HL Deb 08 November 1999 vol 606 cc1230-46

7.30 p.m.

Lord St. John of Fawsley rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they consider that the present uses of the Royal Parks are appropriate.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest. I am a joint trustee of the Royal Parks Appeal of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and have been for the past decade. There is much to be said in favour of the Monarchy, but not least that we owe a great debt of gratitude to that institution for the creation of the Royal Parks. They were given to the people—it was never intended that they should be used for commercial purposes—for their use; for their refreshment; to provide them with peace and recreation; and to give them an opportunity to enjoy a park or country experience.

In a real sense, the Royal Parks are the lungs of London. They are visited by people who do not have dachas in the country, but wish to enjoy the grass, the trees, the flowers and the birds and have some relief from the stresses and strains of city life, which grow ever greater. They are a true rus in urbe.

The first point I wish to make is that they should be inviolate from development. The expropriation of any land in the Royal Parks is much worse than nibbling away at the green belt.

Secondly, traffic intrusion must be reduced. The Outer Circle of the Regent's Park, for instance, has become a major commuter rat run. In the mornings and evenings, streams of cars pass through driven by people who are not visiting the area and have nothing to do with it. I ask the Minister, who speaks on behalf of the Government not only for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport but also for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to do three things—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord is mistaken. I do not have that privilege.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, I am sorry to differ in the smallest particular, but it is my understanding that when a Minister speaks on a subject from that side of the House he speaks for the policy of the whole Government.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, in that general sense, of course the noble Lord is correct.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, I am grateful for that clarification of the Minister's position. Will he use whatever influence he has in the Government to take steps to end that practice, both in the Regent's Park and in the other parks? If it is not possible to do so all at once, will the Government do their best to ensure that traffic is slowed down? Will they ensure an enforcement of the 30 mile per hour speed limit? That could easily be achieved with the use of speed cameras and sleeping policemen. The danger to pedestrians would then be reduced, as would noise and pollution.

Thirdly, we would like to see the parks properly maintained. The existing infrastructure is collapsing. The roads and paths are forever being patched up. Many of the signs indicating, for example, that no skating or cycling is allowed in certain garden areas have decayed or vanished. The money should be found to restore them. Furthermore, the staffing structure of the parks is collapsing. The friendly, helpful park-keeper is a figure of the past; an almost extinct species. The Commons Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs recently published a report deploring that. Park managers are also on the way out. In the Regent's Park, which I know well, there is an excellent manager, Mr David Caselton, but I believe that that park is almost unique in that. The other park managers have disappeared.

Moreover, there is a need to preserve views. Mary had "Calais" written on her heart and I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will have "views" written on his. The most recent act of vandalism, perpetrated on St. James's Park, is the ferris wheel. It overshadows a world heritage site and the Royal Fine Art Commission did its best to stop the building. It will look even worse once the cars, in which the public are to travel, have been attached.

We willingly gave up our carparking space on the Horse Guards Parade in order to create that great open space which is such an addition to the amenity of the capital. How sad that the wonderful view from the bridge in St. James's Park is now so marred and spoiled. Will the Minister say when the monstrosity is to be removed? Furthermore, will he undertake that the surface area will not be scarred by hideous temporary buildings, as happened recently?

Behind all this looms a larger problem; that of finance. It is a question of money. This year's grant to the Royal Parks Agency was £26.39 million from the DCMS, which is a rise of £4.4 million over the year 1998–99. But it is the first increase for five years and, much worse, between 1994 and 1999 there was a 30 per cent fall in real terms in the funding of that agency. Even the present increase will not make up the loss because £3 million of the additional money is not for the parks but for projects connected with the Princess of Wales. Therefore, by 2000–01 we shall be back to £22.2 million, which represents another cut in the budget of the Royal Parks Agency. What a way to start off the millennium!

In desperation, the agency is advancing down the road of privatisation and commercialism. In 1998, Royal Parks Enterprises was set up to sponsor events and to sell merchandise in the parks. As they are commercial companies, their primary purpose is to make a profit. In the summer of 1999, Kensington Gardens in Hyde Park was leased out for rock and pop concerts. No fewer than nine of them took place in six weeks. Of course, they involved not only the loss of the use of the park during the time of the performance, but the appearance of lorries, portaloos, portakabins, fences, damage to the grass and the visit of thousands and thousands of fans. So for long periods the public are excluded from the use of great tracts of the park. They are not able to enjoy them; to take their children out; to play games there; or to have picnics.

I draw on a recent example from the Regent's Park where a flower show took place this summer. It was totally unnecessary because we have plenty of flower shows in London and we have plenty of flowers in the park. At that fair, hardly a flower appeared; it was mainly devoted to the selling of garden gnomes and fountains. (It is as well that Mr. Major is not present!) It lasted only a few days, but the soccer players and other young people who use that part of the park were excluded from their pitch for five weeks.

