My Lords, as the Minister with responsibility for the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, I am delighted to bring forward this Bill. First, I place on record from the outset my appreciation for honourable Members in the other place, and indeed my noble friend Lord True, for promoting similar Bills on Kew via the Private Members’ Bill route. I know that many of your Lordships have a keen interest in supporting Kew; indeed, my noble friends Lord Eccles and Lord Selborne were closely involved with Kew as previous chairmen of the trustees.
Kew is a scientific institution of the utmost importance, not only for the UK but as the global resource for knowledge on plants and fungi. We face immense challenges when it comes to the preservation of the natural world. Within this challenge, it is clear that there is an essential role for plants and fungi. Kew will help to provide answers about how plants and fungi will help us to survive. It has world-renowned collections, including the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst, and the Herbarium at Kew itself. The restoration and digitisation of the Herbarium will need considerable investment and will make the collection accessible globally.
Kew’s scientific research leads the world. With more scientists today than at any time, its research is crucial in solving the challenges facing humanity today. Kew plays an extraordinary global role in partnership with scientists, educational experts and communities, promoting research, education and conservation. It does so much to involve the public, with over 2 million visits to Kew and Wakehurst each year, and around 100,000 pupils on school visits. It is building a wider understanding of plants and fungi and why they matter to us all.
I turn to this two-clause Bill. Not only is Kew an extraordinary scientific institution but its estate includes many special buildings and structures, more than 40 of them listed. It is a considerable challenge to ensure the maintenance of both core and non-core structures, which, due to their historic nature, is undertaken at considerable expense. For instance, the restoration over six years and reopening last year of the Temperate House is a tremendous achievement of Kew’s mixed funding approach. I thoroughly recommend to any of your Lordships who have not been to see it a visit to that extraordinary work.
Non-core parts of the Kew estate include some listed residential buildings near Kew Green, which badly need investment to maintain and enhance their condition and enable Kew to realise additional income. Attracting capital investment to refurbish buildings within the boundaries of Kew is one of the great opportunities available, but the current 31-year limit on leases has made that difficult to realise.
The Bill will allow leases to be granted on land at Kew for a term of up to 150 years. Currently, the Crown Lands Act 1702 limits leases at Kew Gardens to a term of 31 years. Longer leases will enable Kew to realise additional income from land and property and will reduce maintenance liabilities and running costs. The additional income generated will help Kew to achieve its core objectives, maintain its status as a UNESCO world heritage site, and prioritise maintenance and development of its collections, as well as improving the quality of its estate. The Bill has the full support of the Kew board and residents in the Kew area, in particular through the Kew Society.
I have reflected on what may be the challenges to the Bill. The various safeguards that apply now would still apply to any lease granted under the Bill. Kew’s activities are overseen by Kew’s board and by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is an executive non-departmental public body and an exempt charity. It is governed by a board of trustees established under the National Heritage Act 1983. As an exempt charity, although the Charity Commission does not regulate it, it must abide by charity law, with the Secretary of State as Kew’s regulator for charity purposes. This regulation is co-ordinated between the Charity Commission and the Secretary of State.
To ensure that Kew’s operational arrangements comply with the National Heritage Act, public and charity law, a framework document exists between Kew and Defra dealing with business planning, resource allocation, appointment of board members and, pertinently, the disposition of land. Thus, at all times in the governance process, the board of Kew, the Secretary of State and Defra play a key role in determining the operational management, and would continue to do so in the grant of any lease under the Bill.
Secondly, Kew’s UNESCO world heritage site status and other designations offer protection under the planning system which would apply to any lease granted under the Bill. Kew was inscribed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2003 due to its outstanding universal value as a historic landscaped garden and world-renowned scientific institution. As a result, the UK Government, through the Kew board and the Secretary of State, have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the protection, management, authenticity and integrity of the property.
As part of UNESCO world heritage site status, Kew has a management plan to show how its outstanding universal value as a property can be preserved. This includes protections and mechanisms in the planning system, including conservation areas in the London boroughs of Richmond and Hounslow, offering protection to the Kew site itself and a wider “buffer zone” that protects the historic landscape character of Kew. The Kew Gardens site is grade 1 on the Historic England register of historic parks and gardens of special historic interest in England. Much of its site is designated metropolitan open land, applying similar protection to that offered to green-belt land. Forty-four of the buildings and structures in the site are listed; indeed, Kew is part of an archaeological priority area. These protections mean that any lease would require local planning permission and compliance with the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, the National Planning Policy Framework and the Government’s policy for the historic environment.
Thirdly, conditions would apply to the lease itself. In accordance with the duties that both the Kew board and the Secretary of State must carry out, the lease, while seeking to be commercial, will be capable of applying the necessary restrictions that will protect Kew. The Bill disapplies the restriction in Section 5 of the Crown Lands Act 1702 relating to leases of land at Kew: it will remove the limit of 31 years and apply a maximum of 150 years. This will bring Kew in line with the provisions made for the Crown Estate by the Crown Estate Act 1961. The changes provide the ability to grant longer leases on the land. The Bill would not alter the many protections in place for Kew and its status as a world heritage site. All proposals for granting leases are subject to scrutiny and must go through Kew and Defra’s governance. All proposals must comply with the protections in the planning framework and, in every case, the lease will contain any restrictions that may be necessary. The very status of Kew and all the protections it comes with make its property one of the safest in terms of conservation that could be envisaged.
In conclusion, I emphasise that this is very much Kew’s Bill. It is about enabling Kew both to manage assets on a sound and sustainable commercial footing and to enhance the site and support its core objectives. Kew’s trustees need this Bill to do what is necessary. The Bill is an opportunity for us to support Kew. Enabling it to maintain and enhance both core and non-core parts of its estate will be crucial to its long-term success and its global role in addressing the many challenges of enhancing a natural world that is undoubtedly in trouble; plants and fungi, and a better understanding of them, will help us enormously to meet those challenges. As I said, this is a two-clause Bill. It may be modest in size but, once enacted, its impact will be of immense benefit to Kew and help it further in its valuable work, which has been described in previous weeks, perhaps previous years, as part of our generation’s custodianship, ensuring that we know more answers about how we will turn things around. Probably unknowingly, previous generations have done things to this planet that we all now regret. As the Minister responsible for Kew—one of the biggest privileges in government, I think—I see the scientists and management there on a very regular basis. This Bill is one that they desire and that will help them to do so much of what we desire. I beg to move.
My Lords, some time ago I had the privilege of visiting Kew under the auspices of the all-party parliamentary group. We heard from some of Kew’s senior team and scientists about the amazing work they do by using plant and fungi knowledge to help to solve some of the most critical challenges facing humanity. As well as meeting the scientists, we reviewed their extraordinary and beautiful book collection. I had not realised just how substantial and influential the work at Kew has become, with more than 350 scientists working across six research departments. They draw in the best scholars in their fields from around the world as well as from the UK. Kew’s corporate strategy, Unlocking Why Plants and Fungi Matter, sets out some really exciting plans for the future. For example, I was delighted to hear about its collaboration with Queen Mary University of London on an MSc course. In 2017, Kew won a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show for its “State of the World’s Plants” exhibit, bringing its science to new audiences. It is not at all surprising that Kew was awarded UNESCO world heritage site status in 2003. I certainly felt that this was a jewel in the crown of the UK’s scientific excellence to be nurtured and celebrated.
