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It should not be forgotten that in mediaeval times, the kingdom was very much considered to be a fiefdom of the king, who ruled by divine will. In the declaration of Arbroath, however, the first stirrings of democracy can be seen. The people of Scotland declared that the king was subject to the people and not just God. In this magnificent section, the declaration said:

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That is a powerful passage for any Scottish nationalist such as me, but it goes far beyond that. It sets out the beginning of democracy and outlines the right of people to depose a leader who is not acting in their interests. No longer would they tolerate a king who made deals and alliances without the consent of the people.

We should be thankful that the idea has taken root in many parts of the world. If anything goes to the heart of our culture, it is the idea of democracy. It is believed that the ideas of the declaration had a direct influence on the framers of the American declaration of independence four centuries later.

On 20 March 1998, the US senate passed resolution 155, which stated:

In other words, the Senate of the United States recognised the influence of the declaration of Arbroath, which led directly to perhaps the most famous of all modern political declarations and the subsequent constitution of the United States. The declaration of independence states:

Of course, many nations have adopted the American constitution, or parts of it, in their constitution. The ideas of democracy that were born in the declaration of Arbroath in 1320 flow through to the modern world—to the United States and to the modern democracies that have established their constitution following that country. A resolution of the American Senate established 6 April as Tartan day in the United States, which is a day on which Scotland and all things Scottish are celebrated throughout the country. Heritage is not just about buildings and sites; it is also about ideas and the places where such ideas originated. That is, at least, to some extent recognised by UNESCO, as I mentioned in relation to the conditions it laid down.

Arbroath abbey can justifiably claim to have been one of the places where democracy put down its first roots, and it is worthy of recognition by UNESCO for that alone. That brings us on to another important reason why the Government are wrong to consider changing the scheme of UNESCO listings—at least in relation to the more draconian options proposed in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report. Since 1947, the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society has regularly performed a re-enactment of the signing of the declaration, and an
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impressive visitor centre has been created at the abbey to explain the history of the building and the declaration. In short, Arbroath abbey has been extensively promoted as an important tourist destination. The advent of Tartan day has increased interest throughout the United States and, indeed, in Canada, which also has a Tartan day.

This year—the 250th anniversary of the birth of our national bard Robert Burns— has been designated as the year of homecoming by the Scottish Government. The year of homecoming was officially launched at the weekend, and is designed to encourage Scots expatriates and those of Scots descent from around the world to visit Scotland and, we hope, boost our tourism industry. It is vital that we do so at a time of recession. Tourism is still a huge industry in Scotland, as it is in other parts of the UK. The international interest in the declaration of Arbroath and its effect on democratic thought throughout the centuries will play a pivotal role in encouraging expatriates to visit Scotland, and Arbroath abbey in particular.

Following the Cabinet meeting in the midlands, even the Prime Minister acknowledged in a recent speech that tourism would play a vital part in bringing us out of recession. In its report, PWC also recognised that one of the benefits of being listed is that it can increase tourism. In the year of homecoming and at a time when even the Prime Minister is seeking to boost tourism, what message is sent if the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which is responsible for the promotion of tourism, says that we no longer wish to promote our great monuments and buildings as sites of international significance? Is it not the craziest time to embark upon such a policy—if, indeed, there is ever a time to embark upon such a policy?

I fully appreciate that the Minister will say that consultation on the matter is ongoing. She will not throw up her hands today, and say, “Okay, you’re right. We’ll dump the idea here and now”—although, frankly, she should. However, I hope that she will at least go back to her Department and consider the matter further. I also hope that she will consider the huge damage that the proposed changes to UK UNESCO listings would do to our heritage and tourism industries at the very time when they seek a boost to help in the battle against recession.

The preferred option suggested by PWC may work against the claims of sites such as Arbroath abbey, because of the seeming bias against more ecclesiastical sites. As I have tried to explain, Arbroath abbey is much more than that. We need to make that point now before the consultation is complete. We need to continue making that point and push forward the campaign to show Arbroath abbey’s status in the history of Scotland and in the history of democracy throughout the world.

As I said at the outset, the campaign is broad based and has huge support in my constituency of Angus, and especially in my home town of Arbroath. However, it also has huge support around the world, from expatriate Scots and Caledonian societies and those with an interest in Scotland’s history and future. Many of us are waiting to hear what the Minister will say. I ask her not to close her mind to my important points. Such sites are vitally important; they have played a number of roles in history
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and could do so again in boosting our tourism industry. I hope that none of the changes that she and her Secretary of State will consider making to the system will work against the inclusion of such sites. Whatever option she chooses, I hope that important UK sites will continue to be proposed for UNESCO certification.

