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Westminster Hall

Thursday 7 March 2002

[Sylvia Heal in the Chair]

Heritage Attractions

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Caplin.]

2.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Dr. Kim Howells) : I welcome the opportunity to debate the important role of the historic environment in our cultural life. It is one of our great national treasures and the backbone of our tourism industry, and we plan to make it accessible to everyone.

In recognition of the importance of our historic environment, in December 2001 my Department and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions jointly published "The Historic Environment: A Force for Our Future", which, following a wide-ranging review, is the first statement of Government policy on heritage for a generation. It is far-sighted, and is about more than maintaining our historic buildings and places or learning from the past. It stresses that the historic environment can improve the quality of life for all of us through the regeneration of our towns, cities and countryside, and by encouraging a greater sense of community and prosperity.

We set ourselves five specific tasks with which to achieve our aims: to provide leadership, to realise educational potential, to include and involve people, to protect and sustain the historic environment and to optimise its economic potential.

"A Force for Our Future" contains commitments to continue public funding for the care of the historic environment and to maintain an effective framework of statutory protection. It looks in detail at what can be done to develop the potential of the historic environment sector through funding, legislation, policy guidance and delivery mechanisms. For example, it recommends ways in which organisations can work together more closely and resources can be better deployed. It sets a challenge for everyone in the sector, and we are now working to turn our vision into reality.

The historic environment has huge potential as a learning resource in all areas of education—in schools, further education and later life. Historic sites constitute a learning experience in their own right and as a tool for other disciplines. They can also play a role in developing a sense of active citizenship, encouraging people to feel a greater sense of belonging and engagement. Great strides have been made in realising the educational potential of historic sites—especially for schoolchildren—and in developing a more inclusive approach to their presentation.

Nevertheless, we realise that much more can and must be done to reach new audiences and increase popular awareness and appreciation of the local historical environment. We want teachers to recognise the

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relevance of historic attractions as a resource for a wide range of subjects and we want to increase opportunities for people of all ages to develop their interests.

On 1 December 2001, free entry to our national museums and galleries became a reality for everyone. Visitor numbers at the Victoria and Albert museum, for example, rose from 42,623 in December 2000 to 174, 249 in December 2001. Similarly, the number of visitors to the natural history museum rose from 89,000 to 163,000 over the same period. We intend to build on that success.

In consultation with all the relevant bodies, we are considering ways in which to provide free access to the historic environment for children. That proposal, which was announced in "A Force for Our Future", has attracted great interest. Although particular sensitivities must be taken into account—for example, we must not deprive sites of essential funds—we are confident that it has the potential to strengthen our collective efforts to raise public awareness and the enjoyment of our rich heritage.

Similarly, the highly successful annual heritage open days gave the public an opportunity to experience some of England's hidden architectural treasures. In 2000, nearly 1 million people visited more than 3,000 properties in England—an astounding figure. That is a great tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth), who had a great deal to do with it.

Other events, such as national archaeology days, an architecture week and a museums and galleries month, have helped to promote public awareness. We are exploring with English Heritage how best to develop those initiatives and whether that approach might now be extended to the historic environment as a whole, in the form of an annual historic environment week.

As well as making the historic environment accessible to everyone, we want to ensure that it is something with which the whole of society can identify. English Heritage's report entitled "Power of Place" rightly laid emphasis on the fundamental issue of whether the heritage is indeed a common inheritance. That emerged as a key issue in the consultation process and the MORI survey that informed "Power of Place". We must take seriously the implications of the survey's finding that many members of the black and other minority ethnic populations find the historic environment of little relevance or interest. A shared sense of heritage should surely bind society, so that it becomes the heritage of all our people. We are working with our partners on developing a social inclusion policy for the built heritage. That will be published shortly, and public comments will be invited during the summer.

Our concept of what constitutes the heritage continues to evolve. We have moved beyond the traditional chocolate box image of the past, and are now responding to people's wish to broaden the definition of what should be valued.

We are now looking at ways in which people of all ages can become more involved in the historic environment, through education programmes and the greater use of volunteers. Central to that process has been the heritage lottery fund's focus on community involvement. Lottery funding for heritage projects during 2000 topped £300 million. Parks, historic landscapes, museums, galleries, and blighted towns and

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villages have all benefited. Four years ago, the focus was very much on funding for individual buildings, with a narrow definition of heritage. Work is now much more likely to embrace the wider community, and applications to the fund now need to demonstrate how projects have been developed with local involvement.

Over the past decade, issues relating to physical access have rightly been high on everyone's agenda. Following the Government's acceptance of the key recommendations made by the disability rights taskforce, we will publish "Planning and Accessibility: A Good Practice Guide" to help local authorities, developers and others achieve a more consistent approach to access for people with disabilities.

I was lucky enough to be in Canada recently. Although the temperature there was 10 deg below freezing, I did not want to miss the opportunity to go up into the Rockies, and I walked up through the famous canyon known as Johnson's canyon. Everything was frozen, but I was able to walk up the first kilometre of that canyon without once having to use steps or climb over a lump of rock; it was entirely wheelchair accessible. Ramps were bolted to the canyon walls, people in wheelchairs were given places to pass, with boards telling them about the geology and the surrounding environment. That is taking accessibility seriously, in one of the great tourist attractions of that part of the Rockies. Things have a symbiotic reciprocity. If we can extend accessibility we can also make places much more attractive to visitors.

English Heritage will update its publication "Easy Access to Historic Properties" to take account of the duties that will be introduced in 2004 under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It will give advice to owners and local authorities on the application to listed buildings.

Visiting historic attractions is the most popular activity for holidaymakers in Britain. That is a significant fact. A recent report by the English Tourism Council and English Heritage shows that more than 54 million people visited heritage sites in 2000, spending around £280 million. Britain is a land packed with outstanding heritage and cultural sites, and it is essential that tourist boards feature those stunning assets in their promotional and marketing activities.

Working in partnership with the tourism industry, the Government have launched several campaigns and initiatives to guide visitors back to the UK and to provide a strong message of reassurance after the tragic events of 11 September and the great trauma of foot and mouth disease. The problem is extraordinarily serious. I know that it is unfashionable to talk about balance of payments deficits these days, but our deficit is about £14 billion a year. If we could recover just a small part of that through British tourists taking holidays or short breaks in this country, it would be an enormous boost to the tourism industry in general, and especially to the upkeep of the historic places in question.

On 23 January, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State launched UKOK to promote Britain in seven key overseas markets—the USA, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium and France—which together account for 60 per cent. of visitors to the UK.

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The campaign offers millions of dollars' worth of great travel and accommodation incentives from more than 1,000 UK tourism businesses, to make a holiday in Britain better value than ever before. The UKOK campaign provides a strong message of reassurance to guide visitors back to Britain's four key strengths, one of which is, of course, our great heritage.

Last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that the Government will make available up to £20 million of additional public funds to promote Britain abroad as a tourist destination. The "million visitor" campaign is the biggest tourism marketing initiative ever funded by the British Government and it underscores our commitment to the UK's tourism industries, including the historic attractions sector.

The tourism industry is joining forces with us to promote our excellent tourism product. The industry has already committed £5 million in cash and we will match industry funds pound for pound. This is the first time the Government have created such a powerful public-private coalition with industry organisations. That is the result of the great traumas of 2001. First there was the downturn in the American economy, which affected the numbers of tourists flying in from the United States—the biggest spenders by far among our tourists. Secondly, there were the terrible events of the foot and mouth outbreak. Thirdly, there was the terrorism of 11 September. If we have not learned from those events, and if we do not fundamentally change our approach to the industry, we will suffer in the future. However, I am confident that we have learned from what has happened.

The new campaign will target our seven key markets. Its aim is to attract 1 million extra visitors to Britain this year, and at least £500 million in spending. At its core will be a massive TV-led advertising campaign, focusing primarily on our great heritage, countryside and cities. A particular focus will be on royal heritage and the Queen's golden jubilee celebrations.

On 5 March, to promote the golden jubilee, the British Tourist Authority launched a royal heritage map. It is published by the Department, and I am very proud of it. I have a copy with me, and I am sure that many more will be in circulation soon. I believe that a text was sent to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to sign, but he quite properly junked it and wrote his own. The text used was written by his own fair hand. We have designed the map to provide tourists with a way round Britain, so that they can see the great sites of our royal heritage. It ranges from the site of the battle of Culloden near Inverness to many sites on the south coast and in Cornwall. It is very attractive, and it will be a great resource.

A further initiative, the Great British heritage pass, not only gives admission to nearly 600 historic castles, houses and gardens, but allows visitors substantial discounts. Thousands of overseas visitors have used and enjoyed the scheme, and the historic environment has benefited greatly.

The combination of heritage and landscape has a huge appeal for tourists. We launched a campaign called "Your Countryside, You're Welcome" yesterday—well, it seems like yesterday, but in fact it was a few weeks ago. The campaign will encourage people to rediscover the

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countryside after foot and mouth disease. Needless to say, the historic environment has a big role to play in rural development.

I should pay tribute to the owners of the many private historic houses in the United Kingdom. They have often kept those properties in marvellous condition through thick and thin. They have had difficult times, and they have not enjoyed many of the benefits that have accrued to houses owned by English Heritage and the National Trust. I am looking hard at what we can do to help private owners and their representative association.

We must always be aware of the fact that inadequately managed sites—especially those with high visitor levels—risk being damaged, as well as losing their appeal. They must be managed sustainably, and we said in "A Force for Our Future" that we aim to have management plans for England's world heritage sites in place by the end of this year. Those plans will be based on sustainable development principles, and we hope that other historic visitor attractions will follow our lead. My Department and its sponsored bodies will be happy to offer advice.

Perhaps the most important step that we can take is to move visitors to a much wider range of attractions, which we have generally failed to do. London is the great honeypot, the great icon of British tourism. In 2000, there were 25 million inbound visitors to London, which is a phenomenal number. Of those, only 1 million went to Wales and 1.7 million went to Scotland. One imagines that places in between may have done slightly better or slightly worse. Those are serious statistics, and we can certainly improve on them.

I am interested in studying countries abroad that are good at drawing people to the generic product—to use marketing speak—and ensuring sure that they then move out from the honeypots to places that they did not even know existed. That is a challenge not only for the British Tourist Authority and the English Tourism Council, but for regions that may not be marketing their wonderful hidden treasures in the right way. I want to help regions to market those treasures from the centre, and to use imagination and resources to market them in the regions, too.

We are working with English Heritage to establish an historic attractions advisory unit, which will draw together best practice and advice from across the sector on issues such as management skills, marketing, visitor management, customer care and conservation. Those are central to guaranteeing success.

Our historic attractions are a great source of pleasure and stand as a record of artistic and technical achievement. We do not often consider them, but they are an inspiration for creativity in our own age and for the future. We can regard them as a library, or a great quarry, from which we can draw inspiration. The building that we are in now is a world heritage site, I think. Everyone is nodding, so I seem to be right. I have been in the House for 13 years, but still walk around and look in amazement at some of the craftsmanship and wonderful design, especially in the great hall outside this Chamber, which is a work of art by any definition.

