Kew is a scientific institution of huge importance. As the global resource for knowledge of plant and fungal diversity, it plays a critical role in addressing the unprecedented scale and pace of threats facing the natural world, and indeed humanity, including the threat of climate change. It is fitting that our Secretary of State delivered his flagship environment speech last week at Kew. The fundamental purpose of the Bill is to help Kew to invest and support its vital mission in a way that also maintains and enhances this outstanding world heritage site.
The Bill amends restrictions on leases on the Crown land on Kew Gardens estate. Currently the Crown Lands Act 1702 limits leases at Kew to just 31 years; the clause amends those provisions, allowing leases up to 150 years, in line with provisions made for the Crown Estate in 1961. Clause 1(2) disapplies the 1702 Act in relation to leases granted under this Bill. The change will allow Kew to generate revenue to improve the quality of its estate and thereby to support its vital scientific mission and retain UNESCO world heritage site status. All proposals for granting long leases will be in line with Kew’s world heritage site management plan, and Clause 1(3) goes further on this point.
Clause 1(3), as amended in the other place, requires that before granting any lease the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the lease, and anything that the leaseholder is permitted to do with the property under the terms of the lease, would not have any adverse impact on the functions of the board of trustees, as set out under the National Heritage Act 1983. The Secretary of State must also be satisfied that the lease would have no adverse impact on the world heritage site status. The changes do not allow the sale of the freehold of Kew land. Furthermore, the Bill will not change the freehold position of the land, which remains with the Crown; it simply provides the ability to grant longer leases on the land.
Proposals for leases will be subject to scrutiny by Kew trustees and finally signed off by the Secretary of State. Proposals for the development of existing properties and new developments will require permission from the local planning authority advised by Historic England in consultation with local residents and other stakeholders, as well as the Kew trustees. That is unchanged from the existing governance processes.
Clause 2 is a standard provision. Subsection (1) sets out that the Bill extends to England and Wales only, this being the legal jurisdiction for property in Kew. However, the Bill applies only to Crown land at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Subsection (2) sets out the arrangements for the commencement of the Bill, two months following the day on which it is granted Royal Assent. Subsection (3) sets out the Bill’s short title once it has become an Act on Royal Assent. This provides the abridged title as opposed to the long title found in the preamble. The short title of this legislation will be the Kew Gardens (Leases) Act 2019. For the reasons I have set out, I urge that these clauses stand part of the Bill.
I am pleased to speak in support of this Bill. I will start by restating what my hon. Friend Dr Drew said on Second Reading—that Ministers can rest at ease, because the Opposition have no intention of dividing the House on this issue. Indeed, this is a Bill that we support and encourage the Government to get on with as fast as they can.
The Bill has been a long time in the making, with previous Bills started by the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), Mr Liddell-Grainger and Lord True. We are pleased that we have managed to come so far on this occasion, and we hope the Bill will pass all its remaining stages in the Commons today.
It is important to remember that the Bill goes back to the difficulties that Kew Gardens faced in 2014, when there was a potential funding crisis. The then director saw that Kew could lose up to 150 research staff, which would have been a tragedy given its international importance—not just for public access, but as the world’s most important research institution in the areas that Kew covers. The Select Committee on Science and Technology noted at the time that Kew had difficulties transitioning away from its pure state funding model to one where it is more self-sufficient.
Kew Gardens is not only an incredible tourist attraction but an international centre of expertise and something that this country should be very proud of. I remember my last visit to Kew Gardens; I was in awe of the natural diversity that thrives in that corner of green in this metropolis of hustle, bustle, concrete and steel. The seeds and samples at Kew are unique and preserve for the future a vital resource for scientists working on tracking biodiversity. The world’s largest herbaceous borders at Kew are also pretty incredible. I can only imagine the weeding and pruning that is required to keep Kew looking so inspirational and attractive. I sometimes struggle with my little garden in Plymouth, but this is on a very different scale indeed.
My hon. Friend is giving an excellent speech, showing the many virtues of Kew Gardens. Something that he has not mentioned is Kew’s important work discovering and helping with the eradication of invasive species that could have a hugely detrimental effect on plants in the United Kingdom. Do he agree that that work within Kew Gardens is also worthy of support?
