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Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is a requirement of the United Nations charter that any action across an international frontier should be the subject of a notification to the Security Council by the state engaged in that action? The Turkish authorities have crossed the frontier into the Kurdish enclave of northern Iraq on numerous occasions in the past, sometimes without any notification at all, and occasionally, after prompting, with notification. Does the Minister agree that that is a dangerous precedent to set? If the Security Council takes no action against Turkey in respect of those incursions, other states may be encouraged to cross international frontiers in a like manner. Thus there could be a danger to world peace.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that, pursuant to Article 51, a duty is imposed on countries to notify the United Nations. I can reassure the noble Lord that Turkey is well aware of that duty. We are not aware of Turkey having reported any incursions to the United Nations under Article 51, but we are aware of past communications from the Turkish authorities to the president of the Security Council in response to letters from the Iraqi authorities. I can assure the noble Lord that Turkey is aware of the concern which has been expressed in that regard.
Lord Rea: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the area which the Turkish troops have entered is part of the safe haven in which we are giving some protection to the Kurds from Iraq? Can she say whether safe haven protection will be given in respect of incursions from countries other than Iraq, such as Turkey and possibly Iran?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I should make it clear, as I did in my first Answer, that we have been made aware of reports of a Turkish incursion into Iraq across the border. We have asked our embassy in Ankara to investigate those reports and give us a clear expression of what has occurred. As soon as we have confirmation of those facts, I shall be in a better position to advise the House about that issue.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Will the Minister confirm that representatives of our embassy in Ankara were recently able to go to the Tur'abdin area of south-east Turkey? Is she aware that the position of Kurds and other groups seems to have
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am most happy to agree with the noble Lord in relation to those issues in terms of improvement and collaboration on human rights. We very much welcome the fact that since they came to office in May 1999 the Turkish Government have taken steps to improve human rights. As a result of those developments, the military judge has been removed from the state security court and the maximum sentence for torture has been increased. There is now increased dialogue on these issues between the government and non-governmental organisations. All those matters must be welcomed. I agree with the noble Lord that the hope of possibly joining the EU seems to have been a catalyst for productive change.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, in view of the welcome development of better attitudes to human rights in Turkey and the obvious desire of Turkey to be considered as a serious candidate for membership of the European Union, will the Minister draw to the attention of the Turkish authorities the necessity of keeping and maintaining the rules of the United Nations which Turkey has possibly breached in this case? Will she also draw to their attention the success of the United Kingdom Government in accepting a different language and culture in Wales while still recognising that Wales is part of the United Kingdom?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can certainly say to the noble Baroness that these are important issues and that we have raised them with a number of countries seeking accession to the EU. The dialogue will be ongoing. It will be critical and, it is to be hoped, beneficial in the long term for all the people of Turkey.
Viscount Waverley: My Lords, will the Minister be supporting a strengthening of sanctions, as has apparently been called for by Secretary of State-elect Powell; and, if so, what would she hope would be achieved by such a strengthening?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I take it that the noble Viscount refers to sanctions in relation to Iraq. Although I am not dealing with that question today, I can certainly assure the noble Viscount that full consideration will be given to all comments made by President-elect Bush and those whom he has appointed to act on his behalf.
Lord Carter: My Lords, after the first debate today, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on reforming the Mental Health Act.
The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision about commonhold land and to amend the law about leasehold property. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.
Moved, That, in the event of the Consolidated Fund Bill being brought from the Commons, Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to allow the Bill to be taken through all its stages today.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)
The noble Lord said: My Lords, over the past 50 years or so I have addressed your Lordships' House many times on heritage and environmental issues and so I hope that my well-known involvement in the heritage issues will suffice as a declaration of interest.
Today I feel particularly pleased in initiating this timely debate on the report on the future of the historic environment, only published last week by English Heritage, the organisation of which I had the honour to be first chairman, from 1983 to 1991. First, I must congratulate most warmly the present chairman, Sir Neil Cossons, and his working party--some 20 strong--on producing such a comprehensive report, whose main recommendations most people will endorse, although I, and I suspect many others, may have certain reservations when the details are discussed.