Another jewel in the crown of the Regent's Park is the secret garden for meditation. A theatrical performance was put on there by a group of ladies. It was an idiosyncratic performance and they were selling garden plants. For two weeks in the height of summer the public were excluded from that wonderful garden. It was devoted to a totally different purpose when there is already a perfectly adequate theatre in the Regent's Park.

What did all those events raise in financial terms? We should be grateful for detailed accounts from the department. I estimate that probably only about £1 million was raised, which does nothing ultimately to solve the financial problems of the parks.

A creeping commercialism is taking root. Let us take the example of Ronald Rae. I have nothing against Mr Rae, and indeed I do not know him. Until his work suddenly landed in the middle of the park, I had never seen it. Twenty huge works suddenly arrived in the Nesfield gardens. As the Minister will know, the Nesfield gardens are divided in two. The first part is comprised of formal Victorian gardens designed by Nesfield Senior. The second part, designed by Nesfield Junior, is an English park garden.

In a space of less than nine acres, the 20 huge sculptures were dumped for sale, for the benefit of Mr. Rae. I rang up Camden Council, which had not even given planning permission. When I inquired, its representatives said that a different department was responsible. They admitted that an error had been made but said that they would grant permission retrospectively. One can imagine the fate of someone who produced that excuse in relation to a house. Will the Minister tell the House when the sculptures are going to be removed?

Some people have said that it is good to attract many thousands of people to the parks. Perhaps I may refer them to Fred Hirsch's classic and seminal work, The Social Limits of Growth, in which he demonstrates conclusively, in the case of what he calls "positional goods", that the influx of masses of people destroys the very thing that they have come to see and enjoy.

I appeal to the Minister and the Government to make a new start. A new chief executive is about to be appointed to the Royal Parks Agency. We wish him well. The present Prime Minister has done a number of good things. I hope that I shall not be expelled from the Conservative Party for having said that. His policies towards Europe and Ireland have evolved. But what immediately concerns us is domestic policy. It would be splendid if he were to intervene, as he has done in the case of architecture, and seek to divert the wasteful flow of cash away from building white elephants for which there is no demand, no long-term use and no means of maintenance. If that cash could go towards preserving our Royal Parks and their character, and abolishing the need to resort to futile and dubious commercial projects to raise money, the Government would earn the gratitude of the whole country.

7.43 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I very much agree with the general drift of the noble Lord's remarks. I have had the inestimable—I do not know what the word is; not "privilege" or "pleasure"—perhaps positive joy of living across the road from Kensington Gardens since I was four years old. I refer to the north side, which is the less smart and frequented side. Having been able to compare it in later life with the major parks of other civilised capital cities, I know that Kensington Gardens is the largest and finest. Of course, Regent's Park is equally fine, but it is smaller—I make that point to avoid competition with the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley.

There is currently a trend explicit in government thinking that we should do something to improve Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, by which is meant something to attract more people or another sort of people from those who go there at present. I believe that that trend is based on a misconception or a false impression. There could not be a broader spectrum of people than those who use the Royal Parks at present. They are of every age, sort, colour, number of legs and so forth that one can imagine.

When the Government's policy was first launched, I went for a walk one Sunday afternoon especially to see what and whom I should see. I was particularly struck by a nascent difference of opinion among a fairly large number of black youths under a tree and by the way in which the park police approached with a vehicle at one-and-a-half miles per hour, disembarked in slow motion, assumed smiles and lolled towards the young black men. The men instantly explained the difference of opinion to the police, who instantly settled it and lolled away again at one-and-a-half miles per hour. In one way, it is only in a large park that one can have really humane policing.

On the same walk I overheard two French ladies who were out walking together. The younger looked around at everything and, beaming expansively, said, "It's very beautiful". The older woman rounded upon her with the stern disapproval that only an older French lady can use to a younger French lady and contradicted her: "It's magnificent". I thought so too; and if one compares Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park with the major central parks of other civilised capitals, one is forced to admit for once that this country probably has the best.

The parks of Paris are formal, splendid and enjoyable, but they are very small and they are dry in the summer. Rome has nothing really. The main park in Berlin is good, but there is a great roaring motorway right down the middle, separating one half from the other, which takes one half a day to summon up the courage to cross. Washington is one of the best; it has great expanses of real beauty. However, by and large in Europe I believe that we have the best parks and that we should therefore be extremely careful in considering ways of changing them.

Kensington Gardens is not collapsing at all. I am not sure that I detected in the Government's statements about Kensington Gardens, as did the noble Lord, Lord St John, the notion that it was collapsing. It is not collapsing, and I do not believe that the Government feel that it is.

