rose to call attention to the report Power of Place--The future of the historic environment published by English Heritage; and to move for Papers.
My Lords, over the past 50 years or so I have addressed your Lordships' House many times on heritage and environmental issues and so I hope that my well-known involvement in the heritage issues will suffice as a declaration of interest.
Today I feel particularly pleased in initiating this timely debate on the report on the future of the historic environment, only published last week by English Heritage, the organisation of which I had the honour to be first chairman, from 1983 to 1991. First, I must congratulate most warmly the present chairman, Sir Neil Cossons, and his working party--some 20 strong--on producing such a comprehensive report, whose main recommendations most people will endorse, although I, and I suspect many others, may have certain reservations when the details are discussed.
English Heritage must be commended on assembling such a comprehensive working party representing all interests and walks of life, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, and on carrying out such a large-scale consultation. Most importantly, the report sets out the results of the Mori survey about English people's reactions to their heritage. Over the years, politicians of all parties have been a little ambivalent to the heritage, fearing that if they promoted it too much they would be accused of elitism and favouring certain classes. On the other hand, there was a general assumption by others that the people were not really interested. Unfortunately, recent teaching, or rather lack of teaching, of history in our schools was hardly designed to give pupils an interest in their past. So the general objectives of the Mori research were to establish the general perception and attitudes towards the heritage and what it meant to people and to assess the people's participation in heritage activities and not least the attitude towards the heritage by people from newly arrived ethnic minorities.
Contrary to previous beliefs, the results were no less than sensational and fully justified to those who knew what the real situation was. The results showed that 98 per cent thought that all schoolchildren should be taught about England's historic environment; 88 per cent thought that it created jobs and boosted the economy, that it was right that there should be public funding to preserve it and that it played an important part in promoting regeneration in towns; and 76 per cent thought that their own lives were richer for having an opportunity to visit and see it. So I submit that the heritage is not a party political issue--nor should it be--and so I hope that from now on politicians will accept that the results of the Mori poll prove that the vast majority of people do care about and value their historic environment. It behoves us all to see that it is conserved for future generations.
So where do we go from here? There are 18 headline recommendations, supported by a number of detailed action points, only a few of which need legislation. I intend to cover only a few this afternoon; namely, that the only constructive and sensible way forward is by partnership and better consultation and co-ordination between central and local government, public and private institutions, government agencies, the developers and the professionals. Positive conservation and re-use of buildings certainly leads to renewal of whole areas and experience shows that it can unlock the value of buildings which are not used to their full advantage within the familiar fabric of our towns and cities.
There is no doubt that many historic buildings are capable of better economic use and consequential listing often adds to the value of such buildings. In addition, well-loved historic buildings in familiar surroundings, which add character to an area, difficult though it is to measure, are nevertheless recognised as giving employment and customer satisfaction.
The report frankly acknowledges the worrying backlog of maintenance and repair which threatens the continuity and survival of many heritage assets. I support, therefore, the proposed comprehensive audit and thereafter regular monitoring of the historic environment as a basis for prioritising policies, programmes and the assessment of funding needs. However, it is important that those funds continue to be available on a year-on-year basis.
An enormous amount of repair and renewal of buildings will be needed in the years to come. This country must have the skills to carry them out. Opportunities for training, in particular apprenticeships, are desperately needed to satisfy future demand. Management should be given greater incentives to provide training. Unfortunately, although there are many different professional bodies in craft training relating to the historic environment, the resulting complexity of qualifications is confusing to all those concerned. Therefore, the proposed national conservation training forum would bring together institutions providing training and removing inconsistencies. It goes without saying that every local authority must have a qualified conservation officer with the expertise to ensure that all concerned are given leadership to produce the right results.
One cannot emphasise enough the part that the historic environment can play in education. Historic environment teaching should be fully integrated with all other relevant subjects. There are enormous opportunities to include environmental teaching in the national curriculum, as well as in teacher training, and similarly to co-operate with museums and historic house owners to provide guidance on educational programmes. Incidentally, it is worth saying that it was the private owners who initiated educational activities long before the National Trust or English Heritage did so. Although much more can be done, I am delighted that historic buildings and the environment now form a major part of the school curriculum, and that school visits are also planned accordingly, even from France.
Indeed, the report acknowledges that it was the achievements of the private sector which has inspired the well-deserved international reputation of heritage conservation in Great Britain. Over 1,200 privately owned houses are now open to the public, many of them on a regular basis and others by appointment, attracting 10 million visitors a year. The saving of our historic houses, which faced such a gloomy future in 1945, is one of the great success stories in the history of conservation. Elsewhere in the world, great houses have been vandalised by neglect and have been left to decay. Here, however, private owners have been in the vanguard of saving great houses, which are undoubtedly Britain's most important tourist attraction.
However, this has been achieved at a price. The average owner faces maintenance bills of over #40,000 a year and periodic major capital repairs of up to #1 million every 15 to 20 years. At present, not forgetting English Heritage grants, most repairs are funded from the owner's taxed income or from sales of works of art, which are further major losses to our heritage. Incentives are needed to prevent the further dispersal of assets. The single most frequently raised issue during consultations for the report was the situation of VAT. Although the Chancellor said as late as last month that he was keen to preserve Britain's rich built heritage for both current and future generations, one wonders how he proposes to do this, as repair work is still subject to full VAT while, ironically, new build is VAT free. One wonders how any government's policy for the heritage can be taken seriously while such a regime exists. Indeed, owners face a penalty on the cost of repairs to their houses when it is well known that a stitch in time saves nine and an annual programme of maintenance not only creates employment and new skills, but also ensures the future of the house, at a more affordable cost.
Sensibly, the report advocates a single harmonised rate of 5 per cent VAT for all building work and those concerned were encouraged by the Chancellor's recent announcement of his intention to reduce VAT to 5 per cent on the cost of converting empty residential buildings and, in particular, on the maintenance of 11,000 listed places of worship. However, there are some 350,000 other listed buildings, so VAT rules will continue to discourage other listed building repairs and, further, will discourage regular maintenance, thus promoting new build at the expense of re-use. This makes no economic or environmental sense and it is interesting to note that Britain is the only country in western Europe which does not give fiscal relief for the maintenance of historic properties. The sooner that VAT is equalised on all building work, the fewer historic buildings will be lost.
It is also unfortunate that the Chancellor has decided as from next April to end the so-called "one estate election", by which maintenance costs on the principal house can be set against estate income. This is going to have a very serious effect on the resources available for repairs and private owners are extremely concerned. In addition, private owners are discriminated against, because although their houses are technically eligible, they are almost never considered for heritage lottery funding, unlike the National Trust and other such bodies.
The report identifies the problems in the countryside, in particular as a result of changes in farming methods and the collapse of farm incomes. Since 1945, some 20,000 ancient monuments have been destroyed and thousands of other monuments in the countryside are at risk. These man-made objects can be sustained only by active management. Landowners and farmers need to be given incentives to keep the landscape continually renewed and in good repair. There are considerable public benefits of managed landscape from which, of course, tourism can benefit. I certainly agree with the recommendation that it is essential to switch funding under the common agricultural policy from production support to environmental measures, which in the long term would be effective in supporting farm incomes.
I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Renfrew, a past colleague in English Heritage, will be speaking shortly in the debate. No doubt he will comment on the report from an archaeological point of view.
There are two recommendations about which I am concerned: first, the proposal to give statutory force to the duty of care on the owners of listed buildings and to conservation plans and management agreements for individual listed buildings and registered landscapes. But I am glad to see that the report recommends that any statutory duty of care would be tied explicitly to the wider availability of grants and the provision of fiscal incentives to encourage maintenance. In any case, owners of listed buildings are already subject to an implicit duty of care, in that they can be served with repairs notices and can, in certain circumstances, have their property compulsorily acquired, although local authorities are extremely reluctant to pursue that course. The report recommends backing this implicit duty with financial incentives, making it explicit and widening it to include other categories of designated site.
Secondly, while I support the specific proposal to reduce permitted development rights in conservation areas, it cannot be stressed enough that people still have to live and work in conservation areas. It makes sense for planning authorities to make their decisions according to local conditions. Conversely, some local authorities can be criticised for being too strict. For instance, although government policy clearly states that redundant farm buildings can be converted for use in light industry and other such activities, time and time again one sees that local authorities refuse to comply with that policy.
Management agreements provide a means of simplifying the regulatory system for owners of complex listed buildings. However, when one is dealing with a group of buildings, it seems ridiculous to have to secure separate planning permission for each particular building. I am sure that that system could be simplified.
There are several recommendations with regard to facilitating better access for everyone in the country. Already, special educational facilities exist in most places and access for the disabled has been improved dramatically. Nevertheless, it must be wrong to damage the architectural heritage of a building by putting in, say, electric lifts in the main living areas. However, I am confident that all those concerned with opening their houses to the public will wish to continue to do their very best to provide for the disabled and the disadvantaged.
The report emphasises the need for better access to information about the heritage. We need to go further. We must encourage, from the cradle to the grave, knowledge and understanding of its significance, which will in turn ensure support for funding its conservation.
Finally, it is most important that the Government should seriously and urgently consider this report. I understand that they will formally report their conclusions in March, when I hope that we shall see action rather than endless further consultation. There is no doubt that they could do much by showing a lead, by following the advice of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the care of their historic estate and by ensuring co-ordinated action by the various departments whose policies impact on the historic environment.