"The Historic Environment: A Force for Our Future" sets an ambitious agenda. If we are successful, our vision will help to deliver a society that recognises the historic environment as a resource for all, regardless of social

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status or background, and in which its importance as an economic asset, attracting millions of visitors a year and generating about 5 per cent. of the nation's gross domestic product, is harnessed skilfully and productively.

2.51 pm

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I welcome you back to another debate on culture, media and sport, Madam Deputy Speaker—and I congratulate the Minister on making such a sterling contribution after five hours' effort on the subject of Ofcom in the Chamber yesterday.

On behalf of the official Opposition, I, like the Minister, am delighted to acknowledge the magnificent contribution that our first-class heritage attractions make to tourism, the economy locally and nationally, and to employment in leisure and ancillary activities. I shall pose several questions to the Minister about the cost of the increased free access, how it will be resourced and what impact it will have on other attractions that continue to charge, such as National Trust houses.

I am providing some breathing space for the Minister, in which he can look at the map and identify the two entries on it for the Vale of York. I am delighted that there are 32 English Heritage sites and 90 National Trust properties in Yorkshire, so Yorkshire should figure disproportionately on the map that is the Minister's pride and joy. The Vale of York itself has English Heritage's Roman site at Aldborough, which must be one of the oldest such sites in Britain, and the National Trust's Beningborough hall and gardens. I urge the Minister to consider the impact and expense of free admission for children, pensioners and students to some attractions. It should be properly thought through, especially in terms of its implications for other attractions.

I congratulate the Minister on extolling so eloquently the virtues of two Conservative achievements. I appreciated that. The first was the contribution made to national heritage by the heritage lottery fund, which was set up by the former right hon. Member for Huntingdon, John Major. The Conservative party takes disabled access to all public buildings seriously, and I welcome the fact that in the run-up to 2004, the Government will fully implement the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, introduced by my parliamentary neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), when he was Minister for Social Security and Disabled People in the Major Administration.

The Minister mentioned the Budget and the new scheme that the Government have proposed, which we warmly welcome, although we will take time to consider its impact. I urge him again to seek the support of his colleagues in the Treasury to ensure that the English Tourism Council has a proper marketing role. That would be entirely consistent with the Government programme that the Minister described, whether in relation to a Great British heritage pass, the royal heritage and the Queen's jubilee, or museum week. I have embraced the idea of that week, and have received an invitation to be a patron of the local museum at Thirsk, which I accepted with warm enthusiasm. I realise that the Government have

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identified seven markets and hope to attract 1 million extra visitors, but can I ask the Minister how they expect to achieve that without a proper and complementary marketing role for the English Tourism Council?

In addition to the documents to which the Minister referred, I would add his Department's annual report for 2001. The Department states that it wants to increase access to, and participation in, the cultural and sporting life of the nation, while maintaining the quality of the experience that it offers. It also wants people to have the opportunity to develop their potential and enrich their lives and those of their communities through cultural and sporting activity. Therefore, it works with others inside and outside the Government to create greater opportunity and to increase the extent to which it is taken up. Moreover, as the Minister explained in his opening remarks, the Department believes that its policy on access contributes to the promotion of learning, employment and social inclusion.

In July 1998, when the Government made a commitment, through the Department, to introduce free access for children from 1999 and for pensioners from 2000, and universal free entry to museums in 2001, the British public found the idea attractive. My concern is that the Government failed to realise all the implications and ramifications. The policy will have an impact on regional museums and will cost national museums revenue and increased VAT charges. That is not the Minister's direct responsibility, but I urge him to make representations to his colleagues. What better time to do so than now, before Budget day?

The museums that do not charge cannot reclaim VAT on services because they are not businesses, whereas I understand that museums that do charge, can. The Government announced in early April 2001 that they were planning to share a £7.1 million grant among five national museums to enable them to charge just £1. So long as they charged even that, they would have been able to reclaim VAT. In the 2001 Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a U-turn: all the main national museums that allowed free admission would in future be refunded the VAT that they incurred on purchases. The Government appear to have got themselves into a mess over their policies on admission to museums and galleries.

In January I was contacted by a constituent, John Rathmell, who runs the Clearstory railway museum from his home. He said that visitors were to be charged for entry to York's national railway museum—during a two-week Thomas the Tank Engine event in February—only two months after admission prices were scrapped by the Government. I believe that we are still awaiting a response from the Secretary of State about that. I urge the Minister to use his good offices, through his Department, to seek an early reply my constituent.

Where national museums are not charging, the implications for local museums are great. In December, the Evening Press in York published a reader's letter on the subject:

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To some extent, the Minister and his Department have stirred up a hornets' nest with their policy on charging.

The questions that I want to put to the Minister are about the fact that nothing is free. There is no such thing as a free lunch, because at the end of the day, someone picks up the bill. Where there is to be more free access, how will that be resourced and at whose expense? Has the Minister considered that extending free access to some attractions could harm neighbouring attractions that charge? In that context, I have already referred to the railway museum in York.

I understand the Minister's desire to attract foreign tourists. That aim is also close to my heart. I wish to declare an interest in that my husband works for an American airline company, which obviously operates a two-way business, not only transporting tourists and those who work for British businesses to the United States, but, we hope, transporting even more people from north America to the United Kingdom.

Has the Minister considered that we could be subsidising foreigners to visit our attractions? As many hon. Members will appreciate, when one lives next to an attraction, one often takes it for granted and does not take the opportunity to visit, whether or not there is a charge. What is the Government's estimate of the annual cost to the Treasury of allowing free access to English Heritage sites for those under 16 and students, pensioners, and all visitors? I have a high regard for the Minister, and although it might be difficult for him to give me that information at short notice, a written response by Monday would be most welcome.

Dr. Howells : I can give the hon. Lady that information immediately. I am afraid that I cannot tell her the cost of free access for under-16s, but I can tell her about under-15s, although the figures are only preliminary estimates. They are as follows: Government properties, £4 million; National Trust properties, £4 million; local authority properties, £1.5 million; and private properties, £7 million.

Miss McIntosh : While I am assimilating that information, will the Minister confirm that that is the cost to each of those bodies?

Dr. Howells : Yes, it is.

Miss McIntosh : For how long do the Government propose that the policy will apply? Is it a permanent policy or is it a temporary policy, which, like so many Government policies, will be kept under review? What assessment have the Government made of the possible impact of VAT law on free access for visitors to English Heritage sites? Moving close to home again—my constituency is within one mile of York minster—what assessment have the Government made of the possible impact of free access to English Heritage sites on other attractions such as churches? I am sure that he will be aware that York minster is seriously considering raising funds through charges because the upkeep of that fine building is tremendously expensive. What evidence do

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the Government have that such a policy would appeal to those who run English Heritage sites or to the general public? Have visitor numbers risen in proportion to the additional costs?

Why have the Government chosen to debate this matter in Government time, rather than sport, tourism or other more pressing concerns? Is there an especially important announcement that we are awaiting so eagerly today? Which heritage attractions are to be free, and by what criteria will they be selected? Will the Government compensate such attractions should they suffer loss of earnings?

On a wider point, what are the Government doing, in addition to the measures that the Minister has already mentioned, to attract not only foreign tourists but vital domestic tourism? I welcome the UKOK campaign, but the Minister must accept that it does not address that point. The York tourism board, for example, would be keen to attract tourists from other regions of Britain to our heritage sites, countryside and sporting sites. Will the Minister address that matter?

In response to the foot and mouth crisis, to which the Minister referred, the Government announced funding of £18 million for the marketing of British tourism. I understand that £14 million is destined for the British Tourist Authority and £4 million for the English Tourism Council. Those sums are grossly inadequate. The English Tourism Council's urgent pleas for realistic help should be respected.

Dr. Howells : I am sure that the hon. Lady was busy preparing her speech when I made the announcement, but we are currently conducting a £5 million campaign—UKOK—and a further £20 million campaign, which will be matched by £20 million of private sector funding. The British tourism industry has never known such funding. Surely she must welcome that.

Miss McIntosh : The Minister will, I am sure, have a response to my question about how much of the funding will go to the English Tourism Council to enable it to undertake a tourism marketing role. The council will have a dual role in attracting both incoming visitors to the country and visitors resident in the United Kingdom to different English regions. A breakdown of the funding from the Government would be welcome. If the Minister wants to help tourism, why does he not agree, today, to give the English Tourism Council a marketing role, particularly as he has said that the Government might be minded to do so in the future?

As luck would have it, while the Minister was speaking, I received, by hand, a letter from someone concerned with one of the historic houses to which he was kind enough to refer. The letter is from Mr. Bagot of Levens hall in Kendal, Cumbria, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins). Mr. Bagot wrote to my hon. Friend, who has forwarded his briefing to me, to say that

I will have to visit to find out what a topiary garden is.

Dr. Howells : Topiary is at its most visible when somebody spends many years cutting their privet hedge

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into the shape of a beast or a heraldic emblem. Topiary gardens are huge versions of that. The garden referred to in the letter is almost unequalled in western Europe.

Miss McIntosh : I am most grateful for that explanation; the Minister whets my appetite even more. He may or may not realise that the first parliamentary seat that I fought as a Conservative candidate was Workington in Cumbria, which is next to my hon. Friend's constituency.

I have a useful briefing here from the Historic Houses Association, which refers to the colossal cost of preserving privately owned houses. The Minister will appreciate that without constant maintenance, decay and collapse occur with alarming speed. Once lost, such precious assets are gone forever. The briefing continues:

It ends with a plea, which I shall take the opportunity to pass on to the Minister:

to decide how to preserve impressive and valuable pieces of our national heritage for future generations. It is the association's fervent hope that the Government will support

that is imperative, in the view of the Historic Houses Association and those who visit such houses each year—

After the debate, and once my papers have been returned, I shall pass that plea on to the Minister through my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): The hon. Lady will be aware that English Heritage makes available grants to historic buildings and heritage sites in return for making access available. In the context of the comments in the letter, does she agree that if we are to make tax relief or grants available to historic sites, we should be assured that access is allowed? According to a recent National Audit Office report, access is not always available even when grants have been made.

Miss McIntosh : The hon. Gentleman leads me down a dangerous path, as I am only a shadow spokesman, not a Minister. In a personal capacity, I believe that one must be take care to ensure that access is allowed when at all possible, but also that it does not endanger the property. One can imagine the practical problems that might be caused if too many people visited a property in a short time, given how brief the tourist season is in this country. We could take as an example the number of feet that have trodden up the steps of Westminster Hall.

I shall now raise a serious matter that is mentioned in today's edition of The Daily Telegraph. I take this opportunity to make a personal plea to the Minister, who always listens with care and attention to his

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parliamentary colleagues, and I urge him to make the speediest and most eloquent representations to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor on the point I am about to mention.

The headline reads, "The Chancellor to sell the family silver after all", and the article tells us:

This is a serious matter, which represents a U-turn by the Government, who said last October that they would not sell the nation's silverware. The Treasury is now saying that this will take place, thus enabling the silverware to be placed in the public domain—but it is already in the public domain. The Treasury is assuming that the V & A, which is another national treasure, will want to pay a considerable sum to purchase that national silverware and put it on display.

I urge the Minister to make every conceivable representation to ensure that that perverse situation will not be allowed. The silverware is, and should remain, in the nation's keeping. I gather that Mr. Barrie, director of the National Art Collections Fund, said that if the sale went ahead it would open the floodgates for Government Departments under pressure from the Treasury to sell more paintings, furniture and silver.

