Amendment 3

Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [HL] - Committee – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 21st May 2019.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch:

Moved by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch

3: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, at end insert—“( ) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish an annual report on the balance between income generated by leases granted under this Act and grant funding provided by Her Majesty’s Government to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.”

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, Amendment 3 addresses the future Defra grant to Kew. It follows on from the very useful debate on this issue at Second Reading, which I thought reflected a great deal of consensus around the Chamber. We all recognised the importance of the vital research and educational work carried out at Kew, and were united in wanting to consolidate its world heritage site status. We also recognised that the additional money which might be generated by longer leases, initially estimated to be in the region of £15 million, could provide valuable additional investment in its infrastructure, scientific endeavour and visitor experience.

But there was also in that debate a common concern about substitution—the possibility that any additional funds could simply be used by government to cut the Defra grant further, leaving Kew in a no-win position and no better off. We have tabled this amendment to try to address these concerns.

Of course, there was only so much that the Minister could say to reassure us on this point at Second Reading. As he himself admitted when asked about future cuts,

“at times of national difficulty, all institutions and departments must play their part”.—[Official Report, 7/5/19; col. 1168.]

As we know, different Governments over many years have taken different views on how much should be spent from the public purse and on when to put the squeeze on expenditure through a policy of enforced austerity and cuts. So there is no guarantee that the Defra grant, which has been falling steadily over the years—from 90% in 1983 to 37% in 2018—will not fall further. As we heard in that debate, this has been the subject of real parliamentary concern, with a House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee report warning in 2015 that cuts in government funding were placing Kew’s world-class scientific status at risk.

Our amendment is a simple one which seeks to ensure that the additional income which Kew generates from the careful management of the extended leases should go direct to the trustees for future investment on the site. At this stage this is a probing amendment, and, again, I do not claim to have worded it perfectly, but I suspect that all noble Lords share the sense of its intent. I look forward to hearing a positive response from the Minister and beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, transparency is really important, but I am concerned that a set of accounts should be produced just for the income from the leases on seven properties. That seems quite bureaucratic to me. I accept that the noble Baroness said that this was a probing amendment, so I will be interested in what the Minister has to say. I would have thought that these accounts could have been incorporated into the consolidated Kew accounts, rather than being a separate set. That would be a better way of doing it.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baronesses that we should always be transparent. I hope that I will satisfactorily be able to explain why I think that these matters are covered.

First, pursuant to the National Heritage Act, a statement of accounts in respect of each financial year for Kew is prepared, examined and certified. A report on this statement is produced by the Comptroller and Auditor-General as head of the National Audit Office and laid before each House. Details of Kew’s income, including government, commercial and charitable donations, are all set out in this report, which is a public document.

I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that income received by Kew in respect of these leases, subject to this Bill, will also be reflected in this report. In addition, Kew itself publishes audited annual reports and accounts. These state how much grant in aid it receives each year from Defra and how much is restricted to specific projects. Within this report, Kew will report on funds from the lease income as part of its funding note.

The leases initially granted under the Bill are envisaged as being long-leasehold residential. Once those properties are leased, it is not envisaged that there will be a particularly steady stream of further properties to be leased or, equally, a steady flow of annual rent, as the value is in the premium these leases will achieve. That is the point which the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, was taking your Lordships towards. To insist on a further and separate annual report—indeed, a third—would necessitate a reporting burden for each year of a 150-year lease, even when there is likely to be a nil return for the vast majority of those years. Should the figures for the granting of a specific lease be required, in line with the Land Registry publication requirements, the price paid for the lease and the lease document itself will be available from the Land Registry.

I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that all the information that I understood that the amendment required will be available to the public under the mechanisms already in place. As I say, to impose an annual requirement would simply produce a further burden, in most cases with a nil return. Although the amendment is probing, it has given me an opportunity to emphasise that, as regards the two existing accounts, the matters relating to this legislation would be covered. With that explanation, I hope that she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:15 pm, 21st May 2019

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and the Minister. The report was just a hook or mechanism to try to flush out the issue of the distribution of the funds; in itself it will not add greatly to the parliamentary knowledge of income. However, I noticed that the Minister carefully skipped the point I raised about the distribution of funds between Defra and the money that Kew will raise in other ways in the future. That continues to be a concern but I recognise that just reporting on it is not necessarily the way to flush it out. Nevertheless, I am grateful to him for that comment, and I may reflect on whether there is a better way of raising that issue at a future stage, but for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 3 withdrawn.

Amendment 4 not moved.

Clause 1 agreed.