The really important fact that emerged from this review is how much English people value their historic environment. Now is the time for the public sector to demonstrate its commitment by, for example, finding and funding future uses of the Government's historic estate, whether redundant hospitals or Ministry of Defence buildings. Those who value the historic environment do not oppose change, but recognise that change can be managed in more thoughtful ways so that their children can continue to enjoy familiar and loved surroundings. I believe that this report will be recognised in the future as being the first foundation stone of new attitudes towards our historic environment. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Montagu. I congratulate him both on his initiative in securing the debate and on his detailed comments on the report. English Heritage stated that it had been given a once-in-a-generation opportunity to comment on these important matters. It has seized that opportunity and offered wise suggestions which I hope the Government will view with sympathy.
I am particularly pleased that the importance of history has been recognised, a matter referred to by the noble Lord. As a former teacher who enjoyed teaching history, I welcome enthusiastically that important part of the report. My speech will be narrower than that of the noble Lord. I shall not follow him in regard to historic houses, except to say that I listened with great interest to his remarks because one of the most important stately homes in the country--certainly the most important building in my home county of South Yorkshire--is Wentworth Woodhouse, which is barely a couple of miles from my home.
I shall confine myself largely to the issue of our landscape. I shall concentrate perhaps more on the rural landscape than the urban, although I believe that there is far too much clutter in the urban scene because of road furniture, the proliferation of advertisements and so on.
I am concerned about the landscape. It is vital. People--perhaps fewer than many imagine--are insufficiently aware of the role of British landscape and natural features in providing inspiration for art, music and literature. We should not allow despoliation to limit that potential.
There are two aspects of the landscape problem to which I wish to draw particular attention. The first aspect concerns the short-term destruction we have seen by allowing in the past excessive urban sprawl and agricultural changes to take place on very short-term considerations and perhaps unlawfully. The destruction of hedgerows is an example of that. If one calculates it, the area of land added to agriculture by the destruction of hedgerows is just about the same as the area of land we have expensively put into set aside. We have spent a great deal of money on that rather imprudent approach. I know that new hedgerows are being planted--that is to be welcomed--but it is a pity that so much was obliterated for so little long-term value.
The second problem concerns the historic devastation caused by old industry. I was born and live in the Dearne Valley, where a whole area was devastated as the main collieries were sunk around 1870 and the coalmines, coking plants and marshalling yards obliterated what old documents and old maps show as being a very attractive area. Those have all gone. All the pits went in a shorter period than the very short one in the 19th century when the large pits were sunk. Their closure created economic devastation and social corrosion. We have not yet got over those problems, but jobs are being created on the land which is being restored. Our experience there certainly strengthens my view that we should give a much higher priority to the redevelopment of brownfield sites rather than extending unnecessarily into greenfield sites.
So far as concerns greenfield housing, we should recognise that more houses are needed, not necessarily because of huge population growth but because of the decline in marriage, the break-up of marriage and the wish of people to be independent so that they leave the family home much earlier than they used to do. We need more houses, but that does not necessarily mean that we must have a low density of housing per acre. We need not gobble up quite as much greenfield land as some people imagine.
The potential for brownfield development is there. Perhaps I may give an example. Some two years ago I moved a couple of miles to a brownfield site once occupied by Cortonwood colliery. It has been interesting watching what has happened there. The colliery closed in the mid-1980s, leaving 260 acres of largely derelict land and squalor. I was then involved in obtaining the funds for the civil engineering to transform the site, turning it into a moonscape. That ended and development began. On the low ground we have the edge of the A1/M1 link road which opens up the Dearne Valley to economic development; on the side of the road we have a well-planned commercial development, where more jobs are now being provided than were lost when the pit closed. Most of the area is reserved for housing and for open space.
It is the open space which attracted me to the area. What was once a colliery spoil heap, which had been smouldering red-hot for decades, is now a well-contoured hill, with sensitive tree planting along its sides and a lake necessarily serving as a balancing reservoir. In two years it has brought to the area a range of wildlife I would not have expected, from common blue butterflies and pigmy shrews to cygnets and dragonflies.
The reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, to local authorities causes me some concern. I do not think that my own local authority has quite recognised what has happened within its borough in the past two years. I make the point because out of that squalor has come economic opportunity and an advance in landscape and social provision which should be properly recognised. This kind of advance should be promoted more by the Government as an alternative to excessive encroachment on the green belt.
The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, referred to buildings. Hooper Stand was built by the Marquess of Rockingham to commemorate the quelling of the Jacobite rebellion and the establishment of a just and balanced peace in Europe. In another debate I mentioned that Mr Hague, the Leader of the Opposition, was brought up in the shadow of that structure. It is the highest building until one gets to the other side of the North Sea, and has superb views. The local authority and the owners are opening it up for occasional public visits. I am concerned that the occasional public visits will be accompanied by a great deal of litter. As I have said before, the dropping of litter is the most common criminal offence in Britain today. If we are to see power of place, we need pride of place--and the present extent of litter in our country should not be tolerated much longer. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will take that into account as well.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, on initiating the debate and on his excellent timing. However, to use a phrase borrowed from the Home Office, I would describe this document as "a load of pants". The Minister is scowling at me. However, I use this facetious comment because on the flysheet--
My Lords, for the record, I was not scowling at all.
My Lords, I use this facetious comment because on the flysheet it sets out quite clearly that it is a consultation document. It goes into detail about the number of experts involved. I have talked to a number of those experts and they believe that many of their recommendations and the recommendations put forward by the working group have not been included in the final document. There seems to be a degree of anger that the document was twice rewritten by senior members of English Heritage. I include in my starting statement the fact that on the first page--a letter sent out by Sir Neil Cossons--it states in the second paragraph:
"This is not an English Heritage report".
I believe that it is.
This is to some extent confirmed by the fact that there was an emphasis on secrecy and that the document should not be leaked in correspondence by English Heritage. I find that surprising. Most of the report seems to lack any substance at all. Some 90 per cent of it follows practices already in operation. However, there are some extremely fine pictures.
The most serious failure of the report is that it does not address the resource implications of some of the longer-term recommendations. Could that be because the authors do not wish to spell out what they are? We might all welcome, for example, the suggestion regarding the introduction of a statutory duty of care on owners of listed buildings, scheduled monuments and registered parks and gardens. But the proviso about the need for it to be supported by fiscal incentives and the wider availability of grants is not discussed in any detail; and there is no consideration of the financial implications.
Sustainable tourism is discussed in the report; but sustainability is dependent on sound finances. Without a change in lottery financing--not merely to finance capital but to tackle the problem of long-term running costs--there will soon be crises at many lottery-funded sites. A recommendation for the lottery to supply endowments to sites to meet running costs should have been set out so that it could be included the next time the running of the lottery is discussed.
Another weakness of the report is that there seems to be no clear justification for a number of the recommendations. I have mentioned Recommendation 6 on the duty of care. But there is a vagueness about Recommendation 12, which hardly explains why there is an advantage in integrating planning and heritage controls. The same lack of justification is present--or absent--in the areas of so-called area-based characterisation.
The report contains some sound recommendations, such as the need to reduce VAT on listed building repairs--a subject raised by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu. This has been shown time and again to be relatively income neutral and is an issue that has been raised in this House on more than one occasion. The report's mention of marine archaeology, which will be covered in the forthcoming recreation and heritage Bill, is welcome.
The report points out a variety of ways in which responsibility should be in the hands of local communities and local authorities--which is good. It suggests that one way in which the Government could promote possession by local people is by reducing the role of English Heritage and increasing the role of local authorities instead. Some of the most important archaeological initiatives in recent years have come from community-based archaeologists working with local communities, and not from nationally headquartered organisations such as English Heritage. However, I can see no reference in the report to that kind of initiative.
It is good that the paper highlights the failure of joined-up government; yet it skirts around the problem that although MAFF pays to protect the natural environment, it has failed over the past few years to build in measures to protect the archaeology of the rural environment by prioritising payments for the archaeological landscape when the historic component of the environment is every bit as fragile as the biological component.
Few references appear in the document to the archaeology of England--a subject close to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew. I wondered whether that was because the report was written without consulting the archaeologists in English Heritage. Archaeology is close to my heart; I studied it at Newcastle. The report fails to address a whole series of issues relating to archaeology. For example, the application of PPG 16 to most archaeological work in this country means that no requirement is placed on the developer--who now pays for most archaeological excavations here--to provide access to information recovered by the approved contractor. Surely the opportunity should have been taken, especially bearing in mind the apparent emphasis on access and inclusion in the report, to ensure that this was made a duty. There is an urgent need to overhaul PPG 16, yet no reference is made to this.
Greater prominence should have been given to the recommendation of a statutory responsibility to maintain sites and monuments records. Even the previous government recognised, in their 1996 Green Paper, Protecting Our Heritage, that that task should be taken on by local authorities. That is urgently required. The idea receives only lukewarm support in the report; reference is made to "historic environment centres". The report states, at page 39:
"In the short term, we need to ensure that all local planning authorities have access to a properly curated Record Centre. In the longer term, they need to be placed on a firm statutory basis".
That is hardly original. Why cannot the Government introduce a statutory responsibility now and why, rather than providing access merely for local planning authorities, cannot access be provided for everyone? After all, we are concerned here with access to archaeology, which should be for the people.
If information and openness are at the heart of the report, as is claimed, why is there no reference to the excellent portable antiquities recording scheme? The scheme has been supported by the DCMS and, in terms of pound for pound spent, is much better than most English Heritage initiatives at involving the public.