I was therefore very concerned when the then coalition Government planned to cut the state grant in 2016-17, with a potential consequence being the loss of 125 scientific staff. Kew’s funding relies heavily on state grant, although it has been increasingly successful in raising external funds. At the time there was a major public outcry. An inquiry held by the Science and Technology Committee in another place reported that the Government’s management of funding had exacerbated budget reductions and,
“forced a more rapid change in scientific personnel than may otherwise have been necessary”.
In response, the then Deputy Prime Minister accepted that damage would be done if grant was withheld or reduced. Fortunately, the Government announced measures aimed at easing Kew’s difficult position and 2017 saw the start of a positive and very welcome four-year funding settlement from Defra and a capital funding package.
Kew is not the only research establishment to experience the uncertainty and dangers inherent in having to rely substantially on government funding, which can be subject to numerous political uncertainties and changes in policy. Expanding flexibility of resourcing goes some way to protecting major centres of excellence in science such as Kew. Alternative sources of funding will help to ensure that its reputation as a leading research institution can be maintained. That is why I want to support the Bill and wish it a fair wind through this House.
The proposals in the Bill have been in limbo since 2017, which must have been frustrating for all concerned. The Bill’s aim seems quite modest in that it extends the leases already available to Kew for residential and commercial use—thus generating income—from a very limiting 31 years to an expanded 150 years. But although modest, as the Minister said, its effect could have a substantial beneficial impact on the income Kew can generate over time through having longer leases to offer and including, importantly, a reduction in maintenance costs.
I have not said anything about how marvellous Kew is as a garden and special leisure space that we all know and love to visit. I cannot tell your Lordships just what a pleasure it was to be one of the first visitors to the newly renovated Temperate House last year. Anyone who has visited the Hive cannot fail to be impressed. It is a 14 metre-high cube, raised on columns, providing an immersive experience connecting you to real bees. Bees communicate through vibrations, and these vibrations are picked up by a sensor called an accelerometer. The bees’ vibrations are sent in real time to the Hive. Adults as well as children are transfixed. I was thrilled to discover that this amazing experience was made possible through the work of physicist Dr Martin Bencsik of Nottingham Trent University, and I must declare an interest as a board member at Nottingham Trent. It is a great example of how Kew harnesses university science and art together to create awareness of the natural world.
Your Lordships will gather that I am a great fan of Kew, but today I want to focus very specifically on Kew’s world excellence in the fields of science. Without that science, the garden at Kew would lose one of its key purposes, which is to engage the visitor in learning about the natural world and to develop, particularly for children, imaginative ways of understanding why plants and fungi matter.
In proposing the Bill, the Government have said that their aim is to help Kew support its scientific research, as well as to retain its UNESCO world heritage status. I of course support that, but my one anxiety is that the Government will see this as possible substitute funding and use it as a mask for reducing government grant in the future. I hope that in replying the Minister will reassure the House and commit to this additional resource being indeed additional, which will enable Kew to reinforce even further its reputation as a world centre of excellence in sciences.
My Lords, I speak in this debate from the perspective of a member of the community. I was at Kew yesterday and a couple of weeks ago. That was nothing to do with this debate, just a typical part of a bank holiday weekend as far as I am concerned; I take visitors there regularly. To anybody who has not been, I say go now, because at the moment there is an extraordinary exhibition of glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly, integrated with the plants and buildings in a way that I have never seen before; it is totally breathtaking. Anybody who doubts that should capture me and I will show them the photographs on my phone—you will not be able to resist going.
Kew has had the benefit of some great directors, such as Sir Peter Crane, who, by chance, I happened to know from many years before in Chicago. He is extraordinary, and really pulled the gardens into the modern era. The current director, Richard Deverell, is engaging more and more of the community in the life of Kew, without in any way undermining the science.
I have been engaged before in trying to support the funding of Kew. I was part of the flurry of phone calls that led to Nick Clegg going into a quad meeting to insist on the restoration of science money. I am also conscious that local Conservative colleagues, including the noble Lord, Lord True, and Zac Goldsmith, have been very engaged in trying to protect this funding. This is not in any way a party-political issue in Richmond; we all love this place and we want to protect it.
I want to use this debate to stress an important message that I hope Defra has taken on board: do not keep increasing the pressure to raise commercial revenue from places such as Kew. The grant which once, not that long ago, was 90% of Kew’s funding is now down to about 40%.
Kew has done everything it can to engage with ways to bring in the public. The wonderful children’s area is just about to reopen and I have mentioned the Chihuly exhibition. We heard also about the Hive, the treetop walk and the many other developments in the garden to make it a real attraction. But my goodness, it is expensive. For a single adult, a ticket is £16.50. Automatically, that has an impact on who comes. I have an annual membership, which is £71, and if I go seven or eight times a year or take a friend, it is under £10 a throw. I would support the gardens anyway, but I can afford it. I am afraid that, when you go to Kew, you see an overwhelmingly white, middle-class group of people. I am delighted that they are there—it is wonderful—and that there is special provision for school groups and attempts at outreach. However, Kew does not reach so many people whom it should, and it is for this reason.
During trade engagements as a Minister for the coalition Government, when I talked to people from developing countries I became so aware of how highly they regard Kew for the collaborative work it does in a variety of different areas with countries that, without it, would not have the capacity to understand and protect their biodiversity and to develop from that products that can tackle cancer, provide new materials and tackle sustainability issues. It is an enormously important relationship. Frankly, so many of our institutions are regarded in the developing world as a hangover of empire; there is an argument that items from museums should be returned. The attitude towards Kew is utterly different. Yet, because of the need to charge at these levels—and I have had this row with three directors—Kew has never been in a position to try to engage with the many ethnic communities across even London. Those people could get there easily—the District line goes direct—but the price is a barrier. That is a real failing for something that offers so much that deliberately engages with children and people with imagination. You do not go to Kew just for entertainment; you come away with a greater understanding of the science of botany, biodiversity issues and water management—I could go through an endless list. I am really afraid that, if we keep putting such pressure on places like Kew, we force them to keep raising their admission prices, which Kew has tried desperately not to do, and make it very difficult for them to reach out to the broader community.
There is one particular reason why Defra could look to be more generous. I do not know what the costs are for Kew for dealing with oak processionary moth, but I am very engaged with Richmond Park, which spends several hundred thousand pounds a year trying to deal with this invasive pest. Frankly, the problem is there because, as I know from my time as an MP, officials from Defra and the Forestry Commission—it is a different place now, so I do not accuse the same officials—refused to act when we had only 20 trees impacted by oak processionary moth. They said that it was not a risk to the health of trees; it was a risk only to the health of people, so it was for the Department of Health. We therefore had a massive getting together of Richmond Park people, Kew Gardens staff, the council folk and officials from Defra, the Forestry Commission and the Department of Health, and I have never been at an event at which officials were so insulting, frankly, to the local community. They refused to provide any kind of support or help, and the consequence is that much of south-east England is now impacted by oak processionary moth, which is a risk to both human and animal health. The cost of removing the nests, which has to be done in full hazardous kit, is extremely expensive, so Defra should allow for that in the way it looks at providing funding.
I shall just finish by referring to the leases. I am glad to have heard the assurances from the Minister. If somebody in the local community were to read this Bill, they might fear that the commercial pressure could rise to the level that Kew would be persuaded to try to commercialise part of the garden—part of its crown jewels, if you like—through new building or through leasing it out, for example. I know that that is not at all Kew’s intention. As I understand it from local councillors, the leases relate to buildings that already exist, essentially on Kew Green, and this would give more flexibility to allow Kew to get a better rent and a better arrangement that could bring in more funding. I share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, that that should not be substitute funding but additional funding and should not become a rationale for reducing the grant further, but it is a relatively small amount—£4 million a year—which, anyway, should not make that kind of difference. However, such an assurance would be very worth while.
