Power to grant a lease in respect of land at Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 4:07 pm on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip 4:07 pm, 24th July 2019

I beg to move manuscript amendment 1, page 1, line 13, at end insert—

“(3A) The Secretary of State must issue a report to the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform on any lease granted in reliance on subsection (1) to businesses or individuals based in Scotland, within four weeks of the lease being granted.”

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Standing Orders Committee

With this it will be convenient to discuss manuscript amendment 2, page 1, line 13, at end insert—

“(3A) As soon as possible after the end of each annual reporting period the Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament which includes an assessment of the income accruing to the Treasury as a result of the grant of leases in reliance on subsection (1) during the annual reporting period.

(3B) ‘Annual reporting period’, in relation to subsection (3A), means—

(a) the period of 12 months beginning with the date on which this Act is passed, and

(b) each successive period of 12 months.”

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

We are now back in the United Kingdom Parliament. Can anyone spot the difference? There are some subtle changes. As we have said, the Serjeant at Arms is getting quite the workout in moving the Mace up and down. Later on, it will keep them busy when we go back into the English Legislative Grand Committee, which I think we can all agree has been an overwhelming success. Such an overwhelming success has it been that my hon. Friend Pete Wishart has had to go and have a wee lie down in a darkened room somewhere. It falls to me to move the amendment standing in his name and those of several of my other hon. Friends.

As I was saying—I was about to say “before I was so rudely interrupted”, but that would not be respectful to you, Sir Lindsay—before proceedings were concluded in the Legislative Grand Committee a moment ago, we do not object to the Bill. We completely accept that most of its territorial extent applies to a very small part of Greater London, but there could be unintended consequences for the whole United Kingdom. What we have said since the introduction of the English votes for English laws procedure is that the Speaker or the Chair should not have to be in the invidious position of having to make what might at times become a very political or politicised decision about whether a Bill should be subject to the EVEL procedures. Perhaps there is a case for further devolution, of some description, to different parts of the United Kingdom of ways in which legislation that is relevant only to England can be discussed by directly elected representatives from that part of the United Kingdom. However, we have been able to prove demonstrably—today in particular, and since they were introduced—that the EVEL procedures are not the way to do it.

The EVEL procedures have their own little chapter in the new edition of “Erskine May”. I pay tribute to its editors—I am the proud owner of a signed copy. The EVEL chapter is nicely self-contained; it is almost like an en-suite chapter of “Erskine May” with the possibility of its being deleted almost entirely without notice, when the inevitable day comes when the EVEL Standing Orders are wiped away. They will be wiped away either because there will no longer be Members of Parliament from Scotland, because Scotland will have become an independent country—I believe that day is coming very soon—or because they are simply not convenient for whichever Government come into power and have the majority to do that, so they completely defeat the purpose for which they were set up.

EVEL was only ever set up as a convenient political tool for the then Prime Minister, David Cameron. It is ironic that we end up having this procedure on the day when his old Etonian friend finally takes power. If people are baffled by the procedure that has taken place today in the House of Commons, and which will continue to take place as we go back into a Legislative Grand Committee for a consent motion, goodness knows how baffled they will be when they see the drama beginning to unfold on Downing Street.

I put on record our support for Kew Gardens’ work. I was talking about the connections that exist with institutions in Scotland. The Glasgow Botanic Gardens, which are a jewel in my west end constituency, also have long historical links with Kew. Professor Sir William Jackson Hooker was appointed professor of botany in 1821 at the University of Glasgow and he went on to become a director at Kew Gardens. He was succeeded by his son, Joseph Dalton Hooker, who was also a graduate of the University of Glasgow. I was speaking briefly about the collaboration between Kew, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History at the University of Glasgow on traditional culture and practice in Pacific islands. I suspect I am now lining up a visit to that institution in the University of Glasgow as well as a visit to Kew Gardens. That is an example of cutting-edge research and the importance of leveraging adequate finance to support it. That is one of the purposes of granting the lease set out in clause 1.

