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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

Official Secrets

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

Local Government

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

Family Law

Question agreed to.

Mr. Speaker: It will be convenient for the House to take motions 10, 11 and 12 together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

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Betting, Gaming and Lotteries

Question agreed to.

Mr. Speaker: I call motion No. 13.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Not moved.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you can shed any light on why the modernisation of the House motion has twice been withdrawn at the last moment. Is it because of the understandable—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Gentleman gets into the reasons, let me answer him, so that Sir Nicholas Winterton will not have to raise another point of order. Let me explain that the Government are in charge of their own business and if they wish not to move an item on the Order Paper, under the rules of the House, it is not for the Speaker to challenge it.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, I would not challenge your ruling under any circumstances. May I say, however, as a founder member of the Modernisation Committee in 1997—and having sat on that Committee ever since that time—that I wanted to intervene on the basis that there was a unique opportunity to indicate my support for the change. I have had the privilege of speaking to the Leader of the House on three separate occasions and I would have been delighted to propose her to take the Chair at the Committee’s next meeting. I merely wanted to advance the reason why I would be happy to do that on behalf of the Modernisation Committee.

Mr. Speaker: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the utterances and indeed the deliberations of the Modernisation Committee are very important to me. I am fond of hearing what it has to say, but as I have said before, patience is a great virtue in the House and we
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need to possess it at all times. I am therefore sure that the day will come when the hon. Gentleman will be able to move a motion proposing that the Leader of the House assume the exalted role of Chairman of the Modernisation Committee.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are not the facts as follows? This motion has been tabled twice with the intention of being moved and the Government have twice failed to move it. Does not that rather indicate that the Government do not know what on earth they are doing?

Mr. Speaker: In another life, I was a Back Bencher. During that time, the right hon. Gentleman was a senior Whip and I recall that he sometimes withdrew motions. I never bothered to draw any conclusion from that; I always said to myself that that is the business we are in.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a matter dear to your heart, as you said, so would it not be to the advantage of the House—the nation’s debating chamber—if we had a chance to discuss this matter in order properly to understand how to modernise the House of Commons?

Mr. Speaker: Perhaps the Government Whips have taken the lateness of the evening into consideration. They may want to put this motion on at an earlier time when the hon. Gentleman and others can have more time to discuss the matter. However, I do not know these things.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As a new Member of the House, can you advise me why the Order Paper says that there would have been no debate had the motion been moved? I can recall earlier motions on which we had lively debates on appointments to Committees. I am a little confused by what it says on the Order Paper.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman may be a new Member, but that shows that he is certainly reading his Order Paper. I am reliably informed that that is a minor error. Of course, had the matter been taken before 10 o’clock, which it was not because it was not moved, it would have been debatable until 10 o’clock.

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Barwick in Elmet Hill Fort

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mark Tami.]

9.45 pm

Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for selecting this subject for debate. Adjournment debates cover a huge range of subjects, and I hope that my contribution will extend that further. I think that this is the Minister’s first Adjournment debate in her new post. I bet she cannot believe her luck in pulling the plum subject of the hill fort in Barwick in Elmet. If she can restrain herself, I will explain a few things about it.

I know the Minister to be well travelled and knowledgeable, and although I am not usually a betting man, I am willing to bet in this case that she has never been to Elmet and that before today she had no knowledge whatsoever of the national monument that is the hill fort in Barwick in Elmet. However, I hope that by the end of the evening she will be aware of that valued historical site because then one of my aims will have been achieved—that of raising awareness of that monument. I know that you like to travel in Yorkshire, Mr. Speaker, because you have made several visits there, and I should like to set the scene.

Barwick in Elmet is in the centre of the constituency that I am so proud to represent. It is set in attractive rolling countryside to the east of that wonderful city of Leeds. It has an equally attractive village centre, with its late 14th century church of All Saints. It has friendly pubs, attractive homes, an excellent primary school and its famous maypole. It is a village with real community involvement across a range of activities from sport to history, and it is the latter on which I shall concentrate.