I turn now to the question of concerts. Clearly, six to nine concerts per year on the vast treeless area in Hyde Park is too many. That is too many nights of unignorable thumping for the neighbours of the parks and too many weeks—not nights—of closure of neighbouring thoroughfares for traffic, which causes considerable congestion. Therefore, I hope that it may be possible to keep down the number of concerts to one or two. It would be nice if only one of them were pop and the other opera or some well thought out change of content from year to year.

It is difficult to know what one thinks about the Diana project because one does not know what to expect. There appear to be no firm proposals after a year of deliberation, except for a general notion that it may be in Kensington Gardens. Good, say I, provided that it does not occupy too much territory. The territory in particular in the north-west corner has been occupied creepingly by many good causes over the past 50 years, most already devoted to children. It would be a pity to take that whole corner away from natural greenery and natural woodland and make it into a formal phenomenon of any kind.

In short, my opinion is that the present arrangements are about right. I am glad to be able to say that for once. I am continually telling governments that their arrangements for this and that are not right. My noble friend Lord McIntosh knows only too well what I mean—probably better than any other of your Lordships. Therefore, it is a pleasure for me to be able to say, "Do not change it, it is good". I am glad to be able to praise this Government for having gone as far as they have and I urge them to go no further.

That is a particular pleasure because this will be my last speech in your Lordships' House. I shall retire therefrom and reflect with some pleasure and some boredom on the 39 years I have spent here. I shall wish good 39-year stints at the minimum to all those who come into the House in the future.

7.52 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, it is a very great privilege and pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I have spent a mere tenth of the time that he has spent in this House. I have admired vastly his contributions, although we may disagree on the expansion of NATO.

To my eternal shame, I never took part in the debate on Stonehenge two years ago. As he has done today, on that occasion, the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, led on the subject of Stonehenge; the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, made the most brilliant speech; and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, closed the debate, saying that something would be done and progress would be made. Had I spoken on that occasion I should have said that Stonehenge is a clock; that we are at the millennium; and it is time to make that great national man-made monument in the most perfect surroundings a fitting tribute to our generation.

The London parks are not a clock but they tell us about the seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. We who live in this great capital city enjoy that. We relax when we get out into those parks and we are recharged. In its excellent report dated 28th February 1996, the Royal Parks Review Group headed its sixth and final section not with the words "Conclusions" or "Recommendations" but with the words "Need for a Champion". It certainly found two champions today, in the noble Lords, Lord St John of Fawsley and Lord Kennet. Be one a Londoner, a visitor to London, a tourist from abroad, an employer or an employee of the Royal Parks Agency or the Royal Parks Constabulary, a pelican or a ruddy duck on St James Park lake, or a great oak in Richmond Park, they and all of us who care for the Royal Parks are greatly in the debt of the noble Lord for introducing this Un starred Question.

I am grateful to him for the opportunity which it gives me to set out my stall—unlike some of those who operate stalls in our parks—in support of those unique parks, those swards of green which run through our capital city. Indeed, it is still my duty and right to do so until Thursday. Fortunately, the noble Lord is not unique as a champion. There are others. First, I pay tribute to Dame Jennifer Jenkins and her team, who conducted the review and made such timely and far-sighted recommendations. However, due to budgetary restraints some of those have still to be acted upon and implemented.

Secondly, I pay tribute to the Evening Standard, which has unremittingly campaigned in the highest traditions of journalism for positive developments in the Royal Parks and for the avoidance of negative ones.

Among others, Simon Jenkins, Molly Watson, Richard Allen and Sophie Daniels have constantly raised matters such as the cheeseparing of government grants to the parks, the poor facilities, the vandalism, theft, hawkers, buskers and inebriates who damage the parks and the enjoyment of those who visit them to relax and who seek leisure, peace, quiet and tranquillity.

At the moment I am not able to add to the list of champions the name of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I trust that I shall be able to do so after his reply to this debate. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which the noble Lord represents in this House, and which is responsible for Parliament in the Royal Parks, has left the Royal Parks Agency with insufficient funds to care for and maintain the parks and has set it over-ambitious targets to raise money which it cannot possibly meet. If it tries to do so, the ethos of those parks will be damaged.

The result of that is that the agency has decided, reluctantly I understand, to introduce short-term measures which, I suggest, diminish the role of the parks in the short, medium and long term. The Government must not allow themselves to shift the blame on to the Royal Parks Agency, which, we all agree, consists of real professionals, doing their job to the very best of their ability. The Government must shoulder the responsibility themselves and recognise that salami-slicing of funding is detrimental to the good of the parks. They must address the problem of finance and revisit the matter of funding.

When he comes to reply, I have no doubt that the Minister will argue that, first, the Royal Parks Agency received a grant of £26.39 million. That is a rise of £5.4 million. As the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, has pointed out, that is the first increase in funding for five years. No doubt the Minister's argument will be that Royal Parks are better off now than when the Opposition were in power. That argument does not cut much ice with noble Lords on these Benches. The Government have now been in power for 30 months.