1.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Barbara Follett): I congratulate the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) on securing the debate and on the passion and focus that he has brought to the subject. Arbroath abbey is very beautiful and incredibly important to the history of these islands. He did not mention that it is where the coronation stone—the Stone of Scone—was eventually found, just before the Queen’s coronation. I remember that it had been missing for at least two years, and as a little girl I followed the story with great interest. It eventually turned up at Arbroath abbey—for many of the reasons, I suspect, that he mentioned.

Mr. Weir: If the Minister is interested in the subject, I thoroughly recommend that she read “The Stone of Destiny”, written by Ian Hamilton, one of those who removed the stone from Westminster abbey. It is a fascinating insight into the story behind it.

Barbara Follett: I am fascinated by the subject, and the hon. Gentleman will know that my husband is particularly fascinated by all ecclesiastical buildings, including Arbroath abbey, so I shall take up his recommendation.

The hon. Gentleman is right: I am going to say that the Government are reviewing their world heritage policy. We are in the middle of a public consultation that began on 2 December and will end on 25 February. I understand his urgency, but given that the consultation is ongoing, I must confine my remarks to why we have chosen to hold it and the possible impact on future nominations. Given that he has read the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, some of my comments will be known to him. First, however, I would like to apologise to him. I have here a copy of my reply to his letter of 22 December, which must be winging its way to him as we speak. I am extremely sorry for the delay and shall let him have a copy. However, due to the Christmas break, I am afraid that our monthly targets sometimes slip a little.

This debate is timely and I welcome the opportunity to hear the hon. Gentleman’s views on the subject, which is a matter of national and international importance. As he said, where better to hold the debate than in this building, which became a world heritage site 22 years ago—not just for its architectural importance, but, like Arbroath, because it has a very important place in the history of our democracy. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport leads for the Government on world heritage issues, and is responsible for ensuring that the United Kingdom meets its obligations under the world heritage convention passed in 1972. We take that responsibility very seriously. As he mentioned, it is one of UNESCO’s most successful heritage conventions, and it has been signed and ratified by 186 countries. It has also proved to be a positive force in safeguarding the heritage of the countries that signed up to it.

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The United Kingdom signed up to the convention in 1984, and has fully supported UNESCO and the world heritage committee in its implementation. From 2001 to 2005, the UK was a full member of the world heritage committee, stepping down only because our term of office came to an end. Over the past decade, our commitment to the convention has been reflected in our support for work on the revision of the operational guidelines, which govern how the convention is implemented, our encouragement of the world heritage committee in developing a strategy for managing the impact of climate change on world heritage sites—Abu Simbel being a clear example of that—and our supporting developing nations in putting together their own nominations for world heritage inscription.

Last year, the UK hosted an international expert working group on behalf of the world heritage committee to develop a framework for the recognition of sites of interest for the heritage of science and technology. The recommendations of the meeting were welcomed by the world heritage committee at its annual meeting in Quebec last July. We have also contributed funds for bilateral programmes to support world heritage in other parts of the world, including Anguilla and St. Lucia, and to help to start up the world heritage fund in Africa. At national level, the Government have been working to enhance our protection for the world heritage sites in the UK, which we are privileged to have. We are, as I said earlier, and as the hon. Gentleman knows, in the throes of a review considering how best the policy on the nomination of sites can reflect the world heritage committee’s priorities.

Inscription on the world heritage list is the highest possible heritage accolade and I fully understand the aspirations of those wishing to achieve it. As the hon. Gentleman said, there are 178 sites in more than 145 countries. We are lucky enough to have 27 sites spread over an enormous geographical and historical range. The UK is in the top 10—to be accurate, it is equal seventh—in terms of the number of sites represented on the world heritage list. This is a great privilege, but it also brings a great deal of responsibility with it.

The route to world heritage status is not easy and the process is, of necessity, selective. World heritage sites are recognised by the committee as places of outstanding universal value to humanity and many, even though they are of national and international importance, will not meet UNESCO’s stringent criteria for inclusion on the list. To be included on the list, sites that are likely to be put forward in future years must first go on their country’s tentative list. The current UK tentative list was published in 1999 and contains 25 sites, nine of which have since been inscribed and one more, Pontcysyllte—I have not pronounced that well—a canal and aqueduct in Wales, has been nominated for consideration by the world heritage committee this summer. This week, we will submit Darwin’s landscape laboratory for consideration next year and work is under way for the nomination of the twin monastery of Wearmouth and Jarrow in 2010.

