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What recent meetings she has had with English Heritage concerning the listed buildings regime.
I have particular pleasure in answering a question from the hon. Gentleman at what might be his last appearance at DCMS questions.
As part of the regular meetings with the chair of English Heritage, we have discussed progress on the current heritage protection review. Some of those discussions have referred to the changes to the listed building regime, which is due to be implemented next month.
I am delighted to hear the right hon. Lady's response to my question, because she knows that, in certain parts of the fourth estate recently, there was speculation that her Department would not hand over the powers of the listed building system to English Heritage next month. Now that she has confirmed that she will be doing so, may I congratulate her and say that I have such confidence in English Heritage that even if she handed over the designation orders as well, I would be pleased?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, a number of administrative transfers will take place next month, but, as part of upgrading and modernising the designation system, which is rather dense and impenetrable for many local residents, we intend to go further. We hope to publish those proposals in a White Paper later this year or early next, and they would have to be followed by legislation, but we consider the administrative changes that will take place next month a first step.
Has the Secretary of State calculated how many listed buildings will be affected and how many lost due to the Deputy Prime Minister's plans to bulldoze the north and concrete over the south? She is aware that those plans will do a great deal of damage to a number of historic settlements, including a number of listed buildings. Will she make such an assessment and bring it to the House, and will she give the House a chance to debate and overturn these disastrous plans?
We have just heard from the Opposition—it is not surprising—another myth that has no basis in fact. We have a strong and robust heritage protection system, which I intend should become more flexible and more susceptible to public involvement. There is no question of the need for new homes, which are desperately needed in the south of England, being compromised in the way the hon. Gentleman suggests. He is simply making a rather cheap, party political point.
I am extremely grateful for the work that English Heritage is doing in the north-west, particularly in supporting work in my constituency to look after the grade II* listed buildings on the Hooton aerodrome? One of the problems that has emerged is the shortage of money to repair buildings, and the resultant tendency for preference to be given to grand mansions rather than our industrial heritage. Can my right hon. Friend use her Department's offices to work with English Heritage to try to gear in private sector money to help buildings for which alternative uses could be found to succeed in the future?
Yes, that is a very good proposition, and one which English Heritage has been applying in different parts of the country. Notable buildings, which fall under the auspices of English Heritage or the National Trust, can often make an important contribution to modern regeneration, which is one of the important objectives. There are many examples of that. I therefore welcome my hon. Friend's suggestion.
If the right hon. Lady anticipates the election, in the light of her remarks to my hon. Friend Sir Sydney Chapman, can we anticipate the result and say that we will bring a fresh mind to the question of whether there should be new legislation? We do not want too much modernisation of the protection of our ancient buildings.
Following up the question from my hon. Friend Peter Bottomley, may I say what a pleasure it is to be asking the Secretary of State a question on what might be the last occasion that she answers from the Dispatch Box? However, will she confirm that more than 1,000 grade I and grade II* listed buildings are currently on the at-risk register, and one in six of those are owned by the Government or by local authorities? How will those be helped by the £14 million cut in the budget of English Heritage announced recently by her Department, coming on top of the £19 million cut in the previous spending review? Is it any wonder that English Heritage has said that her Department has no regard for the heritage's contribution to people's quality of life or to the economy? Will she now match our pledge to guarantee the future of the heritage lottery fund, and to boost it by an extra £100 million a year?
Let me take the hon. Gentleman's intervention point by point. First, it does not square with the many discussions that I have had with English Heritage. The figures that he quotes do not take account of the fact that this spending round saw English Heritage gain an additional £13 million. Will he welcome the increases that, in this tough spending round, we were able to establish for the museums sector, and the above-inflation increase for most of our regularly funded arts organisations? In relation to English Heritage and the heritage sector more generally, I pay tribute to the fact that it has saved money by tackling bureaucracy and inefficiency, which has now been translated into what would be described as front-line activity. I hope that that process will continue.