English Heritage must be commended on assembling such a comprehensive working party representing all interests and walks of life, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, and on carrying out such a large-scale consultation. Most importantly, the report sets out the results of the Mori survey about English people's reactions to their heritage. Over the years, politicians of all parties have been a little ambivalent to the heritage, fearing that if they promoted it too much they would be accused of elitism and favouring certain classes. On the other hand, there was a general assumption by others that the people were not really interested. Unfortunately, recent teaching, or rather lack of teaching, of history in our schools was hardly designed to give pupils an interest in their past. So the general objectives of the Mori research were to establish the general perception and attitudes towards the heritage and what it meant to people and to assess the people's participation in heritage activities and not least the attitude towards the heritage by people from newly arrived ethnic minorities.
Contrary to previous beliefs, the results were no less than sensational and fully justified to those who knew what the real situation was. The results showed that 98 per cent thought that all schoolchildren should be taught about England's historic environment; 88 per cent thought that it created jobs and boosted the economy, that it was right that there should be public funding to preserve it and that it played an important part in promoting regeneration in towns; and 76 per cent thought that their own lives were richer for having an opportunity to visit and see it. So I submit that the heritage is not a party political issue--nor should it be--and so I hope that from now on politicians will accept that the results of the Mori poll prove that the vast majority of people do care about and value their historic environment. It behoves us all to see that it is conserved for future generations.
So where do we go from here? There are 18 headline recommendations, supported by a number of detailed action points, only a few of which need legislation. I intend to cover only a few this afternoon; namely, that the only constructive and sensible way forward is by partnership and better consultation and co-ordination between central and local government, public and private institutions, government agencies, the developers and the professionals. Positive conservation and re-use of buildings certainly leads to renewal of whole areas and experience shows that it can unlock the value of buildings which are not used to their full advantage within the familiar fabric of our towns and cities.
There is no doubt that many historic buildings are capable of better economic use and consequential listing often adds to the value of such buildings. In addition, well-loved historic buildings in familiar surroundings, which add character to an area, difficult though it is to measure, are nevertheless recognised as giving employment and customer satisfaction.
The report frankly acknowledges the worrying backlog of maintenance and repair which threatens the continuity and survival of many heritage assets. I support, therefore, the proposed comprehensive audit and thereafter regular monitoring of the historic environment as a basis for prioritising policies, programmes and the assessment of funding needs. However, it is important that those funds continue to be available on a year-on-year basis.
An enormous amount of repair and renewal of buildings will be needed in the years to come. This country must have the skills to carry them out. Opportunities for training, in particular apprenticeships, are desperately needed to satisfy future demand. Management should be given greater incentives to provide training. Unfortunately, although there are many different professional bodies in craft training relating to the historic environment, the resulting complexity of qualifications is confusing to all those concerned. Therefore, the proposed national conservation training forum would bring together institutions providing training and removing inconsistencies. It goes without saying that every local authority must have a qualified conservation officer with the expertise to ensure that all concerned are given leadership to produce the right results.
One cannot emphasise enough the part that the historic environment can play in education. Historic environment teaching should be fully integrated with all other relevant subjects. There are enormous opportunities to include environmental teaching in the national curriculum, as well as in teacher training, and similarly to co-operate with museums and historic house owners to provide guidance on educational programmes. Incidentally, it is worth saying that it was the private owners who initiated educational activities long before the National Trust or English Heritage did so. Although much more can be done, I am delighted that historic buildings and the environment now form a major part of the school curriculum, and that school visits are also planned accordingly, even from France.
Indeed, the report acknowledges that it was the achievements of the private sector which has inspired the well-deserved international reputation of heritage conservation in Great Britain. Over 1,200 privately owned houses are now open to the public, many of them on a regular basis and others by appointment, attracting 10 million visitors a year. The saving of our historic houses, which faced such a gloomy future in 1945, is one of the great success stories in the history of conservation. Elsewhere in the world, great houses have been vandalised by neglect and have been left to decay. Here, however, private owners have been in the vanguard of saving great houses, which are undoubtedly Britain's most important tourist attraction.
However, this has been achieved at a price. The average owner faces maintenance bills of over #40,000 a year and periodic major capital repairs of up to #1 million every 15 to 20 years. At present, not forgetting English Heritage grants, most repairs are funded from the owner's taxed income or from sales of works of art, which are further major losses to our heritage.