My hon. Friend is right. Invasive Species Week, which we marked only a few months ago, was an opportunity for us all to learn more about the species that have been introduced to the UK, either voluntarily or without our knowledge, and that are having a huge impact. Greater knowledge of global biodiversity is important in that respect.
Order. This is not a general debate. Members should purely be discussing the clauses at this stage. There will be an opportunity later to speak on a broader range of matters. We just need to get through the clauses in Legislative Grand Committee and then there will be some amendments on Report.
Kew is not only a fantastic tourist attraction, but it has also been a key pioneer in science and research for about 250 years. That is why it needs to be sustainable environmentally and economically, which is why we are looking at this legislation. Labour is supporting the Bill to allow leases to be extended from 31 years to 150 years in the hope that the expected £15 million windfall will make both the gardens and, importantly, the scientific research institution more sustainable. That is not to say that there are not questions that need to be raised now for the record, and there are a number of those—although very brief ones—regarding the clauses that the Minister has set out.
Funding is the key issue in this Bill. It is right that the Opposition continue to ask for the assurances that the Treasury will not deduct from Kew’s core funding the capital sums generated by these reforms. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that the full value of any extra revenue derived from these changes will go directly to Kew and its scientific work, not to the Chancellor? It is a worry that the Treasury will see this as a cash bonus and take some of it away or see it as an excuse to avoid approving funding streams to Kew Gardens in future.
It is important to note that the Government funding for Kew comes exclusively from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has seen its funding slashed in recent years. Austerity is not over, regardless of what the outgoing Prime Minister may have said, and it follows that Kew has had its funding cut. Will the Minister explore getting access to funds from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for International Development and the Department for Education to ensure that this national treasure gets the funding it deserves to properly reflect the broad contribution and range of activities that it provides in support of the objectives in other Departments, too?
In relation to access arrangements, the Bill provides for the sale of leases of up to 150 years, which the Opposition do not oppose. However, can the Minister clarify something? Members of the public have raised concerns about whether the intention behind the sale of these leases is to sell the green spaces within Kew Gardens. I know that that is not the Minister’s intention, but given those concerns, it would be useful to be clear that this is about selling the leases on peripheral buildings to Kew Gardens and not the key assets themselves.
As we know, Kew Gardens is incredibly popular not only with local residents but with the British general public. Kew can sometimes be an expensive day out, at £42 for a family of four or £18 for one person at the gate. I recognise that local residents who live in the immediate vicinity are offered free entry, which is great if one can afford a home in the surrounding area, but that is not something that everyone can do. Will the Minister ensure that the core funding is maintained at such a level that Kew does not need to increase prices further? Not being content only with justice, will he also discuss with ministerial colleagues in DCMS and the Treasury how free entry for museums can also be funded at Kew to bring it into line with other national museums and attractions so that it can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their income? Does he have an understanding from Kew about what purpose the additional revenue derived from the reforms in this Bill will be put to? If so, can he state it on the record, because that would help folk to understand why this is happening?
Kew represents an absolutely essential asset to us in the fight to tackle the climate emergency, and it is right that funding is allocated in support of that. Kew is leading the way on climate change adaptation of crops. Some 50% of the calories consumed by our species come from just three big grasses—wheat, maize and rice—and that is a significant source of vulnerability within the global food system. The work being done at Kew to breed resilience into these crops is critically important and often overlooked. I would be grateful if the Minister set out whether any of the income stream that he expects to be derived from these reforms will go into its research in this area, because that would be very important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, who would usually have been here today, would not forgive me if I did not mention the importance of proper funding for the digitalisation of the herbarium records—which, I am sure, is an issue on all our agendas. It should be, though, because Kew currently holds the world’s largest records in its herbarium. That is an opportunity to learn from a collection of species that has been gathered on a global basis over many centuries, which is especially important as species are being wiped out as part of climate change and as part of human behaviour globally. More than 7 million plants specimens are kept, including 350,000 type specimens—the original specimens on which new specimen descriptions are based. If we saw a repeat of what happened at Notre Dame, this could all be lost, which would be a significant blow to our fight to stop the climate crisis.