It is a matter of concern that some of the clearer and better explained points in the report are not included in the Culture and Recreation Bill. One good thing is that we shall probably not have to wait until March for the Government's response; in the case of sites and monuments records we may be able to add amendments to the forthcoming Bill.
I was one of the commissioners who served under the noble Lord's chairmanship, and I confess that initially I felt a concern that with his record of outstanding success with his own stately home, and indeed the National Motor Museum, he might be more concerned with the historic buildings part of the work of English Heritage; I feared that the ancient monuments side, dealing with the field monuments, archaeology and the rural landscape--emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy--might be neglected. Within the work of English Heritage and its predecessors, going right back to the Ministry of Works, there has traditionally been a difficult balance to establish between the built environment--the historic urban centres--on the one hand and the rural environment and earlier history and prehistory on the other. But, happily, that was not the case during my noble friend's tenure, and I and others admired the balance which he established.
With the appointment of his successor, Sir Jocelyn Stevens, there was the same initial concern. Indeed, in the early days of his tenure it was heightened when, during an interview with the press, he spoke a shade dismissively of some of England's field monuments--those barrows and earthworks which are among the most conspicuous products of British pre-history--as "bumps in fields". But Sir Jocelyn soon became a doughty champion of the heritage and we are all in his debt for his pertinacity in pressing on with the Stonehenge project, to take one major example.
It is a pleasure to welcome the new chairman of English Heritage, Sir Neil Cossons, who has had a distinguished career as director of the National Maritime Museum and then of the Science Museum, and as a noted industrial archaeologist. It is to be hoped that he, too, will establish the necessary balance between the rural and the urban and the ancient and the more recent historic environment in the work of English Heritage.
But in welcoming the report, I have to say that the balance that was earlier maintained by my noble friend and by Sir Jocelyn Stevens has apparently been lost. I very much agree with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, in his exceedingly well-informed critique of the report.
The report has many merits. It accurately documents the real interest which the majority of Britons have in Britain's past and Britain's heritage. It rightly emphasises that monuments and buildings have to be looked at in context. It is right to ask, "Whose past?", and to ensure that we consider the heritage or heritages of different groups, including ethnic minorities. The report expresses those aspirations well. All of its recommendations have merit and I commend them.
However, the report has defects--such that many of those concerned with England's historic and prehistoric heritage will view it with deep disappointment. Rural England is substantially neglected. Among all the townscapes illustrated there is not one rural landscape depicting those memorable and significant "bumps in fields". Further, its vision would have the past begin around 1400 AD. Where is there an awareness of England's Saxon origins, or of the Romans, or of the vast stretch of prehistory? Just one picture out of 33 goes back beyond the time of the medieval parish church, while no fewer than eight relate to the industrial archaeology of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The "historic environment" is a valid concept if it takes in the entire sweep of history and prehistory. But the view of Britain's past in this report falls into the trap that my noble friend and Sir Jocelyn successfully avoided. When we speak of England's heritage, it forgets that there has to be a balance between, on the one hand, the ancient monuments and, on the other, historic buildings. It rightly proclaims that the concept of the "historic environment" can embrace both, but then it loses the plot.
I have been trying to discover who actually wrote this document. I have spoken with the chair of one of the working parties involved who assures me that she and her group made strongly the very points that I am making. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, made that observation. I have spoken to the one archaeologist who was a member of the steering group, which contained not one single university historian, who said much the same thing. I have also spoken with the chair of English Heritage's own Ancient Monuments Advisory Committee which shares some of these concerns. So who is responsible for this imbalance?
Within English Heritage there are first-class experts who know all of this. They know that the ancient monuments protection programme, with the uphill task of listing the most important of England's ancient monuments, has fallen far behind through underfunding. They know, as the report states, that England has been losing one archaeological site a day for the past 45 years. They know that the losses due to plough damage have not been adequately assessed or mitigated through underfunding. The Royal Commission on Historic Monuments for England, now absorbed within English Heritage, has experts in aerial photography who know of the thousands of sites discovered in Britain's countryside by this technique--which the report fails even to mention. The archaeologists within English Heritage know of the uphill battle to recover knowledge of our past though rescue archaeology. Where is their voice here? The report sells them short.
On Monday I went for the fourth time to the Millennium Dome and, again, I enjoyed my visit. But one of its shortcomings is that it is, in effect, a "past-free zone". There is no mention of Shakespeare or of Newton, of William the Conqueror or Cromwell, of Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee or Beveridge, nor even of Crick and Watson. By definition almost, we find no mention of Romans or Saxons, no glimpse of Stonehenge or Avebury. Curiously, and less appropriately, there is something of that spirit about this report. It fails to appreciate that the true heritage, the true historic environment, is knowledge based: it is what you know about the past, not just what you see when you look around outside Winchester Cathedral or Battersea power station.
That is how the report can overlook one of the most important initiatives in the heritage field of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; namely, the Voluntary Finds Reporting Scheme, by which metal-"detectorists" and others are encouraged to report their discoveries to finds officers, as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. That is how it can fail altogether to mention the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property of 1970, about which a DCMS working panel reported just two days ago.
There is much to admire in this report and I would support all its recommendations. But it has done only half the work. In substantially ignoring rural England, in overlooking the past beneath our feet, and all those early millennia in the making of England, it misses a thousand opportunities. It has done justice to Britain's historic buildings, but it has failed to do justice to Britain's historic and prehistoric past. I endorse the point made about the requirement of a statutory provision for sites and monuments records, which creeps into the report and then disappears. It does not even make it as one of the substantial recommendations, which I believe to be lamentable.
In my view, English Heritage needs a serious rethink if it is to maintain the standards established during the time of my noble friend Lord Montagu, or indeed those established under the redoubtable Sir Jocelyn Stevens.
My Lords, as a former chairman of the National Trust in the 1970s and 1980s, I thought that I would consult those in the trust regarding what they thought was the most important recommendation in this report to which they were important contributors. Their most emphatic reply was that the recommendation to reduce the rate of VAT on repairs to listed buildings was the most urgent and important recommendation of all. On VAT reform, the report says:
"No government should be taken seriously as respecting the historic environment in all its guises if repairs to historic buildings are taxed at 17½% whilst alterations to them are tax free".
We debated this matter in your Lordships' House in March last year when everyone agreed that the problem needed to be solved. A note of hope came at the end of the Minister's speech. After chiding some of us, including myself, for our failure to understand--as he saw it--that it was the net effect on public expenditure that mattered, he cautiously said:
"I do not say firmly and finally that there is no prospect of change in Section 33 [of the VAT Act]. We shall continue to look for possibilities of change".--[Official Report, 29/3/00; col. 880.]
He added that those of us who thought that there could be a quick fix were deluding ourselves.
It seems to have been possible to find some sort of a fix in the case of repairs to historic churches, for which the Government intend to seek a reduction in VAT. No one is more delighted by this wonderful news than I am. I was treasurer of the Historic Churches Preservation Trust for many years. But as there are about 11,000 listed churches out of nearly 400,000 listed buildings, this wonderful news does not address the main problem. It seems to show that the principle of no change in VAT, whether by reducing it or by exempting buildings from it, is not as difficult as we are sometimes told. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will continue to press our case. He is perhaps the most redoubtable of all the Government's wicket keepers when facing your Lordships' bowling. When it comes to arguing with his colleagues, I am pretty sure that he is equally unsurpassed.
I have just one further point to make on the report. In general, I give it a hearty welcome, despite the deficiencies referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew. I heartily support its main proposition that understanding and cherishing our environment will create a better country. I hope that my years with the National Trust, and other conservation bodies, will establish my credentials as a fervent conservationist when I add, as I must, that I have one important reservation. There seems to me no real acknowledgement in the report of the need for balance when measuring the claims of conservation against the need for acceptance of change. For another valid claim is that of the freedom of the individual from the power of the state which prevents a citizen living in a listed house from adapting his or her home to present-day requirements of comfort or, indeed, of economy.
Of course, there should not be freedom for owners of important historic buildings graded one, or even graded 2 starred, to alter them as they wish. But if there are, as we are told, getting on for 400,000 buildings listed as grade 2, these are part of the general housing stock. If we make it too difficult for owners to make alterations, whether for comfort or economy--or even, in some cases, as a matter of taste--these buildings will ultimately become unpopular to own or to live in. How then will the objective of conservation be achieved?
Therefore, I hope that the Government will implement many of the report's recommendations. But I hope also that they will be cautious about legal enforcement of too inflexible a system of control, to which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, referred. When one asks for flexibility, one is asking for good judgment. To expect that from every single bureaucrat is to expect the unattainable. Much can be done through training and education, which the report recommends. But education alone does not always produce common sense.
One would like to see guidelines that encourage planners and their English Heritage advisers not to enforce too hard and fast rules in the less important cases. Many historic buildings have evolved through the years and must go on doing so if they are to continue to be used. This means that, sometimes, additions must be made but also that they must sometimes be removed.
We all have anecdotes of inflexibility. The architect, Robert Adam, writing in The Times last Saturday instanced a case where the conversion and restoration of a medieval house was obstructed for the sake of a pre-war partition. That is typical of a number of the cases about which one has heard. There was a more debatable case of a fine Palladian mansion in the West Country, the name of which I forget, on to which a good Victorian architect had added a pair of wings mainly featuring two very large bay windows. The owners wanted to remove the additions, no doubt for economic reasons, but perhaps also for reasons of taste, preferring an unaltered Palladian design. They were, however, prevented on the ground that the additions were part of the house's history. There are good arguments on both sides of the case. But I suggest that where arguments and, indeed, legitimate points of view are evenly balanced, or fairly evenly balanced, the wishes of owners who live in the houses should be given serious weight.