It has emerged that the Silver Trust, a charity established to commission and then lend to No. 10 Downing street a 65-place silver service for banquets, might rethink its long-term plan to give the service to the nation. I strongly urge the Minister to ensure that the Government do not raid the larder for the nation's silverware, and that the silverware is kept in safe custody and on display with public access, without any requirement for other bodies to purchase it.

I welcome today's announcement by the Government. I urge the Minister to confirm that his Department envisages a marketing role for the English Tourism Council and to explain what, in his personal view and in the view of his Department, the implications will be for regional museums, churches and other parties, such as York minster, that are under pressure to charge to recover their costs. Will he explain also how the National Trust—a private organisation, in contrast to English Heritage, which is a Government agency—will be affected by the Government's proposal?

3.17 pm

Jim Knight (South Dorset): I am pleased to contribute to the debate on access to heritage attractions. I want to broaden the scope slightly, given that I represent South Dorset, which is part of the newly designated world heritage site, the Jurassic coast. UNESCO made the announcement in December, and it was a great delight to us in Dorset and Devon to receive that status. I know that you have visited the area, Mr. Pike, because I remember you coming to dinner about five years ago. I also know that you are familiar with the place and appreciate what a pleasure it is to visitors.

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The world heritage site begins at Old Harry rocks just off Swanage. The coast continues through my constituency, including Lulworth cove and Durdle Door, and it includes ranges on which the Army unfortunately seems to want to fire shells. That is a side issue that I may have to raise with other Ministers, but perhaps the firing may expose some nice fossils. The coast continues to Weymouth, Portland, Chesil beach, the Fleet and beyond. It is a treasure and the first site in England—and I think Wales, too—to achieve world heritage status as a natural environment.

My impression of the comments of the Minister and the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) is that they have focused on the built environment and architectural heritage, but the Jurassic coast is clearly more a matter of natural heritage. For those who are not familiar with the area, what is celebrated there, apart from the beautiful coastline, is a precise and accurate timeline for the Jurassic period. Evidence can be seen, such as excellent fossil remains, including fossil forests by Lulworth cove and dinosaur remains at Lyme Regis. The area is a treasure educationally and for geomorphologists, but also for walkers. We look forward to the benefits that world heritage status will bring.

The Minister talked about built heritage and how many sites are artistic and technical monuments, providing inspiration, but natural monuments exist too, such as those I have named from my area. He also referred to the built environment as a quarry for artistic inspiration, but there are real quarries at the world heritage site in my area. If he visits quarries on Portland or in the Purbecks, he will see a timeline of the Jurassic age, which became exposed as the stone was exploited. We see much Portland stone at other world heritage sites around us in London, now that the process has gone full circle.

I was particularly pleased to see the sculptured landscape at West Wears on Portland last Friday. The work is by John Maine, who designed an important sculpture that is over on the south bank. Marvellous terraced steps look out over the sea and Chesil beach. The artist used the various rock strata and capped each step with a wave. The work is quite remarkable, and it is a peaceful place from which to view the landscape. I would recommend any hon. Member to see it, and I would be delighted to buy them a cup of tea after the experience.

World heritage status does not, however, come without challenges, as I am sure all hon. Members will testify. In particular, I am pleased that I can discuss access problems. The access barriers in my area do not relate to cost, because people are not charged to walk the coastal path or to see the sea and the cliffs. Rather, they relate to providing transport, disabled access and the right accommodation, which would allow us to attract the full range of visitors and to benefit in economic development terms.

There is also the issue of managing visitors and channelling them in the right direction, which is why transport is crucial to exploiting the potential of our world heritage status. The railways in Dorset are not too bad, as railways go these days, and I am delighted that the Strategic Rail Authority recently announced that the line between Wareham and Corfe Castle is to be restored. The heritage railway that runs from Corfe

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down to Swanage can join the main line, and other services can be generated to enhance access to the start of the heritage coast. Services into Devon simply do no exist, and the railway is not a realistic option for those who want to exploit the full potential of our heritage coast.

Buses are erratic. More subsidised buses have come on stream in the past few years, although too many for my liking seem to be subsidised to run empty. Some are very large and cause problems in Corfe Castle. The potential for buses to use liquid petroleum gas and other forms of environmentally friendly fuel is being explored, and work is being done with firms such as BP, which exploits oil in Poole harbour on the world heritage coast and brings it onshore at Wych Farm in my constituency. Essentially, however, buses will not solve our transport problems.

There are also difficulties with our roads, particularly in Weymouth, and we are campaigning hard for a relief road. All those activities are designed to sort out a transport infrastructure and to give people gateway points to access the coast without destroying it. I appreciate what the Minister said about making access sustainable so that we do not damage the very jewels that people come to see.

We must find a way to work across authorities. We get assistance from the regional development agency, but I would welcome further Government help. That will ensure that the Department works with us and looks critically at the management plan that it wants us to put in place by the end of the year. It will then be able to ensure that we have a realistic transport plan, so that access to our coast can become a reality.

My next point is on disability. I was enchanted by the Minister's story about his trip to the Rockies and walking a mile into the snow-covered mountains. I was reminded of the path from Lulworth cove to Durdle Door. The Weld estate, in conjunction with the county council, has recently spent a lot of money improving it, because it was being quickly eroded—more than 250,000 people visit the area each year. Unfortunately, it is a stepped path, and I know that the Weld family are worried that they will have to find a way to improve it yet again to enhance disabled access.

The natural environment, especially the cliff paths on the Dorset coastal path, which extends to the south-west, presents a particular challenge to those who want to give people with mobility problems proper access to our tremendous natural heritage, which the rest of us can access so happily. I do so most weekends with my dog, and even with my wife and family.

Accommodation is a real challenge. We now have world heritage status, but were we to experience a great influx of visitors, particularly from overseas, I am not sure whether they would recommend the area if we were judged on the quality of the full range of accommodation. The fear is that visitors will stay further along the coast and come to the area only on day trips, because we do not have the range of high-quality accommodation to enable us to benefit economically. If we do not benefit economically, local residents might start to resent the traffic generated by day trippers who do not stay and spend money locally.

We need support from the Department and we must work with it on improving our accommodation. Funding has been made available for upgrades.

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Recently, I spoke to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), a newly elected Welsh Member, who lectured on tourism. He mentioned measures taken to help proprietors of bed-and-breakfast accommodation, guest houses and so on to make the investment necessary to upgrade their properties. I would love to see that happen in my area.

In Dorset, and over the border in Devon, we are acutely aware that world heritage status has no cash attached. However, it is a great marketing tool. For instance, Weymouth and Portland borough council, Purbeck district council and Dorset county council are all putting world heritage status at the top of their economic development plans. It is seen as a great driver, lifting our economies and allowing us to strike a balance between the quality of life that we all enjoy as a result of our beautiful natural environment and getting economic benefit from it.

The regional development agency is being helpful, as it is paying for a consultancy to enable us to harness that economic development potential. We are talking to the natural history museum about the possibility of it developing the site, because it has hundreds of fossil specimens from Dorset that are not displayed. We have the potential to offer the museum a tremendous facility in the area. I am working also with hon. Members who represent neighbouring coastal constituencies, but we need more support.

The Minister talked about what could be done in terms of the built environment. I interpret that to mean historic houses and so on. He also talked about the Department showing leadership in developing educational potential and sustaining the environment. I request that such support be extended to the natural environment and heritage, and that we be able to access the heritage lottery fund fully. Some sites receive subsidies through schemes such as the Great British heritage pass, and we should not be denied such public money because our site is free at the point of access.

I got excited when the Minister mentioned his new map of heritage sites, which was published last week, but I was disappointed when I looked at it, although, I hasten to add, not because it is entitled "Britain's Royal Heritage". That heritage is obviously to be celebrated, especially in this jubilee year, but I am disappointed that we are not on it, given our world heritage status and that Weymouth has royal connections. George III began the tradition of seaside holidays there. Some places on the map have slightly tenuous links with royalty.

Dr. Howells : I apologise to my hon. Friend for missing the world heritage site off the map. We would come close to some dangerous rocks if we started to talk about fossils and royalty, but I assure him that I have urged the regional development agencies and tourist boards to construct regional maps on the basis of that map. The idea is that we bring people into the regions, and then the regions take over.

Jim Knight : I thank the Minister, and I look forward to the region featuring the world heritage coast prominently on its regional map. I hope that working within the Department but across regions might help to provide a signpost for those who visit the New forest, for example, so that they move out of the south-east and

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into the south-west to visit our marvellous heritage coast. Obviously, I shall look carefully at any future prints of the map, or maps that follow it, to ensure that the mistakes are not made a second time.

I welcome the debate. We in Dorset and Devon are trying to tackle problems, so we realise the full potential of the world heritage status that our coast has recently received. I plead with the Minister and the Department: we should not be forgotten in future, natural heritage should be kept in mind and heritage sites must relate to more than the built environment.

Mr. Peter Pike (in the Chair): The hon. Gentleman has reminded the Chair, who represents a constituency in the Duchy of Lancaster, of the need to consider such matters closely.

3.33 pm

Nick Harvey (North Devon): In welcoming the debate, I congratulate those who, over a long period, have done much to protect our heritage and offer access to it. I also welcome the initiatives mentioned by the Minister and express the hope that they improve access to heritage sites over time. I agree with the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) that a decent marketing budget for the English Tourism Council would probably improve the take-up of opportunities, but that is largely a debate for another day.

In June, the nation will celebrate the Queen's golden jubilee. Modern Britain is much more diverse than the Britain of 50 years ago, and with that diversity comes a range of ways to perceive our heritage and highlight our history. This summer, people will celebrate in many ways. People in different parts of the community have different hopes and expectations of what the country's heritage can offer them. Heritage should not be forced on people. If access exists without quality, there is little point in offering access. The key to encouraging people to take up opportunities is access to quality projects.

The hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) made a good point about heritage meaning not just built heritage, but the natural environment. As we all seem to be giving broadcasts on behalf of our constituencies, I should say that my constituency of North Devon has a stretch of heritage coast and a lot of National Trust properties. We have good take-up among people who come to visit those attractions, although my constituents might shudder in disapproval if I argued for a huge increase, particularly at peak times of the year. Clearly, the nation's heritage comes in different shapes and forms. Those all benefit national and local identity, local communities and their fabric, and the economy. Successful projects provide essential jobs and create wealth.

If we consider some of the country's obvious tourist attractions, such as Bath, Oxford and York, we can see the economic value and the international cultural value of working to preserve the heritage in those places. About 11 million visits a year are made to English Heritage sites alone. Our historic environment is dear to the hearts of those who visit such sites and to the 2.7 million National Trust members.

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One or two hon. Members have referred to access and access for the disabled. An estimated 8 to 9 per cent. of visitors to English Heritage sites have disabilities. Although it is often by definition difficult to make some sites accessible to the disabled, not least because it is an essential part of the job of English Heritage and the other bodies that look after them to preserve their original fabric, there is still more that we can do to improve access to parts of sites that may sensibly be made accessible.

Only 40 sites offer audio tours with hearing loops and even fewer have taped tours adapted to basic language. There is a lot to do, and the heritage lottery fund has a role to play in encouraging organisations that apply for grants to ensure that reasonable access for people with disabilities is provided.