I ask the Minister to address that question and give us some confidence that he recognises that there is a limit to the commercial pressure that can be put on an entity and still have it deliver that combination of extraordinary research and community asset. I also want to put into his mind the need to provide Kew with the capacity to do that outreach to a much broader set of communities—particularly those who could easily get to Kew—so that they can reflect on and see that rich diversity of plant life from all across the globe in a setting that enhances it and contains none of the awful commercial, colonial overtones evident in various other venues. It is really important to do that at a time when we are trying to bring this country together. That is not seen as a central role for Kew, but it seems to me that it could be very significant.
My Lords, I should first declare that I have served two separate terms as a trustee of Kew, the second as chairman.
The Minister has explained how the Crown Lands Act 1702 prevents Kew granting leases of more than 31 years. It is not often that we delve so far back in history, and I should like to put this desirable Bill into a further historical context. It was Sir Joseph Banks in the 18th century who did most to set Kew Gardens on its way to becoming an important scientific establishment. However, after his death, and for many years in the mid-19th century, there were fierce rows between the directors—first, Sir William Hooker and then his son Sir Joseph Hooker—and their political boss, the first Commissioner of Works.
The row was about whether Kew’s role was essentially as a botanic garden and scientific institution or whether it was to be a public park. The row got so fierce that eventually Prime Minister Gladstone had to intervene; wisely, he went with Sir Joseph Hooker. By 1900, the Royal Botanic Gardens were transferred from the Commissioner for Works to the Board of Agriculture, as MAFF—now Defra—was then known. Kew’s role in botanical investigations, taxonomy, plant sciences and, not least, economic botany, were promoted to underpin government policies, as well as to support farmers and horticulturists. As the Minister explained, Defra continues that legacy of looking to Kew for scientific underpinning on policy issues.
The National Heritage Act 1983 transferred direct responsibility for Kew Gardens from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to a board of 12 trustees. The first chairman was my noble friend Lord Eccles. I suspect that the director at the time found the imposition of a trust board more onerous than the occasional meetings held with Ministers and officials previously. From
I must, in all fairness, confess to mission creep. I remember when the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was the Defra Minister responsible for Kew and I was chairing the trust, he gently rapped me over the knuckles for taking on yet more commitments. This was over the mycology collection, which was going to be lost—something we felt could not be tolerated. Of course, there was no funding for it so we had to commit ourselves to raising the money. I always recognised that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was quite right to draw attention to the commitments that we were making.
This week we hear about the United Nations report on global threats to biodiversity. To meet the increased need to broaden the funding of Kew, a foundation was set up in 1990 as a charity with the sole object of raising funds for projects not covered by grant aid or self-generated money. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, about how far the envelope has been pushed on admissions. I recognise her point about how difficult it is to attract people from different ethnic backgrounds when there is such a need for self-generated money.
The Kew Foundation remains highly successful in raising funding, particularly for key buildings and core projects but, inevitably, as we heard from the Minister, some buildings in need of repair cannot be described as core buildings. Considerable sums of money will be needed to maintain them adequately. A wider range of commercial options including, for example, long leases, would reduce maintenance liabilities and running costs while in no way impacting on this UNESCO world heritage site. The case has been made clearly by previous speakers, so I need do no more than say that the Bill will be of great assistance to Kew and that I give it my full support.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this Second Reading debate. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on the way he introduced this afternoon’s debate. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord True and the honourable Member Zac Goldsmith, who introduced Private Members’ Bills in 2017 and 2018 that bear quite a resemblance to the Bill in front of us this afternoon.
I have a declaration to make. In this debate I speak as a local who loves Kew. Where else can you go to commune with one in nine of all the world’s plant species, go on a treetop walk, go to concerts or, in previous years, go open-air ice-skating? This summer, Alison Moyet will perform there—I am not sure if that is the first time Alison Moyet has been mentioned in Hansard, but if it is, that is twice in just one Session. Every time you go, you gain an education, whatever age you are and whatever stage of life you are in. It is such a special place.
When I was working on the Olympic Games as one of the directors of London 2012, we really appreciated this. That spring in one of the flowerbeds we planted flowers and shrubs to make the five Olympic rings. They were beautiful at ground level, but, at least as importantly, every passenger in every plane that went over Kew Gardens—which I am afraid they have to—saw before they had even landed at London Heathrow from the beautiful floral display right in the centre of the gardens that the Games were going to be in this country.
As we have already heard, this is quite a small Bill, but it is incredibly significant and could have such a positive impact on all the workings of Kew, not least, over the years and on an ongoing basis, through a potential £40 million income stream. It is important that this should be additive, rather than just a substitute for other, declining sources of funding.
The title of the Kew Gardens corporate strategy sums it up pretty much perfectly:
“Unlocking why plants and fungi matter”.
There could barely be a more important time for Kew Gardens. We had yesterday’s UN report, and report after report in recent months and years. We have had report after report, and yet the world keeps burning. Kew could barely be more significant. In itself it is one small piece of south-west London, but it has such a global impact.
Kew has numerous USPs. It has the largest fungarium in the world; the largest collection of living plants in any botanic gardens in the world; the world’s largest wild plant DNA and tissue bank; and the stunning seed bank at Wakehurst Place, which has over 1 billion individual seeds. Kew Botanic Gardens is an incredibly special place with an extraordinary collection, and it is such a necessary insurance policy for our planet.
At a time of such uncertainty, change and, yes, division, it is worth considering the continuity, creativity and conservation at Kew. It does as much for the planet as any other place on the planet. This Bill will play a significant part in ensuring its future, and thus all our futures. I wish this Bill good speed on to the statue book.
My Lords, I will not repeat the tributes made to Kew or restate the value it has given to this country. However, I warmly endorse the purpose and content of this short Bill, although it is a pity that the background information on the property portfolio affected by the Bill and the associated financial liabilities have not been fully identified and described, as to my mind this would assist Members in seeing the significance of the Bill and the likely beneficial effects on the public purse.
As in all culture and heritage matters, the importance of securing stable funding and managing cost is paramount, as institutions such as Kew Gardens—and there are many like it—nearly always rely on the generous sponsorship of the likes of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Defra, the Arts Council, et cetera. Their resources are inevitably limited, however much we may wish otherwise, so every effort needs to be made by the management and trustees of these institutions to investigate and generate other income, either from within or from benefactors.
In the case of Kew, it is clear that by offering leases of up to 150 years for residential and commercial properties under its control, it can attract substantial capital sums. The decent length of leases enables and justifies expenditure on much-needed refurbishment, which in any event becomes the responsibility of the lessee under the terms of their lease. Of further benefit to all concerned is the ability to attract mortgage and other bank finance, which was scarcely available with short-term leases. The lessee can therefore afford to pay more and to spread the financial cost over many years.
To demonstrate just how significant the effects of this Bill will be, it would have been nice to see some more detailed projections of capital receipts and deferred expenditure than the bald figure of £40 million in the first 10 years. No doubt management and trustees have this information, as it will play a large part in determining the requirement for future grant in aid from Defra, which currently appears to be £41 million or 35% of total income.