We need to digitalise the collection as a matter of urgency. There is a £40 million cost to that work. I would welcome hearing from the Minister how progress is being made and what contributions these reforms could make to this effort. There would be another big advantage. Many people all over the world want to access the records but currently have to be able to afford to go to Kew in person. If those people, especially those from the developing world, were able to access digital records, that could be transformative in the fight against global biodiversity loss. I would be grateful if the Minister set out whether he expects any funding from the sale of the longer leases to go into these important projects.
On the basis of assurances that we have had on Second Reading and the ongoing conversations between the Opposition and the Government, we do not intend to oppose the Bill at this stage.
It is great to be back once again in the English Parliament. It seems a bit similar to the UK Parliament that we usually use this building for, but it is fantastic to be here, because I now believe that the English Parliament is a treasured piece of our democratic infrastructure, where English Members of Parliament can secure debates on English-only issues. We so look forward to the many English members of this Committee coming forward to discuss and consider all the great issues of state, free from Caledonian interference.
What has the English Parliament roused itself for today? What great state of the English nation issue do we need to discuss? It is the two clauses of the Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [Lords]. Some may say that the English Parliament is but an illusion, a mirage and a fake, and that this English Legislative Grand Committee does not properly represent and speak for England, but we say no to those doubters and deniers. This is not a sham Parliament. This is the English Parliament.
I wanted you to get that on the record, but this debate is about the Bill’s clauses. You have made a good point, and quite rightly. It is a well-rehearsed point that you make on every occasion, and I welcome that, but we now need to talk about the clauses.
Absolutely, Sir Lindsay, because this Bill gets to the heart of English horticulture and all the associated democratic quandaries that need to be properly resolved and considered in this fantastic English Parliament.
This Bill rightly seeks to introduce powers to grant a lease over land at Kew for a term of up to 150 years. We can almost feel all the great Members of all the ancient English Parliaments saying, “Yes, we need to make sure that this is properly considered. We wholeheartedly agree that there should be not be a restriction in section 5 of the Crown Lands Act 1702 in relation to a lease of land at Kew.” We can almost hear the Stuarts, the Plantagenets and the Roundheads. If they knew that section 5 of the 1702 Act currently prevents the sale of Crown land such as Kew and limits the length of leases over it to a term of 31 years, which is clearly insufficient, they would be turning in their decorative, medieval graves—they would be demanding 150 years for Kew Gardens, and by God this English Parliament is going to secure that for them today!
I want to make it abundantly clear before I go any further that I think that Kew Gardens is a wonderful institution. Of course it deserves to be treated properly, and the Bill sets out how to do that perfectly. We squatters are not members of this august body; we are not Members of the English Parliament. We get to participate in it and make speeches, but our vote is subject to the double majority—
Order. We are wandering again. There is a lot of time afterwards for you to speak, but we are discussing the clauses, not whether you have the right to vote. I accepted it earlier, but I will not allow that debate to be generated again. I know that you would never repeat yourself, but you are in danger of doing so.
I was just getting to the really important point. If we are going to consider the Bill properly, we have to look at what is in Kew Gardens. We have to—
Order. We are not going to go through individual plants. I was a little bit worried at the suggestion that we go back to the Plantagenets. As we know, Kew is a royal palace, and it was not Kew Gardens then, so I have allowed a little leeway, but I will not allow much more.
We are going from the Plantagenets to the plants, so perhaps we could skip a few generations if that would help. Maybe you could help me, Sir Lindsay. I thought we were considering all the clauses in the Bill in the Legislative Grand Committee. Is that correct?
Let us be honest: this Bill is purely about the extension of a lease—it is pretty straightforward. Other Members wanted to generate debate in other areas, quite rightly, but I want to ensure that we get through this stage, because I recognise that you want to move your amendments on Report, and it is important that we give you time to do that.
I am grateful to you, Sir Lindsay, for mentioning the amendments. I understand that I cannot move them at this stage because I am not a member of this Committee. Is that correct?
So I cannot move the amendments at this stage. It has to be done on Report.
Order. It is not about you personally, but I think we are getting into a debate that neither of us really wants to have. I know you have great plans ahead, but this is what we are dealing with today. The fact is and the reality is that I am in the Chair, and I will be taking the decisions. Let us get back to where we were.