The Minister will be interested—at least, I hope that she will be interested—to hear that the earth works at Barwick are of national importance. The Barwick in Elmet historical society tells me that there are only between 50 and 100 pre-Roman hill forts nationally, and most of those are found in the south of England. It is clear that even in the days of the iron age there was a north-south divide, and as usual the north came off worst.

There are very few examples of such iron age hill forts in Yorkshire, so Barwick is in a fortunate position. It is worth noting that the fort is considered to be large compared with others in Britain. As a footnote I add that the other similar fort is in Huddersfield, which does not even rank alongside Leeds. In addition, the earth works have a well-preserved Norman motte and bailey, of which there are roughly 600 nationally. That Norman motte and bailey is constructed in the iron age hill fort. It is history built on history. To add another little footnote, the people who were responsible for building the Norman construction were the De Lacy family, who ruled a huge part of west Yorkshire from that particular monument, as we call it now, in Barwick. In some respects, Barwick in Elmet was the tower of London of west Yorkshire. The combination of the iron age and the Norman makes the Barwick site doubly important and fully deserving of efforts to protect and enhance it. The role of the Barwick in Elmet historical society has been absolutely crucial and critical in doing just that.

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For those who prefer their history in a slightly more contemporary style, had they joined me last Monday and walked up to the top of the Norman establishment, they would have found a base of concrete, which was used in the second world war by the air defence people to look eastwards towards the Humber coast to spot and track the German bombers coming over to bomb our fair city of Leeds. I merely add that as an extra point.

The catalyst for the revival of interest in the earth works probably occurred in 2003, when following a meeting attended by members of the parish council and the maypole committee it was decided to raise awareness of the site in the village and the surrounding area, and to consider more proactive ways of maintaining. Individuals such as Harold Smith, Jeff Yapp and Nigel Trotter deserve praise for the steps that they have taken to mobilise the community.

A very important step has been taking children from the local primary school around the earth works every year and explaining its history to them. On my last visit to the school, the pupils put me on the spot by asking what I had done to safeguard the hill fort. Hopefully, I am doing my bit for them this evening. On those trips, the children are made aware of the need to value this wonderful, historic site in the years ahead. The work of the school, under the excellent leadership of head teacher Peter Docherty, is vital in ensuring that future generations of villagers appreciate and value what is in their midst.

I should also mention the doughty workers of Barwick in Bloom, led by the ever-energetic John Tinker. They have helped to eradicate the Japanese knotweed that was in danger of obliterating part of the iron age ditch. I also congratulate them on their work on the Methodist chapel churchyard adjoining the site. It provided a useful backdrop for a Sky television interview on Monday in which I attacked Ken Bates, chairman of Leeds United football club—but I will not go into that now.

The historical society has put up notice boards around the iron age ditch, highlighting the need to protect this vital piece of our heritage. I know that in the weeks ahead it hopes to improve the signage with pictures of what the site would have looked like historically, and I welcome that move.

The historical society, the parish council and others have been proactive, and following funding of some £21,000 from English Heritage—a large sum in its terms—a three-year improvement programme was drawn up. It has enabled the parish council to supervise contracts for work such as clearing rubbish from the iron age ditch, constructing access steps into the ditch, and renewing and repairing the steps leading up a steep slope to the top of the Norman site. In turn, English Heritage has encouraged the parish council to apply for heritage lottery funding, and a £4,000 grant has been used to increase knowledge about the village earth works in the local community. Lottery funding was also secured for an archaeological dig on a site within the boundaries of the earth works, which yielded some interesting materials. In September 2006, tours of the earth works were organised for local people. I was fortunate enough to be taken around by Harold Smith, who brought the whole site to life for me.

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I have to admit that in my previous life I was a teacher of history. It has always depressed me that although most people dislike history when they are at school, once they leave school they begin to love it. I hope that that is not down to history teachers. I do know this about history, though: it is about facts, but it is also about the power of imagination. Standing on the iron age earth works and visualising the huge efforts required by iron age society to construct such a feature was a very engaging experience for me.