The Bill enables many of the issues identified in the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report to be satisfactorily resolved. Despite the lack of information on the property portfolio and the financial benefits provided by the Bill, I give it my warm support.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for introducing a Bill that has been described as “modest” but that I believe is vital. I add my support to the proposals in it. I wish Leicestershire were nearer Kew and I could become a regular visitor, but sadly not. Over many years I have had the great joy of going there—literally as a member of the public—and just enjoying the parkland and being part of it, and on other occasions of going to see the research it is so well known for worldwide, not just in this country. I know that my noble friend is a passionate supporter of this Bill, and he and I both wish it well. I will not go over the ground that some have already covered on the facility the longer lease will give—that is essential—but I will come back to the question of finance later.
As has been said, Kew Gardens employs some 350 scientists. We should remember not just those working there at any particular moment but those who go on to do research elsewhere, which is so hugely important. Its six research departments do some wonderful work. In addition, its amazing library, art and archives are a great source for many to share in its knowledge. Indeed, it is not just a UK but, I believe, a global role we are engaged in. It would be wonderful to see more young children there; I would also like to see many of us who are still young at heart there.
Kew becoming a UNESCO world heritage site in 2003 was a great step forward. The Royal Botanic Gardens and the work undertaken there are key to the survival of many rare species, to seed banks and for disease control. I am sure that my noble friend will smile because we have taken a great many statutory instruments through in recent weeks looking at plant health and disease control and what we can do about them. The work done at Kew is even more important than it might have been thought in the past.
With changing climate patterns, it is even more likely that infection and disease will continue to be imported, thus risking damage to our own national species. Indeed, in today’s paper, there is a headline that my noble friend Lord Holmes referred to: “Fungal disease wiping out ash trees will cost economy £15bn”. I understand that the Government have pledged £6 million towards research work in halting this disease, plus an additional £4 million to £5 million towards strengthening border security. We cannot understate how important it is that people who go on holiday and decide to bring things back—and the companies that import plants and trees—carry a big responsibility in making sure that those plants are not infected.
As I said, I am pleased to support this short Bill but, like other noble Lords, I seek clarification on its financial implications. I know that establishing the Kew Gardens (Leases) (No.3) Bill opens up new income streams for use. I also understand that my honourable friend Zac Goldsmith said:
“I stress that the Bill … would not involve selling assets nor would it be about renting out Kew Gardens”.—[Official Report, Commons, 30/1/18; col. 719.]
Richard Deverell, director of Kew, said that the Bill offers,
“an excellent opportunity to attract private investment that will help ensure that we have an estate that supports the needs of the botanic gardens”.
Like other noble Lords, I would like the Minister to clarify Defra’s commitment. At the moment, Defra is committed to supplying a third of the total costs. In future years that may be reduced, but, as the Bill stands, as far as I can see, there is no statement at all about Defra’s commitment.
RBG Kew is funded through a combination of grant in aid from Defra, self-generated income and charitable donations. The total income for 2017-18 was £111.7 million, of which some £40.8 million was grant in aid from Defra. Can the Minister tell us whether future financial support is anticipated to be continued in the short or long term? What proportion of the other income was self-generated compared with that obtained by charitable donations, as they are two very different sources?
It is not often we have a little Bill that we are all pleased to support. I know that my noble friend is keen for it to have fair wind. For me, Kew is one of the jewels in the crown, as has been mentioned, but it has enormous importance not just to us in this country but other places around the world. I wish the Bill well.
My Lords, I too wish the objective of this Bill well. I have a long and affectionate link with Kew. My grandfather, Lawrence Lavender, after whom I am called, was an apprentice at Kew in the 1890s. When I went there as Minister, I was given his application form, which shows the archival accuracy of Kew on administrative as well as scientific, horticultural and botanical matters. He returned to Kew and became the manager of the Temperate House in the 1920s and was a long and proud member of the Kew Guild until he died in his 90s.
I used to live across the river in Isleworth. It is not quite as fashionable as Kew. Nevertheless, I used to go for walks in Kew. It was a bit of countryside in town, which I deeply appreciated. When I returned to my association with Kew as a Minister nearly 20 years ago, I was very pleased. My sheet as Minister started with “Sort out the foot and mouth epidemic”, but further down it said I was responsible for Kew Gardens, and that cheered me up no end. Indeed, it was in that period that Kew got its world heritage accreditation and I welcomed Her Majesty the Queen there to celebrate that occasion.
I wish Kew well, and I want it to ensure that it has adequate resources from government, private and charitable resources and those who visit. I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, that I can remember when there was a huge row in the community when the turnstile charge went up from one old penny to thruppence. It is now somewhat higher, as she said. Regrettably, that reflects the cost of maintaining its scientific, horticultural and botanical lead. I therefore understand the reasons for this Bill and for extending the leases on some of the existing leased property. I understand the good intentions of the trustees and the Minister in this respect.
I would usually applaud a very short Bill, but I think that some of the things the Minister said in his introduction to the Bill need to be in the Bill. Any extension of leases or any new leases have to be in support of the central objectives of Kew—scientific, botanical, horticultural and amenity value—otherwise, on the face of it, this is an open-ended Bill. A 150-year lease could be granted on any part of the estate for activities not entirely compatible with the central aims of Kew. I might be forced to propose a very short additional clause in Committee effectively saying that any such extension of leases or new leases have to be compatible—preferably supportive, but certainly compatible—with the main aims of Kew. Those additional two lines would not overburden the legislature and would make this Bill into a Bill that did not raise the kind of suspicions that I think some people have about its real aim.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and others have said, we need a few more details about the finances before we end the process on this short Bill, and we need in the Bill some restrictions on what otherwise appears to be an opened-ended commitment to extend leases of one of this country’s jewels in the crown—a jewel for all of us. Any implication that it could be diverted for commercial and residential property, as so many other properties around London have been converted in recent years, would undermine the objectives that the Minister and the Kew trustees have in promoting this Bill. I hope the Minister and his department will seriously consider putting that qualification in the Bill.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and I agree with what he just said. Kew is a very complicated institution, and it is important that the focus is maintained. Without going into any more detail than this, there was a short period after the 1983 Act when Kew lost, to a certain extent, its focus. I would welcome a little more detail in the Bill.
I should declare an interest. Peter Walker took through the National Heritage Bill in 1983. I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and became the first chairman of trustees—indeed, before the effective date referred to by my noble friend and successor Lord Selborne. I had three Ministers in my time at the non-departmental public body, described as “executive”, although we should always remember that the best description is a twisted arm’s-length public body. There is always a regime, as has been referred to by my noble friend on the Front Bench, and how that regime works is very important both to Defra and to the board of trustees. Sometimes it works better than it does at others. The three Ministers, none of whom is in his place, were my noble friends Lord Jopling, Lord MacGregor and Lord Deben. That goes to show that, as we all love Kew and obviously they did too, it is a very good route to this House.
I also had the good fortune to spend a lot of time and energy, particularly after the storms which affected Kew and which some of your Lordships might remember, with Jean Trumpington. I know that I should refer to her as Lady Trumpington but we became “dear Jean” and “dear John”. We had great fun together at Kew in pursuit of Kew’s interests.
I had two directors. When I got there, Arthur Bell was the director. It has already been referred to but I will sum up his reaction. He said, “John, you need to remember that nobody told me that I would find myself responsible to a board of trustees”. He took it in very good part. Arthur was a soil scientist. Nobody in the world who heard him give his lecture on the importance of the top nine inches of soil will ever forget it. He was a lovely man.
After Arthur, we were very lucky to recruit Iain Prance. Sir Ghillean, as he is now, came back from working at the New York Botanical Garden. At that time, Kew needed an exceptional director and in Iain Prance we found one. Iain would have appreciated this Bill if it gave Kew more commercial freedom. Indeed, in 1993 he said that the mission of Kew could be achieved only through the implementation of the income generation programme and it being both strong and effective.