Perhaps I may make some practical recommendations. I start from the premise that the parks are to be open to all and to be open free of charge for ever to those who abide by sensibly enforced regulations. Secondly, they are Crown property, run by an agency. The people of London and those who visit London, either from the provinces or from abroad, benefit most from the green swards through the capital city. Therefore, the nation must pay for the care and maintenance of the parks through, first, arbitrary taxes. Secondly, many of the Crown estates properties border the parks and their capital and income is increased through them. Therefore. it should be possible to draw back money from those Crown estates. Thirdly, the Treasury receives billions of pounds as a result of overseas visitors coming here, spending their money and enjoying the parks. The parks should have a proportional share of that income from tourism. Finally, the Royal Parks Agency should never have to pay for the repair of major thoroughfares through the park. The Mall was repaired, at great inconvenience to certain Londoners. However, I understand why it had to be done. Did all of that funding come out of the Royal Parks Agency? Did it foot the bill? If so, the money should be given back.

If the Minister feels that the best way of funding the care and maintenance of the parks is by getting the agency a mere £1 million through, as has been pointed out, unsuitable pop concerts, I would ask him to think again. The tread of so many feet will damage the habitat, irritate those who live nearby and who use the amenities for rest and relaxation, and will often cause more damage to the park than the cost of repairing the damage. I urge the Minister to think again.

I conclude by telling a short story. I do so because, enjoyably to all of us who listen, the Minister, with his enormous command of English literature, which I cannot meet, often chooses from such literature a short story.

I draw the attention of your Lordships to H.H. Munro (Saki) and his short story entitled "The Lumber Room". Delete "lumber room" and insert "St James's Park". The story is about a little boy called Nicholas who enjoys the park. Let us call him "Carlisle". There was an aunt who controls and bosses everybody. I do not suggest that we call him the Minister.

Nicholas wished to go into the lumber room. He had disobeyed his aunt by putting a frog in a cup of milk at breakfast. The aunt said that it was impossible for a frog to sit in a glass of milk. Nicholas was right because he had put it there; the aunt was wrong. The aunt arranged for a treat for the children. They were to go off to the beach to play, whereas Nicholas was left behind.

What happened next? Thinking that Nicholas wished to go into the garden, the aunt told him that he was not allowed to because he was in disgrace. Nicholas had no intention of going into that garden. He wanted to go into the lumber room. While he was in the lumber room, he heard a screech. He went down to the garden. The aunt, who could not find him, suspected that he had gone into the garden.

Nicholas said, "What happened?" She said, "I was searching for you in the garden. I couldn't find you. I have now fallen into a tank of water." "Aunt, will I be allowed jam for tea?" "Yes" said the aunt, meaning no. Nicholas said, "Oh, aunt, it is the devil who has warned me not to do what the devil says". "You will get jam if you help me out". There is jam in the cupboard; the aunt does not know it. "Therefore, you must be the devil".

I refrain from saying to anybody that a Minister who does not look after the Royal Parks is a Prince of Darkness. Nicholas apparently got his jam. I do hope that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport can, over the millennium period and for the foreseeable future, give the Royal Parks what they need; a backdrop of £60 billion in order to restore them and carry out what needs to be done to bring them up to the proper standard.

Nicholas said to his aunt, "Devil, you have sold yourself". I say to the Minister, please do not sell short the Royal Parks.

8.4 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, has introduced a most important subject. He has given us the opportunity to hear two notable swan-songs, if that is the opposite of a maiden speech. I am not sure whether to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, it just seemed like 39 years.

I have two main points to make on the subject of the Royal Parks. The first is that not all the parks are the same. Because they are not homogenous, their uses need not necessarily be uniform. We should, therefore, approach them in different ways. My second point concerns the question that politicians always need to ask themselves: for whose benefit in this instance are the parks being provided? We need to recognise that changing times may mean changes in responses to that question.

It is perhaps easy to take our parks for granted. I am sure that this does not apply to others of your Lordships, but we may not know their history as thoroughly as perhaps we should. As the noble Lord said, we assume they are there as green lungs for London. As with many amenities, it may be that they are recognised less by Londoners than by tourists. We have heard comments this evening about the reaction of people visiting London.

In the publication concerning the Royal Parks, I noticed the references to visitors' surveys. I applaud the investigation of people's responses, needs and wishes for the parks. However, by definition these are people who visit the parks. I wonder who is being missed in that inevitably narrow set of surveys.

