Amendment 2

Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 5th June 2019.

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Lord Whitty:

Moved by Lord Whitty

2: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out “such a lease” and insert “a lease granted in reliance on subsection (1)”

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Chair, EU Internal Market Sub-Committee

My Lords, while moving Amendment 2, which is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Jones, I will also speak to Amendment 3—the two are clearly interdependent.

Your Lordships may recall that I expressed my attachment to Kew, its history, scientific excellence and amenity value, and to its aspect and its contribution, as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, said, to that beautiful stretch of the Thames. None of us wishes to prejudice any of that. We want to preserve all those outcomes and benefits, but I recognise that to do so costs money. I was, like the Minister, responsible for Kew for a number of years, and understand that we need to increase the private money going into it. I recognise that the 31-year restriction on the lease was an inhibition on raising some of that money.

However, as my noble friends Lord Campbell-Savours and Lady Jones said, the Bill presented to us was very open-ended and was not restricted to the seven Kew Green properties but applied to any form of asset, building or land within the Kew estate. I therefore clearly felt, as did many other contributors to that debate, that we needed to place some restriction on how leases could be extended. I recognise the need for resources and to update some of the estate, but we need to be pretty firm in ensuring that such leases as are granted by virtue of this very short and apparently innocuous Bill are preserved and that Kew can continue to provide both scientific excellence and amenity value to our people—indeed, to the planet as a whole, because Kew’s contribution to botanical science is a very important element in biodiversity and climate change strategies.

As noble Lords will recall, in Committee I produced an amendment which I thought was pretty good and nailed the restrictions necessary. It referred to any such lease having to be,

“supportive of, or be compatible with the core botanical, scientific, environmental, educational and amenity activities of”,

Kew. I thought that was pretty clear, but since then, after consultation with lawyers—both mine and the department’s—it has become clear that that is too generalised and must be anchored in existing legislation to which future generations can refer. I therefore welcome the discussion that the Minister had and allowed his officials and Kew officials to have with me so that we could come up with a form of words which I hope meets all the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours and others. There is concern in the community around Kew, in the scientific community and in the minds of those who use Kew for recreational purposes that if we allow any open-ended leases, there will be developer interest, with the disastrous effect that we have seen on other stretches of the Thames applied to this very special piece of ground.

I therefore accept the advice of the lawyers to a large extent and have attempted in my amendments to place restrictions on future leases in terms, on the one hand, of the universal World Heritage Site provisions, which are pretty clear and, on the other, under the National Heritage Act, which includes the six principles under which the trustees of Kew are supposed to operate, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred at earlier stages. That pretty much covers the basis on which we must ensure that restrictions are placed on leases.

The amendments place the obligation on the Secretary of State, who would grant the leases, and therefore on the lessee, who would have to abide by the restrictions required by the Secretary of State. That may not be 100% watertight, but it is much more watertight than the original Bill and, I think, reflects many of the assurances which the Minister has tried to give us today and at earlier stages of the Bill. I think we can move forward with confidence and avoid the kind of intrusion on, and misuse of, the assets and land at Kew that some of us have feared. I beg to move.

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 think that it would be helpful to your Lordships if I confirmed that the Government support both amendments.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, I hesitate to intervene, particularly after what my noble friend on the Front Bench said. I assure the House that I will not inflict a Second Reading speech on noble Lords.

I proposed the Bill kindly taken up by the Government, which has become the Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill. Therefore, in some senses, I am a guilty party. I apologise for the fact that, because the Bill was taken up at short notice, I could not be present either at Second Reading or in Committee. Having read the proceedings carefully, I express my thanks to all those noble Lords who have demonstrated their love for Kew and their concern for it and its importance as a world heritage site and a world scientific centre. The words used by Peers on all sides of the House have been wise and shown a duty of care. My noble friend on the Front Bench has been wise in negotiating and listening to come forward with a compromise, which I hope will satisfy the House.

I have been in the two buildings mentioned by my noble friend in the debate on the previous amendment. There is no doubt that they have a better longer-term purpose. Something was said about how people may construe the intentions of Parliament—indeed, those of all concerned. When I had the honour some years ago of being the leader of the local authority, I walked the grounds with Mr Deverell, the truly outstanding director of Kew. We discussed this problem and these propositions, which eventually led to the Bill. With the benefit of those private discussions over a number of years, I can assure the House that never at any stage was any intention expressed, either in private or in public, by those involved with Kew that would lead towards the kind of concerning developments rightly raised by some Members.