I was impressed by the last sentence of Robert Adam's article in The Times. I quote it as it is relevant to the whole of this subject. He concluded:
"It is time to realise that no change is the most devastating change you can make".
That is something we all should bear in mind.
My Lords, the word "heritage" is defined as what has been or will be built; in other words, what we build today is the heritage of tomorrow.
The first point that should be made is that a keen sense and knowledge of the lessons of the past is indispensable if we are to learn to live in the present, let alone cope with the future. Those who mock, deride or denigrate the past do an injustice not only to themselves but also to the great stock of buildings that this nation possesses which bear comparison with any in the world and which are the envy of many in the world, beginning with the greatest cultural glory this country possesses; namely, the 42 Anglican cathedrals; the churches, large and small, many of which are sublime; the castles; the manor and country houses; the bridges and many other examples of industrial architecture and design.
It is so important to pay attention to such matters. No less than 73 per cent of tourists who visit these shores do so for the specific purpose of seeing for themselves the great buildings and monuments that have been created over the centuries.
I never cease to be inspired by the restoration and in some cases resurrection of projects, large and small, undertaken by English Heritage which puts them back into first-class order and, where appropriate, finds alternative use for them. I applaud the Government's campaign to increase accessibility, thus giving us an enhanced awareness of our own identity. If I have a concern, it is that some of the workplaces of our greatest artists are overlooked, fall into decay and, ultimately, oblivion. Only a year or so ago this fate was about to befall Down House in Kent, for 40 years the home of Charles Darwin, one of the greatest Englishmen who ever drew breath. It was only as a result of the concerted efforts of the Natural History Museum and English Heritage that it was saved for the nation at the 11th hour. But what of Elgar's home, or the studio of Francis Bacon, arguably the greatest British painter of the 20th century? Are they not also to be preserved for posterity? I find it inconceivable that any other country in the world would allow them to wither on the vine.
Some 10 years ago in my Arts Council days I put forward a proposition to successive Secretaries of State at what is now the DCMS, to the former chairman of English Heritage, Sir Jocelyn Stevens, and in various newspaper articles. However, I am sorry to say that that proposition fell on deaf ears. I put it forward again today for your Lordships' consideration for better or worse. The notion is a simple one: the grant-in-aid to English Heritage should be top-sliced by a nominal sum, say, #10 million per annum. That sum should be placed in a European pool of money. Member states of the EU would each contribute the same amount. The initiative, which would be led by English Heritage, would then identify specific projects in order of priority, throughout Europe, to which the funds could be applied.
Since talk of a European army and a rapid reaction force is topical, I propose such a force, not of soldiers but of craftsmen trained in this country under the guidance and supervision of our master craftsmen in all aspects of restoration: guilders, enamellers, wood carvers, stone masons, joiners, plasterers and so on, which would become a peripatetic workforce moving throughout Europe and working on European projects, as was done in the Middle Ages. I know that there may be problems with terms of reference and with current legislation, both of which would have to be adjusted, but your Lordships may feel that the benefits of job creation and the undeniable effects of a British-led initiative stemming from this House in particular, which is perhaps the ultimate masterpiece of Victorian artistry and craftsmanship, outweigh technicalities and underlines the proper way forward for our credentials of European collaboration. It might, too, just receive unanimous support--a rare event in European politics.
My Lords, I believe that it is my turn to speak.
I am grateful for this opportunity to debate the historic heritage. North of the border--if I may mention that place--we have a strong and "in your face" historic and cultural heritage. We also have that perverse phenomenon of the indigenous population feeling uncomfortable about their heritage, the so-called "Scottish cringe", while that self-same heritage is one of the world's strongest tourist products.
What does need to be raised is the subject of endowments and the raising of funds for endowments. Before going any further, I need to declare three interests: first, I am the chairman of the Clackmannanshire Heritage Trust which owns Alloa Tower; secondly, I am an elected member of the Council of the National Trust for Scotland, which leases Alloa Tower, and, thirdly, I have made an informal loan of family portraits and furniture to Alloa Tower.
To get back to the subject of endowments, I recall a recent discussion about the creation of new public footpaths. The situation is that while funds are available for footpath creation, there are no funds available for footpath maintenance and repair. The conclusion has to be that footpath creation is irresponsible, for the initial asset will quickly become a disreputable burden and a liability.
In a substantial way the same seems to be happening with the historic built heritage. It is inevitable that funds will become available for the repair of historic fabric, provided that there is something that looks like a business plan attached to the project. The projections may well be optimistic and will usually take time to achieve. At the same time, it is usually undesirable to push too many visitors through the property, both for the sake of the visitors and staff and for the sake of the historic fabric itself. The usual conclusion is that some form of revenue support is necessary. This can be achieved from a number of sources: retailing, catering, and public authority economic grant. Revenue support, because it supports employment, is attractive. Since 1996 the National Trust of Scotland has leased Alloa Tower from Clackmannanshire Council for 25 years with guaranteed fixed revenue support.
When it comes to finding funds for an endowment, the situation becomes difficult. Endowments are not sexy; they are boringly responsible. One cannot open an endowment in front of the press or stick a brass plaque on it. Yet without an endowment the heritage project will fall apart. Like the footpaths mentioned earlier, the new cultural and tourism assets will become a liability and ultimately a waste of resources. For Alloa Tower, the first anticipated call on an endowment will be the repainting of all the external woodwork and then the upgrading of the display material.
The reluctance to finish off the project--for that is what the endowment is--seems to be widespread. I had better declare a further interest. The Clackmannanshire Heritage Trust has applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund to help with an endowment. At present that application is neither accepted nor rejected. However, the Heritage Lottery Fund commissioners seem to have a "no endowments" policy; and they are not the only ones.
My point is this: it is quite unfair and unbusinesslike for historic heritage projects to be funded for the repair phase and not for the long-term maintenance phase. There has been a rash of headline-grabbing heritage projects in recent years as new funds became available. Lovely brass plaques and photo-opportunities have abounded. But what will the reaction be when that lovely brass plaque falls off the wall as the building decays in the future? I strongly refute the idea that any project's business plan can realistically include earning an endowment. The reality is that it will have difficulty in breaking even on an annual revenue basis. Most will always require annual revenue support.
We all have a responsibility for the maintenance of and accessibility to our respective heritages. My contention is that endowment funding is central to every heritage repair and accessibility project. We must bequeath a strong heritage to all our successors--a heritage that they can enjoy, be interested in and proud of, and which is secure and not a huge and embarrassing liability. Endowment funding must become a mainstream and laudable heritage activity.
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, for purporting to be him for a moment or two. I am pleased to have the opportunity now to follow rather than precede his excellent speech on which I congratulate him. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Palumbo on his far-reaching idea.
The report has been subject to some far-reaching and in-depth criticism from those more expert than myself. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, examined it very closely indeed. It was later held up to the light by my noble friend Lord Renfrew. Having heard his critique of the report's failure to address critical parts of not just the built heritage but also the historic landscapes of the United Kingdom makes me glad that I never had to show my noble friend an inadequate essay at a supervision held by him at Jesus College, Cambridge. I do not think that I would have enjoyed that experience.
I shall not repeat those well-made criticisms. The authors of the report had a difficult task. As my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu pointed out in his excellent introductory speech, it is difficult to satisfy everyone. However, substantial lacunae in the report need to be addressed. I hope that we shall have a further report in two or three years' time, putting right some of the criticisms levelled at it, and updating us on the progress made. If that were to occur, I hope that the steering group will contain a wider range of people. I thank the members for their hard work in producing the report. However, I hope that the group will include also university teachers, archaeologists and one or two independent expert voices from outside the heritage industry who would subject some of the arguments to rigorous analysis.
Not only are there gaps in the report but there is an unfair concentration on what the Government should do. I shall attempt to bring a pre-Christmas smile to the face of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. He need not be alarmed; I am not about to show too much sympathy or support for the Government. I do not wish to destabilise him in any way. However, I thought that it was wrong that Part 1 states on page 5:
"We look forward to the Government responding quickly and positively to the recommendations we have made"-- as though it were only the Government who should respond to the recommendations in the report. I believe that a number of the heritage bodies in what may loosely be referred to as "the heritage industry" should consider their role to see what more they could do.
I take one example. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, as a distinguished ex-chairman of the National Trust, will forgive me if I take the National Trust as an example and raise a question mark or two about its role in heritage matters. To do so may be thought by some to be somewhat impolite--rather like questioning the purposes of the monarchy or doubting the holiness of His Holiness the Pope, neither of which I do. However, I think that the National Trust needs to consider whether its contribution to the heritage can be further refined.
I shall not attempt to use the National Trust as a peg on which to hang criticisms of that body. Today there are demonstrations about field sports outside this House. If my noble friend Lord Kimball were present, I am sure that he would encourage me to debate that. I shall not do so. I shall not talk about the criticisms in the national press of the National Trust and its treatment of tenant farmers or the alleged elitism of its governing council. It is true that there are not many minority players in the higher reaches of the National Trust. That is probably a pity. However, the National Trust is the largest landowner in the United Kingdom with 612,000 acres, 600 miles of coastline, 1,100 tenants and heaven knows how many houses and monuments to look after. There is a severe danger that such a body is now too big to fulfil the historic purpose for which it was set up in 1907. I do not think that any of your Lordships' predecessors in 1907 would have dreamt that the National Trust would become so large and sometimes so distant from London--any more than an 18th century Whig magnate would have dreamt of having an estate of 612,000 acres. Across the country, that has led--alas!--on occasion to a certain cultural and historic homogeneity in the way in which the National Trust has treated its properties. There is sometimes a politically correct interpretation in the way in which it sets out its houses and landscape properties.
