English Heritage

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 17 November 2004.

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Photo of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu Lord Montagu of Beaulieu Conservative 2:30, 17 November 2004

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare my interest as a former chairman of English Heritage.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what was their reason for ordering the further review of the work of English Heritage soon after the last review.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, we have not ordered a further review of English Heritage. English Heritage is making good progress with implementing the recommendations of the quinquennial review, completed in May 2002. Earlier this year, Ministers looked at options for a possible change in the relationship between English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund. They decided that there was no merit in a merger, but asked the bodies to explore the scope for closer working in the context of the Government's efficiency programme.

Photo of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu Lord Montagu of Beaulieu Conservative

My Lords, can I take it therefore that there are no plans for mergers with any other body at this time?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour

My Lords, English Heritage does an excellent job in preserving our historic environment. It also carries out a lot of work in research, regeneration, education and employment. Can the Minister assure me that, in the forthcoming financial settlement, funding for English Heritage will not be cut?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I cannot forecast the outcome of the spending provision, which is a number of weeks away. However, I want to assure noble Lords that there has been no cost-cutting exercise as regards English Heritage. That body has been playing its part within the Government's efficiency programme to achieve 2.5 per cent savings, but the intention behind those savings is that they should be put into the front-line services which English Heritage provides.

Photo of Viscount Falkland Viscount Falkland Shadow Minister (Culture, Media & Sport (Lords)), Culture, Media & Sport

My Lords, will the Minister go a little further than the purely economic arguments here? One quite authoritative press commentator said recently—by way of a joke, I suppose; or maybe not—that the Government were not really interested in our built heritage because, for them, history had started only in 1997. Is there any truth in that? While I do not expect the Minister to say that there is, is it relevant to the noble Lord's Question?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I do not want to underestimate the historic significance of the year 1997. Of course the Government value our historic heritage and we all recognise that it is greatly valued by tourists of our country. Moreover, we have been hugely successful in increasing access to English Heritage sites by families and young people who, in the past, were not accustomed to visiting such places. That is a reflection of both the education and publicity programmes of English Heritage which are winning support and commendation.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Shadow Minister (Home Affairs), Shadow Minister (Home, Constitutional and Legal Affairs) , Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, if the Minister is able to reassure us that he does not envisage any material cuts in the funding for English Heritage, can he assure me that the Government are ignoring the summary of conclusions and recommendations for cost savings as a result of the review of the structure of government support for the historic environment undertaken by the consultants Pannell, Kerr Forster?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I have indicated that English Heritage, in common with all other agencies for which the Government have ultimate responsibility, is playing its part in achieving the 2.5 per cent efficiency saving. However, I wanted to emphasise that that efficiency saving can be achieved without a decline in services. It is intended that the resources so saved should be put into front-line services. In that respect, I can assure the noble Baroness that the intention behind the efficiency drive is not to cut services.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Shadow Minister, Defence

My Lords, following on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, that English Heritage is meant to protect our heritage, the efficiency cuts of 2.5 per cent referred to by the noble Lord mean that English Heritage will have no spare funding for grants in areas such as archaeology. If that funding dries up and no other funding is available, how can the Minister say that the money is being put into front-line services? The efficiency saving means that in fact there will be a cut in the heritage services for this country.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, it has been recognised that greater efficiency is required on the part of English Heritage in a number of areas. As I have said, this is not a unique situation. All government departments are following the requirement. However, where English Heritage is able to effect such efficiencies—I have not seen a consultants' report which indicates that it cannot do so and the body itself is buoyant about it—there is no reason to suppose that, in achieving those efficiencies, front-line services are being cut; far from it.

Photo of Lord Corbett of Castle Vale Lord Corbett of Castle Vale Labour

My Lords, while my noble friend is praising English Heritage, will he also commend it for the excellent, imaginative and sensitive manner in which it is increasing access for people with disabilities to many of the properties for which it has responsibility?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that comment. It is one of the more obvious challenges faced by English Heritage. Many of the sites for which it has responsibility present very real difficulties in terms of access. As my noble friend indicated, English Heritage has made considerable progress in this respect.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Bishop

My Lords, there seems to be some confusion among heritage bodies about whether or not a review is taking place. If such a review is taking place and includes the Churches Conservation Trust, can the Minister ensure that the Church Commissioners, who are joint paymasters of that trust, are fully consulted?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am happy to give that assurance. I emphasise that the Question referred to whether a review similar to the quinquennial review of 2002 was taking place. I sought to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, that that was not the case. It is part of an overall government review appertaining to all government departments. Therefore there is no particular need for anxiety. That does not alter the fact that, in achieving greater efficiency, English Heritage will have to consult widely. I can assure the right reverend Prelate that it will do as he suggested.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

My Lords, at the annual general meeting of the Historic Houses Association yesterday, relations between that body and the Government were clearly cordial. In a very moderate speech the president alluded to the disappointment that it felt about the fall in grants. Has the Minister any comment to make on that?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, it is the case that the grant for English Heritage has been limited over the past couple of years in comparison with a number of other areas for which the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is responsible. This is because areas such as project-based funding for sport and free access to museums have needed extra resources directed towards them. I cannot give the noble Lord a forecast of what the immediate spending arrangements will be because they are still to be decided. Ministers have not decided these as yet. However, I can assure the House that we recognise the valuable role played by English Heritage in a whole range of areas, including the one to which the noble Lord referred. We intend to ensure that funds are provided adequately.