Order. It is not about what is in Kew Gardens. You are a bright chap, so let us not test each other’s patience. This is about the Bill, not what is in Kew Gardens.
May I say that we very much support this Bill? We understand that the two clauses will help significantly in trying to generate some extra funds. We believe that seven residential properties may be impacted on by the Bill. We look forward to ensuring that this is dealt with adequately, so this can be moved on and the money can be generated. I think that there was talk of up to £40 million that could be disposed of if this money was available to Kew Gardens, so we very much support that.
Sir Lindsay, you are obviously not going to let me talk about anything to do with the environment of this place, what we are doing in particular and how we cannot raise particular issues, with me not being a member of this Committee, so what we will do is look to bring forward our amendments later, if we can, and on that basis, possibly to divide the House when our amendments come forward. It is just unfortunate that we are not able to discuss properly what this place and this particular institution is. I see you rising to your feet again, and you are going to stop me—
Order. I do not want us to fall out. I do not make the rules of the House; I am here to ensure the rules are kept. If you have a problem, please do not take it up with the Chair, but change the rules of the House. It is quite simple.
I am not taking up anything. I listened to the Labour party spokesperson speaking about these particular issues, but, because I am not a member of this Committee, I am obviously not going to be allowed to do so.
I will conclude my remarks, Sir Lindsay. The last word is that it is really unfortunate that we cannot make a point about this ridiculous institution of the English Parliament. It is unfortunate that we cannot make our points about that today.
Clearly, this is the political box office today. I am not sure what else is going on outside the confines of this Chamber, but this is where the action is taking place. We have just seen it with my hon. Friend—he should be my right hon. Friend—Pete Wishart attempting to explain why the two clauses of this Bill are in fact relevant to those of us from Scotland. We are being excluded during this Legislative Grand Committee stage, which we like to see as the English Parliament. It was created by David Cameron when he introduced the EVEL Standing Orders in 2015. And now we rejoice in it, for the first time, in its full glory, and here they all are—all the Members from England who are having their say under the changes brought forward that were going to transform democracy in the United Kingdom.
Order. We have been here once. I have let you get your little bit in, but now I hope that we can begin to proceed.
We can, Sir Lindsay. However, I would note—I do not know whether it was deliberate—that Mr Jack was the Whip who actually moved the motion to bring the English Parliament into being. I do not know whether that was deliberate on the part of the Government. I know the Serjeant at Arms will be kept busy because the Legislative Grand Committee (England) will have to meet later, after consideration. Incidentally, with autocorrects, typing “LGC (E)” automatically brings up the euro sign. I do not know whether that is some kind of ill omen for the new Prime Minister today.
I should say that it is just as well both the spokespeople, the Minister in particular, do represent seats in England. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs covers the whole United Kingdom on some aspects, and if the Minister had been a Member for a seat in Scotland or Wales, he would not actually be in a position to move that the two clauses should stand part of the Bill.
I fully support both the clauses. It is very important that Kew Gardens has the opportunity to raise additional funds through the granting of leases. We have been in communication with the management at Kew Gardens, and I hope to take up their very generous offer of a visit to the gardens in the not too distant future, because we recognise how important it is. We are not attempting to politicise Kew Gardens, and we are certainly not attempting to disrupt the ultimate passage of the Bill. However, it important that we try to subject it, as any piece of legislation that comes through, to the scrutiny that it deserves, and this is one of the opportunities in which to do so. This also highlights, as my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire tried to do, the inadequacies of the procedures.
I have fond memories of visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh as a youngster. I remember my gran, who would have turned 96 tomorrow, taking me and looking at the goldfish, so I look forward to finding out whether Kew Gardens nurtures goldfish within its boundaries.
The University of Glasgow, based in my constituency, has live connections with Kew Gardens. In January 2016, a three-year collaboration began between Kew, the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian and the centre for textile conservation and technical art history at the University of Glasgow to examine the science and culture of Pacific bark-cloth. The project, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, is investigating the traditional types of cloth worn on the islands of the Pacific—
Order. Mr Grady, I am waiting to hear a connection to the leases. I have allowed you to run on for a little while—[Interruption.] Mr Wishart has just walked out. It is rather unusual for a Member to speak and then to walk out while the next Member is still speaking.