It is easy to assume that the fabric of open spaces will look after itself. Perhaps it is only when things go wrong that a lack of maintenance becomes apparent. That is why it is important not to reach that point. In preparing for today's debate, I was struck by the realisation that it is not only investment in the fabric of the parks which is so important. We need to consider, for instance, the reduced funding for policing. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred to policing in the parks. Before this evening I had not particularly thought about how important it is to keep up the level of supervision as an avoiding tactic. I refer also to the reduced funding in human resources; that is, staff. We saw the effect of that in the cancellation of Greenwich's Family Day.

The conclusions of the Royal Parks Review, led by Dame Jennifer Jenkins, was published in 1996. The section headed "Need for a Champion", to which my noble friend referred, listed the buildings, park walls, gates and lamp posts that are to be maintained. It mentioned the 35 kilometres of road, 170 kilometres of paths, the private river, huge areas of parkland, 1,000 deer and so on. It states: Yet the Agency is expected to look after its domain for less than. for example, some individual national museums. The parks provide incredibly good value for money and are enjoyed by literally tens of millions of people". Indeed, they provide excellent value for money. However, one can understand that it is necessary to ensure that the level of funding is maintained. Noble Lords referred to the decreasing level of funding over recent years, other than the recent uplift.

It is perhaps inevitable that the Royal Parks Agency is embarking on merchandising ventures. It may be easy to frown on that as a rather "tacky" venture. I hope that it will not be. It might even promote a sense of the history of the parks. However, it will not be easy to get right. Inevitably, larger-scale income generation is on the cards.

It seems to me that some of the parks can cope with substantial influxes of people; some cannot. Indeed, some areas of particular parks can cope and some cannot. It is right that the parks now have criteria against which to consider the staging of events. It is also right that the Royal Parks Agency continues to consult those who have an interest in the parks and who so care for them. I am glad to have the opportunity to pay tribute to the various groups of friends of the different parks and, indeed, of the Friends of the Royal Parks Forum. In their different ways, in the different parks of London, they have been doing a terrific job.

One of the topics with which the groups of friends have been involved is traffic, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley. I agree in regard to the question of speed. If speed were to be effectively controlled, that might make the use of the parks by road traffic a little less offensive. It is a contentious subject. Since the roads have been taken into the London network, one cannot consider closing those routes without considering the impact on other areas. I feel—it is probably a highly politically incorrect observation—that it is necessary to ensure that those who enjoy the parks by travelling through them should not totally be deprived of that pleasure.

I understand the protests about the flower show in Regent's Park. I have been reminded of what happened when the first flower shows were started at Hampton Court a few years ago. Temporary structures erected for long periods and heavy concentration of feet undoubtedly mean that the turf is badly damaged. But such experiences should not lead to the conclusion that all major events are inappropriate. Prince Albert brought the 1851 Exhibition into a Royal Park. The parade ground next to Park Lane was used for big events. And I believe that The Mall will be closed for three days to be used fir a millennium fair. That is entirely appropriate. The Royal Palaces used to be part of the parks, not walled off. However, there is a little movement towards bringing them back into the park areas.

I do not object to the use of the large flat area of Hyde Park for major concerts. Such concerts are an important type of public assembly of the late 20th and early 21st century. Some object to that type of use. I take no pleasure in a heavy reverberating bass, but can understand that some people do. Some object because of the scale. One must be careful not to impose one's prejudices. I say that as somebody who attended one of the Prince's Trust concerts because clients of mine were playing. I was extremely glad to be one of those with a seat and not to have to stand throughout the whole concert.

Many people enjoy such occasions. The parks provide an exciting venue. I do not believe that everybody who attends a concert in a park goes into the arena without becoming aware of where they are. That is perhaps a mechanism not to be used every week, but one that can be used to introduce new groups of people to one of London's major pleasures. I recall that in about 1979 there was a proposal that the Pope, when visiting this country, should hold a mass in Richmond Park. The protests voiced through the local press were just as loud as the protests made in relation to Prince's Trust concerts in Hyde Park. So it is not only commercial uses which cause such furore. The Pope did not come.

Having established the criteria, that criteria must be applied in the context of the circumstances of each park. We must be imaginative about the uses that can be made of them. In Richmond Park—my local park—there is an important and interesting environmental centre. It is used as the home for the Thames Landscape Strategy. In particular, it has been developed—the project of one of Richmond's recent mayors—as an environmental centre catering for children with special needs. That sort of venture—a partnership with other partners, in this case including the local authority—is important, exciting and the sort of thing we should be encouraging in our parks.

The noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, reminded us that too many people destroy the very thing they seek to support. I have used the same argument against the proposed Terminal 5 and in relation to various other London issues. Of course, I support the call for adequate funding, although perhaps not all my responses in relation to the uses of the parks are quite the same as the noble Lord's. I am delighted that we have had the opportunity to air what no doubt will be a variety of views.