We should also concentrate on access for children. I welcome many proposals in "The Historic Environment: A Force for Our Future", especially the recommendation that children should be allowed free admission to sites of cultural and historical importance. The Secretary of State has proclaimed free admission to national museums and galleries to be a spectacular success and says that charges were clearly restraining many people, particularly families. I hope that our historical environment will now be democratised, as some of the nation's other treasures have been through the introduction of free admission to more and more sites.

I also welcome proposals to extend the blue plaque scheme across the country. Those plaques provide a useful insight to the lives of those who have contributed to our heritage. Funded by the heritage lottery fund, English Heritage is collating for its website a collection of photographs of all England's listed buildings. That is a step towards making our historically important homes and buildings accessible. Some homeowners are concerned that the record will be abused by housebreakers and the like, but those concerns can be overcome by tightening the website's security. English Heritage is also considering an exemption scheme for cases in which it may be proven that inclusion could cause unwarranted or substantial damage or distress.

Overall, we should encourage access to more homes of historical significance. Many artworks and historical artefacts that such homes contain are exempt from inheritance tax in exchange for reasonable public access. Where that is the case, homeowners should be obliged to include their properties on the website.

There should also be a stricter definition of what constitutes "reasonable access" to ensure that taxpayers get value for money from the exemption. Two thirds of the UK's built and natural heritage is maintained, as the Minister said, by private owners. Keeping those properties in a condition that meets visitor expectations and conserving them at current levels can be expensive. The Historic Houses Association estimates that the annual cost of maintaining the privately owned homes is about £80 million. If we intend to open more such homes to the public, more investment is needed.

We cannot expect vast amounts of public money to be invested in those homes, but we can try to encourage additional private investment by examining further the VAT regime. I must put on record an interest, in that my home is a listed building. However, as I do not intend to

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offer public access to it, I do not wish to avail myself of any special tax concessions. There is an anomaly in the respective treatment of older buildings and new builds. I know that the Government have considered the issue and I hope that they remedy it.

The heritage lottery fund has an important part to play in guaranteeing access to sites. Its strategic plan for 1999-2002 cited education and access as one of four strategic priorities. Up to March 2001, 69 per cent. of the projects that it funded achieved enhanced access to heritage. That is good, but there is more work to do to ensure that the other 31 per cent. begin to achieve it as well. It is all very well spending large sums on preservation and conservation, but if the sites are inaccessible to the public, the money is not well spent.

I have been lobbied, as I imagine others have been, about the case of Hatchmere lake in Cheshire, where heritage lottery fund grants mean that significant parts of the lake, which used to be accessible to the public, no longer are. That should be the exception, not the rule. There may, on occasion, be a heritage case for limiting access. If so, a clear public statement of that need must be made. Extending access also means reflecting what is required in different regions. We recently debated the unequal distribution of lottery funds. That is as true for heritage as for any other lottery work.

We need to take a wide view of what constitutes our heritage. Only this week, it was revealed how quickly our records become obsolete. A multimedia version of the Domesday book created by the BBC in 1986 is now unreadable. A collection of images and sounds compiled to record the state of the nation in 1986, including images of Maradonna's hand of God goal, hill farmers struggling to cope with the fallout of Chernobyl, Michael Heseltine storming out over the Westland affair and thousands of other records of everyday life, was recorded on 12 inch video discs, which now cannot be read. By contrast, the original 11th-century Domesday book is in good condition at the Public Record Office and accessible to anyone who can make a reasonable case and has the right credentials to read it.

Despite such setbacks, computers hold the key to preserving much of our heritage that we do not have the resources or facilities to display, as they provide access for people who are unable to stroll around heritage sites. The work of Turner gives an example of how modern technology can be used to display our cultural heritage. Turner's bequest was that his work should be preserved for the nation and displayed for all to see. Although it is disappointing that no dedicated gallery has been built to display those 30,000 works, the entire Turner bequest went online last week on the Tate gallery's website. Many are probably viewed better that way than with the naked eye.

For many people, interactivity and the internet will be how they experience the UK's heritage. Although strides are being made to provide for that in schools and universities, there is much more that we can do to improve access. The internet has immense potential for opening up opportunities for students and it gives a taste of what the UK has to offer to visitors from overseas. As a medium, it is unsurpassed as a way to improve access to the many cultural and historical artefacts that cannot be displayed.

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The work carried out by the British museum in collating its collections is much to be admired, and a great deal of work goes on in many nooks and crannies to preserve our heritage, although much more can be done to improve access to it. We should be proud of what has been done and proud of our heritage, but we must remain vigilant and diligent in ensuring that more and more people experience it, especially through giving such opportunities to overseas visitors. We are moving in the right direction. I commend the document to which the Minister referred and hope that access to heritage improves in years to come.

3.45 pm

Mr. Bob Laxton (Derby, North): In this life, they say that time flies when you are having fun. I have obviously been enjoying myself to such an extent that I have difficulty recalling when I first became involved, in my previous capacity as leader of Derby city council, with what is now the Derwent Valley Mills world heritage site. Seven or eight years ago, the then officer for tourism on Derby city council, Marion Nixon, an officer called Reg Whitworth from the adjacent authority of Amber Valley and I were considering the pressure placed on the Peak District national park, the first national park in the United Kingdom. The park receives huge numbers of visitors, totalling several million each year. In many places, the park is grossly over-walked and over-cycled. Of the millions of visitors, many come into the county for only a day or a few days.

We looked at the possibility of trying to draw people into south Derbyshire and guide them up the Derwent valley to look at a real gem of industrial archaeology, including superb country houses, such as Chatsworth and Kedleston hall. There they could also see the superb pumping station that pumps water from the Derwent into Cromford canal, take in sheep pastures and do a hill climb in an area where they could ride railway wagons down to the Cromford canal. There is a series of mills along the Derwent valley and the total distance is perhaps 15 or 16 miles.

Things have moved on since that time seven or eight years ago and the Derwent valley mills are now designated as a world heritage site. I am delighted about that. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] My right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth) says, "Hear, hear" loudly and clearly. Of course, we were delighted when he was able to visit the mills in the Derwent valley to see the site for himself when he was a Minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

As I said, things have moved on, although difficulties will always remain. My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) has referred to issues of access, a matter that greatly exercised our minds. If mills are spread along a 15 or 16-mile stretch of river, there are real problems with access. Much of the land between sites is privately owned, so gaining access to such places would be a long-term project.

Some of the mills are very old. The silk mill in my constituency of Derby, North was the site of probably the first major industrial dispute in this country. In the great silk mill lockout, workers were locked out and starved back to work. In Derby, we remember that on or around May day every year. Boar's Head mill at Darley

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abbey, also in my constituency, is privately owned and dates back to an interesting period of history when undershot turbines ran all the machinery and, latterly, generated electricity for the mill. At Peckwash mill, little of the mill now remains. I refer to the mills at Millford and the great Strutt mills at Belper, one of which was the forerunner of the new factory processes at the time and was built to be fireproof, as the dust and material flying around mills made them a fire risk. The mill was designed with a floor built on ceramic pots to prevent the risk of fire. I refer, too, to the very old mills, such as the Arkwright mills at Cromford and the Masson mill a little further up the road at Matlock Bath.

The site has the potential to be a superb heritage site. We should be able to exploit such sites for tourism, which would be of great benefit to the area economically, historically and educationally. We hope that those who come to visit will remain in the area longer than they would otherwise do.

There are concerns, however, one of which is about the status and management of inscribed and proposed world heritage sites. Local authorities have been involved in establishing a local authorities-world heritage forum. In August 2000, the body submitted observations to English Heritage on the Government's review of policies relating to the historic environment, which contained the statement:

My right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East, in a speech to the local authorities-world heritage forum in Portcullis House on 13 March 2001, acknowledged:

I could not agree more with that statement.

I return to the issue of the current status and the measures for protection of the sites. Some member sites are under direct Government control, but in this country there are many sites in private or multiple ownership whose protection depends on co-operation between Government, national and regional agencies, local authorities and owners, and on a wide variety of statutory and non-statutory measures.

I have a copy of some planning policy guidance notes—PPG15, published by the former Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions. It applies to England alone, although there are similar circulars and guidance notes for the Welsh Office. The key points made in PPG15 are that

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Paragraph 6.35 of PPG15 refers specifically to the world heritage convention:

Most of the sites have elements of statutory protection within them such as listed buildings, ancient monuments, areas of outstanding natural beauty and sites of special scientific interest. A number of cultural sites have protection through the designation of conservation areas.

The Government have an obligation under the world heritage convention. Responsibility for world heritage matters is exercised by several Departments, with the DCMS taking the lead. The First Ministers for Scotland, for Wales and for Northern Ireland and the Foreign and Home Secretaries are also involved. A wide range of Departments is involved in the process. It can be seen that the responsibility is given and/or accepted by a wide variety of governmental and quasi-governmental agencies. The various Ministers of State regularly communicate with each other on these matters. There are well-established mechanisms for communication between national heritage bodies, and that includes the local authorities-world heritage forum.

Nevertheless, mechanisms are needed to ensure consistency on recognition of the status of sites, on guidance to site managers in the widest sense, on the content and coverage of management plans and on both the theoretical and actual protection of sites. The need for consistency is paramount.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): I agree with a large amount of what the hon. Gentleman says. World heritage site status has just been granted along the coast between Dorset and Devon in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for South Dorset, who unfortunately has had to leave. I agree that there should be some consistency, but these sites are very different. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the information bureaux and the gateway towns should all reflect the individual nature of the world heritage sites in their area? There should not be unanimity across the board.

Mr. Laxton : Had the hon. Gentleman been here to listen to the contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset he would have heard him argue that the natural heritage of that site was perhaps unique and therefore different from the site I am describing. I am arguing for consistency of approach, not for uniformity or standardisation. Each site is different and has its own strengths and weaknesses. Every site has its merits. There needs to be a consistent governmental approach to dealing with these sites. That certainly does not mean uniformity of approach or an identikit position on them. I was not arguing that in any way, shape or form and I hope that most hon. Members understood that.

Consistency of approach becomes more important because we have almost reached critical mass in terms of the cultural, historic and natural sites that have been inscribed. Although there is no statutory recognition of the sites at present, more effective protection would flow from proactive recognition of the status of these sites in

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legislation or statutory instruments. There is a lack of recognition of the distinctiveness of not just world heritage sites but the buffer zones surrounding them. In contrast, many buildings, monuments and sites fall within existing statutory designations. However, although they have merit in themselves, some will never aspire to the description of "outstanding universal value".

The number of sites that have been inscribed has reached a critical mass. Talking as I have about the consistency of the Government's approach and the way in which they can support, nurture, improve and preserve the sites, I should like the Government to produce a statement on how they will co-ordinate the discharge of their obligations under the world heritage convention to identify and protect United Kingdom world heritage sites, particularly with the agencies involved and the devolved Administrations in the United Kingdom.

4.1 pm

David Wright (Telford): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Laxton), who raised several issues about world heritage sites, as did my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight). We are having a little world heritage site jamboree this afternoon and I do not want to break with that tradition. I welcome the debate, and especially the Minister's opening remarks. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them; they covered a wide area of tourism policy throughout the country.

