All 7 contributions to the Zoological Society of London (Leases) Act 2024

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Fri 24th May 2024
Fri 24th May 2024
Royal Assent
Lords Chamber

Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent

Zoological Society of London (Leases) Bill

Committee stage
Wednesday 28th February 2024

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Zoological Society of London (Leases) Act 2024 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Sir Edward Leigh
† Baynes, Simon (Clwyd South) (Con)
† Blackman, Bob (Harrow East) (Con)
† Bonnar, Steven (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)
† Bruce, Fiona (Congleton) (Con)
† Champion, Sarah (Rotherham) (Lab)
† Coffey, Dr Thérèse (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
† Gardiner, Barry (Brent North) (Lab)
† Harrison, Trudy (Copeland) (Con)
† Hudson, Dr Neil (Penrith and The Border) (Con)
Long Bailey, Rebecca (Salford and Eccles) (Lab)
† Lopez, Julia (Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries)
† Nichols, Charlotte (Warrington North) (Lab)
Shannon, Jim (Strangford) (DUP)
† Smith, Cat (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
† Whittingdale, Sir John (Maldon) (Con)
† Wiggin, Sir Bill (North Herefordshire) (Con)
† Wright, Sir Jeremy (Kenilworth and Southam) (Con)
Liam Laurence Smith, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Wednesday 28 February 2024
[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]
Zoological Society of London (Leases) Bill
10:00
None Portrait The Chair
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Hansard colleagues would be grateful if Members emailed their speaking notes to hansardnotes@ parliament.uk. The selection and grouping of provisions for today’s meeting is available online and in the room. No amendments have been tabled. We will have a single debate on both clauses of the Bill.

Clause 1

Maximum Term of Leases for Zoological Society of London

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

None Portrait The Chair
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With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 2 stand part.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. It is great to see a variety of colleagues from across the House. I have to say, it is a great relief that colleagues have taken the time and trouble to be here today.

The Bill seeks to amend the Crown Estate Act 1961 to allow an increase to the maximum term of the lease that may be granted to the Zoological Society of London, which I will refer to as ZSL for brevity, in respect of land in Regent’s Park and for connected purposes. I thank everyone for taking time out of their busy day; indeed, for those who suffer the trials and tribulations of the Jubilee line, it is a wonder we are all here. I welcome colleagues contributing to the debate, as long as their speeches are short and to the point. No doubt, colleagues may wish to get their names on the record, either by intervening on me or on the Minister. I am grateful to the Government and to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for supporting the Bill.

London Zoo has been a staple in London since it first opened to the general public in 1847. For centuries, tourists have flocked to the 36-acre site in Regent’s Park to get a closer look at some of the world’s most exotic creatures in the oldest scientific zoo. Today, some 177 years later, London Zoo continues to be one of London’s most popular attractions, welcoming over a million visitors each year, including more than 80,000 schoolchildren. For many, it provides a unique experience to see some of the 20,000 animals London Zoo is home to up close and to learn about the unique species.

Indeed, I am sure that London Zoo is a childhood memory for most of us. I still remember vividly my first visit and the excitement of seeing in the flesh the huge animals who had previously been confined to the television screen. In my days, it was black and white television, so it was quite something. Over the years, some of London Zoo’s most notable residents have influenced our childhoods. The likes of Winnie the Pooh and Dumbo the elephant are said to have their origins in the animals of London Zoo. Recently I was lucky enough to be welcomed back by Matthew Gould, Vicky Godwin and the team to take a look around. That was a year ago, but I have been back since and can safely say that at whatever age people visit it really is a fantastic day out. It is one of London’s tourist attractions that people count on going to when they visit London.

London Zoo is run by ZSL, which is an international conservation charity that was established by royal charter in 1826. The charity is driven by science, with 140 scientists working on site to protect species, restore ecosystems, collaborate with communities around the world and inspire positive change for biodiversity. The work it carries out across the globe is completely led by evidence. It currently produces the hugely beneficial data for the Living Planet Index—the world’s leading dataset on global wildlife.

London Zoo has a huge number of benefits for both local communities and the animal kingdom. Each year, tourists from London, the wider UK and across the entire globe visit the zoo. That contributes to funding for the zoo and to the UK’s wider economy, as visitors are more likely to spend money in surrounding areas, particularly as it is only a stone’s throw from most of London’s cultural hotspots. Each year, the zoo is responsible for contributing a huge sum of over £24 million to the local economy.