The other thing that Kew Gardens is working on, along with other institutions, is tackling climate change. There is a climate emergency, as anyone who was watching footage from the Mall 25 minutes ago will know. I was very interested to read that this year, Kew Gardens has awarded the Kew international medal to Dr Mary Robinson for her work on climate justice. Glasgow Caledonian University, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss, has a fantastic research institute on the concept of climate justice. Dr Robinson is a patron of that institute and I have had the huge privilege of meeting her. I am delighted that she has been given that award by Kew Gardens. The Scottish Government have long espoused the importance of climate justice as a way of tackling climate change and helping people who have been the worst affected but have done the least to cause climate change to mitigate and tackle it. That is one reason why we wanted to make the point about the extent of the Bill and the importance of unintended consequences, and it is why we have tabled the amendments.

Amendment 1 would require a Minister to inform the Scottish Government of any business or individual based in Scotland who is granted a lease under the terms of the Bill. That could be useful and important for a number of reasons: the new leaseholder, for example, might be applying for similar development rights in Scotland, or they may be a stakeholder in an ongoing policy consultation or policy developments of some other kind north of the border. If we had a statutory reporting mechanism of the kind that we propose in the amendment, it would provide an opportunity for Scottish Government Ministers to be fully aware of what was happening.

Amendment 2 is more to the point. It is about the tax take and the sums that will accrue to the Treasury from any lease granted. One of the key purposes of the Bill, as we have heard in the various debates, is to raise badly needed funds for the gardens’ research and investment programme—I again pay tribute to the gardens’ work.

Photo of Ruth George Ruth George Labour, High Peak 4:15 pm, 24th July 2019

Does the hon. Member intend to let hon. Members who have gathered in the House for the debate on youth services, or lack thereof, to discuss that important matter? The number of pages left of his speech indicates that he does not. It would be nice if he could inform the House of his intentions so that we can get to that important business.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

The hon. Lady raises an important point. I do not intend to detain the House desperately long. I want to ensure that that debate can be had. It is particularly relevant, of course, to Members from England and Wales. We just had a procedure of the so-called English Parliament. This was what was supposed to happen as a result of the independence referendum and the reform of devolution, but it is patently failing, as she demonstrates. There are only two amendments, however, and I am speaking about the second, so her patience should not be tested for too much longer.

One of the key points is that the leases will raise money. That money will generate tax take, that tax take will go to the Treasury, and that money will eventually work its way into public expenditure, first through the UK consolidated fund, and then, presumably, some of it will end up in the Scottish consolidated fund through the Barnett formula. This has been the crux of our problem with the EVEL procedure from the very start—We do not see the full consequences and knock-on effects. That is why the amendment suggests that the Minister make an estimate or report on the sums expected to accrue to the Treasury as a result of any lease granted.

We were told when the EVEL procedure was introduced that we would be able to scrutinise all these things through the estimates process, but this is not the only time my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire has been called out of order and required by the Chair to resume his seat, because previously when he tried to talk about estimates, he was also ruled out of order and was unable to speak. There has been a small reform to the estimates process, which we have welcomed, but it is still not sufficient for us to have the kind of say we want. We cannot table meaningful amendments and the subjects and time available for debate are still limited.

We are demonstrating, even in the frustration of Ruth George about the squeeze on the important debate to follow on youth services in England, the fundamental failures, first of the EVEL system, and secondly of the overall impact of the attempt at reform and the potential silencing of voices from England and Wales. The EVEL procedure, sadly, is becoming a laughing stock. There is a risk of Parliament falling into the same trap. Certainly, laughing stocks will not be in short supply outside our doors and down Whitehall.

Politics is a bit chaotic at the moment, and these kinds of procedural shenanigans do not enhance that, but they serve to prove the point. In the interests of consensus and not delaying the Bill any further by sending it to ping-pong with the Lords, I do not intend to press my amendments, but I hope the point has been made, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Government Whip

I will be brief, because I am aware that Ruth George and others want to get on to the next debate. I fully understand that.

I am grateful for the support we have received from the Opposition Front Benchers. In these situations, it is important to learn lessons from other hon. Members, such as Stephen Pound, who, I always find, uses good humour, a probing wit and maximum respect for the subject and the people involved. I was getting a little bit nervous at the tone of an hon. Member whom I like, Pete Wishart. I was concerned that some of his understandable comments about the process were beginning to reflect on to Kew itself, so I am pleased that Patrick Grady clarified that that was certainly not the case. One thing’s for sure—Kew is certainly not a laughing stock. It is a much valued asset, and I am pleased he reinforced that.

