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

Part of 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

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.