I want to hear the great man, and I would have thought that the Member who spoke before him would have liked to hear him, too.
It just occurred to me that we are in a Committee, Sir Lindsay, and there is provision in the Standing Orders for the Chair of a Committee to allow Members to remove their jackets if it is uncomfortably hot, so perhaps we could avail ourselves of that provision now. It would be rare to happen in the Chamber of the House, but we are in Committee.
That is in General Committees, and once again that is not the type of Committee we are in today. I wish I could allow that, because I am as desperate as other Members to remove my jacket, but unfortunately that is not the case.
The hon. Gentleman is now stretching things, so I am going to call the Minister to speak.
Thank you, Sir Lindsay. I have an important announcement to make to the Committee, on the back of the significant points that have just been made by Patrick Grady. I can confirm that, as he will see when he next visits Kew Gardens, there are goldfish there. I am glad that I can answer these important questions of the day that he raises.
I am grateful for the sincere co-operation of Members across the Committee, including the Opposition Front Benchers. The hon. Members for Stroud (Dr Drew) and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) have asked some important questions, and I am grateful to them for their support. I will respond briefly to their points. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport mentioned the concerns that the Select Committee raised back in 2014-15. In 2015 Kew published its science strategy, “A Global Resource for Plant and Fungal Knowledge”, which set out clear research priorities, including research programmes. The delivery of those programmes was all subject to funding and progress has been made on many of those priorities. Kew will be refreshing its corporate strategy and its science strategy in 2020, and that work is well under way.
The hon. Gentleman asked where the extra funding would go. I can assure him that it will go to help underpin Kew’s core priorities and what it is seeking to accomplish, in England and more widely, not least in Scotland and the wider world. I can assure the hon. Member for Stroud that the funding does incorporate significant investment in digitising Kew’s herbarium collection, which is important to him and to all of us, because we want to ensure that it is conserved securely and made globally available. Importantly, it will be available online.
The funding will help Kew in its ambition to increase further its self-generated revenue and become more financially self-sufficient. I understand that it will not be used directly to reduce funding; this is to help it achieve its ambitions to grow its funding further. What is reassuring to hon. Members is that since 2009-10 we have seen the grant in aid funding from DEFRA increase from £28.6 million to £40.8 million, and at the same time—this is credit to the team at Kew—Kew’s self-generated income has increased from £20 million to £70 million. This is therefore part of an ambitious and much wider scheme to help move things forward.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport was absolutely right to mention green spaces. Yes, they will be protected. The leases are around peripheral buildings at this stage and will not affect the core purpose. As I have said already, the funding will be used for the core purposes that are so vitally important for all that goes on at Kew.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the entrance fee. The Natural History Museum and others are designated as national museums and are sponsored directly by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, although they do get funding from special exhibitions. Kew is different, and the admission and membership fees there help to raise much-needed funds of £18 million. The broader discussion about how that would shape things is for some point in the future and is certainly not for this Bill. It is good to know that the board is making significant steps forward.
The other point the hon. Gentleman raised was about extra funding from DCMS and elsewhere. He may be aware that it already receives £3 million of official development assistance funding administered from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Those are important issues, and it is worth noting that there will be a visit in due course so that Members from Scotland and elsewhere can come and see all that Kew has to offer. We will talk more about that later on.
The Bill is not large, but its impact is significant. It will enable the release of value from land and property at Kew Gardens through a variety of commercial options, such as long leases for residential or office use. It will also reduce maintenance liabilities and running costs and enhance the site through restoration and ongoing maintenance. It will help Kew in its ambition to further increase its self-generated revenue and become more financially self-sufficient. For those reasons, I hope that the Committee will approve the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.
Bill reported, without amendment.
Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Legislative Grand Committee (England)
I have decided to select as manuscript amendments, to be proceeded with on Report, amendments 1 and 2 tabled in the name of Pete Wishart for the Legislative Grand Committee (England), to be debated together. Copies of a Report stage amendment paper will be available from the Vote Office shortly. In the meantime, we may proceed using the texts on the amendment paper for the Legislative Grand Committee (England).