Amendment 1 is not necessary and is not clearly drafted. Should information on the granting of a specific lease be required by anyone, including the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, in line with the Land Registry publication requirements, the price paid for the lease and the relevant details of the leaseholder and the lease document itself will be available from the Land Registry when the lease is registered. I think the hon. Gentleman is aware of that. It is unclear what information the amendment would require to be in any report, but information on a lease, including price and lease conditions, will be available to the public and any Government Minister.

On amendment 2, under the National Heritage Act 1983 a statement of accounts for Kew is prepared, examined and certified in respect of each financial year. This annual report and accounts is reviewed by the Comptroller and Auditor General—the head of the National Audit Office—and laid before each House. Details of Kew’s income, including Government, commercial and charitable donations, are set out in the report, which is a public document. As already stated in the other place, income received by Kew in respect of those leases will be reflected in the report.

I hope that assures the hon. Gentleman that the issue has been taken care of. He was probably already aware of the points I have made, and he has had an opportunity to make his wider points, so, for the benefit of this particular Bill and the impact it will have on the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

I do not get to say this very often, but I accept the Minister’s reassurances. I think our point has been made and I look forward to seeing whether the Government Whips Office tries to use this procedure again at any point, ever. If it does not, perhaps it just needs to get rid of the whole procedure. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Standing Orders Committee

Consideration completed. Does the Minister intend to move the consent motion for the Legislative Grand Committee?

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Government Whip

indicated assent.

The House forthwith resolved itself into the Legislative Grand Committee (England) (Standing Order No. 83M(3)).

[Sir Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Standing Orders Committee 4:22 pm, 24th July 2019

I remind hon. Members that, if there is a Division, only Members representing constituencies in England may vote. I call the Minister to move the consent motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Committee consents to the Kew Gardens (Leases) (No.3) Bill [Lords].—(David Rutley.)

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

I am just trying to beat the record of my hon. Friend Pete Wishart for being the Member from Scotland who has spoken most frequently in the Legislative Grand Committee. It is not just the occupants of the Serjeant at Arms chair who are getting exercise; you are, too, Sir Lindsay, as you move up and down, from Chair to Chair. This should not just be a formality. It defeats the entire purpose of the process. I hope that has been heard by Members on the Treasury Bench.

Question put and agreed to.

The occupant of the Chair left the Chair to report the decision of the Committee (Standing Order No. 83M(6)).

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair; decision reported.

Third Reading

Queen’s consent signified.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Government Whip 4:24 pm, 24th July 2019

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am pleased to move the motion for the Third Reading of the Bill, which will provide the ability to grant leases of up to 150 years on Crown land at Kew Gardens, opening up new streams of revenue that will support this great British institution and world heritage site to flourish.

Kew is a scientific institution of towering importance, not only for the UK but as a global resource for authoritative specialist knowledge on plant and fungal diversity and its role in supporting essential ecosystems, which play a critical role in addressing the unprecedented scale and pace of the threats facing the natural world and indeed humanity. Kew is custodian of one of the largest and most diverse collections of plant and fungal specimens, living and preserved, collected from around the world over 170 years, with 25,000 specimens added each year from the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst to the herbarium at Kew itself.

These collections are of immense use and fundamental importance to science in determining how species differ and develop, and which ones are threatened by extinction—an issue of grave international concern. To restore and digitise this incredible collection to make it accessible across the world requires considerable investment, as has been set out. This Bill will enhance Kew’s ability to attract non-governmental funding, providing further income for these and other important investments.

Kew is home to more scientists than ever before, working in partnership with scientists, educators and communities to promote research, education and conservation. And Kew does much to involve the public too: we make more than 2 million visits a year to Kew and Wakehurst, and around 100,000 pupils learn from its many wonders on school trips. Across the spectrum of public engagement, Kew is fostering a wider understanding of plants and fungi and why they matter to us.

I am delighted by the support from parliamentarians in the Second Reading debate, and an invitation has been extended for interested parliamentarians across the board to visit Kew on the morning of 9 October from 8.45 to 10.45; hopefully they will have received the invitation already. I am still more delighted that the Government have had the opportunity to bring this Bill forward, building on the efforts of those who have promoted similar Bills on Kew through the private Member’s Bill route: my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and Lord True in the other place. In the other place the Bill was amended by Lord Whitty to ensure robust protection for Kew’s core functions and the world heritage site. I am grateful to Members in this House and noble Lords in the other place for their contributions.