Community outreach projects are instrumental in the philosophy of the zoo. On all my visits, I have been impressed by the new garden area, where volunteers with complex needs can spend the day gardening and visiting the animals for much-needed respite and wellbeing. That is a lifesaver, particularly for individuals who might have special educational needs. The zoo has recently implemented a community access scheme to enable those on income support and other benefits to visit for as little as £3. It is essential that everyone, regardless of where they live, has access to nature and outdoor space. I am therefore pleased that ZSL is committed to providing access to those who need extra help so that no one, but no one, is left out. Further, the education offerings provide a critical supplement to classroom work. The workshops are specifically tailored to cater for all age groups and learning needs, educating children on hugely important topics, including wildlife, conservation, climate change and the impacts of pollution.

The research conducted by the zoo has benefited animal welfare extensively, shaping the future of many previously endangered species. Many animals at risk of extinction have participated in the zoo’s breeding programmes to ensure that they are safe for future generations. In 2021-22 alone, more than £17.5 million was spent on conservation sites and field conservation programmes and £38.5 million was spent on conservation and animal care, breeding programmes and conservation translocations.

Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend on driving forward this important legislation. As he has mentioned, zoos do tremendous outreach and educational work, as well as being visitor and tourist attractions. The research, conservation and breeding work done by London Zoo protects some of the world’s most precious wildlife. Does he agree that the Bill, which secures the long-term future of London Zoo, is vital for the continuation of that work?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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Part and parcel of this is not just the attraction for people to come and see animals, but importantly, the work done by the scientists to ensure that species breed and grow not only in the zoo but across the world, protecting animals in their natural environment.

Moving on to the main purpose of the Bill and of gathering everyone here today, the Crown Estate Act 1961 currently governs the lease of ZSL’s Regent’s Park site. The Act caps the lease at a maximum of 60 years, which presents a number of difficulties. Through this Bill, the maximum lease tenure will increase to 150 years, in a 90-year extension. In 2018, a similar Bill was introduced to extend the lease for Kew gardens: another area of London that we know and love. At present, having only 60 years on the leasehold has a detrimental impact on the zoo’s ability to fundraise, create new partnerships, expand support programmes for the local community and, importantly, invest substantially in the regeneration of the existing site. With extremely high running costs, rising energy bills, which cannot be compromised due to a need for sustained climates for the animals, including protected species, and its status as an organisation that receives no Government grant at all, it is vital that the zoo is able to secure as much funding as possible and plan for the future wherever possible. To continue with only a 60-year lease would make the zoo financially impossible to sustain.

Looking back to 1826, when the zoo was founded, the average life expectancy peaked at about 40 years, thus making a 60-year lease comparatively longer and therefore quite a respectable length. Thankfully, with the advancements in modern medicine, a better understanding of health and evolution, our average life expectancy has soared to more than double, averaging around 80 years, making a 60-year lease far more redundant. Thus, in terms of tackling the complex challenges facing global wildlife, it is simply not long enough.

The knock-on effects of extending the lease will no doubt transform the site. More certainty in the lease length will enable ZSL to find global investment partners willing to fund state-of-the-art laboratories and drastically improve the current buildings that act as the animals’ habitat. One hundred and forty scientists currently work in a dilapidated building—I recommend individuals go and see it for themselves—which is inhibiting their research considerably. Unsurprisingly, we need to provide new, fully equipped areas where they can conduct vital studies that will benefit the animals, as well as other institutes, through the Living Planet Index, which I mentioned earlier. Furthermore, London Zoo currently houses 16 species that are extinct in the wild and more than 100 that are seriously endangered. Extending the lease would give it the space, research and developed understanding to increase those numbers and prevent us from losing any more of these wonderful animals.

This is a brief Bill, as I am sure colleagues will be grateful to hear. Clause 1 sets out the extension from 60 to 150 years. Clause 2 outlines the logistics: the Bill will extend to all four countries of the UK, and the Act will come into force two months after it is passed.

I remind colleagues of the important contributions that London Zoo and ZSL have made to our world over the past 200 years. The iconic naturalist Charles Darwin conducted many of his studies at the site, so it could be assumed that without London Zoo we would not have an understanding of the theory of evolution. Another significant character to come out of the zoo, I am told, is my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire. I am sure that without his zoological background, his adept manner of dealing with the animal-like behaviour in Parliament would be very different.