It is not possible for me to embark on a massive, detailed account of the work done around the site. I am merely giving the Minister a brief overview of the work that is being done. As with many aspects of our lives—this does not apply to the Minister, but it applies to some of us—it is not all progress and renewal. There are also problems, and I hope to enlist the Minister’s help in addressing them.

First, there are unfortunate examples of encroachment into the iron age ditch. We shall have to deal with that sooner or later if we consider the ditch to be an important national monument. Secondly, the dumping over a number of years of garden rubbish and other refuse into the ditch has been a great problem for those who wish to preserve the site. Thirdly, because the earth works lie within a conservation area, protected trees can become a problem. That is especially true in the area known as the Wendel ditch. On Monday, I saw in the company of Mr. Smith the damage caused to the ditch sides by a fallen tree whose roots had pulled away the earth. I am told that the tree fell over in winter, but it is still littering the 2,200-year-old ditch and impeding access for people who want to see it.

It is important to frame a way forward and I have some constructive suggestions to make. Will the Minister encourage English Heritage to seek closer working relations with Leeds city council in order to address some of the planning issues that have arisen? MPs are fully aware from their mailbag and from personal experience that planning is a complicated issue, and several brains are required to work out solutions to many planning problems. Will the Minister also agree to discuss with English Heritage the possibility of it using its powers under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 to address the encroachment issue in a timely manner? English Heritage is trying to create a mood in the village that will lead to there being full support and that strategy is to be applauded, but organisations must sometimes use the powers that are available to them. I know from speaking to English Heritage officials that it values the site. It would greatly assist its efforts if it sought to enlist fully in support of its work members of the historical society, especially when visiting the site.

All organisations benefit from improved communications, and I know that English Heritage is keen to take this matter on board. It is vital to tap the enthusiasm of local people. When officers visit, the simple step of contacting someone from the parish council or the historical society would lead to a better result. I would also like English Heritage to be asked to liaise with Leeds city council’s tree officer in order to receive professional advice on tackling tree maintenance on the site. I am aware that in a recent programme there was training for a volunteer. Unfortunately, that volunteer
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moved and there is now a funding difficulty. It would be good if Leeds city council and English Heritage came together to provide training for somebody in the village so that the skill base of the historical group and the parish are enhanced.

To make a dig at Leeds city council—I can do so as it is in Liberal-Conservative hands—I would hope that after four years it might finally get round to improving what is a dangerous footpath running alongside Wendel hill. Does the Minister agree that a 10-year plan—I plucked that number out of the air, so if she wants to change it I am happy to discuss that with her—agreed by English Heritage, the parish council and the historical society would be a constructive way to take matters forward?

Let me also make an offer to the Minister. I am happy to host any visit that she might like to make to the site. She might wish to do so during the day, and sit on a bench opposite the Methodist chapel and eat a bag of fish and chips; or if she arrives a bit later, we could have a drink in one of the good local pubs. I am also prepared to report back to the Minister in the coming months about whether raising the issue in this debate has had an effect.

A part of my political philosophy is the principle that we work better when we work together. In that context, co-operation between the Barwick in Elmet community organisations, local authorities and national bodies is the best way to achieve our objectives in respect of this wonderful monument.

It is always good to end with a stirring quote from a famous historical figure. I strive to do that but usually fail miserably. On this occasion, I can do no better than use a contemporary quotation. I do not know whether the Minister read the wonderful article in The Guardian yesterday by Bill Bryson—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn .—[Mr. Watts.]

Colin Burgon: As I was saying, Bill Bryson wrote a powerful article about the British countryside and how humans have shaped it positively, and I can certainly identify with that. He said:

There is no better way to sum up the way forward for the hill fort at Barwick in Elmet. I await the Minister’s comments with hopeful anticipation.

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