Protection of Listed Vehicles
Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister
John Randall (Assistant Chief Whip, Whips; Uxbridge, Conservative)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the establishment of a scheme to promote the maintenance and preservation of certain vehicles of cultural value;
and for connected purposes.
The Bill has its roots in the well-supported campaign to ensure the preservation and, I hope, maintenance of a Concorde in a suitably airworthy condition to enable it to be flown on what might loosely be called ceremonial occasions. As I am sure that you are aware, Mr. Speaker, Heathrow airport is extremely close to my constituency. I frequently raise issues such as the noise and pollution that are an inevitable result of such a large airport and, indeed, my determined opposition to the construction of a third runway there. However, that does not mean that I was not a fan of Concorde. I never failed to be proud of it and concede that watching Concorde fly was a truly spectacular sight, despite its ear-splitting noise.
Of course, Concorde has now gone from our skies. The airframes were sold off to museums and collections around the world following its retirement in 2003. None are airworthy, and the ex-British Airways aircraft are in a worse state than the French ones, especially because of the decision by British Airways to order that all hydraulic pipes be drained and the electrical systems disabled on its seven Concordes. Jock Lowe, the airline's former chief Concorde pilot and fleet manager, described that decision as an act of vandalism. I am not suggesting that Concorde should be returned to regular commercial service because that is no longer a viable option. However, many would like at least one Concorde to be restored to an airworthy condition, in a similar manner to the battle of Britain memorial flight, and would hope for it to be ready to fly in time for the 2012 Olympics. Currently, there is little hope of that happening. British Airways stated in a letter to my colleague the shadow transport Minister, my hon. Friend Mr. Brazier, that
"the technical and financial challenges and difficulties of keeping an aircraft airworthy for 'heritage' purposes are hugely prohibitive."
However, former technicians who worked on the aircraft, and independent observers, have stated that there is no reason why Concorde cannot fly again. If it were protected by vehicular listing, it should be possible to make BA think again about its policy towards what is a British icon.
Although I was thinking initially about Concorde, it occurred to me that very little status is given to the protection of certain vehicles of historical and cultural value. Over the years, there have been some notable success stories, such as the preservation of HMS Belfast and HMS Victory, and of the battle of Britain memorial flight that I mentioned earlier. More often than not, however, aircraft, steam engines and ships have struggled to achieve the necessary protection.
Ships of historical importance, such as the RMS Queen Elizabeth—which played a vital role as a troop carrier during the second world war and which was instantly recognisable as Cunard's premier liner—have been lost to the nation in the past. We are in danger of losing vehicles and vessels of similar historical and cultural importance if no action is taken.
A prime example of that is the SV City of Adelaide. Built in 1864, she is the last remaining example of a composite-built passenger sailing ship. Although she is located at the Scottish maritime museum, the BBC has reported that her restoration will be abandoned and that she will be broken up and scrapped. Similarly, I am informed by my hon. Friend Mr. Goodwill, who I am delighted to see in his place today, that steamrollers are gradually disappearing. He tells me that owners find that, if they convert them to showmen's road locomotives by replacing the rollers with wheels, they can double their value. I am never adverse to a bit commerce, but it would be a great shame if there were no way for us to ensure that some examples are preserved for posterity in their original state.
I am sure that hon. Members could think of many other examples, but I am anxious not to delay the House further as there is some very important business that Opposition Members want to discuss. In a nutshell, the aim of the Bill is to try to prevent any further loss of historic and culturally significant vehicles. Too many have been lost for good. It is time for us to take good care of our vehicular culture, just as we do of our architectural heritage. We owe that to future generations.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Randall, Kelvin Hopkins, Mrs. Janet Dean, John Thurso, Mr. Greg Knight, Mr. Gerald Howarth, Mr. Robert Goodwill, Michael Fabricant, Andrew Rosindell, Mr. Julian Brazier and Mr. Greg Hands.