I will leave the Committee with a final thought from the legendary Sir David Attenborough, which further highlights the essential need for the Crown Estate Act 1961 to be amended to enable a lease extension of up to 150 years and ensure the continuation of this renowned establishment:

“ZSL’s work is vital in driving forward the vision of a world where wildlife thrives…from tiny dart frogs to majestic tigers and everything in between.”

Bill Wiggin Portrait Sir Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con)
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I will be very brief. In 1985, I worked at London Zoo, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East mentioned. I was paid 75p in luncheon vouchers, which is why it does not appear on my entry on the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I worked in the aquarium. The trouble with the aquarium was that it was under the hill where the goats and the bears lived. That was fine, except that the bears would escape and fish in the filters. The warning we were given was, “If you come round the corner and see a bear, run away and shut the door, because they’re very, very dangerous.”

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend’s comments about the need for proper progress and proper development. I believe that Ken Livingstone was one of the trustees of London Zoo at the time, when the zoo was going through a process of evolution: it was moving away from totemic species such as lions and tigers, and experiences such as elephant rides, and towards protecting the environment and endangered species and dealing with habitat loss. It was a fascinating process.

My question to the Minister is whether 150 years is enough. Human life expectancy has changed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East says, but that is not true for animals—and it is the animals that need to be thought about. It is the zookeepers who give up their Christmas day to make sure that animals are properly looked after, and it is the animals that are endangered. It is not really about us, the people who enjoy this wonderful facility; it is about our duty of care, not only to our creatures but to the wonderful people who look after them.

I believe that 150 years is nothing, particularly as ZSL started in 1826. If I am right that we need longer, I hope that we can amend the Bill on Report. If 150 years is satisfactory, we will be back in 190 years’ time, or whenever, to ensure that the lease is correct. It strikes me that, as the lease is granted by the Department, it does not have to be limited to 150 years. With the best interests of the zoo at heart, I hope that the zoo will fix that.

Julia Lopez Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Julia Lopez)
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East for introducing this very important private Member’s Bill on the maximum lease term that may be granted to the Zoological Society of London. I thank him also for abbreviating that—I shall do the same, which will make my speech substantially shorter. His proposal has very strong support from the Government. I am very glad that the Jubilee line sped him here in time, and I thank the Lord that a bear did not eat my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire and that he can be here too.

10:15
We had a very good debate in Westminster Hall on this matter before I went on maternity leave. At that time, I confess, legislation was not ready to go. I imagine that it is down to the great skill and influence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon that we are here today.
John Whittingdale Portrait Sir John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con)
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I will be brief. It is always a huge pleasure to see my hon. Friend the Minister. I am aware of the immense breadth of her responsibilities, and I wonder why this Bill comes under her remit and that of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, when I believe we still have a zoos Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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That is a good question. I am going to speculate that it is because it is to do with the Royal Parks estate—[Interruption.] Everybody is nodding, so I am going to say that I am right on that one, but I will correct the record if it turns out that that is not the case.

The ZSL lease was most recently renewed for 60 years in 2021. My hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire said that that is simply not long enough, and I take that point. I should also put on the record that I would like to extend the lease of Sir David Attenborough—I hope he will be with us for many decades to come. Like any well-managed and forward-thinking organisation, ZSL wants to make sure it can be around into the future.

Jeremy Wright Portrait Sir Jeremy Wright (Kenilworth and Southam) (Con)
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My hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire asked whether 150 years is enough, but I want to ask whether ZSL is enough. It strikes me that other institutions benefiting from similar leases may come across the same problems—the length of investment period and so on. Has the Minister had the opportunity, given the responsibility she has now discovered she has, to look at similar leases to determine whether they might require the same treatment?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I confess that the same point struck me as I was looking at the Bill. Other organisations that come under the Crown Estate Act 1961 have had to go through this convoluted and seemingly unnecessary process. It might be simpler to change elements of the Act to encompass all the organisations affected by it, but I will take that away.

Establishing the mechanism for a longer-term lease will bring ZSL in line with other similar organisations, including the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. This should be an uncontroversial change, but it appears that we have alighted on some controversy in dealing with this matter. We think the change will positively impact the organisation so that it can build its resilience, develop strategic relationships and increase the scope for potential commercial and philanthropic partnerships that will hopefully ensure its continued growth well into the future.

Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab)
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I confess that my constituency is a long way from London Zoo, but in Cheshire we benefit from the fantastic Chester Zoo. I wonder whether the Minister agrees that what is good for London Zoo is good for the rest of the zoological sector. Collaborations and partnerships can be built on if London Zoo has a long lease and can undertake long-term, strategic planning.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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The hon. Lady makes a very important point about the fantastic collaboration between zoos, not only in this country but across the globe. ZSL has long been at the forefront of that collaboration, and we should all be proud of that. Chester Zoo is an absolutely superb place to visit, and I hope one day to be able to take my children to it.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
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The point to be made about the 150 years is that we can go further. Once the law is changed, we can change the leases as much as we like without coming back to Parliament for legislation. I am sponsoring this Bill, but I am conscious that there are Members who expressed concern about the Kew Gardens (Leases) Act 2019 and may express the same concern on Report about whether this measure potentially adds to public sector debt. I appreciate the Minister may not need to answer those questions today in order to get the Bill through Committee, but she should be mindful of the concerns expressed by others, although not by me—I want this Bill to sail through.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I very much appreciate my right hon. Friend’s intervention. She leads me to some of the challenges that may arise in future stages of this Bill. I shall certainly endeavour to look at those concerns in more detail.

London Zoo is a very important part of our capital’s heritage, culture and tourism offer, and it is the 10th most visited attraction in London, contributing over £24 million annually to the local economy and over £54 million to the national economy. It is also the world’s oldest scientific zoo, operating since 1828, and it is a leading force in wildlife conservation and biodiversity. Advances in our understanding of animal welfare have shown that many of the current structures within the premises simply are no longer suitable for their intended purposes. Work is ongoing to reimagine those spaces in new, innovative and sustainable ways, while ensuring that conservation remains at the core and that endangered spaces are cared for.

Looking forward to 2028, London Zoo will celebrate 200 years since its opening, and I am sure that I am not alone in wishing it success in the next 200, with continued modernisation and redevelopment. That will allow its animals to thrive, including through the development of a biodiversity campus to champion the needs of nature across sectors and to increase public engagement and learning opportunities, one of which I myself benefited from about 15 years ago when I was a keeper for a day. Once again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East for introducing this Bill, and I urge the Committee’s support.

None Portrait The Chair
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Would the hon. Member for Harrow East like to sum up?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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Thank you, Sir Edward. I also thank the Minister and colleagues on both sides of the Committee for their support. An important point has been raised about whether 150 years is long enough. The most important aspect of what we are considering is that, at the moment, ZSL cannot get the necessary finance to update the zoo and its cages, which were once considered to be suitable for animals, but no longer are. It needs to raise external finance to do that without incurring public debt, which is key. This does not mean that ZSL will have this franchise forever; in future times, a lease could be granted to an alternative organisation. However, it does safeguard the current ZSL lease and ensures that it can raise the necessary capital to improve the site and all the scientific elements that we are keen to ensure we deliver.

I thank all colleagues for coming along and for their contributions. Obviously, as the measure proceeds through Parliament, everyone will know the potential dangers for what is effectively a private Member’s Bill. I caution colleagues that, on Report, amendments are not welcome, because they endanger the chances of getting this on the statute book.

I also thank Matthew Gould. This is one of those lucky experiences: Matthew was a constituent of mine; he went off to become our ambassador, and then he came back to take on the role at London Zoo. When he was considering what to do, he phoned me and asked, “Can you help?” Here we are as a result. I thank Matthew, Vicky and all the London Zoo colleagues for their research passion, assistance throughout the process and determination. After all, we started this process about 18 months ago, and it has taken that length of time to get to this stage, but I am grateful to everyone for getting here.

I thank the Clerks from the Public Bill Office who bore with us all the way through this process, particularly last Wednesday when we had a last-minute scramble to ensure that we resolved the membership of this Committee. After several colleagues announced to me at Wednesday lunchtime that they could not take part, I needed to find others to take their place.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire for his forbearance on the Committee of Selection in ensuring that we held the Committee ahead of the deadline. Anne-Marie Griffiths’ knowledge and patience on these processes have been a great asset to me and my team not only on this Bill but on previous ones. We are grateful for the help with those formalities thus far.