The debate is especially significant for my constituency, which contains the Ironbridge Gorge world heritage site. The importance of that site will not be lost on hon. Members: in 1709, Abraham Darby first smelted iron and coke there, and inspired the industrial revolution. The symbol that most people identify with the area is the iron bridge built between 1777 and 1781. The gorge was designated a world heritage site in 1986; it was the first industrial archaeology-based world heritage site so declared, a distinction of which we are proud. It met the UNESCO criteria for designation, the most striking of which is that Ironbridge represents a masterpiece of human genius. If hon. Members ever walk along the gorge and see the fantastic bridge, they will indeed see such a marvel.

People live in the gorge. We must acknowledge that world heritage sites are not dusty old museums that display exhibits, but living communities. Ironbridge has some 4,000 residents who have jobs, shops and houses and use the area as a living environment. We must balance the activities of preserving world heritage sites with the needs of the local communities.

It is also important that we consider the significance of world heritage sites for United Kingdom tourism. Last year, 600,000 people visited the gorge. Having heard about national figures, I am sure that the Minister will agree that that is a phenomenal number of visitors in one location in Shropshire. The local authority estimates that £76 million of expenditure spins off from the site each year, purely in Telford and Wrekin. The site provides important investment by attracting other visitors to Shropshire to visit Shrewsbury, Ludlow and adjoining towns. It is a honeypot site for tourism in Shropshire: 2,500 jobs in Telford and Wrekin are dependent on its success.

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I was interested in the Minister's comments about the need to produce a management plan. I can proudly brandish the plan that was produced for the site this year. Obviously, I am pleased to report that we are a bit ahead of the game. I pay tribute to the organisations that have drawn up that management plan, and to Councillor Phil Davis in particular. He has been active locally on the subject of world heritage for many years and is a good friend of mine. He puts an enormous amount of work into preserving the environment of Ironbridge and into moving the debate about world heritage forward.

I am pleased that the heritage plan mentions conserving and improving sites in the gorge. As my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North said, world heritage sites often cover a large geographical area. The gorge is no different. A range of museum sites runs along the span of the gorge along the banks of the River Severn in my constituency. The plan mentions future development, which must be sustainable in order to ensure that not only are museums in the area successful, but so too are the local economy and the environment for jobs and residential purposes.

The plan also refers to improving access. The gorge, by its very nature, is a constricted site. The Minister talked about his interesting adventure in the Canadian Rockies. I would like to walk him up Jiggers bank one day. He would find that it is even steeper than some of the mountains in the Rockies. At times, it is difficult to gain access to the gorge. It still has several industrial uses, so the road network is heavily used by industrial traffic. Tourism and industry are juxtaposed in the gorge—now, as historically. The management plan identifies that as a key issue and considers how to manage visitor throughput and topics such as park-and-ride and transport system management in the area.

Much good local work has been done over many years in improving access. The Ironbridge Gorge museum trust runs a very successful passport scheme for admission to the museums. Visitors pay about £10.50 and can then visit all the sites in the gorge that are in the trust's ownership. It is a non-time-limited pass. Those who purchases a pass in a museum site can return in two, three or four years' time and use it to visit the other sites, too. That is a positive way of handling access and trying to encourage repeat visits to attractions such as the gorge. That is perhaps a tip for other locations and world heritage sites.

There are excellent services in the gorge for people with disabilities. I have already mentioned inter-site transport networks. Tourists arrive at parking sites and then use rolling public transport links to travel between museums. The partnership has done excellent work on the world heritage site management plan and on the management of the gorge. However, the Government should consider three issues on the subject of the ongoing support of world heritage sites, and the gorge in particular.

First, there must be local infrastructure investment. The level of visitor throughput and its significance for the local economy means that there is a large footfall of visitors in a small geographical area. That area needs to be well maintained, attractive and easily accessible, so there are significant pressures on local authority budgets. Local authorities that have world heritage sites in their area receive little recognition of that fact in the

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budget settlements calculated by the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. We must consider the impact of world heritage status on local authority budgets. Although world heritage sites are major generators of local income, they also place pressure on local taxpayers, who have to provide servicing for those areas.

Secondly, we need investment from the Environment Agency for England and Wales, particularly in the Ironbridge gorge. No one can get to the sites in the gorge if it is under water, as it quite often is these days. It has a significant flooding problem, which affects tourist business in the area. No one can get into a museum if it is under 6 ft of water. Obviously, associated cleaning, repair and maintenance costs follow from that problem. That is a major disruption to the tourism industry's activities throughout Shropshire. The Minister will know about the problems in Shrewsbury and further down the river towards Bewdley. The gorge is hit especially hard, as the level of the river can rise quickly to damaging levels. Significant recovery expenditure is required for the area, and investment by the Environment Agency for England and Wales is important. Joined-up Government action is required, as other hon. Members have mentioned.

The third issue concerns the potential expansion of subsidised entry for world heritage site facilities throughout the United Kingdom—we have heard from the Minister about that. My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset said that that may not be important or applicable in some circumstances. However, I would welcome support for subsidised entry to sites such as the Ironbridge gorge, which is one of Shropshire's centrepiece tourist attractions.

I was impressed by the Minister's response to a parliamentary question that I tabled the other day. He said that there has been a 76 per cent. increase in the average number of visitors to the museums and galleries in London that previously charged admission. We as a Government should take credit for that. I am proud of that achievement in respect of our national collections. However, many people find it difficult to access those museums in London because they do not get the chance to come down here. Often, a day out to museums in their region is equally important. We must consider locations other than London.

Ironbridge gorge makes a major contribution to Shropshire's economy. It is an engine house for that economy, as the figures that I mentioned show. With support and assistance, we can make the gorge even more successful and it will continue to be a driving engine behind the local economy to make our area successful well into the future.

4.11 pm

Alan Howarth (Newport, East): It is a great pleasure to join other hon. Members, and especially my hon. Friend the Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting. I congratulate him on getting a share of the portfolio of the Minister for the Arts. After all, being a Minister for the Arts is as great a privilege as any other in the Government. My hon. Friend brings his characteristic no-nonsense approach to politics and policy and his evident personal enthusiasm to his responsibility.

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I congratulate the Government on the publication of their policy document, "The Historic Environment: A Force for Our Future". I know that the document spent a little time in gestation—I had some part in its paternity. I am delighted to see it as a strapping infant.

The Government have made that statement with the benefit of advice that the sector offered in "Power of Place", which was a response to the challenge that I gave it during a speech that I made to the English Historic Towns Forum conference in Hereford in November 1999. I invited the sector to join the Government in a comprehensive review of heritage policy, because it was more than time that that took place. The findings of the process have been extremely instructive, and the process itself had the utmost value, because a variety of organisations, bodies and interests joined in throughout the country. It was educative, and developed public awareness of crucial issues for the heritage in a way that can only be for the good.

I thank English Heritage for the part that it played in leading the process, and the other major participants: the heritage lottery fund, the National Trust, the Historic Houses Association, the National Amenity Societies, the Civic Trust and many others.

In my speech in Hereford, I tried to put my finger on why heritage matters. I said:

We have in Britain a national love affair with the heritage, with all the confused emotions that are liable to play their part in a love affair. There is something of a boom in nostalgia. We sometimes seem to have become a nation of genealogists and metal detectorists. We have an insatiable enthusiasm for Merchant Ivory films and flea markets. For 20 years I lived just off the Portobello road and watched the growth of that extraordinary phenomenon. It was almost a compulsion on the part of increasingly more people to pay increasingly crazier prices for a piece of the past. It seems that the more intensive the processes and experience of change for us in the modern world, the more urgently we feel the need to connect with the past. I take nothing but pleasure in the remarkable public response to the opportunity afforded by heritage open days.

I sometimes worry, however, about what is almost a caricature vision of England, of herbaceous borders and warm beer—George Orwell treated the warm beer with irony, but I believe that John Major really liked the stuff—Batsford books, the jury system, the House of Lords; perhaps I had better not go too far down that track. Nostalgia and escapism are innocent, but every now and again there is a touch of the neurotic in the

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national discussion about heritage. We note the panic of the dispossessed when Radio 4 schedules are altered or the format of The Times is changed.

I deprecate experts who browbeat the public and pedants whose learning is tinged with paranoia—a poor substitute for the scholarship, authenticity and craftsmanship that should inform our approach to the heritage. There is sometimes a danger that attitudes to the heritage can be divisive and that the vision can be differentiated too much by class and involve possessive manipulation of the national identity. The challenge for my right hon. and hon. Friends is to support the development of a heritage for everyone, to enable us to be a one heritage nation.

My speech at Hereford concluded with a challenge to the sector, asking how we could do more to ensure that a new generation of young people will claim the heritage as their own. An important poll that English Heritage commissioned in the context of the "Power of Place" exercise found some disturbing information. Three in four people surveyed thought that the contribution that black and Asian people had made to our national heritage was not adequately represented in the conventional presentation of the heritage. The proportion of black and Asian people who held that view was considerably higher. Our engagement with the heritage should enable us all to recollect and become better integrated as a society and should help regeneration in not merely physical and economic but cultural and social terms. The heritage should point us as much to the future as to the past.

I applaud the Government's statement in "A Force for Our Future", and I applaud the Minister's speech. The tone of both was generous and the range comprehensive. Of course there are details to be filled out, but it is encouraging that the document has been produced with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in the lead on behalf of the Government as a whole. Important elements of the document have been contributed by the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and other Departments that have a part to play in meeting the Government's heritage responsibilities, such as the Ministry of Defence.

I am pleased that the document confirms that the Government will continue their innovation that there should be ministerial champions in Departments across Whitehall—champions with responsibility not only for architecture and design within their individual Departments, but with extended responsibility that takes account of the heritage and the green environment. That is a commitment on behalf of the whole of Government, with Ministers across a wide range of Departments tasked to meet their heritage responsibilities.

In the document, the past is not opposed to the present. It pleases me that English Heritage and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment are working well together. Together, they have a role to play in promoting a high-quality national debate, in improving our national education with regard to the heritage and in encouraging our people to insist on the very best.

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I hope that the work of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment will assist our generation in creating a new heritage that future generations will take great pride in. When we were establishing the commission, I inquired about the public sector's annual spend on building. Two years or so ago, it was £24 billion. That is an enormous sum, and it offers a huge opportunity for good—or for bad.

The document and my hon. Friend's speech make clear the Government's commitment, in the context of the heritage, to education, social inclusion and the promotion of the creative economy. It is pleasing that the document puts such great emphasis on the educational work of heritage bodies—after all, education should be intellectual access to the heritage.

English Heritage is enabling more than 500,000 school children a year to visit its properties free of charge on curriculum-based trips. It is also playing its part on the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. The National Trust tells us that 600,000 or more children visit its properties. I also commend the educational work of the Royal Parks Agency and the Historic Houses Association, among other bodies.

The Government rightly take pride in their commitment to the creative partnerships programme: a substantial investment of £40 million is being made in 16 disadvantaged areas of the country to enable all the different cultural organisations and presences to make a better contribution to educational opportunity for people in those areas. I also hope that culture online will become a reality, because the use of new technology provides us with important opportunities—as the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) has reminded us.

