HL Deb 20 May 1997 vol 580 cc259-62

2.55 p.m.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn asked Her Majesty's Government:

What principles they propose to apply in determining the future of Stonehenge and its environs, and whether they will develop a coherent policy co-ordinating heritage, environmental and road transport issues.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Government's principles in determining the future of Stonehenge will be to safeguard the integrity of the monument and to provide civilised public access to it. As the noble Lord will be aware, English Heritage has applied to the Millennium Commission for a grant towards the cost of its scheme for a Stonehenge millennial park. A decision should be reached in September. The Government should not seek to influence the commission's decision on any particular project, but we support English Heritage's aim of restoring Stonehenge to its original chalk downland and replacing the existing visitor facilities, which the PAC has described as a national disgrace, with better provision which does not intrude upon the grandeur of the site.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his positive response. Elements of it have a familiar ring, although there are also positive elements. Is the noble Lord aware that when I became a member of the Ancient Monuments Board in 1974 it was his noble friend Lady Birk who was charged in this House with answering such matters, and answer them she did very effectively. But the answer was in some respects much the same as the one we have heard this day. Since 1974, successive governments have done nothing to improve the environs of Stonehenge which was then the same national disgrace as it is today. Can we perhaps hope for some more rapid progress on the matter than we have experienced during the past 23 years?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to have the noble Lord's confirmation that this is a matter which is above party politics. He will be as aware as I am, and as the House will be, that these matters are not entirely in the hands of the Government. The Secretary of State for National Heritage is the owner of the site and English Heritage manages it on his behalf. The surrounding land is owned largely by the National Trust, but other land is owned by the MoD and by private owners. The difficulty in all these matters, as the noble Lord will be aware, is to bring all these interests together to reach a solution. I had hoped that my indication that the Millennium Commission would be reaching a conclusion in September would have encouraged the noble Lord to think that his long trek might finally be at an end.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the millennium has nothing to do with the pre-Christian edifice at Stonehenge? The millennium relates to the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of our Saviour. It has nothing whatever to do with Stonehenge.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I hesitate to use the words "broad church" in the presence of the noble Earl, but there are people of a variety of faiths and people of no faith in this country all of whom feel that the millennium that we are about to celebrate has an application to all the people of this country. In those circumstances, surely one of the most distinguished and ancient of our monuments is perfectly proper for celebration.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that part of English Heritage's package included a tunnel? Does he also agree that the longer the whole package waits, the more expensive it will be? Would it not be good if some decision were reached soon so that the noble Lord could share his summer solstice with the Druids?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I recall the noble Baroness's response to a similar Question asked by her noble friend Lord Renfrew in November of last year. She confirmed, as I have to confirm, that the long tunnel, which was the only solution acceptable to the Planning Advisory Conference in 1995, is just not affordable by this or any Government. Therefore any alternative which can be put forward which will reduce the cost will be considered with considerable sympathy by this Government.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, do not these questions about helping us to see Stonehenge better and more easily lead us along the false trail of making Stonehenge into a kind of Disneyland? Stonehenge rests partly on its great inaccessibility. It was a myth; it was Druid; it was mistletoe; but it was not something for crowds to attend. It was never intended as such. Will the noble Lord not be led away by the desire to get as many people as possible there at any one moment?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I have no intention of being led in that direction, nor has English Heritage. The proposals are for an improved visitor centre three kilometres away—in other words, well out of sight—with a land train going to within only one kilometre of the site. As I said in my original Answer, the object is that Stonehenge should remain as close as possible to its original chalk downland. The suggestion of a Disneyland is very far from the truth.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the committee which I set up in 1984 to lay down the principles to which I am so glad the Government are subscribing? Is it true that the last great hurdle before progress can be made is a tunnel? Is there any fall-back provision if the Millennium Fund does not come up with that £300 million?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am surrounded by people who have far longer experience of Stonehenge than I do and I am grateful for the knowledge which they convey to me. The noble Lord is right in saying that if the entire scheme were to stand or fall on a £300 million tunnel the possibility of it being achieved would be very poor. The scheme before the Millennium Commission is not for a long tunnel, but for a smaller scheme. It is still expensive at £68 million but, with the support of the private finance initiative, it could go ahead with more modest resources.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, will my noble friend and the House bear in mind that the stones for Stonehenge came from Wales?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am delighted to pay tribute to those in Wales, and indeed in little England beyond Wales, who contributed the stones and their labour to the original construction of Stonehenge.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, will my noble friend accept that I was encouraged by his initial answer to my noble friend Lord Renfrew, but I was worried when he suddenly used the word "affordable"? That is very much a value judgment. Surely, as regards a matter as important as Stonehenge, only the right and acceptable solution should be put into force. That means that it must be affordable.

I had hoped that, with the sentiment in his manifesto that the environment would be at the centre of all decisions, we could be confident that under this Government such a major and crucial project not only for Britain but for the world will be undertaken in an acceptable way. Can I hope that this Government will not, in however many years they are in power, leave behind any more Twyford Downs?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for calling me his noble friend, but I shall not fall into his trap. Certainly, his Front Bench would not let me get away with saying that any scheme was above being affordable; in other words, that there were not monetary considerations. Stonehenge is a world heritage site and our management of Stonehenge, although it may be defective in some ways, meets the criteria of UNESCO for a world heritage site. It is within that context that we must consider what is affordable.

Lord Harding of Petherton

My Lords, does the Minister agree that as many people as possible should see Stonehenge? I live in the west country and sometimes travel on the A.303. Many people travel on that road and see Stonehenge clearly. There is no need to go right up to it. I am very encouraged by the Minister's comment about a tunnel being unaffordable, because if a tunnel were built people would not see the monument. I can see no reason why a dual carriageway cannot be built there.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the English Heritage proposal would involve some road closures, although not the A.303. Inevitably, there is a conflict between accessibility and maintaining the integrity of a site. If you have access so that everybody can see it from close by, nobody will see it as it was intended to be seen. There is no solution to that.

Forward to