The Minister and her officials have supported the Bill throughout, for which I am exceptionally grateful. Their advice and assistance on drafting it and checking that we had exactly the right wording have been invaluable, and it is great that the Government are supporting this worthy change in the lease, benefiting the zoo and the local area.

Finally, as always with these things, I thank my parliamentary assistant Hattie Shoosmith, who has been very helpful, to put it mildly, in getting everything together. We know as parliamentarians that our staff do a lot of the work behind the scenes, but they never say that in the speeches that they give us to make. I place my thanks to her on record.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill to be reported without amendment.

10:25
Committee rose.

Zoological Society of London (Leases) Bill

Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee
12:19
Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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I call Sir Christopher Chope to move amendment 1.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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Thank you. Consideration is complete. [Interruption.] I understand that King’s consent will need to be signified for Third Reading.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Can we move on to the next business, please?

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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Technically, no—not at this moment.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
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Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. At what point can we make speeches on the Bill?

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Once the Third Reading debate has commenced.

Third Reading

King’s consent signified.

12:20
Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

In answer to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), who had an amendment down on the amendment paper, may I just say that that was the subject of a great deal of discussion and debate between the Ministry, the sponsors and myself?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch for having, in effect, withdrawn his amendment, following various discussions. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) explain why it is important and timely that we ensure the Bill receives its Third Reading today and progresses to the other place?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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Let me explain the situation with the length of lease, which is the point of contention. It was the subject of discussion and debate with the Ministry. The Minister’s original proposal was for a 100-year lease extension, which would not have allowed the Zoological Society of London to get the investment required to lengthen the lease and renovate the site of London zoo. It has literally had its big animals moved up to Whipsnade zoo so that they can roam freely, as we would all like. That means the cages in which they were kept are now redundant and need to be completely removed, with modern facilities provided. As a result, we have agreed the compromise at 150 years.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

For clarity, will my hon. Friend outline when the ZSL’s current lease commenced?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, but I do not have that detail to hand. What is important is that the lease is ongoing and therefore running out. In respect of the Crown Estate’s provision, London zoo was unfortunately left out when we did the extension to Kew gardens, so this Bill seeks to be in keeping with the provision for Kew gardens, as for other parts of the Crown Estate. That is the crucial element.

It has been a privilege to take this Bill—my third private Member’s Bill—through Parliament. Since visiting the zoo in January 2023, I have worked with a range of people to get to this stage, without whom it would not have been possible. The zoo is situated in Regent’s Park and is home to more than 14,000 animals. It is a true London landmark. If colleagues have not visited, I recommend it as an abundantly enjoyable, interesting and captivating day out, with the added bonus of being only a short tube journey from this place. Every year, tourists from London and the wider UK, and indeed from around the globe, visit the zoo, which contributes to the UK’s wider economy, as visitors are more likely to spend money in the surrounding areas, particularly as the zoo is only a stone’s throw from many of London’s cultural hotspots.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson
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My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech on an important topic. That visitor economy is essential to all parts of our country, but it is really important to London. Does he know how many international visitors travel to visit the zoo each year?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I will come to that point in a few moments. The key point is that the zoo contributes £24 million to the local economy, as well as making the income it needs to maintain its research and keeps threatened species safe. Community outreach projects are instrumental in the philosophy of the zoo. On my visit, I was very impressed by the new garden area, where volunteers with complex needs can spend the day gardening and visiting the animals for much-needed respite and wellbeing.

The zoo has also recently implemented a community access scheme to enable those on income support and other benefits to visit for as little as £3. In the recent February half-term, 50,000 visits were facilitated through that scheme. It is essential that everyone, regardless of where they live, has access to nature and outdoor space. I am therefore pleased that ZSL is committed to providing access to those who need the extra help so that no one is left out.

Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew (Broadland) (Con)
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The reputation of the wider zoo sector has come in for a bit of examination in recent decades, and it has been criticised, perhaps correctly, for enclosures that were too small, and concerns were raised that we were starting to look at animals as objects for entertainment, rather than considering the preservation of rare species. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend expanded a little on the steps that this zoo has taken to move away from the outdated approaches of zoological societies in the past and to lead the fight to retain really rare species for reintroduction in the wild.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clearly, the decision has been made to move the larger animals to Whipsnade zoo, which ZSL also runs, so that they have the space they need to roam in and feel more like they are in the wild, while still being protected. That means those facilities at London zoo are now redundant and—this is precisely the reason for the Bill—need to be replaced with modern facilities for other protected species, and so that visitors can see them in suitable accommodation. Those species obviously do not need to roam, but they will be given modern facilities. I encourage other zoos across the country, and indeed across the world, to consider the same thing.

Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew
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My hon. Friend is being very generous with his time. This brings me to the zoo’s built structures. The zoo has been in that location for well over 100 years —perhaps it is 200 years—and some of the structures that I saw when I visited as a child are of considerable architectural merit, and perhaps historic merit. What steps is the zoo taking to ensure that its structures are appropriate for modern usage and that its listed buildings, if there are any, are protected and that the architectural merit of the historical Victorian enclosures is recognised?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Clearly, many of these structures are protected, which is one reason why it is so expensive to bring them up to modern standards while retaining the original architecture. If it were a simple case of demolishing and putting in new facilities, there would be less cost. That is why a very large investment is required, which the zoo cannot raise from its own resources; it has to borrow the money, and as a result it needs a lease that is long enough for investors to know that the revenue will come in from visitors and other attractions and that they will recover their funds. This is why the Bill is so vital for safeguarding London zoo for the future.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
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My hon. Friend will be well aware that ZSL has highlighted that the existing lease conditions are limiting its ability to fundraise, to create partnerships, to expand its support programmes and, of course, to invest in that vital renovation of the physical infrastructure. Can he confirm that this law would not automatically extend the lease to 150 years in and of itself, but would allow the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to offer this lease, so it is not automatic but a step in the right direction to enable that support for the zoo?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. That is what we hope to hear from the Minister later on. Clearly, we are in a position whereby we are making the offer, but we will have to see about that negotiation to ensure that there is suitable protection so that, were such terrible events to occur such that ZSL should no longer have the lease, it would be removed. However, it has operated very successfully on the site for many years, so I do not think that is likely.

Moving on, the educational offerings provide a critical supplement to classroom working for many children. In fact, many of us will have had the opportunity to visit the school as children. The workshops, which are specifically tailored to cater for all age groups and learning needs, educate children on such hugely important topics as wildlife conservation, climate change and the impact of pollution.

The zoo’s research has perhaps benefited animals the most, shaping the future of many previously endangered species. Many animals at risk of extinction have participated in the zoo’s breeding programme to ensure that they are saved for future generations. In 2021-22 alone, £17.4 million was spent on conservation science and field conservation programmes, with £38.5 million spent on conservation, animal care, breeding programmes and conservation translocations. I am pleased that, in the coming months, the zoo will be returning the previously endangered Guam kingfisher back into the wild, and only recently, over the Easter break, three endangered Asiatic lion cubs were born at the zoo to doting parents—seven-year-old mum Arya, and 14-year-old dad Bhanu.

The animals do not recognise working hours, annual leave or bank holidays; they need supervision and care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to ensure that they are fed and cared for whenever needed. That emphasises the need for the dedicated and thorough programme that the zoo operates on. It is profoundly clear that the zoo is an integral part of society, and thus we must protect its heritage and position. I am pleased that we have made it to Third Reading, and I am confident that, hopefully on receiving Royal Assent, the future of the zoo will be much more stable, and a brighter, increasingly attractive opportunity for investment purposes.

Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew
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Looking at the wording of the Bill, there is a question mark over its drafting, and I would be grateful if my hon. Friend could explain it to me. We can see in clause 1 that the Bill is

“in relation to certain land in Regent’s Park”,

with the potential to substitute “150 years” for “60 years”. It is very specific; the potential powers are in relation to certain lands and leases relating to Regent’s Park in London. Yet clause 2(1) states:

“This Act extends to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

Can my hon. Friend clarify that for me? What is the need for the extension to the jurisdictions of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland when the lease is particular to Regent’s Park in London?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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Clearly, we are looking at a lease and leasehold law. That is the reason for clarifying that particular issue in that particular way.

I would like to thank Matthew Gould, the chief executive officer for ZSL. Matthew and I have crossed paths on several occasions prior to his appointments to his previous positions as the Government’s first director general for digital and media at DCMS and as Britain’s ambassador to Israel. Therefore, it feels fitting to have come full circle and to have worked with him on this Bill over the past year. His devotion to the welfare and happiness of the zoo’s animals is steadfast, with a commitment to the research and development of species across the globe and to tackling the world’s challenges, including the current biodiversity crisis.