With that assurance, added to what I know of Kew’s intentions and the benefits that this Bill could secure for Kew, I will not trespass any further on the House’s patience. I apologise for not being present to support a Bill I proposed in my name and support wholeheartedly. I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Let us hope that the Bill goes forward and becomes law, to the benefit of this great institution.

Photo of The Earl of Selborne The Earl of Selborne Conservative

My Lords, it would clearly be helpful to add the amendment to the Bill. When I chaired the trustees, Ken Livingstone was the Mayor of London. We talked with him about resurrecting river access to Kew. Of course, it is no coincidence that palaces such as Kew, Hampton Court and Greenwich are where they are; it is because of their historical connections with the river. In a way, Kew has rather turned its back on the river. Perhaps this point is more appropriate to Amendment 1 than this one, but I can well imagine a situation in future where somebody might come up with an inspired proposal to lease a landing stage, perhaps somewhere where the car park is near the river, to facilitate a sustainable way of getting to Kew. That would almost certainly require Amendment 1 not to pass; indeed, it was not agreed. Secondly, that would require oversight to make sure that there was no adverse impact on the world heritage site or the universal values at Kew. We are right to give the trustees and Defra a degree of flexibility. It is very difficult to predict the bright ideas that might come up in future; it is not for us to try to second-guess them. However, the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would be a very effective backstop.

Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy) 4:15 pm, 5th June 2019

My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity to thank the Minister for the very detailed letter he sent me on the car park, which I think other Members have seen. I had some underlying concerns that it might be a site for development because it is right on the river, but he was able to reassure me that all the protections that apply to Kew apply also to the car park property; even though it is outside the rigid wall of the garden’s limit, it is still an inherent part of the site.

Over the recess, I had the opportunity to speak to Richard Deverell, the director. I was delighted to find out that the car park is a major source of income for Kew, and that nothing would horrify him more than the thought that he might have to give it up. I feel, therefore, that this is an additional motive that sits alongside the protections.

As the Minister pointed out, there are so many levels of protection. The House has just heard from the noble Lord, Lord True, who was leader of Richmond Council, which, from a Conservative perspective, has always protected the character and significance of Kew and not allowed inappropriate development. I can say with confidence that that will be true of any Liberal Democrat administration, and, if I may be bold and daring, I suspect it would be true of any Labour or Green administration, or any other, that found itself elected in that part of the world. The site is valued so broadly that any proposed planning strategy that made Kew vulnerable in any way would put at risk the credibility of any council.

With all those protections in place—and acknowledging the extra effort from the Minister to reassure me on my one issue of concern, which I very much appreciate—it is with pleasure that we can work with these amendments, which strengthen the protection, and look forward to a stronger future.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

My Lords, I add to the widespread support for the Bill. I served as Minister for Kew twice; once in the other place and once here. I have been a friend of Kew for over 30 years—indeed, I was there this morning. Over the years, in my different roles of member of the public and Minister, I have been in virtually every building on the site. I congratulate the Government, the Minister and those who brought forward the Bill to secure what will be, I think, an even better future for Kew.

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

My Lords, as the Minister said, Kew does not have access to unlimited resources, and I welcome the recognition of this by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I fully support his amendment, and am pleased that the Government have decided to accept it. Like my noble friend Lady Kramer, I am pleased we have had the opportunity for a contribution from the noble Lord, Lord True, given that this was his Bill in the first place. The amendment before us strengthens the Bill and I am pleased to support it.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

My Lords, as somebody who is not based near Kew but who has really appreciated my visits there, I am delighted that this very small Bill will secure Kew’s future. I understand the questions raised about Clause 1, but, having looked at the amendments in this second group, I think they will reinforce it and give us a good balance. We will be able to look at future developments that may happen, because otherwise it will not be sustainable in the long term. The most important thing is the valuable work that goes on at Kew. With climate change and everything else that is coming along, Kew is a precious commodity that we need to keep in hand, without restricting it from developing in ways that we do not yet know will be possible in the future. I am delighted with this, and very supportive of it, as I have been throughout the passage of the Bill.

Photo of Viscount Eccles Viscount Eccles Conservative

My Lords, I very much support Amendments 2 and 3 from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Proposed new subsection (3)(b) refers to,

“the ability of the Board of Trustees … to carry out its functions under section 24 of the … Act”.

The first of these functions is to,

“carry out investigation and research into the science of plants and related subjects, and disseminate the results of the investigation and research”.

That is a very widely drawn function. It was drawn that way because, when the draftsman drew up the 1983 heritage Act, he discussed what Kew was doing and was looking for continuity. He was not looking for change.