Much reference has been made to the possibility of substitution—that is, as Kew gets more successful at raising money, maybe the grant will be affected—but, quite honestly, one can never know the answer to that. You have to remember that behind Defra lurks the Treasury, and the impact comes when you have events like those of 2008. It is a moment of truth when the nation’s finances get into difficulty and you cannot be sure what will happen.
Iain Prance did a great deal for income generation. The friends’ organisation and the foundation were formed during his directorship. Above all, the Millennium Seed Bank was very much part of Iain’s vision for Kew and an outstanding example of his and his wife Anne’s fundraising skills. If the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, wants to look at the full story of how the admission charge to Kew has gone up, she should go to eBay and buy In for a Penny—a very good book about Kew. Through Iain’s vision, much more than plants come into it—ecosystems, the environment and habitats are all strongly represented.
In his 1993 document—if it can be obtained from Kew then I strongly recommend it to your Lordships, as it is just as valid today as it was 25 years ago—Iain ends with the example of the calabash tree, its products and the Amazonian ecosystem which supports it. Those of you who have been to that part of the world will know that water containers are made from its fruit. This tree needs bats and many ants, natural protection from predators, animals to disperse its seeds, and, of course, it has tremendous interaction with human beings; that is probably the most important point, which we have to take on board to a much greater extent than we have so far.
In terms of seeing Kew in the wider world of biodiversity and the control of man’s impact on the environment, there may be a case for a larger Bill. However, in the meantime, I fully support the Bill before us.
My Lords, I am the tenth speaker on a two-Clause bill and am succeeding my noble friend Viscount Eccles, who is a past chairman of the Royal Botanic Gardens. I am aware that I should not trespass on the House’s kindness and generosity by reploughing ground that has already been extensively ploughed.
I am not a plantsman—I can just about distinguish a daisy from a buttercup—so my commenting on Kew’s professional competence would be otiose, to say the least. As many noble Lords have said, Kew has a worldwide reputation for excellence. I am a strong believer in the virtues of soft power in the modern world, and as other noble Lords have pointed out, in any list of our soft power assets, Kew would be at the top. Indeed, in preparation for this debate, having printed off the annual report of Kew, I could not help but be impressed by the quality and detail of the engagement with the public and the encouragement of volunteering, so I have an instinctive sympathy with the Bill’s strategic aim.
However, picking up a theme begun in earlier speeches, I want to be reassured that the plans envisaged in the Bill are properly thought through and have the appropriate checks and balances. I was extremely grateful to my noble friend for addressing this topic in some depth in his opening remarks, which, as an expert Minister, were as smooth as cream. One could not envisage circumstances in which any disagreement could possibly arise between the various authorities and powers involved with Kew.
As my noble friend explained, the Royal Botanic Gardens is a charity, but a charity with a difference: it is an exempt charity. It is worth the House being clear what this means. As a review of the Charities Act 2006 said:
“The exempt charities are those institutions that are comprised in Schedule 3 of the Charities Act 2011… They are institutions that are charities but which are exempted from registration with the Charity Commission… They were granted this exemption because they were considered to be adequately supervised by another body or authority”.
Confusingly, although in practice,
“exempt charities are bound by charity law and can access the tax breaks associated with charitable status, they are not required to”— indeed, they are not permitted to—
“register with the Charity Commission, and so are not subject to the same reporting requirements as other charities (e.g. submission of accounts). It follows that, though the Charity Commission has ultimate responsibility for the regulation of the entire charity sector, it has little visibility over this large group”:
the exempt charities, many of which have very significant assets—museums, higher education institutions, charitable and social housing projects and so on.
This is not the only confusion. To qualify as an exempt charity, a charity must have what is called a principal regulator. In the case of Kew that is Defra, under the supervision of my noble friend. That term “principal regulator” creates an unhelpful public perception of what the role entails. The legislation does not—I repeat, not—confer regulatory powers on the principal regulator, which in this case is Defra. It gives it the simple duty to promote charity law alongside its existing role. All the regulatory compliance and enforcement powers rest with the Charity Commission. So if my noble friend’s department were to believe that there had been charitable mismanagement at Kew, it could do absolutely nothing about it directly. All it could do would be to act as a traffic policeman and wave the case through to the Charity Commission for investigation, and enforcement if necessary. Your Lordships will see that this is a rather muddled situation with a confused regulatory hierarchy. As Clausewitz, the great military strategist, said, “Better a bad general than a divided command”. This is a divided command if ever I saw one.
When my noble friend comes to wind up, could he answer the following points? At the heart of the Bill is the encouragement of Kew to make better use of its property assets and general estate. Property is an issue of importance under charity law. Sections 117 to 128 of the Charities Act 2011 lay down controls on the use of land by a registered charity. Indeed, Section 117 is entitled, “Restrictions on dispositions of land: general”. First, is it intended that any actions taken under the provisions of the Bill will comply fully with the requirements of those sections of the Charities Act? Secondly, what organisation will actually grant the new leases envisaged by the Bill?
Perhaps I may refer your Lordships to the excellent briefing note produced by the Library, which says:
“The freeholds for the land and buildings used by RBG Kew have different ownership. The Board of Trustees only holds the title for the Wellcome Trust Millennium Building and adjacent land at Wakehurst Place (including Havelock Farm) … The Crown owns the land and buildings at Kew, while the National Trust owns the freehold of the remaining land at Wakehurst Place”.
There therefore appear to be three possible landlords or lessors: the trustees of Kew, the Crown and/or the National Trust. If the leases are to be granted by the Crown, will the Crown itself be subject to charity law?
I then draw the House’s attention to the provisions of the National Heritage Act 1983. Here I start to work on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. It contains a whole section devoted specifically to the Royal Botanic Gardens, as several other noble Lords have pointed out, under Schedule 4 and Sections 23 to 29, particularly Section 24. A number of subsequent amendments may have overtaken my points and made them irrelevant, but I think these provisions are still outstanding. In Section 24, subsection (2) states:
“For those purposes the Board may, subject to the provisions of this Act - (a) enter into contracts and other agreements (including agreements for the Board’s occupation or management of land)”.
There is no mention of charity law. Subsection (3) says:
“Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Board may do such things as they think necessary or expedient … (c) otherwise for the purposes of their functions”.
That is a very wide and permissive provision. Finally, subsection (5) says:
“If the Minister directs the Board to exercise functions specified in the direction in relation to land so specified, the Board shall exercise them on his behalf in such manner as he may from time to time direct”.
These are pretty wide powers and I am not clear how they are going to mesh with the provisions of the Charities Act 2011, with which the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew should be complying, as an exempt charity.
Will my noble friend lay out in detail how his department will be supervising—riding herd—the execution of the plans provided for in the Bill? He kindly had a briefing meeting with noble Lords last week when I explained that my concerns flow from my experience with my house at Ludlow in Shropshire. The Forestry Commission proposed to give a commercial operator, Forest Holidays, the benefit of a 125-year lease. This arrangement was approved by Defra without either the commission or the department appearing to have any comprehension of the value of the concession they were granting. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, made this point. We surely do not want to risk this happening again.
