions in the forefront of our minds, is this not a propitious moment for us to be seriously considering the precarious future of this prehistoric monument, started some time before 3000 BC? It was interesting to hear the Larkhill proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, that the National Trust and English Heritage, under the chairmanship of Sir Jocelyn Stevens, have painstakingly put together.

Today's debate really hinges on the basic problem of roads and their cost. Here the admirable 1985 report of my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu should not be disregarded. If the road problem could be solved, I believe the rest would fall into place.

However, I fear that the Government's new policy to cut spending on the roads does not bode well for Stonehenge. It will remain, shamefully, the "national disgrace" so rightly described by my noble friend Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn. The Prime Minister said much in support of the environment in Denver and New York. Let us see whether that fine rhetoric can be translated into effective action back home.

Given that this debate concerns the main route to the west, there must be a special environmental case that even within the overall ceiling on road spending this should take priority over other schemes. I very much hope that the noble Lord in his reply will be able to give us a positive answer and that he will urge the Secretary of State for National Heritage and the Prime Minister to solve this problem, perhaps in time for the millennium.

7.34 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, is to be doubly congratulated: first, on choosing this important subject at this critical time; and secondly, on attracting such a glittering list of speakers. Almost everybody who has expertise in this area, whether archaeological, architectural, historical or environmental, has been available to contribute to the debate. Then there is myself, with none of these qualifications, replying at the end.

I yield to nobody in my recognition of the importance of Stonehenge. Without going into any of the other history, I remind the House what being a world heritage site (which Stonehenge is) means. Incidentally, I do so within less than six hours of this country rejoining UNESCO, which it does as of midnight tonight.

Being a world heritage site means two things. At the very minimum it means that there must be protection from harmful development. I believe we can be assured that there is to be no more harmful development—although, heaven knows, there has been enough in the past. It also means that the site has to be better managed and presented than it has been up until now. Noble Lords on all sides of the House gave evidence of that.

The problems relate to the number of interests involved in Stonehenge. The Department of National Heritage is the ultimate owner of the site. Incidentally, I am grateful on behalf of officials to the noble Lord, Lord St. John, for his tribute to their work in this area. English Heritage manages the site on behalf of the department; the National Trust owns many hectares of land around the site; as has been said on many occasions, the Ministry of Defence is concerned because of Larkhill garrison situated to the north; the Department of Transport is concerned, with its responsibility for the roads; and the Department of the Environment is also involved because of the involvement of local authorities. I remind noble Lords who praised the Larkhill site that Salisbury District Council refused planning permission for development on the Larkhill site as recently as 1991.

Above all, the difficulty is one of money. That is the difficulty that besets the most intractable problem of all; namely, the question as to where the A.303 should go. I think that we probably all agree that in any acceptable solution the A.344, the northern road, will have to be grassed over.

I remind noble Lords that in 1994 a planning conference examined alternatives for a tunnel and for a southern diversion. Both alternatives were opposed by English Heritage, the local authorities, the National Trust and by the archaeologists. In 1995 another planning conference returned to the idea of a tunnel because the northern route was then opposed by almost the same people who had opposed the previous proposals. The House will see how difficult the issue is.

The Government's aims are very simple, although not easy to achieve. We want there to be worthy visitor facilities and a dignified atmosphere for the stones themselves. As I said, government responsibilities in this respect are devolved to English Heritage. English Heritage has held a number of differing points of view about the site over recent years. Most recently, it proposed the concept of a Stonehenge millennium park, which was the subject of its application to the Millennium Commission. My noble friend Lord Kennet wanted the original Stonehenge millennium park, including the £87 million scheme, for a visitor centre at the Countess roundabout in Amesbury, and presumably £300 million for the tunnel as well—

Lord Kennet

My Lords, perhaps the Minister will be so kind as to give way. He must not identify me with these figures. I do not accept either of them.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my noble friend does not have to accept the figures. They are the figures calculated by the people who put forward the proposals. As we were told, what went before the Millennium Commission earlier this month was the Larkhill version which, to my mind, still retains the vital ingredients: to have the stones in a downland setting, without clutter, without roads or any intervention from the 20th century; and to have free admission.