Having been mildly critical of one part of Sir Neil Cossons's words, perhaps I may refer to his introduction, in which he says:
"Good history is history that is based on thorough research and is tested and refined through open debate".
There is not enough of that in the National Trust's huge estate. I hope that during my lifetime the National Trust will consider forming trusts for the eastern counties, the south-western counties and Tyneside, and becoming more locally based, as are the Scottish and Welsh trusts. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, hinted at that. If the trust ran itself in a more federal way, that would benefit the people, the landscapes and the buildings of the regions.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the report, with its five main messages. I thank my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu for providing us with the opportunity to debate it, as well as for all his work in the past and present and, in anticipation, all his work to come on this important aspect of our heritage.
I regret the absence of Lord Chorley, who would have spoken with great authority about the National Trust, and many others, including the Earl of Clancarty, who always took a great interest in these matters.
I do not intend to enter into the separate debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on the provenance of the report or its balance. Whether it is an English Heritage report is irrelevant. The important thing is that we have had consultation on the issues and we now have a practical analysis of action that can be taken, following hard on the heels of the Government's White Paper, Our Towns and Cities: The Future. The report is valuable in that it raises awareness and spurs us on to necessary action.
For anybody who is not aware, my interest in the subject stems from the fact that I am a trustee of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside. Liverpool has a splendid new conservation centre with training facilities, as well as an emphasis on minority cultures. We have this country's only museum of Atlantic slavery, as part of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, and the newly refurbished Museum of Liverpool Life has a section that concentrates on the ethnic minority groups in Liverpool. Many may be surprised to learn that Liverpool has the oldest Chinese community in the country. That is proudly manifested in the museum.
I am also president of the European Foundation for Heritage Skills, which, under the umbrella of the Council of Europe, seeks to carry on the work of the Pro Venezia Viva Centre, which was started by my late noble friend Lord Duncan-Sandys and aimed at ensuring that there are adequate centres in Europe for training in such skills. The noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, who, I am sorry to say, is not now in his place, is familiar with the project. It ties in with the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Palumbo for a European initiative.
The foundation has created a database of all the centres of conservation and training in conservation skills throughout Europe. It also works on other ways of raising awareness by means of seminars and conferences.
I shall focus on paragraph 2.3 of the report and recommendation 7, emphasising the importance of opportunities for training, particularly craft apprenticeships, which are needed to meet future demand. Employers, particularly in construction and landscape management contractors, need to be given an incentive to provide training. My other point, which was made by my noble friend Lord Montagu in opening, is the importance of a national conservation training forum to bring together the institutions that provide training and validation, removing inconsistencies and preventing duplication.
That ties in to an extent with the Government's White Paper, Our Towns and Cities. I hope that the newly formed urban regeneration companies will take the recommendations into account when moving forward to projects.
The Minister will not be surprised that I have one or two questions for him. Does he expect these issues to be part of the Bill that is to be laid before us in the new year? It will cover a wide variety of subjects, including cultural heritage. What financial underpinning does he envisage to carry forward the recommendations? How does he think that more interest in heritage can be stimulated among young people and our ethnic minority communities?
Those are the main issues that I wish to focus on, but I should like to make a passing reference to VAT, which is a problem, as my noble friend Lord Montagu said, because the present system discourages maintenance. The report's emphasis on prevention rather than cure is very important. I remind the Minister of the anomaly under which regional museums are exempt from VAT, but national museums are not, hence the dilemma for national museums with regard to charging entry fees, without which no VAT can be reclaimed.
I look forward not only to the Government's response but also to the nation's response. This is an important report and I hope that the nation will be fully aware of it.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, is the most appropriate person to introduce the debate, having done so much over many years to reinterpret our heritage to the public. I declare an interest, as my wife is, inter alia, actively concerned with the preservation of our historic landscape. I acknowledge her advice.
Like my noble friend Lord Gibson, I am sure that the Government, having made a welcome start on reducing VAT in this sector, have understood that it is essential to equalise VAT at 5 per cent for all building work. I believe that the Government see the force of the argument, not to mention the injustice, that improvements to a window, for example, are VAT-free, while repairs still attract 17.5 per cent. I trust that the Minister, who will be going to Brussels on behalf of us all for our places of worship, can say something equally encouraging today about repairs to all listed historic buildings.
The report is about the involvement of people in their historic environment. An encouraging finding of a MORI survey is that the vast majority of the population recognise that our historic environment enriches our lives, supports our economy and creates jobs and that there should be public funding to preserve it.
However, we cannot be complacent because many people still feel excluded from it. Leaving aside the lottery, the Government have not yet had an opportunity to support the heritage as much as it requires. The programme extends for many years, even possibly beyond the life of new Labour. The authors of the report should be congratulated on looking so far ahead.
The sense of ownership of our heritage must be extended to all groups in society. I say that with sincerity as someone who believes in citizenship and as an owner who has supported the extension of public access in recent years. Someone who is "lucky" enough to inherit property soon becomes aware of the duty laid upon them. I have a personal debt to my uncle, the late Sir Michael Culme-Seymour, who had a remarkable intuitive sense of the privilege of public stewardship that is conferred on private owners.
However, there is a balance to be drawn. Like the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, I do not think that the report has got it quite right. Although Recommendation 6, which introduces a statutory duty of care on owners of listed buildings, is attractive, it concerns the owners particularly of smaller houses and listed buildings and registered parks and gardens, who are already struggling with a maze of national and local regulations. It is not enough to be offered fiscal incentives and grants if more and more strings are to be attached. Of course, there must be planned maintenance and surveys according to the accepted criteria, and I commend this Government's emphasis on providing advice and strengthening partnership between owners and statutory bodies.
I also agree with Recommendation 10, which asks the Government to improve their consultation and participation procedures. We must enable more people to take part in the planning process. I applaud the recommendation that local authority planning proposals should be less opaque. That ties in not only with the evident and required accountability of local authorities to the general public but also with the training of local authority officers and their councillors.
I turn now to the training of conservation officers. Although English Heritage has built up a cadre of trained inspectors in the built heritage, it is only in the past few years that it has addressed the importance of training in historic gardens, parks and landscape. English Heritage is to be congratulated on its new policy of having a landscape architect in each region. However, that policy is not yet complete--not all the regions have a landscape architect, and further training of its building inspectors would be welcome.
With regard to training, it is equally important that local authorities increase their level of awareness of the historic environment. This wide term means more narrowly focused training, in particular in the interdependence of historic landscape, parks and gardens with their built structures. I have in mind the recent case of Downe Hall near Bridport in Dorset in which the English Heritage guidelines on enabling development allowed inappropriate development around a historic house and garden and so destroyed its historic environment, despite the widespread local and national protest.
English Heritage has since changed its guidelines to a presumption against enabling development. However, a wider appreciation of, and education in, the historic environment should ensure, first, that planning mistakes such as Downe Hall should not recur, and, secondly, that local authorities should be able to respond to the evident and close public interest in the preservation of heritage.
I applaud as an immediate priority the recommendation that targets should be set for English Heritage and local authorities to clear the backlog of repairs to buildings, monuments, parks and gardens which are at risk, and to make public bodies more accountable for their performance in maintaining their historic estate. It is often too easy for public bodies to pursue new and fashionable policies at the expense of the less glamorous but essential maintenance and repair of the old.
I welcome new policies that seek to protect, for example, our natural environment or that permit planning proposals which enhance job creation and urban regeneration. But in the Pantheon in Rome is a famous injunction against disrespect for the historic environment:
"Quod non destruere barbari destruere barberini".
And here, in this excellent report--whatever its omissions, which I fully concede--we see a renewed mandate from the general public to preserve our heritage and ensure that neither the untrained nor the young Turks deprive future generations of its richness and diversity.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Montagu for providing the opportunity for this interesting debate. As an Australian, I come from a country which has only 200 years of history. Like all tourists who come to this country, I have always been totally fascinated by its history and its stately homes, and I have done my best to visit as many of them as possible.
For many years I served on the historic buildings committee of the GLC. We had a fascinating group of unelected members: Sir John Summers, the authority on Georgian London; Sir Hugh Casson; Sir John Betjeman; and Osbert Lancaster, who was a great character. When the GLC had gone, I transferred to the Heritage of London trust, where I found all the same people who had been on the GLC historic buildings committee. Therefore, I have always had an interest in this subject.
I welcome the report and the attention which it draws to the need for greater awareness of the importance of heritage to this nation. It is a wonderful concept and great in theory, and the report sets out 18 valuable recommendations. However, I find that there is an element of impracticality and unreality in the text. Those who have written the report are so absorbed in the whole concept of saving our heritage and creating an awareness of its importance that they tend to overlook the situation of most people and the way that life is lived on an everyday basis.