In conclusion, as I said at the outset, I am not against the provisions of the Bill; nor do I attack the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in any way. However, I am for the charity sector, which is a great feature of our national life and engages the support of so many members of society. The sector has taken some blows to its reputation in recent years: tax avoidance, overaggressive fundraising, spectacular loss of financial control, malpractice of staff in charities working overseas and controversy over the level of executive salaries. Sadly, today’s Times carries an article headed, “Charities pay the price for a loss of trust”. Whenever there is trouble in the sector, any other parties who may have had some peripheral involvement in or responsibility for the particular transaction vanish like snow off a dyke. If there were to be trouble at Kew, I fear that the response of my noble friend’s department would be, “Nothing to do with us, guv. Call the Charity Commission. It is sorting it out”. I am anxious to minimise the chances of further blows to the sector’s reputation, hence my search for further reassurance on the regulatory aspects of the Bill, which, in principle, I support.
My Lords, I briefly rise to welcome and support the Bill. Unlike many noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, I am a relative newcomer to the world of Kew. That has arisen because of our good fortune in moving down to the London Borough of Richmond in recent years and becoming close neighbours—indeed friends—of Kew. As a member of the public who uses Kew Gardens with family and friends a great deal, I want to thank the staff and volunteers who make such a wonderful experience for thousands of visitors every week of the year. Although I know that there is a debate to be had about the balance between public and private funding, I have no doubt that the private funding efforts that Kew Gardens has made over recent years have attracted many members of the public who probably did not visit in previous years.
I entirely agree with my noble friend Lady Kramer about the cost of going in to the gardens, but, looking at the price of season tickets for football clubs, I would say that the cost of watching Chelsea or Crystal Place is not uncomparable. But I would like to see much greater diversity among fellow visitors to the gardens; that clearly is an issue. My noble friend mentioned the Chihuly exhibition earlier, which I am going to later in the week, having been alerted to it by friends from California who are coming to stay with us in Richmond for a few days and have asked to go to Kew to see the exhibition.
All the other exhibitions and activities that go on there, such as Kew Sparkle at Christmas, draw in thousands of people. That obviously increases the revenue, which is the object of the exercise, but the staff and volunteers provide an enormously rich and wonderful experience for many young people; it is very much a family centre that people from all over the country and all over the world visit. So I simply want, on behalf of all those visitors, to say a great thank you to the people at Kew who provide such a wonderful experience for us, week in and week out throughout the year. I wish the Bill well. If it strengthens the position of Kew Gardens, many visitors such as myself will be delighted. So godspeed to the Bill and good luck to the Minister in pushing it through.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, for his introduction to the Bill and for his time and that of his officials in their briefing. We have many experts in the Chamber who have been involved with and supported Kew Gardens over the years—the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, the noble Lords, Lord Holmes of Richmond and Lord Whitty, and many others. I am glad, like others, that the Government are taking the step of bringing forward this Bill to help secure the future of Kew.
As others have said, Kew is not only a national treasure, it rightly deserves its world heritage site status and it is held in very high regard around the world. Many far-flung countries have reason to be grateful to Kew for helping save and preserve some of their indigenous iconic plant species. Many noble Lords have praised the facilities provided at Kew, including the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, my noble friend Lady Kramer and others. I do not think that I have ever taken part in a debate on such a short Bill before, and I am unlikely to do so again—but, despite its brevity, the Bill has very important implications for the future of Kew. If we are to accept at face value the purpose of the Bill, as I do, it will help to secure the financial future of Kew, allowing the trustees to raise money through long-term leases on properties on the periphery of the estate. This should ensure that scientific work continues apace at the gardens.
This does, of course, have implications for the gardens. We have heard this afternoon from my noble friend Lady Kramer about the pressure that fund-raising in this way may put on Kew, and from the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, about how this will proceed. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said that we had to be very careful about the financial implications and the likelihood of continued funding from Defra. There is also the issue of the existing exemptions from the Charity Commission, which the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, so eloquently set out. It will be down to the trustees and the Secretary of State to ensure that any future long-term leases restrict the scale, style and type of any development, so that it enhances the natural environment of the gardens rather than detracting from it. I was reassured by the Minister’s comments in his introduction on this aspect. I was also very interested in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, about adding a clause to safeguard Kew’s ethos and focus.
It is very important that the trustees should have sufficient financial resources to plan ahead and carry out the enormously beneficial work that currently takes place under their auspices. On the subject of resources, I believe that the figure of £40 million of possible revenue quoted in the House of Lords Library briefing is somewhat off the mark and that £15 million is likely to be closer. However, in addition to cash coming in from longer leases, benefit will accrue from not having to maintain buildings newly leased to others. This will provide savings that can be diverted to other, more innovative work.
We heard from my noble friend Lady Kramer and others about the high entrance fees. They are prohibitive for those on fixed incomes and those from ethnic backgrounds, and this is extremely worrying. Perhaps it is something that the Kew trustees could look at.
It is important to keep a perspective on this issue. The work that Kew has done over the last two centuries is enormous, from the growing of seedlings to be introduced to Sri Lanka and Malaysia to become their rubber industries, to the preservation of the oldest pot plant in the world, which arrived at Kew in 1775 and is still going strong. Would that I had such success with pot plants, which are not one of my strong points. Kew also works on combating pests and diseases, which we have heard about. In one case in 1950, the banana was decimated; it was virtually wiped out by a single fungus. So protecting plants that are a key food source is extremely important.
Many plants also have medicinal qualities. Research into their curative properties is essential in our current world. The survival of many species of both plant and tree has often been down solely to the work done at Kew, including that of the ginkgo biloba—I am not sure that I pronounced that right—which was widespread during the time of the dinosaurs, 180 million to 200 million years ago.
Unlike other noble Lords in this House, I have visited Kew Gardens only once, some four years ago, and I am envious of noble Lords who live closer to Kew and are able to visit much more often; I sympathise with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. Progressing along the raised walkways gives a fascinating view of the breadth and scope of the gardens. It is not only a place of scientific research, growth and preservation but a wonderful family attraction and educational resource that is second to none. In June, three American nephews and a niece of my husband will visit England for the first time; they want to “do” England in a fortnight. I am compiling a list of what they will want to see when they are here, and Kew Gardens is definitely on that list.
We have much to be thankful for in the survival of Kew. The Bill is a positive step in the right direction in helping the trustees to fulfil their duty to preserve this rare world heritage site for future generations, and I fully support it.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for setting out the purpose of this small but significant Bill so clearly. While I do not have any interests to declare, and I certainly cannot claim to have any family connections on the scale of my noble friend Lord Whitty, I have a particular interest in Kew’s future well-being, as I held my wedding reception there many moons ago, and a lovely event it was too.
We on these Benches support the Bill. We accept the argument that long leases would make the properties on the Kew Gardens estate more commercially attractive, and we understand the imperative to generate more income to support Kew’s world-class scientific research and historic landscape and buildings, of which people are quite rightly very proud, as we have heard from around the Chamber today. Its status as a UNESCO world heritage site is richly deserved and must be consolidated at all costs. However, it is important that, during the progress of the Bill, we can be reassured that the powers to extend leases and to encourage greater commercial investments and partnerships will be carried out with extreme sensitivity and care. It is absolutely vital that the core ethos and the inspiration of the gardens are not overshadowed by commercial exploitation, particularly one that in the future might become controversial. As noble Lords have said, the Bill gives the Secretary of State considerable powers to expand the commercial activities across the estate. We have talked about the Bill being short, but in those two short clauses there are considerable powers for the Secretary of State and, within that, concerns have quite rightly been addressed.