Sensibly, the report advocates a single harmonised rate of 5 per cent VAT for all building work and those concerned were encouraged by the Chancellor's recent announcement of his intention to reduce VAT to 5 per cent on the cost of converting empty residential buildings and, in particular, on the maintenance of 11,000 listed places of worship. However, there are some 350,000 other listed buildings, so VAT rules will continue to discourage other listed building repairs and, further, will discourage regular maintenance, thus promoting new build at the expense of re-use. This makes no economic or environmental sense and it is interesting to note that Britain is the only country in western Europe which does not give fiscal relief for the maintenance of historic properties. The sooner that VAT is equalised on all building work, the fewer historic buildings will be lost.
It is also unfortunate that the Chancellor has decided as from next April to end the so-called "one estate election", by which maintenance costs on the principal house can be set against estate income. This is going to have a very serious effect on the resources available for repairs and private owners are extremely concerned. In addition, private owners are discriminated against, because although their houses are technically eligible, they are almost never considered for heritage lottery funding, unlike the National Trust and other such bodies.
The report identifies the problems in the countryside, in particular as a result of changes in farming methods and the collapse of farm incomes. Since 1945, some 20,000 ancient monuments have been destroyed and thousands of other monuments in the countryside are at risk. These man-made objects can be sustained only by active management. Landowners and farmers need to be given incentives to keep the landscape continually renewed and in good repair. There are considerable public benefits of managed landscape from which, of course, tourism can benefit. I certainly agree with the recommendation that it is essential to switch funding under the common agricultural policy from production support to environmental measures, which in the long term would be effective in supporting farm incomes.
I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Renfrew, a past colleague in English Heritage, will be speaking shortly in the debate. No doubt he will comment on the report from an archaeological point of view.
There are two recommendations about which I am concerned: first, the proposal to give statutory force to the duty of care on the owners of listed buildings and to conservation plans and management agreements for individual listed buildings and registered landscapes. But I am glad to see that the report recommends that any statutory duty of care would be tied explicitly to the wider availability of grants and the provision of fiscal incentives to encourage maintenance. In any case, owners of listed buildings are already subject to an implicit duty of care, in that they can be served with repairs notices and can, in certain circumstances, have their property compulsorily acquired, although local authorities are extremely reluctant to pursue that course. The report recommends backing this implicit duty with financial incentives, making it explicit and widening it to include other categories of designated site.
Secondly, while I support the specific proposal to reduce permitted development rights in conservation areas, it cannot be stressed enough that people still have to live and work in conservation areas. It makes sense for planning authorities to make their decisions according to local conditions. Conversely, some local authorities can be criticised for being too strict. For instance, although government policy clearly states that redundant farm buildings can be converted for use in light industry and other such activities, time and time again one sees that local authorities refuse to comply with that policy.
Management agreements provide a means of simplifying the regulatory system for owners of complex listed buildings. However, when one is dealing with a group of buildings, it seems ridiculous to have to secure separate planning permission for each particular building. I am sure that that system could be simplified.
There are several recommendations with regard to facilitating better access for everyone in the country. Already, special educational facilities exist in most places and access for the disabled has been improved dramatically. Nevertheless, it must be wrong to damage the architectural heritage of a building by putting in, say, electric lifts in the main living areas. However, I am confident that all those concerned with opening their houses to the public will wish to continue to do their very best to provide for the disabled and the disadvantaged.
The report emphasises the need for better access to information about the heritage. We need to go further. We must encourage, from the cradle to the grave, knowledge and understanding of its significance, which will in turn ensure support for funding its conservation.
Finally, it is most important that the Government should seriously and urgently consider this report. I understand that they will formally report their conclusions in March, when I hope that we shall see
The really important fact that emerged from this review is how much English people value their historic environment. Now is the time for the public sector to demonstrate its commitment by, for example, finding and funding future uses of the Government's historic estate, whether redundant hospitals or Ministry of Defence buildings. Those who value the historic environment do not oppose change, but recognise that change can be managed in more thoughtful ways so that their children can continue to enjoy familiar and loved surroundings. I believe that this report will be recognised in the future as being the first foundation stone of new attitudes towards our historic environment. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Montagu. I congratulate him both on his initiative in securing the debate and on his detailed comments on the report. English Heritage stated that it had been given a once-in-a-generation opportunity to comment on these important matters. It has seized that opportunity and offered wise suggestions which I hope the Government will view with sympathy.