My next thanks go to Vicky Godwin, senior public affairs officer for the zoo. Vicky has been on hand throughout the progress of the Bill, facilitating the discussions between the Department, my office and ZSL. She has also come in to provide support every step of the way, watching the debates at the Bill’s various stages.

I am very grateful to my colleagues who helpfully sat on the Bill Committee and allowed the Bill to pass unanimously with no amendments. It was super to hear the support for London zoo from so many highly respected Members from both in and outside London. Some—such as a previous employee, my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Sir Bill Wiggin), who was a keeper at London zoo in his distant past—had a more vested interest. My hon. Friend’s personal experiences that he shared in Committee were interesting, to put it mildly.

I also thank the Clerks in the Public Bill Office who bore with us through the process, informing my office on procedure and developments. I particularly thank them for their patience during the mad scramble to ensure that we had enough Members serving on the Committee ahead of the deadline. They often get overlooked in this place, but their work is crucial to ensuring the proceedings of the Chamber run smoothly, and we are all very grateful for all that they do.

The Minister and officials in her Department have supported the Bill throughout, for which I am exceptionally grateful. Their advice and assistance with drafting the Bill have been invaluable—indeed, they redrafted our original draft. It is great that the Government are supporting this worthy change in the lease, which benefits the zoo, the local area and obviously all the potential visitors. I have no doubt that should the Minister, or indeed any other colleague, wish to visit the zoo, they will be greeted with open arms and met with many friendly faces, both human and animal. I also thank my parliamentary assistant, Hattie Shoosmith. As always, when she drafts these speeches, she misses herself out of the thanks, but I put on record my thanks to her.

I will just remind colleagues about some of the endangered species and particular zoo animals that have been protected as a direct result of this Bill coming to fruition. The first is one of my favourite animals, Guy the gorilla. On Guy Fawkes day in 1947, a very small gorilla arrived at London zoo clutching a tin hot water bottle. At first, he would only respond to French, as he had spent the previous six months in the zoo in Paris. Guy became one of the zoo’s best-loved characters —I remember seeing him as a young boy. When sparrows entered his enclosure, he would scoop them up gently and peer at them before letting them go. Tragically, he died of a heart attack after having a tooth extracted in 1978, and his statue is much loved by London zoo’s visitors today.

The second is Goldie the eagle. I remember that in 1965, when I was in primary school, Goldie escaped. We became obsessed with Goldie for almost a fortnight; he appeared on TV and in the press, and was cheered wildly—even when mentioned in this place, in the House of Commons. Some 5,000 people caused traffic jams around Regent’s Park as he flew from tree to tree. After 11 days and 19 and a half hours, he was finally recaptured and brought back to the zoo.

The only quagga to ever have been photographed alive was at London zoo. There are officially five photos of a quagga, providing the only insight into what a living quagga looked like after the species became extinct in 1883. Thousands of quagga once grazed the plains of southern Africa; today, they provide a reminder of the importance of wildlife conservation.

Pipaluk, a male polar bear, was born at London zoo on 1 December 1967. He was the only male polar bear cub successfully reared at the zoo. The name Pipaluk, meaning “little one”, was chosen from a list of Inuit names. Pipaluk’s parents, who had arrived from Moscow zoo in 1960 as young cubs, were called Sam and Sally— they were named after the zoo’s bear keeper, Sam Morton, and his fiancée. Pipaluk left London zoo in 1985 when the Mappin terraces, which housed all the bears, were closed, and very sadly died at the age of 22 in a zoo in Poland.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson
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My hon. Friend is giving us fantastic stories of the remarkable work that London zoo is doing. Does he have any statistics about the number of animals it has been able to protect and return to the wild through its amazing conservation operations?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The reality is that there are 10,000 animals of various species in the zoo. I suspect I would try your patience, Mr Deputy Speaker, were I to list all of them, but I will talk about some of them.