When we met with the Minister and the representatives of Kew before this debate—I thank him for arranging that—it was explained that the initial objectives would be to extend the leases on the seven residential properties on the border of the gardens overlooking Kew Green. As we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, the revised estimate of the extra resources from doing so is around £15 million, although earlier documents quoted the figure of £40 million, so it would be helpful if the Minister could clarify the current estimates for the additional income envisaged.
In addition to those seven properties, there are another 40 or more buildings on the site, and we need to be clear about the longer-term impact of releasing some of those properties. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that detail about the property portfolio and the potential longer-term implications for finance would be useful. Perhaps the Minister could take that matter away.
I do not suggest that the Palm House or the Temperate House would be used commercially, but other, less fundamental, less core buildings might be ripe for income generation in future, and it is important that we look ahead and have a sense of what the future challenges and opportunities from other buildings on the site might be. Can the Minister confirm that longer leases are being considered for other properties on the estate in future? Does he recognise that, as the Bill is framed, it would give the relevant Minister power to allow that?
The Explanatory Notes state that:
“Incomes from the change will depend on further development of Kew’s Estates Strategy and third party partnerships”.
Is the estates strategy a document in the public domain because, if it is, it would be useful to have a copy? What type of third-party partnerships are envisaged? It would be helpful to your Lordships to have further detail of what is meant by that phrase.
Does part of the strategy include attracting more foreign investors? For example, Kew has previously accepted money from the Sackler family for the Sackler bridge. Is it now the policy no longer to accept money from the family, in line with the policy adopted by the Tate and others, and might that have a further adverse impact on foreign income? Any clarification the Minister can give on that would be welcome.
We know that many of these decisions are not made lightly but are driven by the necessity to balance the books, so difficult choices are forced on the trustees and others. My guess is that the trustees would not be coming forward with this suggestion if they did not feel acutely the need to generate income forced on them by cuts in other areas. I have no doubt that the proposals are driven by financial necessity, in part forced on Kew by cuts in grants from Defra.
In 1983, 90% of Kew’s funding came from the Government but, as we have heard, in 2018 its income will be £111 million, of which only £40 million will be grant in aid from Defra, which is less than 37%. Kew has done great work in making up that shortfall by visitor income—we have heard about some of the implications of increasing visitor prices—commercial activities and other charitable giving, including some large philanthropic donations. Nevertheless, as my noble friend Lady Warwick pointed out, over the years, there have been a number of reports about financial concerns about Kew, forcing it to make difficult choices about job cuts and where maintenance, repair and other investment is made. As we heard, in 2015 a House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee warned that cuts in government funding were placing Kew’s world-class scientific status at risk.
As several noble Lords have stressed, we need to be assured that the Bill will not be used by the Government to further cut the grant to Kew if its income from other sources increases as a result of the lease extensions. I agree with my noble friend Lord Whitty that the purpose of any income from the extensions should be solely to provide investment in projects compatible with Kew’s core objectives and enhance Kew’s status as a UNESCO world heritage site. Can the Minister confirm that this will be the case? Can he guarantee that the Government will not use the Bill as an excuse to shift further the burden of cost on to Kew rather than the Treasury? Can he clarify in more detail the precise powers of all those involved in the oversight of any redevelopment proposals on the site? Apart from the Kew trustees, Defra and the local planning departments, might other organisations, such as English Heritage, be consulted? Would UNESCO have a role in overseeing any changes in use, given that they might have an impact on Kew’s world heritage status? Can the Minister clarify whether any covenants on the land to be redeveloped might be a barrier to remedial work taking place?
Finally, and specifically, I understand that five of the seven properties already identified for extended leases are currently let. Have the tenants been consulted about these proposals? Is it expected that their rents will increase immediately after the property leases are extended? Although the Bill allows for leases of up to 150 years, is it envisaged that leases of variable lengths might be established? For example, will there be break clauses? Most importantly, what will the content of the leases be and what steps can be taken to remove leaseholders whose activities are no longer in keeping with the environmental principles that underpin Kew’s ethos? In future, a catering outlet may have a lease but may no longer produce food in keeping with the ethos promoted by Kew in other areas—for example, regarding biosecurity and the encouragement of plant development; there are other examples of that. We may provide a lease in good faith but then find that the leaseholder’s ethos and our ethos go off in separate directions. I am keen to know how that would be handled once the leases have been agreed. I look forward to the Minister’s response on these issues and to pursuing them with other noble Lords in the Bill’s stages to come.
My Lords, the debate has been exceptional. The truth is that we all love Kew but we also admire and respect it. I was interested to hear about the family connection of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. We in this country should be immensely proud of such provenance.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson mentioned soft power. At the last CHOGM, which was held in this country, I was tremendously proud when, while the leaders were deliberating other matters, Kew arranged for the spouses of the leaders of the Commonwealth countries to be shown a plant from every Commonwealth country. What is a better example of soft power? Richard Deverell, the director, was not with us for last week’s briefing meeting, to which noble Lords were invited, because he was busy in China. Kew has a global reach, whether in Madagascar, China, vulnerable parts of the world or Wakehurst. I should say immediately that the Bill is not at all related to Wakehurst, which is owned by the National Trust; this is about the Crown land at Kew.
As I said, Kew Gardens is one of the world’s most iconic—I would say the most iconic—botanical gardens. Yes, it is home to beautiful grounds and historical buildings but, as I deliberately said, I am very proud of the fact that we have the largest number of scientists at Kew that there has ever been. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to cuts. As my noble friend Lord Eccles, said, at times of national difficulty, all institutions and departments must play their part. However, the fact is that there are now more scientists at Kew than there have ever been; it was very generous and quite right of the noble Lord, Lord Wrigglesworth, to refer to the staff and volunteers too. The esprit de corps among the staff is tangible, as it is among the volunteers. Not only do visitors benefit from that, but I know how much volunteers enjoy working at Kew.
A number of points have been made, quite rightly. I am happy to email a copy of the Kew strategy to 2020-21 to noble Lords who have participated in the debate. It is entitled Unlocking Why Plants and Fungi Matter. The noble Baronesses, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe and Lady Kramer, specifically asked about it, but I think that the document is useful to us all. This is what it says about creating the world’s leading botanic gardens:
“We want our botanic gardens to be a reason for people to visit the UK and for British residents to make the journey across the country”—
I rather think that that may be from Somerset and Leicestershire for my noble friends. It goes on:
“We want our visitors to be representative of society and will positively act to ensure there are opportunities for a greater diversity of people to be drawn into our gardens”.
Several noble Lords referred to the next generation. The new children’s garden at Kew is going to be a fascinating place for play and learning. We very much want all members of the community both locally and beyond to feel that Kew is their place too.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Warwick, Lady Kramer and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about the funding. It is the intention that the proceeds which result from this Bill should provide an additional source of income for Kew. The latest spending review settlement extends to 2019-20. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and my noble friend Lady Byford referred to income. While the full scale of the benefits have not been fully market-tested, depending on options and planning decisions, the advice from Kew is that they would be likely to generate up to £15 million of income and cost avoidance, along with the chance to explore further opportunities as the result of this legislation. Kew intends to invest the income in infrastructure, enabling it to deliver its mission.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to the group of non-core estate properties that Kew wishes to attend to. As has been said, there are four houses and three flats on the edge of the site, mainly on Kew Green. The five properties are currently let on one-year leases following renovation work which has been partly funded by a loan. Two properties are unoccupied and require substantial renovation work to bring them up to a habitable condition. This is about ensuring that non-core property can be attended to and for the income then to go towards enhancing infrastructure and the core properties, which is what the Kew trustees wish to attend to. Kew will focus on this portfolio of properties in the first instance, in particular the two unoccupied properties. I am sure that there will be other opportunities.