I am particularly pleased that the importance of history has been recognised, a matter referred to by the noble Lord. As a former teacher who enjoyed teaching history, I welcome enthusiastically that important part of the report. My speech will be narrower than that of the noble Lord. I shall not follow him in regard to historic houses, except to say that I listened with great interest to his remarks because one of the most important stately homes in the country--certainly the most important building in my home county of South Yorkshire--is Wentworth Woodhouse, which is barely a couple of miles from my home.
I shall confine myself largely to the issue of our landscape. I shall concentrate perhaps more on the rural landscape than the urban, although I believe that there is far too much clutter in the urban scene because of road furniture, the proliferation of advertisements and so on.
I am concerned about the landscape. It is vital. People--perhaps fewer than many imagine--are insufficiently aware of the role of British landscape and natural features in providing inspiration for art, music and literature. We should not allow despoliation to limit that potential.
There are two aspects of the landscape problem to which I wish to draw particular attention. The first aspect concerns the short-term destruction we have seen by allowing in the past excessive urban sprawl and agricultural changes to take place on very short-term
The second problem concerns the historic devastation caused by old industry. I was born and live in the Dearne Valley, where a whole area was devastated as the main collieries were sunk around 1870 and the coalmines, coking plants and marshalling yards obliterated what old documents and old maps show as being a very attractive area. Those have all gone. All the pits went in a shorter period than the very short one in the 19th century when the large pits were sunk. Their closure created economic devastation and social corrosion. We have not yet got over those problems, but jobs are being created on the land which is being restored. Our experience there certainly strengthens my view that we should give a much higher priority to the redevelopment of brownfield sites rather than extending unnecessarily into greenfield sites.
So far as concerns greenfield housing, we should recognise that more houses are needed, not necessarily because of huge population growth but because of the decline in marriage, the break-up of marriage and the wish of people to be independent so that they leave the family home much earlier than they used to do. We need more houses, but that does not necessarily mean that we must have a low density of housing per acre. We need not gobble up quite as much greenfield land as some people imagine.
The potential for brownfield development is there. Perhaps I may give an example. Some two years ago I moved a couple of miles to a brownfield site once occupied by Cortonwood colliery. It has been interesting watching what has happened there. The colliery closed in the mid-1980s, leaving 260 acres of largely derelict land and squalor. I was then involved in obtaining the funds for the civil engineering to transform the site, turning it into a moonscape. That ended and development began. On the low ground we have the edge of the A1/M1 link road which opens up the Dearne Valley to economic development; on the side of the road we have a well-planned commercial development, where more jobs are now being provided than were lost when the pit closed. Most of the area is reserved for housing and for open space.
It is the open space which attracted me to the area. What was once a colliery spoil heap, which had been smouldering red-hot for decades, is now a well-contoured hill, with sensitive tree planting along its sides and a lake necessarily serving as a balancing reservoir. In two years it has brought to the area a range of wildlife I would not have expected, from common blue butterflies and pigmy shrews to cygnets and dragonflies.
The reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, to local authorities causes me some concern. I do not think that my own local authority has quite recognised what has happened within its borough in the past two years. I make the point because out of that squalor has come economic opportunity and an advance in landscape and social provision which should be properly recognised. This kind of advance should be promoted more by the Government as an alternative to excessive encroachment on the green belt.
The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, referred to buildings. Hooper Stand was built by the Marquess of Rockingham to commemorate the quelling of the Jacobite rebellion and the establishment of a just and balanced peace in Europe. In another debate I mentioned that Mr Hague, the Leader of the Opposition, was brought up in the shadow of that structure. It is the highest building until one gets to the other side of the North Sea, and has superb views. The local authority and the owners are opening it up for occasional public visits. I am concerned that the occasional public visits will be accompanied by a great deal of litter. As I have said before, the dropping of litter is the most common criminal offence in Britain today. If we are to see power of place, we need pride of place--and the present extent of litter in our country should not be tolerated much longer. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will take that into account as well.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, on initiating the debate and on his excellent timing. However, to use a phrase borrowed from the Home Office, I would describe this document as "a load of pants". The Minister is scowling at me. However, I use this facetious comment because on the flysheet--
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