UNESCO requires states that are party to the world heritage convention to review their tentative lists every 10 years. In addition, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, UNESCO is pursuing a global strategy to redress imbalances, both geographic and thematic, on the world heritage list. For example, Europe and north America
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have 50 per cent. of the sites on the list, while Africa has only 9 per cent and the Arab states have even fewer, at 7 per cent. That unbalanced representation has led UNESCO to ask the well-represented countries to consider slowing or even stopping their rate of nomination.

UNESCO is limiting the number of nominations to a maximum of two per country per year, which puts a great deal of pressure on countries with tentative lists containing many aspirant sites. The UK is one such country. The interest in nomination grows each year, as does the number of aspiring sites. World heritage status is seen as being highly desirable in terms of prestige and economic benefit. As the Minister with responsibility for tourism, and the Minister who called the summit at which the Prime Minister spoke, I am keen that such events and site-led tourism should be developed, because people do not come here for our weather; they come for our heritage and other things that they can see.

The cost of bids can be high—up to £400,000 according to estimates—and has to be borne by the local bid partnership. The cost cannot be retrieved if the bid fails, and there is no guarantee of inscription at the end of the process. Given those considerations, the Government felt that it would be irresponsible not to take a close look, when formulating future policy, at the costs and benefits of world heritage status. There are many questions to consider. For example, is designation sustainable? Where are the development pressures? What is the balance between the benefits and costs of such status?

Another important question is whether the benefits have been overstated. Those, however, are questions not for the Chamber, but for the ongoing public consultation on this matter. We hope that the public, including the people of Arbroath, will respond to the consultation in a way that gives us a wide range of opinions. I look forward to hearing the outcome of the consultation and to reading the responses of those who are responsible for Arbroath abbey.

Mr. Weir: I thank the Minister for giving such a clear exposition of the situation regarding sites. On costs, those who are campaigning for Arbroath abbey understand that, given the amount that they will have to raise, and given what has to be done, it might be many years before an application for site status can be made, but a great concern is the idea that the Department is going to cease to put sites forward. I appreciate that the consultation is ongoing, but can I at least go back to those campaigners and say that there are various options, and that complete cessation is unlikely to be the one that goes forward?

Barbara Follett: In a consultation, I, as a Minister, cannot rule anything in or out, but it is a consultation, there are many options and we are looking at all of them. Believe me, we have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. I wish him the very best of luck with Arbroath abbey. He is passionate about heritage in his constituency and his constituents are lucky to have him. However, I counsel him against what I call “waiting to get thin” syndrome, whereby people wait for something to happen before doing anything to advance the situation. There are many things that Arbroath and other sites could do to reap some of the benefits that are inherent to inscription on the world heritage status list. Again, I wish him luck.

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Payment Protection Insurance

1.29 pm

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): I thank Mr. Speaker for selecting this subject for debate. Payment protection insurance is very important, and is much wanted just as people are losing their jobs. However, what has been sold, in a widespread manner, can only be described as not fit for purpose. It is failing people, and it has been a disaster.

Payment protection insurance is typically sold with personal loans, credit cards and finance agreements to help individuals to repay what they owe if they are unable to work due to sickness or redundancy. It is big business. It is estimated that in 2006, 20 million PPI policies were in force in the UK, but as I said, they are deeply flawed and clearly problematic.

I came to the matter when I saw an article about a Competition Commission investigation into PPI that estimated that companies offering such policies were overcharging consumers by a massive £1.4 billion each year due to lack of competition in the market. I tabled a parliamentary question in July 2008 and received an answer from a Treasury Minister. I asked the Chancellor

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury replied:

That is a helpful reply, but the Treasury clearly needs to act on its work with those organisations.

Which? staff followed up my question and met me. Which? believes that PPI is a fundamentally bad product that can cost an individual thousands of pounds yet lets them down when they most need it. Research by Which? and an investigation by the Financial Services Authority also found widespread mis-selling in the market, as salespeople use high-pressure tactics to sell unsuitable PPI to vulnerable customers. Which? said in a letter to me that

may have been mis-sold. Even when PPI policies are sold according to the rules, they can often add between £2,000 and £3,000 to the cost of a £7,500 loan, which then attracts interest. That can be a massive financial burden for individuals on low incomes, who are more likely to take out PPI, as the Competition Commission reports.

The problem has been going on for a long time, and the FSA simply has not got to grips with it until now. It has started to, but it is not doing enough. Like the whole banking system, the FSA has been asleep at the wheel. It needs to get its act together, and the Government need to chase it up.

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