As my noble friend Lord Montagu mentioned, Part 1 of the report refers to the 3,000 people whom MORI surveyed. It would have us believe that the public are strongly supportive. Perhaps I may put a current scenario to your Lordships. Westminster Council has recently had to consider the plans for the redevelopment of the Paddington Basin and the 13 acres near Paddington Station. Should it allow tall buildings? What view should it take over the conflicting interests of retaining the Mint Wing of St Mary's Hospital or allowing it to be replaced in the interests of producing a new, larger hospital to provide the essential National Health Service for the local community and the wider group of patients who will attend the new special treatment centres planned for the site?
The Mint Wing originally housed the horses which worked on the railway and the canal. The horses walked up the ramp to the first floor. I found that concept very romantic. I was involved when the building was converted for hospital use and I believe that the ramp was retained.
The new plans for the area are intended to improve the local environment by providing open spaces, easier access to the major rail centre and interchanges, and a better living environment, including new housing. All new buildings must now undergo an environmental and amenity assessment to ensure that they are so-called "healthy" buildings.
MORI questioned 3,000 people for the report. Westminster Council sent out 17,000 questionnaires to seek people's views on the matter. It received 58 replies, mainly from amenity groups--sometimes two from the same group--with a few from individuals. What can be said about the views of the 16,942 people who did not reply? Are they happy with things as they are? Are they prepared to leave decisions to others, or are they simply uninterested? I believe that 17,000 is so much higher a figure than the 3,000 in relation to the MORI poll that we must think about that particular point.
I return to Part 1. Section 05 states that,
"most people believe change is necessary and desirable".
In Section 06 we read an idealistic text about how judgments should be made. To some extent those, alas, are always subjective because human beings are making the decisions. Let us consider the Durbar Court and how it would have been lost but for the fact that no one got around to demolishing it. Now it is one of the joys of London. Let us compare the Bankside power station--now the Tate Modern--with the Battersea power station, which, sadly, is declining.
My personal opinion of listings is that the early ones were splendid and I strongly supported them. However, in London, which I know best, I noticed that, having got the listing urge, those responsible felt that they must keep going and the buildings that were listed became less deserving. Conservation areas abound. Your Lordships may recall that one London borough tried to have the whole borough designated as a conservation area. Conservation is good, but on the historic buildings committee preservation was always referred to as "the dead hand of preservation".
In Oxfordshire, where I have my home in an attractive village, the house was not listed when I bought it and it had a current planning permission for an extension. I did not build the extension and, after a few years, the house was listed as a Grade II building. When I applied to renew the planning consent for the extension, I was told that it was no longer appropriate for a listed building and the renewal was refused. However, 10 years later I now have a different consent. I find that hard to understand. If I had already built the extension, it would have been listed as part of the established house--appropriate or not. If it had existed, it would have been included in the listing.
That seems to me to indicate--I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, made many of the points that I am about to reiterate, and I agree with everything that he said on the matter--that there is a need for more careful assessment of what is listed. One should inquire whether a whole building is precious or only part of it. An example is Centrepoint. For years that building has been a landmark and the exterior is part of the central London scene. However, it was kept empty for a long time and the interior became quite useless. Why could not listing cover the retention of the exterior and the fenestration, which is the attractive feature, but allow normal planning controls to apply to internal changes? The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said that he could not reconcile planning and heritage controls. That is where recommendation 12 comes in. A management statement for each listed building would identify the important features so that one would know whether it was the whole building or just one feature that it was really important to retain.
A recent widely reported court case covered the obligation of an owner to retain ugly glass-louvre windows in a porch replacing the original historic ones. It is important that it should be possible to live comfortably in a property with central heating, modern plumbing, and wiring, which are desirable for normal living conditions. Adequate heat and warmth should always be allowed, with sympathetic positioning.
History is fascinating and absorbing and I agree that it should be part of education. But we do not want to turn the country into a museum. It is a nonsense not to allow buildings to continue to be viable. The best protection for any listed building is for it to have a current, economic use which provides an adequate return on investment, either in terms of personal occupancy or some other use.
The noble Lord, Lord Gibson, said that he found no reference to balance in this document; I did. In my view, paragraph 9 makes the most important point in the document. It states:
"We must balance the need to care for the historic environment with the need for change".
Paragraph 10 refers to understanding and says that the value that people ascribe to historic buildings must be assessed and that there is no intention to fossilise or increase existing controls.
My Lords, I too add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Montagu for giving us the opportunity to debate this matter this afternoon. We owe a great deal to my noble friend not only in relation to his work for English Heritage but also in relation to all the other heritage organisations with which he has been involved.
The new chairman of English Heritage, Sir Neil Cossons, told me earlier this year that he was determined to produce a concise report. That perhaps answers the question by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, as to why the report is not bigger and why so many things have been knocked out of it. The point of that was to try to ensure that everyone actually read the report. Sir Neil and his steering group have succeeded admirably in that and have produced a document with a series of interesting proposals.
It is more than just an English Heritage report. One can see that the members of the 20-strong steering group are all senior figures involved with the historic environment. They all contributed greatly; there is no question about that. My successor as chairman of the Joint Committee of the Amenity Societies was on the steering group and was sometimes represented by the very effective secretary of the joint committee, Matthew Saunders.
One of the suggestions in the report is that,
"heritage organisations must work more in partnership", and that the sector is "fragmented". That is the reason that the joint committee was set up in 1972. Apart from the eight societies which are members, including the Georgian Group, of which I am president, other organisations attend those two monthly meetings and they include English Heritage, the DCMS, DETR and the Historic Houses Association, which all attend as observers. The joint committee co-ordinates responses to government papers and, indeed, will be doing so in relation to the recent rural and urban White Papers.
It is possible that more could be made of the joint committee. I know that there is to be a meeting in the spring to discuss how the committee might help to bring about a closer working partnership between heritage organisations.
Last year, the joint committee commissioned a helpful report entitled VAT and the Built Heritage, which is referred to in the report we are discussing today. It is also recorded that the single most frequently raised issue on the consultation for the report was VAT, a point made by my noble friend Lord Montagu.
The joint committee report argued for a single harmonised rate of 5 per cent for all building work of whatever kind, and Power of Place endorses that view.
Indeed, since the joint committee's report, the Government have moved on VAT and are currently seeking a reduction in the rate of VAT on repair and maintenance of listed places of worship. That is very good news indeed but it is tempered somewhat, as the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, said, by the fact that there about 11,000 listed places of worship out of 370,000 listed buildings. For all of us in the Chamber, the VAT problem is an old chestnut but I hope that the Minister will bring us up to date on the VAT issue.
The Minister will be as encouraged, as we all are, by the result of the MORI poll commissioned by English Heritage. As my noble friend Lord Montagu said, it really should put to rest any thought that heritage is not significant. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, had queries in relation to the MORI poll, but having worked for George Gallup on Gallup public opinion polls, I can tell her that MORI uses a very different system than that used in the particular poll to which she referred. There is no reason to suppose that the MORI poll is not entirely accurate or to within the normal 5 per cent figure.
I hope that the MORI poll will strengthen the hand of the Minister and the Secretary of State more easily to fight the heritage corner with that incredibly clear message about how important the vast majority of people in this country consider our heritage to be. Of course, that presents government with a great challenge, which has substantial cost implications. Various aspects of the report would clearly cost a lot of money to implement. That is no doubt one aspect at which the Minister and his colleagues will look in particular in the next few months.
As several noble Lords have said today, the report is by no means perfect. There are omissions and there are areas which need careful scrutiny. The noble Lord, Lord Gibson, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, referred to recommendation 6 which says that the Government should introduce a statutory duty of care on owners of listed buildings. I suspect that that is far too draconian a measure and certainly needs to be looked at very carefully.
We should welcome this report and I very much look forward to hearing the Minister's views on Power of Place.
My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, in his praise for the noble Lord, Lord Montagu. He is a true professional in this field and he provided us with an excellent introduction to this debate in your Lordships' House.
Perhaps I may illustrate the impression that I have of the noble Lord, Lord Montagu. Last summer, I was invited to his motorcycle day at Beaulieu, together with the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, and our wives. We went on our motorcycles to his motorcycle day where he entertained us very well. It was an extremely successful weekend, as one would expect. We saw there the excellent balance which he has achieved in preserving an estate of enormous historical value alongside the imperatives of tourism which he has managed to satisfy so well. There can be no better person to have introduced this debate today.
An important point which he made during his speech, which again shows the balance which is required and which is perhaps not brought out by the report, was in relation to the difficulties of access. Of course, there should be wide access to all our heritage sites. The noble Lord gave the example of access given to disabled people. That must be balanced against the possible damage done to the fabric of the house or monument in question. It is a matter of sensitivity.
The matters contained in the Power of Place--I much prefer the title Pride of Place as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath--that have been dug out by English Heritage and put in the press release are extremely important. Whether all the recommendations are met with equal enthusiasm is doubtful. The fact that such matters are important is reflected in the interesting and well-informed speeches in the debate.
I shall not follow my noble friend Lord Redesdale in the energy of youth that he showed in criticising the report. I believe that it is far too full of adjectives, superlatives, political correctness and in particular a kind of vagueness. One example of that vagueness that could have been couched in different terms appears on page 33, under the heading "Make more use of character appraisal". That concept requires some amplification. In its encouragement for the Government it says:
"Encourage local authorities to use spatial masterplans based on character assessment by including them as Best Value performance indicators".
That appears to be a candidate for the Campaign for Plain English. It does not encourage one to read further or to find out much more about character appraisal.
Many noble Lords have shown fear of causing the Minister to scowl. I too do not want to see him scowl. More often he is to be found smiling, as he is now and when responding to debates of this kind, in a most amiable way, although this is a vigorous debate in which vigorous views have been expressed.