I was challenged by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, to give reasons why the Millennium Commission turned down the site. I am as much in favour of open government as the noble Viscount, but the arm's length relationship between the Millennium Commission and the Government was set up not by my government but by his. He must recognise that under those circumstances it is not possible for us to say what the individual commissioners or the commissioners collectively thought about the scheme unless they are willing to say themselves. I can ask Chris Smith or David Clark but the noble Viscount will have to ask Michael Heseltine, who is also a millennium commissioner. For what it is worth, my understanding is that the Millennium Commission thought that the proposal was not the best use of funds compared with other bids. There is an extreme demand for millennium money and I understand that in the first two rounds only 10 per cent. of bids were agreed to. The noble Lord, Lord St. John, answered the question which his noble friend Lord Astor put very effectively.

What we must be concerned with is what happens now. I accept that it is the Government's responsibility to act in some sense—bearing in mind all the limitations on our powersߞas animator of the solution which we all want. It is for English Heritage, as the manager of the site, to take the lead in deciding what the solution should be and finding out how to obtain the money for it.

As the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, said, the Secretary of State, Chris Smith, and I met Sir Jocelyn Stevens last Friday and I can confirm what he said to us. It was that after much consideration, following the rejection of the Stonehenge Millennium Park, English Heritage will move back to a reduced scale Larkhill scheme. The idea is that there should be not a visitor centre but a car park, refreshments and toilets with the essential provision that after crossing the cursors visitors should go by foot across grass up the hill to Stonehenge. They should see it gradually appearing on the horizon. The A.344 should be turfed over so that there is no obstacle between Stonehenge and the car park. There should be provision of some kind for people with disabilities and, if possible—and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, referred to thisߞaccess to the site should be free. The problem is that English Heritage makes £1.4 million a year out of Stonehenge at the moment and it will have to make up the money somehow if it gives that up. As noble Lords can imagine, we raised the issue with Sir Jocelyn Stevens. It seems likely that that will be the most generally acceptable solution. It was supported by most noble Lords who took part in the debate and I am grateful for that.

Of course it does not solve the problem of what to do with the A.303. I reminded noble Lords of the changes of view that have taken place over time and in the minds of individuals but I repeat that the long tunnel, costing approximately £300 million, is not affordable. There is no assurance that even a shorter tunnel as proposed by Ove Arup would be affordable nor is there an assurance that a new road surface to avoid vibration would be technically possible, even if the National Trust was willing to devote more land to the A.303. So that will be a more intractable, longer term problem. All we can say is that we cannot rule out serious expenditure in due course on the A.303.

Putting that on one side, there are still problems to which noble Lords referred. There is the problem of the Ministry of Defence and its consent which is needed for access to the Larkhill site. I am happy to say that the Secretary of State for National Heritage has already written to the Secretary of State for Defence seeking consultation and discussions on the matter. We shall pursue it with the utmost vigour.

Then there is the issue, to which I have already referred, of the potential for conflict between local authorities and the Department of Transport which would only be willing to see the A.344 closed if there were some other traffic management and possibly improvement of the A.303. There is potential for conflict there with the National Trust.

Above all, there is the question of money. Sir Jocelyn produced figures for us, but they will have to be worked out much more formally if they are to be part of a bid. It seemed to Sir Jocelyn and to us that the natural place for a bid would be the Heritage Lottery Fund which, in the right circumstances and for the right proposal, could provide 75 per cent. of funding.

I was faced with many challenges in the debate today. It was proposed by a number of noble Lords, the noble Viscounts, Lord Astor and Lord Falkland, and the noble Lords, Lord St John and Lord Kennet, that the Prime Minister should become involved. It was proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, that there should be a Cabinet committee to consider matters. I am not sure that the solution lies with any individuals or any organisational structure. We must recognise the inherent problem of the conflict between the integrity of the site and accessibility for visitors. Having recognised that problem, we must approach the matter with clarity and determination.

I think that today's debate has in a sense narrowed the options and for that the Government are grateful. I hope we have shown that the Government will not sit back and let the matter be neglected for anything like the number of years it has been neglected in the past.

House adjourned at thirteen minutes before eight o'clock.