In my opening remarks I deliberately emphasised that if there is a parcel of land in this country with more safety valves and oversight, I do not know it. Kew has all the designations in terms of conservation, local planning, its UNESCO site status and grade 1 listings. The land is overseen by a board of trustees along with the Secretary of State and, indeed, there is a memorandum of understanding between Defra and the Charity Commission. When reflecting on this candidly with officials, I could not think of a place that has more protections. I would be very interested—as a matter of scientific or nerdy interest—whether any other parcel of land has the protections that we have quite rightly placed on this one.
In earlier documentation, reference was made to a £40 million; that was in 2015. On further reflection, Kew has looked at this realistically, with the residential properties in mind and the considerable cost of the two unoccupied properties, and realised that the majority of this benefit will be over the first 10 years via capital receipts and cost avoidance—although there may be ongoing revenue impacts over the 150-year period, if a lease were to be granted up to that period. As I said in my opening remarks, this legislation enables exactly the same protections whether it is up to 31 years or 150 years. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that the trustees and the Secretary of State will not permit unsuitable use of these properties—and I use the word “unsuitable” perhaps advisedly. I put on record that there is absolutely no intention of that. This is about a benefit to Kew; it is not about detracting from its reputation. It is about enabling these buildings, in particular the non-core estate, to be habitable—as is the case for two of the buildings—or in a much better condition than they are now.
A number of your Lordships, specifically my noble friend Lady Byford, asked about the proportions of income: 36% is from Defra grants; 26% is visitor and commercial income; and 38% is from private grants and donations. Having been responsible for Kew since 2016, my experience is that, four-square, the mixed-funding model has worked extremely well indeed. By way of an example, Kew’s herbaceous borders—probably the longest in the world—were opened with Defra paying for the attractive gravel tarmac and a very generous philanthropist paying for the border. I do not expect the philanthropist was very keen on the tarmac, but they were engaged with the longest herbaceous border in the world. I do not resile from the fact that the mixed-funding model is absolutely right. The mixture of state funding from Defra, commercial income from non-core property and visitor centre engagement, and philanthropy and so forth is appropriate. My experience of going to Kew a great deal is that it embraces ever more people in its work; whether it is a large or small donation, far more people are embraced. The local residents of Kew, and their regard for its importance, are a key component of that.
A number of other issues were raised. My noble friend Lady Byford mentioned the importation of pests, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, talked about oak processionary moth. I could not regret more the loose connection some years ago of a tree coming from the continent with oak processionary moth. We are using every endeavour to restrain the spread within Greater London and a part of Surrey. We are holding the line with it deliberately, pending research and work. I do not know about previous occasions, but there is active collaboration in Richmond and with the Royal Parks. I spent a day there and saw a tree with 60 nests being removed. The success of this wretched caterpillar and moth is phenomenal, and we need to do all we can about it. Kew is absolutely clear about that, as is RHS Wisley; there is great ongoing collaboration on that. Of course, the research that Kew undertakes on many of these issues is also vital, such as for the fungal disease in ash trees that we have heard about.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and my noble friends Lady Byford and Lord Hodgson raised issues about the decision-making on the granting of leases. The legislation will enable the Secretary of State to grant longer leases on the land at Kew Gardens. The Secretary of State will not grant a lease without the recommendation of the Kew trustees, who will always consider the options in the light of their duty to deliver their mission and statutory duties best. The Kew trustees will of course retain the power to grant leases of up to a year if they so choose.
I just want to re-emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who queried whether the changes could in any way endanger Kew’s world heritage site status, that any proposals for new build or changes to buildings or their use, including the wider estate, will continue to be subject to rigorous review and to the highly restrictive planning requirements of a UNESCO world heritage site. There are rigorous planning consents required for developments at Kew Gardens. Kew is in the process of updating its world heritage site management plan, which will be approved by UNESCO, with the firm intention of maintaining world heritage site status into the future. By generating income from its estate, Kew’s plans will help enable it to achieve its core objectives as well as retention of UNESCO world heritage site status.
I will look in Hansard at the specific points on the charity matters that my noble friend Lord Hodgson referred to. As the principal regulator, the Secretary of State has a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that Kew is complying with its duty under charity law. The Secretary of State has a relationship with the Charity Commission as set out in the Defra-Charity Commission memorandum of understanding. For a body to be a charity, it must exist for its charitable purpose for the public benefit only and therefore must demonstrate independence from any forces that might seek to prevent it doing so. The Charity Commission’s review of the register reports that, where a governmental authority has been given powers under a charity’s governing document—in this instance, the National Heritage Act—it is bound to exercise those powers solely in the interests of the charity, and therefore the Secretary of State cannot exercise that power for the Government’s own benefit. I should also say that I have studied the memorandum of understanding, and I am very happy to discuss that issue with my noble friend if he wishes.
My noble friend Lord Eccles referred rightly to biodiversity. Our forthcoming environment Bill will help us meet our ambitions, which surely must be right in these current times, that we leave the environment in a better state than the one in which we found it—of course, we have a lot of work to do to secure that. We have also committed to working with partners at home and abroad to build support for an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework, putting greater emphasis on the vital role that our natural environment plays in improving our well-being and economic prosperity. I mention that, as did my noble friend, because Kew has an enormous locus in this matter.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, I think that the Hive is an extraordinary experience. It came from the Milan Expo, and we fought quite hard, really, to get it to Kew, which seems such an appropriate place for it—it was Wolfgang Buttress who created this extraordinary place. For any of your Lordships who have not seen the Hive, I should say that it attracts not only children but an enormous number of adults, too. I think the children aspect is really important. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, also mentioned the children’s area. I agree, and that is why I opened my remarks with that. I assure your Lordships that Kew is fully seized with the need to ensure that ever more people, with a greater diversity of background and interest, can see that Kew is the answer to a lot of our travails.
To my noble friend Lord Selborne who took us back to Joseph Banks and the rows of earlier days, I say that we are extremely fortunate in Richard Deverell and his executive team; they are so well regarded around the world. With reference to the UN, I am pleased to say that this could not be a more timely affair.
My noble friend Lord Holmes referenced the five Olympic rings and I have mentioned CHOGM, which is extremely proud-making. My noble friend Lady Byford referred to international students; I have met many students there from overseas, which is also immensely important. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to restrictions placed on Kew as a result, in effect, of it being listed as a World Heritage Site. Listing as a World Heritage Site sets certain obligations rather than additional restrictions. It is within that prism that Kew is on the list. The local planning authority, advised by Historic England, is responsible for deciding whether a proposed development should go ahead. As I said, Kew is located in conservation areas, about which there have been various references; I will write to noble Lords more fully on that as my time is sadly reaching an end.
The current donor engagement strategy is guided by an organisational ethical position and third-party engagement policy. Kew looks at major funding opportunities on a case-by-case basis while, clearly, considering financial, legal, ethical and reputational factors. The estate strategy is not in the public domain but I would be very happy to discuss it with any of your Lordships who feel that would be helpful, and to offer any appropriate reassurances.
Many points have been made. I believe this Bill—and the need for us to extend the licences—is appropriate, not only to deal with a non-core estate when there are many demands on the core estate, but also as a way of generating income to do the important work that Kew undertakes for us. I am sure that we will discuss these matters at further stages. I am hoping for a speedy passage, as your Lordships can imagine, as I think this Bill is worthy of that. In the meantime I would be extremely grateful if your Lordships would consider giving the Bill a Second Reading.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.