8.16 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley for giving us the opportunity to debate this important issue which is of such interest, not only to Londoners but also to visitors to the capital. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I pay tribute to the two notable swan-songs tonight. Although I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for only three years, in that time whatever brief I have been speaking to I have always noted with interest the tenacity with which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has followed the issues surrounding Royal Parks, and I shall miss his Written Questions and the information they have elicited from both the last government and this. I have always listened with interest to the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle. I believe in my three years I have learnt more about the Baltic States than I ever expected to.

It is timely that we have the opportunity to debate this subject because we are awaiting the first report of the review of the Royal Parks Agency. It was postponed during the Comprehensive Spending Review and we were told in a Written Answer in another place on 1st July that the report should be completed by the end of November this year. As I understand it, from a Written Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, the review is intended to examine how the agency has performed since its creation six years ago; to reappraise the alternatives to agency status; and to make recommendations for the future development and management of the Royal Parks. Are the Government still on target to complete the review by the end of this month? If so, when do they intend to publish the report? Will it form the basis of legislation to be announced next week in the Queen's Speech?

In preparation for this debate, I read the annual report of the Royal Parks Agency and the annual report published by the Friends of the Royal Parks Forum. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I pay tribute to their work and that of other groups of friends. The report of the friends puts the issues into sharp relief.

The agency's report highlighted its four main objectives—very laudable objectives which we can all support. They were, first, to conserve and improve the fabric of the parks; secondly, to improve the presentation, safety and enjoyment of the parks for visitors; thirdly, to organise and manage the agency's work efficiently and effectively; and, fourthly, to place the agency on a sound financial basis and to generate increased income. But as noble Lords pointed out, for the agency the challenge is to find ways to maintain the horticulture of the parks—the fabric of the parks—at a high level, to tackle the backlog of maintenance and to use income-raising events without spoiling for ever the character of the parks.

The report by the friends puts those objectives under the microscope and asks how they meet the needs and wishes of this generation and generations to come. But it recognises the fact that the parks continue to be maintained to a high standard thanks to the efforts of the agency's staff. But the friends are concerned about a new and growing threat. The report states: Because of the pressure to generate revenue, large-scale events are being planned"— referring to the events of summer 1999. The report continues, We are in favour of the Parks attracting the widest possible range of visitors, provided that this does not damage the fabric or detract from the peace or enjoyment of regular users and regular residents … in our view frequent pop concerts and other huge events, as foreshadowed in the Royal Parks Enterprises plans for Hyde Park and Horse Guards parade, risk going far beyond what can or should be tolerated". My noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley made some very telling points tonight on this same issue. I look forward to hearing the Government's response to the arguments that he put forward.

Another issue that has caused much public concern is that of illegal trading in the parks. It was a matter which the House discussed in part at both the Report and Third Reading stages of the Greater London Authority Bill. Several amendments were introduced during the proceedings on that Bill by which the Government transferred the management of Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square—at least, those parts which belong to the Crown—from the DCMS to the Greater London Authority. Powers were given to the authority to prosecute illegal traders.

The House will be aware that a court decision earlier this year made it impossible to prosecute traders on Crown land unless they are actually the owner of the business. Certainly, I have already made it clear in this House that we on this Front Bench support measures that the Government may seek to introduce to ensure that those who actually sell the goods may be prosecuted.

During the proceedings on the Greater London Authority Bill, the Minister reminded the House that my noble friend—I am sorry, I mean my right honourable friend—Peter Brooke; he is not yet my noble friend but, who knows, perhaps in the future—tried to put the matter right as far as possible, when he introduced a Private Member's Bill in June this year. Indeed, some of the remarks of the noble Lord were not quite reported by Hansard on the first occasion, but he put that right by way of a correction.

The key provisions of the Bill were: first, to increase the maximum penalty for offences of illegal trading in the Royal Parks and certain other open areas; secondly, to provide for the seizure by park constables of items used in the commission of such offences, for the purpose of interrupting and preventing further illegal trading; and, finally, where a person was convicted of an offence, the Bill provided that the court would be given the discretion to order the forfeiture of any items seized. Does the Minister believe that these provisions form a good basis for a future government Bill? Alternatively, do the Government believe that increased fines on their own will be sufficient to stop illegal traders operating?

I have already mentioned the discussions on Third Reading of the GLA Bill. The Minister took the opportunity then, on 1st November, gently to chide this side of the House on the basis that the Conservative Party blocked my right honourable friend's Bill. However, as the Minister said, it was, as I quoted from Hansard (at col. 668), a "totally unjustified jibe". No doubt the noble Lord will have the opportunity in a moment to see whether he can argue that one back.