On social inclusion, I am pleased that the document states that a further document is to be produced by the Department on the built and historic environment, following its excellent publications on libraries and museums and social inclusion.

I also join the Government in paying tribute to the work of voluntary organisations in the heritage sector. Without the work of volunteers, we would have very little access to the heritage. It is pleasing that, as a development from the work of those involved in "Power of Place", a heritage link—a network of voluntary organisations—is being developed.

Several hon. Members have spoken about the importance of access to the heritage for disabled people. The disability rights taskforce—which I had the good fortune to be able to set up in 1997—and the Disability Rights Commission are attaching great importance to that. Heritage institutions and organisations need not be nervous about the requirements that they are expected to meet by 2004. The example that my hon. Friend the Minister gave of his trip up Johnson's canyon shows what one can do if one tries, using a little imagination, energy and skill.

The lottery distributors have been an extremely beneficial force. Since the beginning of their history, they have rightly insisted that it should be a condition of lottery funding that the projects that benefit from it provide access for disabled people.

Miss McIntosh : The right hon. Gentleman is in the unique position of having had experience on both sides

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of the House. I am sure that he will join me in recognising that that was a Conservative contribution, the importance of which the Minister has admitted.

Alan Howarth : Absolutely. That is on the historical record, and the hon. Lady is entitled to draw our attention to it.

Can the Minister say whether English Heritage has picked up on my suggestion that it might be a good idea to offer prizes for the design of the physical aspects of access to heritage properties? There has been nervousness because it is seen as difficult to provide physical access in a style consistent with the heritage character or aesthetic quality of the property in question. I think that that fear is misplaced, but it would be helpful for English Heritage to offer examples of good practice, as I am sure it is doing, and encourage the development of good practice by offering prizes or some other recognition. Perhaps we might see something about that in the updated version of "Easy Access to Historic Properties". I congratulate the Historic Houses Association on its disability grant scheme. I am pleased that it is a member of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport's social inclusion working party.

Inhibitions on what my right hon. and hon. Friends at the DCMS are able to do derive mainly from the historic limitations on the Department's remit and budget. Several colleagues have mentioned this afternoon the Government's achievement in enabling free entry to the national museums and galleries. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) seemed to be a touch grudging on that subject. It was a civilised move, which has started to work very well. It was a passion of the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). He deserves to be remembered as a great Secretary of State, but perhaps would want to be remembered for that achievement, above all.

I would like to praise others by name in connection with free entry to the national museums and galleries, including Sir Denis Mahon, a passionate campaigner for that and one of the country's great benefactors in his promise to donate pictures to the nation. The National Art Collections Fund campaigned vigorously for free entry and fully supported what we sought to do. It, too, during 100 years of history, has been an extraordinarily important benefactor to the nation. I also single out for special praise Ms Helen Donoghue, our adviser. She devised the technical scheme that, after many rigours, we were finally able to persuade the Treasury was acceptable and would work by way of modification of the value added tax regime. I should be delighted if, as the document suggests might be possible, free entry could be achieved to English Heritage properties, but such things are expensive.

I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends who are already thinking and negotiating hard over the new comprehensive spending review that it is the turn of the heritage and our museums and galleries to get a good crack of the whip. We have done very well for the arts and we must build on what has been achieved there. However, I would dearly love to see us do more in real terms to improve public funding for the heritage, museums and galleries.

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Parts of the heritage have not traditionally been the responsibility of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and it has not been funded to support them. What I want to say is in no sense a criticism of the Department but rather a statement of a problem. I think that we have yet to develop convincing policy on how local government can have better capacity to carry out its cultural responsibilities, which is crucial. We initiated local authority cultural strategies, and my memory may play me false, but I think that there is little, if anything, on that subject in "The Historic Environment: A Force for Our Future". Local authority cultural strategies will enable a better cohesion and integration of effort by local authorities in areas of policy that have an important bearing on culture, but they will still need to be funded.

Meanwhile, we have an important study, "Renaissance in the Regions: A New Vision for England's Museums", produced by Lord Evans of Temple Guiting and a group of colleagues commissioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. It is a new vision for England's museums. It is a pretty gritty and in many respects cheerless document, but it is an extremely important statement. I wanted that exercise carried out. Throughout my time at the Department, I was concerned about the relative impoverishment of local authorities, and their inadequate ability to provide the support that they needed and wanted to provide for their own museums and galleries.

"Renaissance in the Regions" notes that there are 1,860 registered museums in this country—I am not speaking of the national museums and galleries. Some are quite brilliant and have been splendidly supported by their local authorities. Some have been enabled by the lottery to achieve some exciting developments. Some are already proving to be catalysts for regeneration in their communities. The new gallery at Walsall has become legendary in that regard, and what Peter Jenkinson and the local authority in Walsall have done—as Councillor George Gill has done in Gateshead—shows what can be achieved where there is real vision, determination and ingenuity.

However, local authorities are experiencing great difficulty in doing what they would like to do. The Department was able to give some support in the regions. The designation challenge fund for museums was established in 1999, to provide £15 million over three years and has supported 62 collections throughout the country. Some very fruitful programmes have been funded by the Department for Education and Employment—now the Department for Education and Skills—achieving a great deal on the basis of good value for money. It is a caricature to contrast metropolitan brilliance with regional dinginess. Heaven knows, some of the metropolitan, national museums and galleries are still not finding life easy, and there have been brilliant achievements in the regions. However, there is an element of truth in that caricature.

"Renaissance in the Regions" reports that total core revenue funding provided by local authorities to museums and galleries in 1999-2000 was £118 million. That was the same in real terms as in 1995-96. According to the study, the total contribution by local authorities in 2000-01 was £219 million. That is not insignificant funding, but it is not nearly enough. "Renaissance in the

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Regions" states the problems of the sector. There is fragmentation of effort and good practice is not being sustained. Because of the miserable salaries of staff in museums and galleries, it is difficult to sustain expertise and scholarship. There is no money for collecting, and there is all too little money for information and communication technology.

"Renaissance in the Regions" proposes the creation of a network of regional hubs: museums identified to become regional centres. It calls for investment via Resource for three years to enable those hubs to develop their capacity and strategic plans. The report proposes that the strategy should be supported by the lottery, foundations and the private sector. It says that the total sum that is required to fulfil the strategy is £267.2 million, not all from central Government. On top of that, additional money would be needed to give better support to area museums councils, for designated collections, to national museums and galleries to enable them to do more in partnership with regional museums and galleries, and to local authorities.

How, then, are we to fund local authorities to enable them better to undertake their responsibilities in the cultural dimension? They are under implacable pressure to spend more on social services, schools and police. Politically, it is practically impossible to raise council tax to find extra money for other projects, because of the gearing effect. Of course, shrewd local authorities invest where they can, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) said, but how can we strengthen their position?

Some people have proposed that there should be a standard spending assessment for culture. However, my friends in local government tell me that that is not a good idea: if local authorities are expected to spend an indicative amount on culture, those few authorities that are spending at a high level, perhaps more than indicated by the SSA, would come under pressure to spend down to the SSA, but the system would not compel authorities that are spending less to spend up. Should we introduce a statutory obligation on local authorities to support their museums and galleries in the way that they are required to support their libraries, as some have suggested? That is tempting, but as the history of our public library system during the past 30 or 40 years shows, the existence of a statutory obligation by no means guarantees spending on a sufficient scale.

The Department has been a victim of Treasury brutalism. To put it crudely, when we raised the issue, we were told that money for the DCMS would have to be cut if we wanted money for local authorities to support culture in their areas. It is a tragedy that the Treasury has operated a vendetta against local authority spending for so many years—since the mid-1970s, certainly. I do not believe that there would be any inflationary consequences in allowing local authorities, which are accountable to their electors, to make judgments about what they spend. As a principle of democracy, they should have that freedom.

In the main, the libraries and museums in our regional towns and cities were the product of the great age of municipal government pre-1914, when central Government did not presume to dictate to local government what it might or might not do. Be that as it

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may, we are in the situation that we are in—but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will find a way to crack the problem.

To assist local authorities to take better care of the built heritage in their areas, I proposed that a fund should be created to which local authorities would submit bids for money to support heritage maintenance work—heritage housekeeping—all over the country, not only in the famous heritage towns and cities such as York, Bath and Winchester. They are wonderful places, but fine historic urban fabric in many other towns and cities as well is becoming tatty and is decaying because it is not possible for local authorities to provide grants to support refurbishment, and because private owners do not see that such work is necessary or sufficiently in their interest.

I believe that local authorities are eligible to bid for money from a £50 million fund provided for environmental projects from the new opportunities fund. My hon. Friend the Minister will correct me if that is wrong. That is a pathetically small sum, if we consider the number of local authorities in the country and the other calls on the fund. I do not think that it is referred to in "The Historic Environment: A Force for Our Future" but I should like to encourage my hon. Friend to secure a large increase in funding either from the new opportunities fund or from elsewhere.

In the document, the Government exhort local authorities to spend. They commend "character assessment", and they strongly commend the development of management plans for historic visitor attractions. My hon. Friends the Members for South Dorset, for Telford (David Wright) and for Derby, North (Mr. Laxton) have spoken eloquently of the needs of the world heritage sites that they are proud to have in their areas. Developing those management plans is not cost free, and their implementation is certainly not cost free.

We are told that English Heritage is going to issue advice to local authorities on the care of heritage in their ownership. The heritage lottery fund has similarly noted that local authorities need to make a long-term commitment to the sustainability of heritage attractions. If access is to be maintained and improved there will be revenue consequences. As the heritage lottery fund reminds us, the lottery is not in a position to meet those liabilities, although there is an intriguing reference in "The Historic Environment: A Force for Our Future" to the heritage lottery fund combining revenue and capital elements in applications. I would be fascinated if the Minister were to tell us more about that.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has many partners. Indeed, its success and effectiveness depend on its collaboration with other Departments, institutions that operate at arm's length, and of course independent institutions. The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions planning Green Paper tells us that there will be a review of the case for integrating the present array of planning controls into a single regime. I hope that the DCMS emerges from that process as the continuing champion of heritage. If it is not in the thick of the process, there are risks that other pressures will operate to the detriment of heritage.

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I shall say a brief word about university museums and galleries. "Renaissance in the Regions" notes that the Arts and Humanities Research Board is investing twice as much as the area museum councils, which are short of money for that purpose, in university museums and galleries. That is an area in which we need collective decision making by the Government. The Department for Education and Skills is in the lead because we are discussing university museums and galleries, but I hope that my hon. Friends at the DCMS will do their best to ensure that the necessary assistance is provided. Our universities hold some of the country's great collections, and I should particularly like the VAT concession, which has already been extended to national museums and galleries to enable free entry, to be extended to universities. Technically that would not be difficult, because the schedule could be added to; it is a question of political will.

I shall say a word about our historic houses in private ownership. When I entered the DCMS in 1998, the atmosphere between the Treasury and the Historic Houses Association was edgy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) reminded us, it is a bedrock principle that, where grant or tax relief is provided, the quid pro quo must be access. There have been cases of abuse of conditional exemption by a small number of private owners. In the nether reaches of the Treasury, however, I found that a bit of the old class war was still going on. My hon. Friend the Minister would never countenance anything of this kind, but the Inland Revenue was adopting a crude, counter-productive attitude.