The point I want to stress concerns the related subjects. In a period of climate change, biodiversity problems and environmental problems, the status of and the concentration on related subjects will change. Kew could help us, particularly with some of the points raised in the course of the Bill, if it gave its interpretation of its policy at a given moment in relation particularly to this first function, but indeed to all of them. The rest are a little easier to interpret. At the moment, in its annual report Kew states these functions, but says nowhere what it has concluded these functions mean it should be doing.

As has been said, completely correctly, Kew is constrained by its resources, particularly money, and by all sorts of history and agreements. It is in a context. If Kew wishes to explain how it sees that context, it should set it out. I hope that my noble friend, in his conversations under the Memorandum of Understanding or in any other way, will seek agreement from Kew that it will volunteer its own policy approach to the functions in Section 24.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, I obviously support any amendment that in any way restricts potential future development, but I want to clarify how, in my view, these amendments will be interpreted. If a developer surfaces who wants to build a block of flats on the edge of the Thames, who can go through the planning hurdles and all the covenants and somehow satisfy all these restrictions, he is left with this final restriction:

“The Secretary of State may grant a lease in reliance on subsection (1) only if satisfied that the lease would not have an adverse impact on”,

paragraphs (a) and (b). Would a block of flats on the Thames have an adverse impact on,

“the outstanding universal value of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, as a World Heritage Site”?

I can see lawyers on behalf of applicants going to an inquiry and saying, “We don’t think it will have any adverse effect. We are not in any way interfering with the heritage site. It might even enhance it, because it is a beautiful block of flats. It’s some of the finest accommodation in the country and fits nicely into the Kew Gardens arrangement”.

Secondly, in relation to,

“would not have an adverse impact on … the ability of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to carry out its functions under section 24 of the National Heritage Act 1983”,

I cannot see how building a beautiful block of flats on the side of the Thames could in any way have an adverse impact on the,

“ability of the Board of Trustees to carry out its functions under section 24 of the National Heritage Act 1983”.

In the future, lawyers may drive a coach and horses through those words. I still support them, because at least someone is trying to introduce some restrictions.

I am sure the Minister was very pleased when he had to deal with this amendment because his officials may well see the dangers in the amendment that I see. We support it because it is a little shift in the territory—at least lawyers in the future will have to argue their case before some kind of inquiry. That is my case. I support the amendment but with huge reservations.

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

My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to these amendments and to hear the support that the Minister has now pledged for them. I am thankful to my noble friend Lord Whitty for the well-crafted words he put forward, which seem to be receiving widespread support around the Chamber.

In contrast to my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, I argue that it provides a double lock on future extended leases because, first, they must not endanger Kew’s status as a UNESCO world heritage site. UNESCO does not grant world heritage site status lightly; it looks at integrity, beauty and function. Before a block of flats was even built in the middle of Kew, UNESCO would have made its views very clear. Having looked at the UNESCO judgment on Kew, I was very impressed by the detail it went into before it made its final recommendation about world heritage status. I am pretty confident that it would intervene before anything that would be considered a scar on the site was allowed to be developed.

Secondly, the National Heritage Act 1983 states that development must not endanger research, education, open scientific access and public enjoyment of the site. The public enjoy visiting Kew because it is such a beautiful site. I think the comments we have made in the Chamber would be echoed and magnified if we asked the public what they thought should happen on that site. I am sure they would have very strong views and would be quite conservative about any proposed developments. I have more confidence than my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours that the provisions about UNESCO and the National Heritage Act provide the reassurance for which we are looking.

Of course, nothing is ever watertight—as we said in the previous debate, lawyers will pore over the wording, the intent of our discussions and so on—and we cannot legislate for the future or the difficult choices that the trustees and the Secretary of State may face. I accept that this is a compromise, but these amendments go as far as could reasonably be expected at this time. This is a good way forward and I am grateful that we have resolved this matter so effectively.

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 am most grateful for all noble Lords’ contributions. I am struck that, as is so likely in your Lordships’ House, I am looking at two former Ministers responsible for Kew and behind me on the Government Benches are two former chairmen of Kew. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked: what is the worst that can happen? We have all worked tremendously hard to ensure that the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, set out the right position. I am very pleased that the Government support them.

The conditions centre on Kew’s status as a UNESCO world heritage site and the functions of the board of trustees of Kew as set out in primary legislation. I was struck by what the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said about the political composition of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Thinking back to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, I cannot imagine any local authority of any political complexion, given all the safeguards I know there are in the borough, allowing this theoretical block of flats getting into any sort of starting stall. The point about the local authority was precisely put. I regret that my noble friend Lord True, who earlier pioneered this Bill, has only now had an opportunity to demonstrate his expertise and experience of Kew and the sorts of properties that the Bill is designed to help remedy in order to provide important resources for Kew.

