Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Kennet: My Lords, perhaps the Minister will be so kind as to give way. He must not identify me with these figures. I do not accept either of them.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend does not have to accept the figures. They are the figures calculated by the people who put forward the proposals. As we were told, what went before the Millennium Commission earlier this month was the Larkhill version which, to my mind, still retains the vital ingredients: to have the stones in a downland setting, without clutter, without roads or any intervention from the 20th century; and to have free admission.

I was challenged by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, to give reasons why the Millennium Commission turned down the site. I am as much in favour of open government as the noble Viscount, but the arm's length relationship between the Millennium Commission and the Government was set up not by my government but by his. He must recognise that under those circumstances it is not possible for us to say what the individual commissioners or the commissioners collectively thought about the scheme unless they are willing to say themselves. I can ask Chris Smith or David Clark but the noble Viscount will have to ask Michael Heseltine, who is also a millennium commissioner. For what it is worth, my understanding is that the Millennium Commission thought that the proposal was not the best use of funds compared with other bids. There is an extreme demand for millennium money and I understand that in the first two rounds only 10 per cent. of bids were agreed to. The noble Lord, Lord St. John, answered the question which his noble friend Lord Astor put very effectively.

What we must be concerned with is what happens now. I accept that it is the Government's responsibility to act in some sense--bearing in mind all the limitations on our powers--as animator of the solution which we all want. It is for English Heritage, as the manager of the site, to take the lead in deciding what the solution should be and finding out how to obtain the money for it.

As the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, said, the Secretary of State, Chris Smith, and I met Sir Jocelyn Stevens last Friday and I can confirm what he said to us. It was that after much consideration, following the rejection of the Stonehenge Millennium Park, English Heritage will move back to a reduced scale Larkhill scheme. The idea is that there should be not a visitor centre but a car park, refreshments and toilets with the essential provision that after crossing the cursors visitors should go by foot across grass up the hill to Stonehenge. They should see it gradually appearing on the horizon. The A.344 should be turfed over so that there is no obstacle between Stonehenge and the car park. There should be provision of some kind for people with disabilities and, if possible--and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, referred to this--access to the site should be free.

30 Jun 1997 : Column 79

The problem is that English Heritage makes £1.4 million a year out of Stonehenge at the moment and it will have to make up the money somehow if it gives that up. As noble Lords can imagine, we raised the issue with Sir Jocelyn Stevens. It seems likely that that will be the most generally acceptable solution. It was supported by most noble Lords who took part in the debate and I am grateful for that.

Of course it does not solve the problem of what to do with the A.303. I reminded noble Lords of the changes of view that have taken place over time and in the minds of individuals but I repeat that the long tunnel, costing approximately £300 million, is not affordable. There is no assurance that even a shorter tunnel as proposed by Ove Arup would be affordable nor is there an assurance that a new road surface to avoid vibration would be technically possible, even if the National Trust was willing to devote more land to the A.303. So that will be a more intractable, longer term problem. All we can say is that we cannot rule out serious expenditure in due course on the A.303.

Putting that on one side, there are still problems to which noble Lords referred. There is the problem of the Ministry of Defence and its consent which is needed for access to the Larkhill site. I am happy to say that the Secretary of State for National Heritage has already written to the Secretary of State for Defence seeking consultation and discussions on the matter. We shall pursue it with the utmost vigour.

30 Jun 1997 : Column 80

Then there is the issue, to which I have already referred, of the potential for conflict between local authorities and the Department of Transport which would only be willing to see the A.344 closed if there were some other traffic management and possibly improvement of the A.303. There is potential for conflict there with the National Trust.

Above all, there is the question of money. Sir Jocelyn produced figures for us, but they will have to be worked out much more formally if they are to be part of a bid. It seemed to Sir Jocelyn and to us that the natural place for a bid would be the Heritage Lottery Fund which, in the right circumstances and for the right proposal, could provide 75 per cent. of funding.

I was faced with many challenges in the debate today. It was proposed by a number of noble Lords, the noble Viscounts, Lord Astor and Lord Falkland, and the noble Lords, Lord St John and Lord Kennet, that the Prime Minister should become involved. It was proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, that there should be a Cabinet committee to consider matters. I am not sure that the solution lies with any individuals or any organisational structure. We must recognise the inherent problem of the conflict between the integrity of the site and accessibility for visitors. Having recognised that problem, we must approach the matter with clarity and determination.

I think that today's debate has in a sense narrowed the options and for that the Government are grateful. I hope we have shown that the Government will not sit back and let the matter be neglected for anything like the number of years it has been neglected in the past.

        House adjourned at thirteen minutes before eight o'clock.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page