I extend my thanks to the team at Kew, including the trustees, for all they do, as well as the officials on the Bill team, my private office, the Parliamentary Private Secretaries, the Whips on both sides and of course the Clerks for their work and support on this issue.

As the Minister in the Commons with responsibility for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, it has been an honour to lead on this Bill. Our debate in this House has enabled me to underline the global importance of Kew and the Government’s commitment to its future. I believe that the Bill’s progress through both Houses has been a model of Parliamentary process, working together effectively to ensure that the Bill is fit for purpose. I look forward to the Bill’s speedy progress towards Royal Assent.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 4:27 pm, 24th July 2019

There is very little to add to the remarks I made earlier, so as I want the House to come to the next debate as soon as possible, I shall briefly say that I am grateful to the Minister for his support for the ongoing digitalisation of the herbarium records and the recognition that the income derived from the sale of these leases will go to support Kew’s ongoing work. We need more, bolder and swifter action to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss, and Kew Gardens plays an important part in Britain’s soft-power and hard-power interventions in doing that, and I wish it the best of luck in selling these leases so we can make sure that work continues.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip 4:28 pm, 24th July 2019

I just want to reinforce what we said earlier: we have points to make on procedures in this place, but the work that Kew does is immensely valuable. We hold it in the greatest of respect and look forward to the success of this Bill.

I also wanted to say before I was cut short earlier that we have been fortified in our contributions in the House this evening by some tea and cakes we were having in celebration of the birthday of Anne Harvey who works in the SNP Whips Office; she celebrates a very significant birthday next week, and we hope that goes on the record for her. But we wish the Bill every success.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

It is a sad commentary on—or almost a tragic indication of or a metaphor for—our times that a Bill like this which every sane, sensible person would support wholeheartedly seems to have run into the mire of parliamentary procedure. Pete Wishart normally exhibits a warmth and amity so typical of his Caledonian cousins, and he normally extends this warm cloak of friendship over all of us and wishes nothing more than to accelerate the proceedings of the House, but on this occasion there was a smidgen of sarcasm about his words; it pains me grievously to say that. He implied that somehow this was not a matter of great moment beyond west London—although west London is obviously a place of great significance.

Kew Gardens is a global treasure store. It is a world bank and a world centre of excellence, yet the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire—one of the very few Members of this House to have exposed himself to the nation on “Top of the Pops” when he was playing with Runrig—somehow implied that this was not an issue that stretched beyond west London. I immediately thought of F. E. Smith during the Established Church (Wales) Bill, when he suggested that the eyes of the entire world would be on us. Hon. Members may remember Chesterton’s comment at the time:

“Are they clinging to their crosses, F. E. Smith,

Where the Breton boat-fleet tosses,

Are they, Smith?

Do they, fasting, trembling, bleeding,

Wait the news from this our city?

Groaning ‘That’s the Second Reading!’

Hissing ‘There is still Committee!’”

This is an important Bill, and I have to say that the Minister has exhibited many of the great skills of the horticulturalists. He has been patient and allowed the Bill to grow before us. He has battened off invasive species using only organic principles—

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I was coming on to chemicals, but of course I will give way.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

In his encomium for the Minister, will my hon. Friend ask him whether he has done enough pruning?

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The parliamentary secateurs—if not the snips—certainly should have been exhibited earlier on.

Kew Gardens is not just a world centre and seed bank; it is also a place of huge entertainment. My hon. Friend Luke Pollard talked about a concrete and steel part of the world that is illuminated and enlivened by this patch of green. Actually we are not all concrete and steel in west London, but we are grateful for that patch of green. Many of us will go along to the exhibitions, and not just the incredible Christmas celebrations—[Interruption.] What? I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker, but it always hurts me when a voice from the Rhondda is in any way attacking me. Kew is not just a place of great entertainment and an extraordinary resource for the world; it also has a new function nowadays. All over London we have these pop-up gardens on large, soulless council estates, and it is Kew that people go to for information on this. It is Kew that provides the details of plants that do not need a huge amount of watering or that can be resistant to problems. I am glad to see that the leader of the all-party parliamentary group on horticulture and gardening, Rebecca Pow, is on the Front Bench today. I trust that that means she has been promoted. All I can say is that Kew is for the world; it is not just for us in London. The Minister has done an excellent job, and I hope that we can leave aside the sourness and bitterness that may occasionally have been exhibited this afternoon and celebrate the glory that is Kew.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.