I sought to make the atmosphere more friendly and practical, and I appreciated the tribute that my hon. Friend the Minister paid to the private owners of our historic houses, which are one of the great glories of our heritage, for their architecture, their settings, their contents and their history. They are also a massively important asset to the tourism economy. They are significant employers. We cannot overstate the importance of tourism to the economy. The miserable events of last year underline that. Equally, we cannot overstate the importance of our historic houses to tourism. According to the British Tourist Authority, 73 per cent. of foreign tourists say that they want to visit historic houses. In 1999-2000 there were some 10.5 million visitors to these houses and many more to their grounds and other attractions.

The Historic Houses Association estimates that privately owned historic houses contribute some £1.6 billion to the tourism economy, but the owners face huge problems in maintaining their homes, which must be maintained to the highest standard. I do not know how many hon. Members, perhaps 20 years ago, saw an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum called "The Destruction of the English Country House". It told a dreadful story. Our generation must take the necessary steps to ensure that this great national treasure is properly conserved. As it is, some 26 per cent. of major repairs to historic houses are funded from sales of works of art. Only the other day, the Marquis of Bath announced that he would have to sell works of art at Longleat to set up a maintenance fund. That can be done once, twice, and in some houses even three times,

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but what a terrible shame. If we continue down that track we will destroy what it is that tourists come to enjoy.

As we all know from our own household experience, it costs far more to repair and refurbish if a property is allowed to deteriorate. Then one has to rescue it. Because of the difficulties last year with foot and mouth and the American economy, quite a few owners of historic houses have had to defer repairs. We need to address that problem pretty urgently and energetically.

I am sure that it is accepted by both Government and Opposition that the private owner has a special understanding and commitment. He lives in the property. The fact that it is a lived-in house gives it a special character and makes people want to visit it. I wonder whether there is scope for the heritage lottery fund to relax its tough line on support for private owners of historic houses. Something has to be done to help. Grant aid covers only 10 per cent. of major repairs. I am advised that the English Heritage grant scheme has been suspended. One estate election, which was not originally designed for that purpose, but was the principal fiscal relief assisting maintenance, has been removed.

There is, so far, no VAT concession on repairs to secular buildings, but I am pleased to see that in "A Force for Our Future" the Government say that they will carefully consider the recommendation in "Power of Place" that there should be a single VAT rate of 5 per cent. on all building works. I am sure that that is right. It is certainly logical. The DCMS will need to box pretty clever to achieve it, though. It will be difficult politically. "A Force for Our Future" is less explicit on the problems of historic houses than is "Power of Place", but it is good to read that the Government fully endorse the increasing importance attached to the preventive maintenance of historic fabric.

If we accept that there is a public interest in the conservation of our historic houses, it follows that we must find better ways in public policy to support their conservation. Grants from the heritage lottery fund and English Heritage will be important, but the Government must introduce a new tax regime to help owners bear the cost of routine maintenance. That is the pattern that we find across most European countries. We must find a way to preserve these national assets without allowing an inappropriate private gain.

I am encouraged that following "Power of Place" a working group from the sector, the CBI and the Treasury is constructively examining the problem. We have come a long way from the atmosphere that prevailed in 1998 and it would be timely if changes could now be introduced. Because of the difficulties facing tourism, the conservation of our heritage assets is an essential national investment. Even for a capped amount of £10 million, a great deal could be done to transform the position for owners who act as stewards—wonderful stewards—for this part of our national heritage. Much as I applaud the Government's commitment to marketing our heritage to tourists throughout the world, we had better look after what we are marketing.

I have tested the patience of the Chamber, but I must also emphasise that churches and cathedrals are among the glories of our national heritage. I was

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surprised—almost scandalised—to read in The Times of last Saturday that the Archbishop of Canterbury was reported to have said:

the Church of England—

Well, they are the property of the Church, and it is treated more favourably than some other owners.

It is fair to recognise that the Government described vividly and poignantly to the European Commission the predicament faced by small congregations when asked to cope with the large costs of restoration of the church fabric. My hon. Friend the Paymaster General wrote to the Commission proposing that there should be a reduction of VAT to 5 per cent. on repair bills to listed places of worship. However, according to The Times, the archbishop seemed to doubt whether that was really a matter for the European Union, and asked

That attitude is a little cavalier, given that £100 million is a lot to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, as it is to most Departments faced with all the demands for public expenditure on good causes. It may be an error in reporting, but the archbishop was not reported as referring to the charitable relief on donations made by individuals or others to church maintenance funds.

The Times suggested that only as an afterthought did the archbishop acknowledge the Government's interim scheme to return in grant aid the difference in costs between VAT at 17.5 per cent. and VAT at 5 per cent. I note that the Department estimates that that is worth £30 million, while the archbishop said that it is worth only £10 million. Those are estimates, but whatever the amount, such a proposal was a generous and creative initiative by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I hope that the churches acknowledge it as such.

I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister to quality. How can we ensure that the repairs to our listed churches will be of an adequate standard? In the mid-19th century, funding and enthusiasm for the repair and restoration of churches were relatively abundant, but too many of our Victorian forebears did hideous things. How will the DCMS and English Heritage ensure that, in the rush to get the work done in this window of opportunity from 2001 to 2003, shoddy and inappropriate work is not carried out to the precious fabric of our churches and cathedrals?

In addition to their physical fabric, our churches and cathedrals' musical heritage is precious to many of us and has been extraordinarily fruitful. When I was Minister for the Arts, I discussed the matter with a brace of deans of the Church of England and found that the Arts Council of England needed a little prodding to engage its interest. I believe that prodding is permissible under the arm's length principle and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to say that progress has been made or that he will administer a further prod himself.

It is easy for Back Benchers and ex-Ministers to state problems; it is for present Ministers to negotiate solutions. There is a first-rate ministerial team at the Department. I applaud the Government's vision in the

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document, their recognition of the diversity of our heritage, their affirmation of its profound value and their acceptance of their fundamental responsibility to support its perpetuation and to make possible improved access to it.

4.54 pm

Miss McIntosh : I am pleased to sum up on behalf of the Opposition. It is appropriate that this debate is held during the year of the golden jubilee. It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth), who obviously feels for his departure from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport after contributing so much while he was there.

We heard much about world heritage sites during the debate, and especially the Jurassic coast. I regret that the "Jurassic Park" expert, the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), is no longer present.

In the general election campaign, the Conservative party pledged to create a jubilee fund to support churches, and community and village halls. I shall respond to points that were made by the right hon. Member for Newport, East and the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey). I am sure that hon. Members and the Minister know about my ongoing campaign in both the European Parliament and the House, where I have persistently questioned the Second Church Estates Commissioner on the vexed question of the VAT rate for new build being different from that for repairs. I am mindful that the Chancellor said in a statement that grants would be given to make up the difference. I am sorry, but that is not good enough, because the situation costs our churches an enormous amount.

An article in The Independent on 14 December 2001 welcomed the publication of "The Historic Environment: A Force for Our Future", although it stated that a specific question remained. It said:

I stand by the questions that I asked the Minister during my introductory remarks, and I am sure that he will have had time to show me where the Vale of York entries are on the map.

I am sure that the House will be interested by the charges for entry to churches and cathedrals. At present, no church in the north charges for admission. However, as I said earlier, York minster is considering charging. Canterbury cathedral charges £3.50 for adults and £2.50 for children and concessions. St. Paul's cathedral charges £5.50 for adults, £4.50 for concessions and £2.50 for children. Westminster abbey charges £6 for adults, although concessionaries and children may enter for free. I urge the Minister to make urgent representations to the Chancellor on my point.

Of course, we have not heard from the hon. Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) this afternoon, although he made an interesting contribution during our debate on the Line of Route. He said:

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Will the Minister confirm that there has been a substantial change of policy since that debate?

I have enjoyed our debate. The Jurassic coast expert—the hon. Member for South Dorset—referred to BP. I declare an interest, because I served an Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship with BP, and I had the pleasure of visiting Poole during that. There is an impressive operation there, and the contribution that companies such as BP make to our heritage and environment should be greatly appreciated. We should recognise the emphasis that we should place on transport and available accommodation.

The access to quality projects was referred to by both the right hon. Member for Newport, East and the hon. Member for North Devon. I endorse their comments wholeheartedly. The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Laxton) called for a comprehensive management plan, and there is some sense in that. The House will bow to his experience in local government and to his suggestions for opening up heritage sites in that way. The hon. Member for Telford (David Wright), who told us that we were having a world heritage site jamboree this afternoon, referred to flooding in the gorge. I sympathise, having had experience of such problems. Most of Vale of York seems to have been built on a flood plain, and all too often we have floods that destroy tourism.

Tourism is big business, as the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has said. It employs 2.1 million people in the United Kingdom, and contributes £75 billion to our economy. As the Minister and other hon. Members said, and as I am painfully aware from the experience of my husband's business, the events of 11 September, the flooding of November 2000, the foot and mouth crisis and—in my part of the world—the two disasters on the railways on the east coast have had a mega-impact on attracting foreign visitors. I hope that any initiative that the Government take will help to restore our confidence, which has been damaged. Graphic pictures were shown in our media and then fed to foreign media, and that alone showed the lack of confidence in the industry. Anything that can be done to restore confidence is welcome, and the British Tourist Authority is making tremendous efforts in that regard.

The right hon. Member for Newport, East paid tribute to the work of owners of private houses and country homes. The Minister and I both sat on the Committee that debated a statutory instrument on the future of Apsley house. During today's debate, it came to my attention that Mr. Compton, the new owner of Newby hall in my constituency, would also add his weight to my plea for representations to be made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give historic buildings the fiscal relief that we all recognise is so urgently needed for their maintenance.

No one is asking the Government to intervene in circumstances such as those of Mr. Compton, but private house owners are the caretakers of our national heritage for the future. It is not just the Historic Houses Association and private owners but, as hon. Members have said, English Heritage, the National Trust and many other organisations that keep our national heritage for future generations.

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I referred earlier to the Thomas the Tank Engine exhibition at York's national railway museum. I hope that the Minister understands the anomaly in that case; the museum felt moved to introduce charges two months after admission prices were scrapped because Thomas the Tank Engine was a major, costly exhibition and was going to cost £250,000. The museum had to cater for the sheer volume of visitors and the extra cleaning, maintenance and staffing involved. It recognised that, generally, loss of income from adult tickets would be compensated by the Government, but it was allowed to charge on that occasion.

I should like to join in congratulating those responsible for working towards opening up our heritage to visitors. I leave the Minister with the thought that there will be an impact on sites that would be made free to certain categories—children and others—under his proposals. In particular, we must ponder the future of our churches and other magnificent buildings which future generations should enjoy.

5.3 pm

Dr. Howells : We have had an excellent and informative debate, which was much longer than I thought it would be. I have learned a great deal. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts, Baroness Blackstone, as the issues under discussion are her ministerial responsibilities. She took over from my right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth), who was Minister for the Arts until June 2001, and, shortly, I will try to deal with some of the issues that he raised.

The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) was grudging about the effect of free entry to museums. I was going to read her a long official response to that, but I have decided not to do so. Instead, I will say that I came from a town that did not possess a museum or an art gallery, but I was passionately interested in art, and I discovered and developed that interest because I could walk to the national museum of Wales—which was 22 miles south of where I lived—to see one of the greatest collections of impressionist paintings in the world, the Gwendoline Davies bequest. That inspired me, and it must also have inspired thousands of kids like me.