All of the speeches have been good and some interesting points have been raised. One of the most interesting and telling remarks was made by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, who said that what one knows must come before what one sees. I could not agree with him more. That fact has been brought home to me since the summer Recess as I have been reading an excellent history of the 100 years war by Jonathan Sumption in two volumes--soon to be three. He is an excellent historian as well as a practising QC. I recommend him to your Lordships.
Over many years I have travelled in France in a motorcar and on a motorbike, particularly in the Dordogne, an area dealt with in the history and in the 15 days of the Christmas Recess I shall revisit some of the sites. The movements of the great companies of the Black Prince, the fights against the forces of the King of Navarre and the King of France and the difficulties of the dauphin, and so on, have been brought alive for me through my reading so I shall now visit those historic monuments, the bastides and the towns--the scenes of such conflicts--with new eyes. I have been encouraged to see them again.
If the imparting of knowledge is carried out correctly one can see things in a new light. When one visits places it is hoped that one is encouraged to learn more about them, although that is not always the case. Often what one sees, particularly on television, does not encourage one to learn more, although recently there have been some excellent historical programmes.
I am disappointed not to see the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, in his place because I believe he would have made an interesting contribution to the debate. About two or three years ago I happened to meet him in an airport where we struck up a conversation about the built heritage and some of the matters that we are debating this afternoon. I remarked to him--this relates to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew--that it is strange that there are so many medieval and Roman remains in Europe. Roman architecture and monuments are to be found in Provence, and Italy has numerous towns that have been well preserved and conserved with new developments apart from the old centres. The noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, expressed the view that one must understand that the British, like all with a long history of mercantile and industrial development, have a compulsion to clear the decks to start something new. That could explain why there is much less medieval architecture, and certainly Roman, in Britain compared with France and Italy. After the late 17th century and the great events of that period, we moved into our commercial and industrial period when there was a new growth of architecture and urban development that today we are concerned to preserve. The speeches about the new and the old relate to the report, but I was impressed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, when he spoke about the landscape, the urban deprivation and the way in which they are dealt with.
In the 18th century, which was the burgeoning period of architecture and landscaping in terms of great and new patrons and an era of a great widening of the society of patronage, the great landscape artists, such as Capability Brown, followed by the greatest of them all, Repton, looked upon the development of the landscape as an integral part of what they were required to do with the built structure. That contributed to the development of the new cities. Together with the portrait painters of that period, the interior decorators, the Grinling Gibbons and so on, they created a new civic vision for the polite society that was emerging as a result of the commercial development in the West Indies which, unfortunately, was based on slavery. I am surprised that that was not mentioned in the report.
There is much political correctness in the report. I believe that it is extremely condescending to the West Indian community; political correctness is often condescending to those whom it is supposed to help. I believe that it was inappropriate to put a picture of a market in Brixton on the front of this document. I do not suggest there should be a picture of a castle, a palace or a monument, but in my view that picture was too arch, so I add to the criticisms in that way.
Once the irritation of the form in which the report is presented has been overcome, important decisions must translate the enthusiasm of the debate and the enthusiasm of the report. That will require much focus, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said in her customary good-sense way. Much thought will have to be focused and a sensible strategy will have to be developed. The Government will have to bear much of the responsibility for implementing the decisions, the focusing and the strategy. The 18 recommendations are not a bad start. Some noble Lords have expressed doubt about them, but at least they provide a springboard. I am hopeful that the Minister, who has been smiling almost throughout my speech, will give us some encouragement for the future.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu for making it possible for us to have this debate. I congratulate him particularly on being able to obtain it within a mere week of the report's publication.
In their critique of Power of Place this afternoon, noble Lords addressed the vital questions contained within it: what is the value of our historic environment? Who is responsible for its guardianship? What measures should be taken and by whom to secure its future? How and when should those measures be taken?
My noble friend Lord Palumbo, more eloquently than I could, pointed out that the historic environment has a vital place within our culture. It helps us to know who we were, who we are now and who we may be in the future. It has within it an intrinsic value.
It is important to maintain a balance of conservation with a determination not to preserve the past in aspic--something my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes made clear in her canter round the issues of planning and listing. Houses, field monuments and the rural landscape evolved over generations. We should not want them to be frozen in time.
Heritage sites also have an economic value. History has a magnetic pull. Last year 51 per cent of the population visited an historic attraction, compared with only 17 per cent who went to a football match; 73 per cent of our overseas visitors visit historic buildings during their stay. Knowing that I have the eyes of my noble friend Lady Gardner upon me, I can say that those were recorded visits and not survey figures.
As we on these Benches pointed out in the foreword to our tourism strategy earlier this year, tourism is a pervasive industry. In Britain it draws upon our distinctive cultures and traditions. It is vital to the preservation and promotion of landscapes and historic buildings. It acts as a force for renewal and regeneration in both cities and the countryside, and in helping to create a positive image of Britain it enhances, more widely, inward investment.
Earlier this afternoon my noble friend Lord Patten made it clear that we all have a responsibility towards ensuring that our historic environment survives to inform and enthuse future generations. The historic environment is enjoyed by the whole population. But it is created, managed and maintained by a limited number of owners and organisations, whether it be the National Trust or others.
Also, it is important to recognise the value of the work of the volunteer; the strength and depth of the voluntary involvement in the historic environment of England. Indeed, as noble Lords pointed out, it is the envy of the world. The voluntary sector has been a spur to public action and a rich source of new insights. Yesterday when reading The Times, who could fail to have been charmed by the story of the discovery in the Isle of Wight of a village the whereabouts of which had been lost to us for centuries. The discovery was made by an amateur archaeologist who won a trip in a Piper Club aircraft. He took the opportunity, while flying around the area near his home, to take photographs from outside the craft. Those photographs proved the existence of the village. Thank goodness for people like him who realise the importance of "bumps in fields".
I can assure my noble friend Lord Renfrew that I take his words this afternoon very seriously. I hope that we shall have the opportunity to consider his important argument within the passage of the Culture and Recreation Bill.
The report--Power of Place--considers what needs to be done and by whom. It concludes that there is no need for immediate legislation, but that there is need for immediate action. The irony is that we may get the immediate legislation but, welcome though some of that may be, we shall not get immediate action.
Noble Lords referred to the fact that the report recommends that the remit of English Heritage should include marine matters and that funds be provided for effective protection. That echoes the recommendations made by my right honourable friend Virginia Bottomley in the Green Paper, Protecting Our Heritage, published in 1996. I am pleased that the Government intend to endorse those recommendations in the forthcoming Bill. Perhaps it is a case of better late than never--or even, better never late. I look forward to the opportunity to examine those proposals in detail in the new year, just to make sure that the policy intention is achieved and is achievable.
This afternoon my noble friend Lord Crathorne pointed out, as did other noble Lords, that the single most frequently raised issue during the consultation prior to the publication of this report was VAT. The report recommends equalising VAT at 5 per cent for all new build, repairs and maintenance. I look forward to hearing the Government's estimate of the cost of that to the Treasury.
The Government stated in their Pre-Budget Report that they are,
"attracted to the idea of offering a reduced rate of VAT for the repair and maintenance of listed buildings which are used as places of worship, and has written to the European Commission today to make its position clear".
The charging of VAT with regard to churches was the subject of a Starred Question in this House on 22nd July last year. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, then stated that,
"Annex H to the Sixth Directive cannot be applied retrospectively; in other words, it is not possible for us to add to the list of exemptions which existed before 1992, when Annex H was adopted".--(Official Report, 22/7/99; col 1126.]
My simple question on that convoluted quotation is: what is the Government's understanding now of the legal position? Can they go ahead and add to the list of exemptions as they seemed to promise in the Pre-Budget Statement? What are their plans to extend that extension to other listed buildings? If they do not have such an intention, what is their rationale for not so doing?
References have been made this afternoon to the Heritage Lottery Fund. I cannot let them pass without a reference to the order which the Government put through this House last Thursday. That order will snatch from the grasp of the Heritage Lottery Fund money that we on these Benches intended should reach it after the Millennium Commission had finished its millennium year work. At the moment, the New Opportunities Fund takes 13 1/3 per cent from the pot designed for the original good causes. After August next year, it will take 33 1/3 per cent. Without the New Opportunities Fund, the money would have been divided up amongst the original good causes. The Heritage Lottery Fund would have received 25 per cent of lottery proceeds; now it will receive only 16 1/3 per cent. I regret that.
Several noble Lords commented on the recommendations with regard to training and education. I endorse all they said, particularly the words of my noble friend Lady Hooper in relation to training in conservation skills. Without that, we would have no heritage in the future to preserve; indeed, it could fall apart and be lost to future generations.
I was pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Montagu point out the vital part that education should play in putting the historic environment at the heart of education in schools and lifelong learning. Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Leeds Castle in Kent at the invitation of the trustees to find out more about their work. It is a charitable foundation with no extra source of funding other than that it receives from its 500,000 visitors a year. I was impressed by their proposal to renovate the pavilion in order to create a dedicated education centre. The project will turn a derelict building back into one with a useful purpose, without materially affecting its appearance. At the same time the proposal will create a special education centre, leading to the better understanding and interpretation of all aspects of Leeds Castle's work and history. It is primarily aimed at school children aged five to 11. I wish them well with the project. It shows how vibrant the built heritage sector is today.