Like my other noble friends on this Front Bench, I was disappointed when my right honourable friend's Bill was blocked at Second Reading in another place by one of my honourable friends on the Back Benches. He exercised the right that one has in another place to prevent a Private Member's Bill going forward. I have to respect the action of my honourable friend from the Back Benches. He believes that, as a matter of principle, Private Members' Bill should not add to the regulatory burden in this country. I respect his beliefs, but I would argue that, on some occasions, regulation is a necessary evil. Indeed, this is one of them. However, my honourable friend is entitled to stick to his principles as a Back-Bencher. The Minister himself witnessed the same situation in this House today when some of his Back-Benchers stuck to their principles and voted against the Government on the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill.

If and when the Government bring forward legislation of their own to clamp down on illegal trading in the Royal Parks, we on this Front Bench will support those measures, provided, as ever, that such legislation addresses the problem in an appropriate, effective and fair manner. We would not give up our right to look carefully at the legislation, but we certainly hope that it will be effective and prove to be legislation that we can welcome.

There are other illegal activities that cause problems in the parks. I shall stick to just one; namely, the misuse of drugs. I was intrigued to note in the agency's report (at page 12) that the number of drugs crimes recorded in the parks has almost doubled in the past two years: the figure was 68 in 1997, but rose to 129 in 1998. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell the House what information the Government have about the nature of these crimes and the reasons for what appears to be a dramatic increase. There appears to be no other major change with regard to other categories of crimes recorded in the parks.

Several speakers tonight made it clear that all of us have a great interest in ensuring that the Royal Parks remain a treasure for all of us and for future generations. Indeed, as my noble friend said in his introductory remarks, they are the lungs of the city. They are a precious escape for all of us from the pressures of city life. Indeed, they are an essential part of everyday life for Londoners. It is absolutely vital that we keep safe their historic integrity and hand on to future generations Royal Parks that can give them as much pleasure as they currently give us.

8.25 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, who deserves the congratulations of all noble Lords on his initiative in introducing this debate, is certainly much more expert than I am on the Royal Parks. Indeed, that is the case with my noble friend Lord Kennet. Therefore, any attempt that I make in the terms of the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, to be a champion will be from the point of view of someone who is really a Hampstead Heath boy. I was brought up on the west side of the heath and have lived on the east side for 40 years. That is my home territory. I am an outsider, as a visitor rather than a devotee of the kind that has been in evidence during tonight's debate.

However, that does not mean that I do not appreciate the enormous importance for London and for the whole country of the Royal Parks. They are a national asset. Of course, they are owned by the Sovereign in right of the Crown but they have been the responsibility of the Government and of taxpayers since the Crown Lands Act 1851. The noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, set the right priority when he said that we must ensure that the parks remain open to all, with free access and for ever. If we stick to those three principles, we will at least have made a start, although there is a great deal more than that to be considered.

Inevitably, what I say about the Royal Parks will be scrappy because it will be said in response to an admirably wide range of observations by all speakers in the debate. Perhaps I may start by looking at the annual report and accounts for 1998–99 of the Royal Parks Agency, which has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. The achievement against the seven key targets sets the scene in which I can comment on the observations that have been made.

The agency set itself three quality targets. The first was the average score by the independent horticultural expert for soft landscape presentation in each park. Here, over the past four years, there has been a rise to a target of 83 per cent, with an 84 per cent achievement in 1998–99.

I turn now to the average mark in customer satisfaction surveys. It is true to say that customers are those who visit the parks, and one cannot estimate the views of those who do not go or easily discover why they do not. Nevertheless, as regards customer satisfaction with the quality of the parks, including issues such as cleanliness, upkeep, and so on, the target was 86 per cent with the results not being quite so good at 84 percent. I should not have referred to cleanliness because that is a specific item where the target was 85 per cent and the achievement was 84 per cent. However, generally speaking, I think it will be agreed that those who use the parks are pretty satisfied with what they see.

I shall have to return to the more controversial issue of income, but that includes income from events and from all the activities in the park, where the Royal Parks Agency met its target of £3.3 million. It also met its target of efficiency savings on running costs. Moreover, because there had been some complaint about the inefficient use of the Royal Parks Constabulary, it almost met its target of reduction of the hourly costs of a police constable on duty.

The final target was to re-tender the ground maintenance contracts in four parks. That was achieved. That is the context in which I want to talk about the observations made by noble Lords. But before I leave that point, the noble Lord, Lord St. John, said that park-keepers had virtually vanished and park managers were vanishing. I can assure him that the numbers of park-keepers have been maintained but also that all the parks have managers, just as Regent's Park and Primrose Hill have a manager. I am grateful for the noble Lord's comments on the quality of that management.