I am sure that all the hon. Members who are present could tell similar stories. Such exposure to something that is different and fine and lasting—that is an example of creative excellence—is an invaluable lesson to all of us. It adds richness to our lives in a way that hardly anything else can.

We can deal with the technicalities of cost, and we can discuss whether we can persuade the Treasury—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East urges us to do—that experiences such as that which I described are food for the soul. As he said, when we look back and try to understand what we have inherited, that which we deem to be valuable is often a result of pursuits that were not highly regarded at the time they were produced.

I have been appalled at some of the things that my Government have done—and that they did even when I was a Minister in the Department—with regard to stressing the need for utilitarianism in the way we educate our children. I do not agree that, somehow, maths is more important than art, or English is more

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important than dramatic expression or dance or music. Often, we measure past societies with regard to their artistic achievements—and we consider them to be at least as important as their scientific or engineering achievements.

Miss McIntosh : I did not wish the Minister or his right hon. Friend to think that I am being grudging. The tone of my comments can be put down to my being a canny, cautious Scot who, at the end of the day, wants to know what the bottom line is.

I was brought up 25 miles from Darlington, where Stephenson's Rocket was on display, as Darlington to Stockton was its original route, and I was greatly disappointed when it was moved to the national railway museum in York—even though that is closer to where I am now based.

Dr. Howells : Absolutely; I agree with the hon. Lady's sentiments.

I return to some of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East—he made so many of them that I have about eight pages of notes.

I have forgotten how my right hon. Friend described the sense of preciousness, but I will try to remember. He called it a kind of paranoia. He described our paranoia about change as a touch of the neurotic. That is true, but it is curious that that sense of paranoia also has a valuable edge.

The hon. Member for Vale of York talked about railways. I was born and raised nearby the world's first industrial railway.

Miss McIntosh : Darlington to Stockton was the first.

Dr. Howells : No. That is yet another English imperialist fib. The first industrial railway ran from Abercynon to Merthyr Tydfil. It was built by a Cornishman—Richard Trevithick. He brought the iron down from the blast furnaces of Merthyr to Abercynon, from where it was carried by canal to Cardiff.

My hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) and I could have a row about where the first industrial site in the world was. I suspect that it was probably on the outskirts of Cairo, or whatever it was called in those days. As far as Britain is concerned, it was probably Merthyr. He will not agree with me, of course.

I appreciate what the hon. Member for Vale of York says. Whatever we do about free entry, we must ensure that it is sustainable. The worst thing in the world would be for us to take it away now that it has been introduced. She is right. We must measure it and prove that it is having a big effect on the numbers of people who visit museums. If it encourages people from the parts of our society who at the moment do not visit museums and galleries, we must consider that carefully, because I am worried about that.

This afternoon we heard some wonderful contributions, in particular about the natural and the built industrial environment. Historic tramways have been tarmacked over in my own patch. What I received as a result of what my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents told me about the significance of piles of

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stones and rocks is gone or going from collective memory, because of philistinism. We have great people in local government, but we have others who cannot understand why we should pay any attention to such matters. As a result, such places have become not sites of heritage but places to dump stolen, burnt-out cars and to fly-tip, and the piles of stones have no historic significance. That is an enormous tragedy.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East drew attention to the exhibition at the V and A that took place at least 20 years ago. We are both a bit long in the tooth now, but I remember it well. It was about a great tragedy, and it opened my eyes to the way in which, from the 1890s onwards, Americans came over, bought our heritage and took it back with them, because their economy was booming. As the excellent representatives of the Historic Houses Association explained to me yesterday, they did so because of the drop in farm prices, which is interesting, considering current circumstances.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) has gone to speak in the debate on environmental taxation, which is important, as I am sure his neighbour, the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire), would agree. My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset referred to ensuring access to the natural historical environment, and he is right. He drew to our attention important points about the need for transportation systems that do not damage the environment that we are trying to protect. He also made some interesting comments about how it might be possible to raise the standard of accommodation, something that troubles me greatly. We have some of the best hotels in the world in this country, but we also have a long tail of underperformers. We are about to spend a huge amount on marketing Britain abroad, and England inside Britain. We cannot afford to persuade people to come here, and British people to spend a weekend at a hotel, perhaps somewhere near Ironbridge, and for them to get a bad deal. That would be squandering money. They are used to asking the travel agent for a four-star hotel in Lanzarote, and more or less knowing what they are going to get.

As ever, the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) made a thoughtful contribution. As he knows, I believe that north Devon is one of the most wonderful parts of Europe. It has the most marvellous scenery. To go somewhere such as Lundy—I do not know whether he represents Lundy—which has a very nice boozer and some good heritage beer is to go to a place that is full of history. It is an extraordinary spot, where much good work has gone on. The hon. Gentleman has properly talked, as did other hon. Members, about the Historic Houses Association. He might like to know that DCMS is now in the process of appointing the Earl of Leicester to the English Heritage Commission. To ensure that the voice of the Historic Houses Association is heard first-hand in the agencies and chambers where decisions are made is one way of moving forward.

The hon. Member for North Devon drew our attention to something very important: the increasing access afforded by putting some of our great collections online. That is terrific and it is tremendous to see so many museums, agencies and galleries doing it. The hon. Gentleman may disagree with me—I increasingly sound like a raving reactionary, the older I get—if I say that there is something wonderful about standing in

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front of the real thing. I went to see the American Sublime exhibition at Tate Britain. To stand in front of a painting 12 ft wide by 5 ft high is something else. It is not the same thing even to have a 6 ft flat screen. However, I know what the hon. Gentleman means, and it will be great for young people, schools, colleges, researchers and those who cannot get to galleries to have collections online.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Laxton) gave a wonderful description of the Derwent Valley Mills world heritage site. It is a wonderful area, superb for anyone interested in industrial archaeology and architecture. I know the importance of the lobbying work that he and so many others did on that.

My hon. Friend made an eloquent plea for co-ordinating a consistent approach across Government Departments in ensuring, albeit on a site-by-site basis, access to and protection of heritage sites, both built and natural. He was quite right about that and I shall ensure that his contribution in today's debate is brought to the attention of colleagues in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and other relevant Departments. As he asks, we take very seriously the discharge of our obligations, and the world heritage site status that means that the UK is answerable internationally for the preservation of our sites. He is right to raise that matter, but we do not take the responsibility lightly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Telford mentioned the Ironbridge Gorge world heritage site, which I think was the first in Britain. That was a great achievement. The iron bridge is a masterpiece of human genius. I think that it is as wonderful a bridge as has ever been built anywhere in the world. It laid the way to the excellence in design that was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East and has inspired generations of designers, architects and engineers.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East mentioned the large numbers of visitors coming to our sites and the need for a proper, sustainable approach in developing and protecting them. Unlike anyone else in the debate, he spoke about the problems of living on such a site. What I found most attractive about Ironbridge is the fact that people live there. It is very much a living environment, as is the Dorset coast. In a sense, the conflict between ensuring that people can lead productive lives and ensuring that somehow they can have a relationship with the environment that does not endanger it is a tension that is to be welcomed and not held back. I would hate to see the depopulation of those areas. The hon. Member for Vale of York and my right hon. Friend reminded us of the dangers of flooding. We must think about that when we work out revenue requirements to ensure that protection is sustained.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East brought his great experience as Minister for the Arts to the debate, and he was as thoughtful and incisive as ever. He challenged us to think about many issues, none of which was more important than a comment that he threw out at the beginning of his contribution. He said that we should have ministerial champions for architecture and design, and that such champions

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should roam across Departments challenging whether what we are doing enhances British, and world, design and architecture. He is absolutely right. All of us in the Chamber are debating the excellence of bygone ages, which is the truth of the matter.

Look at our lifetimes—I am probably older than my right hon. Friend, judging by the look of his hair—and see the dreadful mess that we have made of some of our urban centres. That was driven by the most awful kind of utilitarianism and notions that assumed that somehow society would take care of itself. The great debates about quality of life in society dropped away, along with architectural and design criteria such as excellence, beauty, the sublime and architecture and design's relationship with the environment within which they exist. Those ideas became so unfashionable for such a long time that the philistines triumphed, but their triumph has not been permanent.

We have seen real changes in the past 15 years. I remember being castigated 13 years ago for standing up in the House and saying that I hoped that Wales would not end up looking like Reading, West. Every time I had driven up from south Wales along the M4, I had seen an ever spreading red presence of what looked like Noddy architecture. The next thing I knew I was summoned to Reading by Reading city council, which sharply informed me that it was Labour controlled. It asked whether I had ever set foot in Reading. It took me around and showed me what it was doing with the canalsides and riversides, and how it was desperately trying to ensure that Reading became a good place to live. It has done some great things there. That taught me never to judge a town from the motorway.

I hoped that my comments would spark a great debate about not only what we have done to our town centres but how we design our suburbs and communities. We have a long way to go, and we are probably still driven by a utilitarian desire to build the most for the least amount of money, rather than concentrating on the quality of people's lives.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East mentioned a staggering figure, which I did not know, saying that the Government spend £24 billion a year on building.

Miss McIntosh : May I momentarily drag the Minister back from Reading to respond to the point that several right hon. and hon. Members have raised about the Historic Houses Association and the vexed question of tax?

Dr. Howells : I am sorry if I have been rambling. I was starting to enjoy the debate. It reminded me of the days when I was in opposition and we used to talk things out.

Just before I come to that, I wish to comment on the suggestion by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East that English Heritage should offer prizes for designs to improve access to heritage properties. That is an excellent idea. I have not heard anything about it, nor have I been advised that the Department knows about it, but I will certainly follow it up. It sounds like a very good scheme. He also paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) for the sterling work that he did, such as ensuring free access to museums.

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On historic houses—I have to jump past several pages of notes that I took during the debate—I understand that the heritage lottery fund has been consulting about that and other issues in preparing a new strategic plan for 2002-07, which will be laid before Parliament at the end of April. We look forward to seeing the heritage lottery fund trustees' responses in the new plan, but I cannot give the hon. Member for Vale of York or my right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East any news beyond that. However, I shall undertake to speak to my noble Friend the Minister for the Arts to ensure that the response is given the publicity that it requires.

I would like to thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. In the couple of minutes that are left, I would like to respond to a question about churches and listed places of worship. As several speakers made clear, our cathedrals and churches are a very important part of the nation's heritage, and many are especially important to local communities. I am sure that others in this Chamber have visited Suffolk, as I have. It has wonderful churches but

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nothing whatever to support them as great tourist attractions. That is a shame. Together with the Church, we must think hard about how we can offer support.

The listed places of worship grant scheme has come into effect. It allows eligible repairs to listed places of worship to benefit from the equivalent of a reduced rate of VAT. It will have clear community benefits and has been welcomed by those who are responsible for such buildings. It will constitute a substantial increase in support for the historic environment: current estimates suggest that about £30 million a year of new money could go to listed places of worship.

That will be a big help, but much more is needed. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East urged, I hope that we can convince the Treasury that the cause is absolutely vital, not only to protect our heritage but to encourage the creativity, good design and excellence that we need from our young people now and in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

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