I share noble Lords’ aim to protect Kew when granting these leases, and I believe that the amendment provides a robust assurance in response to many of the points raised in debate in your Lordships’ House. As I have stated before, the strong and multilayered protections already in place, together with planning permissions appropriately tailored in accordance with listed status, ensure that only development in keeping with Kew Gardens and its status as a UNESCO world heritage site will be permitted.

The amendments would ensure that leases tailored for Kew under the Bill were compatible with its world heritage status and with the board of trustees’ functions under the National Heritage Act. It is worth noting that Kew’s annual report and accounts include the statutory functions of the board of trustees, setting out the strategic objectives in response to these functions. Kew’s corporate strategy is reviewed every three to five years and Kew is already in the process of refreshing its corporate strategy for 2021-22 onwards.

I say in particular to my noble friend Lord Eccles that I am very pleased that he will be visiting Kew. I think that he will have a very interesting meeting with the director and the scientists. The staff at Kew have already said to me that they will be very happy to discuss any suggestions that my noble friend, and indeed other noble Lords, might make about further publications and about the whole emphasis on science. Kew has a specific science strategy and that work is essential. I very much look forward to hearing that my noble friend’s visit reassures him that science is paramount at Kew. With the work that we have to undertake on climate change, which my noble friend Lady Byford mentioned, and with the need for biodiversity, which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to, we absolutely need Kew.

With this amendment in place, alongside other scrutiny, I believe that Kew will be well protected. It will be clear on the face of the Bill that no lease may contravene Kew’s objectives as the trustees go about seeking to achieve them under their functions as set out in the National Heritage Act. The Bill is about giving Kew options to access investment in underutilised properties on this large estate. The layers of protection offered by planning consent, the executive board, the trustees and the Secretary of State should be entirely adequate and, with these amendments, they can surely be placed beyond doubt.

The amendment reinforces the objectives and specifically references the functions of Kew’s board of trustees under the National Heritage Act, preventing a lease allowing activity incompatible with the functions of the board of trustees. These functions are to carry out investigation and research into the science of plants; to provide advice, instruction and education in relation to the science of plants; to provide other services in relation to plants; to care for Kew’s collection of plants; to keep the collections as national reference collections; and to allow members of the public to enter land occupied by Kew for the purpose of gaining knowledge and enjoyment. With those functions, I say again to my noble friend Lord Eccles that it is very clear, as I have seen for myself during my many visits, that science is of paramount importance at Kew. The amendments place a clear obligation on the Secretary of State to be satisfied before any lease is granted that permitted use under a lease could not have any impact on the functions of Kew’s board of trustees or impinge upon its world heritage status.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty—partly for his patience, because obviously we have been in discussions—and to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and to many other noble Lords for bringing their experience of Kew and Richmond and for their understanding of the importance of getting this right. Of course I respect the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, but I believe that one would be prone to having an ulcer all the time if one always felt that we were going to get this wrong. We have all tried to get this as right as we can. We have entrenched protections, and I believe that what we have achieved is a very good example of the importance of your Lordships’ House. We have found a resolution that satisfies most of what noble Lords have been concerned about—that is, to protect Kew—so I commend the amendment tabled by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Chair, EU Internal Market Sub-Committee 4:30 pm, 5th June 2019

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for that, and for the discussions that he and his officials have had in reaching this point. I welcome the widespread support throughout the House for these amendments. The House, the Minister and his successors, the trustees and their successors all recognise the anxiety that my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours expressed, which these restrictions are intended to assuage; this will need constant vigilance both by them and by Parliament. I welcome the fact that Parliament has paid a lot of attention to Kew in the last few weeks and, as a result of the intervention by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, may look again at the more detailed provisions on the scientific contribution of Kew.

On a lighter note, there were two unexpected contributions to this debate: the first was from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, who envisaged the possibility of Richmond upon Thames becoming a Labour council, for which I am grateful; the second was from the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, about the river entrance, which took me back 70 years to when I was a small boy. What they used to call Isleworth Gate was already closed but, as a nine or 10 year-old, you could still get in and avoid the one old penny that you would have had to pay at the turnstiles—that gave me a great afternoon out in those days. I hope it did not contribute to Kew’s financial difficulties in later decades. Given the recognition both of Kew’s need for resources and of the need to ensure there are restrictions on what can be done under this Bill, I hope we will see a positive and united future for the scientific and amenity value of Kew Gardens. I beg to move.

Amendment 2 agreed.