I turn to the most difficult issue, which concerns the accusations of commercialisation of the Royal Parks. Of course there have always been special events in the Royal Parks. The 1851 Great Exhibition was situated on the southern side of Hyde Park. Although I cannot find any documentary evidence, I seem to remember that in the 1951 Festival of Britain there was a mock coal-mine near Speakers' Corner which I clearly remember visiting. However, no one can tell me where it was or when it was. It is true that the Government have encouraged the Royal Parks Agency to do two things: first, to raise the income from events of this kind and, secondly, to attract a wider range of visitors to the parks. Some 10 per cent. of the visitors come to the parks to attend specific events. We have to be careful not to be exclusive or elitist in our views on these events. If Proms in the Park are welcome, why not Simply Red or the other popular concert performers?

The noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, talked about unsuitable pop concerts. I share the distaste of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for strong beat, but we have to be tolerant of other people's cultural tastes. As regards the sculptures of Ronald Rae in Regent's Park, they were originally put there for a period of 12 months, but I understand that they are rather popular—the noble Lord, Lord St. John, clearly disagrees—and there is a suggestion that they may be left in position for longer in response to popular demand. I note what the noble Lord said about the flower show and I note what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said about flower shows in Richmond Park.

It is certainly true, particularly during the summer just past, that there has been a considerable increase in commercial events in the parks, organised mostly by Royal Park Enterprises. The income from that is not quite as much as the noble Lord, Lord St. John, suggests. It is only just under £800,000, rather than £1 million, but it is a worthwhile addition to the revenue of the Royal Parks Agency. However, Ministers are aware of problems caused by these events. We have been considering what should be done about that. We are forming the view that we may have reached saturation point in that regard. It is likely that there will be no further increase in events of this kind in future years.

Noble Lords quite properly commented on funding. Although the funding for 1999–2000 is much higher than in previous years, or than is expected for future years, the increase includes £3 million worth of projects to commemorate Diana Princess of Wales and £2.3 million towards tackling the backlog of maintenance. Clearly it is undesirable for maintenance to be allowed to fall behind so that specific funding is needed for that purpose. I do not deny that there is a problem with the funding of the Royal Parks. They have to compete for funding with many other activities of the Department for Culture, all of which have, quite properly, vociferous advocates. The Royal Parks Agency will have to continue to fight its corner and Ministers will have to continue to listen sympathetically.

I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, for his tribute to the review of Dame Jennifer Jenkins. I have reread the final conclusions of 1996 with great interest. I believe that she set a standard which we try to keep to. The previous government accepted the recommendations of the review subject to the availability of resources. That is still the position. The noble Earl is right to say that we need champions in this regard. The Evening Standard has been an outstanding champion, as has the Forum of Friends. Their work is much valued.

I was asked specifically about the Diana Princess of Wales memorial garden. As noble Lords will know, there was a great furore about this in the summer of last year. The proposals that were tentatively made for consultation purposes were very much scaled down. I refer to the refurbishment of the children's playground and improvements to the area south of Kensington Palace which are due to be completed by the spring of 2000. The Chancellor's committee is considering suggested locations for a fountain in memory of the princess in one of the Royal Parks although it has not yet been decided which one.

The noble Lord, Lord St. John, referred to the menace of traffic in the parks. I believe that he went further than Dame Jennifer Jenkins. She wanted a reduction in the amount of traffic and, in particular, the closure of North Carriage Drive in Hyde Park, which we have not been able to achieve except when commercial events are taking place. I take the noble Lord's point about traffic calming measures. Some are in place and I am sure that the Royal Parks Agency will consider the need for more as necessary.

As regards millennium events, I am glad to have the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for the funfair which is to be held on the Mall from 31st December to 3rd January. There will also be a royal tournament style military event in July on Horseguards. There is to be another flower show in Regent's Park following this year's successful show. If anything can be done to increase the proportion of flowers and decrease the proportion of garden gnomes I shall be as happy as the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked me about the Royal Parks Agency's five year review. It is on time. We now have a first draft but the report has not been considered by Ministers. Over 40 people and organisations have responded to the consultation and we shall make an announcement to Parliament as soon as we possibly can.

On illegal trading, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has set out the position fairly and I do not need to take time to cover it. The idea of a Private Member's Bill failed because Mr Eric Forth took a position of principle against that. There will probably have to be a government Bill. Let us hope that we shall have something positive to say about that, subject of course to the usual precautions about what is likely to be in the Queen's Speech. Certainly, there is an advantage, in that the Bill is already drafted and covers, as I understand it. more effective penalties than simply fines and will make it possible to act against traders rather than the shadowy proprietors in the background.

The noble Baroness asked me about drug offences in the Royal Parks. I do not believe that there has been any huge change in drug abuse generally in this country but police intelligence has identified drug dealing in some central Royal Parks. The police put in resources that resulted in an increase in the number of arrests. That was a proper reaction to police intelligence.

I have reached the time limit allowed for this debate. Again I thank the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, and all who have taken part. I am sure that the Royal Parks Agency will be grateful for the searchlight that has been trained on the royal parks and for the high level of support that has been evinced by all speeches.