I was also pleased to see in the report references to the importance that owners should place on ensuring that people with disabilities can visit and enjoy historic properties in an easy and dignified way. In saying that, I declare an interest as patron of the Tourism for All Consortium.
My noble friend Lord Renfrew referred to the section in the report which covers the recommendation that the Government should lead by example; they should ratify and implement relevant international charters. I look forward to hearing from the Minister in his reply whether or not the Government intend to sign up to the UNIDROIT Convention of 1995 as recommended by the report, or whether they will accept the recommendation made on Monday by the Illicit Trade Advisory Panel that they should not sign up to it.
Noble Lords throughout the House asked vital questions on the report. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.
My Lords, I join noble Lords who congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, on the excellent timing of the debate, on the way in which he introduced it and on his lifetime service to the historic environment. I hope that he has been pleased with the debate because, as the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said, it has been vigorous and there has been outspoken criticism of the report. Therefore, at a time when the Government are beginning to consider the recommendations, it is particularly important to hear responses from those in this House who know what they are talking about.
I do not want to duck out of our responsibility in requesting the report in the first place. It was an initiative of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, both of which have responsibilities in this area. Earlier this year, both departments asked English Heritage to produce the report to a tight timetable. That was to some extent extended but it was admirably met. The departments asked English Heritage to assess a wide range of key issues and to submit the formal report to the Government.
They also asked English Heritage to consult widely not only within the heritage sector but also beyond. We wanted the debate to encompass not only those for whom the heritage is a day-to-day concern--those responsible for running the heritage and those who live among it--but also others who bring a different perspective to bear--those in industry and commerce and those involved in the development and planning process, the tourist industry and individual members of the public whose lives are touched by different aspects of our heritage.
We are pleased that English Heritage took consultation so seriously and that it set up such a wide steering group. I was a little surprised by some of the criticisms made about the composition of that group. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, for example, described the report as coming from the heritage industry. I believe that it was much more than that: it covered planning and development interests, local government, natural heritage bodies, land-owning interests, the Country Landowners' Association, tourism interests, Church bodies and ethnic community representatives. In view of the comments made about archaeology, I should add that the president of the Council for British Archaeology, Dr. Francis Pryor, was a member of the steering group.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, was right in saying that a wide range of interests were represented on the steering group and therefore it was to some extent responsible for the report. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, believes that the report does not represent those bodies and I hope that he will talk to us about that. I am not familiar with the charges he makes but they deserve to be investigated.
In addition to the steering group, five discussion papers went out to more than 4,000 people. Responses were received from 630 organisations representing a wide range of bodies which care about the historic environment. Furthermore, there was the MORI poll. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, contrasted it with Westminster City Council's consultation on the Paddington Basin, but as a survey researcher for 40 years I can assure her that it was a highly professional poll. Response rates were of a proper level and there was a mixture of quantitative and qualitative research, which one would expect. Although there is always temptation for people in response to express socially acceptable views, the degree of public support for the historic environment which is shown in the survey is remarkable. The degree to which the public support is expressed by a wide range of people in this country of all social classes, in all regions and of all ethnic origins is also remarkable. Therefore, in terms of the range of interests which have taken part in the production of the report, English Heritage has nothing to be afraid of.
The report was launched only on 14th November last year, an event which was attended by Ministers from the two departments. They said that the Government would study the report most carefully. As was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and I agree with him, many of the recommendations are not just for government; they are for the heritage sector generally, for local authorities, regional bodies and owners. We look forward to seeing how they respond to the report.
As regards the recommendations affecting government, clearly the whole of Whitehall must be involved and until the spring our time will be taken in meeting our commitment to respond urgently. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, was right in saying that what is now required is action, not more consultation.
Of course, in forming our view we shall take into account the views expressed in today's debate. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Palumbo, made an interesting suggestion about, as my note reads, "top-slicing for the European army". I do not believe that that is quite what he meant, but he referred to European projects. I shall be interested to hear what English Heritage thinks about losing 10 per cent of its budget for European projects but, the suggestion coming from him, I take it seriously, as always.
We should not be drawn into thinking that legislation, in particular the Culture and Recreation Bill which is to have its Second Reading in January, is an important part of our response to the Bill. There are areas where that Bill is relevant, notably the provision for transferring policy for underwater archaeology to English Heritage and the merger between English Heritage and the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments in England. But, on the whole, few of the recommendations, even those which are for government, will require legislation. I should not want to raise hopes that the Culture and Recreation Bill will be changed as it appears before the House in order to respond to the recommendations of this report. There are many other actions which government can and must take, but it is not always necessary to legislate. I give as an example the point about the importance of training, made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and with which we entirely agree. Legislation for that will not be required.
It is also important to consider our response to the report in the light of the other government initiatives which are taking place. I want to refer in particular to the urban and rural White Papers. There is criticism that the illustrations in the report emphasise the urban rather than the rural historic environment. I thought that that was unusual and interesting rather than sinister. I certainly did not believe that there was neglect in the text of the rural environment. Where the rural White Paper recognises the importance of conservation-led regeneration, it fits in well with what is stated in the report. In the same way, references in the urban White Paper to the historic environment as a means of making urban regeneration more effective fit in well with the report's recommendations. The urban White Paper points out that historic buildings, parks and open spaces make a great contribution to the character, diversity and sense of identity of urban areas, which fits in, too.
We must not neglect the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, which received Royal Assent at the very end of last month, and the relationship to which my noble friend Lord Hardy referred between the built historical environment and the natural environment. The Act contains many provisions which are directly related to the value, conservation and management of the natural and built environments. Therefore, the Government are not taking action simply in response to this report.
I turn to one or two more difficult areas of public policy which are highlighted in the report: first, the planning system. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is not alone in believing that there should be more integration of planning and heritage controls. But surely there is already considerable integration. Heritage policies are a material consideration in planning decisions. The planning system handles planning applications for listed building and conservation area consent. The report notes, quite rightly, the importance of the planning system in delivering heritage objectives. However, all of that arises in the context of the streamlining of the planning process which the DETR is undertaking under the agenda set out in Modernising Planning.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, drew attention to what she regarded as anomalies in the listing process. It is already possible for particular features of a building to be listed without prejudice to changes in other parts of the building which may not affect them. I am sure that that is as applicable to Centrepoint as it is to the noble Baroness's house in Oxfordshire. After all, this is reflected in the report's comments on the approach to conservation plan management agreements. We believe that that is worth further investigation. We are also looking at demolition controls in conservation areas and heritage notification arrangements, which are referred to in the report.
I was perhaps teased by the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, about VAT. I was fairly robust in my defence of government when the House debated Section 33 and the possibility of some reform of VAT. It was generally recognised that the Government had made progress with their proposals to reduce VAT from 17.5 to 5 per cent for repairs to listed places of worship. However, I cannot give the further news which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Crathorne, seek. The European Commission is still considering the proposal and we do not have a date for its conclusion or the timing of possible UK applications. We shall consider that matter again in the new year. I can assure noble Lords that we shall not let this matter drop.
Despite the welcome for that limited movement, the Government recognise--the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, noted that recognition--the considerable pressure for further change in the VAT regime, which has again been reflected in the House this afternoon. It is government policy to offer financial assistance to the built heritage through targeted grant aid and capital taxation relief. In pursuing the VAT reduction for listed places of worship, the Chancellor not only recognises the historic importance of those buildings but explores how far it is possible to go with the European Commission.
I note the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, about VAT and entry fees in relation to national museums. We have debated that matter on many occasions in the past. I do not know that that is directly relevant to this afternoon's debate, but the noble Baroness's contribution will not be overlooked. There are very difficult issues of public policy involved.
In conclusion, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, that in this process we do not want to turn the country into a museum or equate the built heritage with "theme park Britain". On the contrary, the historic environment in this country forms the backdrop to people's everyday lives. All the work that English Heritage has done in producing this report, in particular the MORI survey to which reference has been made, confirms how much people care about their heritage. It makes clear the extent to which people view the heritage in terms of places immediately around them, not simply individually designated historic sites and buildings.
I believe that the choice of Electric Avenue in Brixton as the front cover of the report is proper. It is better to show where people actually live than to show castles, however admirable they may be, which they can visit only on occasions. It is important to recognise how close these buildings are to people's lives. I do not in any way underestimate the importance of the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, about bumps in fields and the historic aspects of the environment. Unless one knows why things are there one cannot appreciate them properly. The training of people who work in the environment and the children in our schools about the country in which they live and its historic features is of critical importance.
We must not view heritage as an impediment to modern life. Conservation of the best of the past is an integral element of the process of renewing our towns and cities and promoting social inclusion, which is a very important aspect of the report. There is no reason why conservation should stand in the way of good quality development. The Government firmly believe that it is of enormous importance to protect both the best of the past and to create the heritage of the future.
I repeat the non-political point with which the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, began the debate. Great progress has been made over the past 20 years in recognising the important public interest in taking firm action to protect the natural environment. We now want to make similar progress to protect the historical environment, which has significance for all of us. We shall do everything we can to ensure that the policy statement to be published in the spring reflects that and does full justice to the issues raised in the report.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and other Members of the House who have joined in the debate this afternoon. I believe that we agree with most of the report but are worried about its omissions, which we hope can be dealt with in years to come. The historic environment should lie at the heart of all government policies. Although everybody is interested in our heritage, there is concern about the future and not the past. We have a great international responsibility, as England's heritage is in many respects the world's. We shall have a richer future if we recognise the value of our historic environment and manage it thoughtfully, efficiently and proudly. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.