Jumbo the elephant is believed to have been born in 1861. He arrived at the Jardin des Plantes zoo in Paris when he was still very small, and in 1865 he was sent to London zoo. On arrival there, he was in a dreadful condition, but after he was placed in the care of Matthew Scott, a former antelope keeper, Jumbo flourished. He was so famous, he has had a lasting impact on the English language, helping to make “jumbo” a synonym for big. A female African elephant, Alice, arrived a few months after Jumbo, and the two elephants became associated in the public mind. Jumbo was soon trained to give rides and became a great favourite, largely because he had such a good nature. By the early 1880s, he was nearly 11 feet tall. Sadly, Jumbo was killed in a railway accident in Canada in 1885.

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. I do not wish to appear churlish, and the hon. Gentleman will be fully aware that I have a personal interest in these matters, but it would be helpful if he were to relate the catalogue to the reasons for extending the lease.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will take your remark into account.

The reality is that among the well over 10,000 animals at the zoo are many endangered species that could not be preserved were the zoo to cease operating. If we do not extend the lease, the zoo will not continue. Endangered species there include the Annam leaf turtle, the Asiatic lion, the Lake Oku clawed frog, the mountain chicken, the northern white-cheeked gibbon, the Philippine crocodile, the ring-tailed lemur, the Sumatran tiger, of which there are only 400 left in the world, the Waldrapp ibis, various species of gorilla, all of which are endangered, the white-naped mangabey, the Chinese giant salamander, and finally pangolins.

Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I very much hope that the Bill is passed and that by extending the lease we can secure the future of these endangered animals. Were that not to happen, though, what is plan B for the Zoological Society, for the maintenance of its programmes and, indeed, for the future of the animals its staff currently look after?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have not mentioned the immense zoological research done at the zoo by world-famous scientists. For example, Darwin performed research at London zoo; he might not have come up with the theory of evolution without the zoo. Currently, thousands of scientists at the zoo do brilliant work and conduct wonderful research. I recommend that any colleague interested in zoological research visits the zoo and sees some of the work being done there, and I urge them to recognise that were the zoo not to have visitor attractions that bring in revenue, it would cease to exist. If we do not extend the lease, the zoo will continue to run down, it will not have the investment that it requires, and it will be unable to continue its excellent work. Unless we pass the Bill and it becomes law, the zoo will not be able to raise the money that it needs to do all that wonderful work and preserve endangered species across the world, which will unfortunately become extinct. That is the harsh reality, and that is why the Bill is so important.

Let me end by reminding Members of the vital contribution that London zoo and the Zoological Society of London have made to our world over the last 200 years. As I have said, Charles Darwin conducted many of his studies at London zoo, and without it we would not have the theory of evolution.

Another notable character connected with the zoo is Winnie the Pooh. Lieutenant Harry Colebourn was a member of the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps during the great war, and while travelling across Canada to join his regiment and serve in the war, he bought a female black bear cub in White River, Ontario from a hunter who had killed her mother. Colebourn named the bear Winnie after his then home town, the city of Winnipeg, and when his regiment was sent by train to England in 1914, Winnie accompanied him. She became a pet, and an unofficial mascot to the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade during its time on Salisbury plain. Colebourn was not, however, permitted to take her with him when the brigade was deployed to the battlefields of France. He left her in the keeping of London zoo on 9 December 1914, hoping to return after the war to reclaim her.

Colebourn served heroically during the war, rising to the rank of captain. Although he visited his beloved Winnie when he was on leave from France, he ultimately decided that the zoo was the best place for her to live, and in 1919 he donated her permanently in gratitude for her care. Among the children of London who continued to be smitten by Winnie in the coming years was a young boy called Christopher Robin, who repeatedly begged his father, the author A. A. Milne, to take him to the zoo. He would feed Winnie spoonfuls of condensed milk in between big, furry hugs—and from that came the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh. As we know, the late Queen was a great fan of Winnie-the-Pooh as well.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson
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May I ask my hon. Friend whether the zoo has a current royal patron, and if so, who it is?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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The King is, of course, greatly enamoured of both wildlife and London zoo, and I am therefore delighted that he has given King’s consent to the Bill, but the actual royal patron—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant) is chuntering from a sedentary position. I will take an intervention from him if he will be good enough to make one.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
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It is really a sort of point of order. I do not think it appropriate for anyone presenting a piece of legislation to claim the monarch’s support or otherwise. That is not what royal confirmation means.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Obviously we want to ensure that we proceed effectively and properly, and I take his point and will adapt my remarks accordingly.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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In two years’ time it will be the bicentenary of the Zoological Society of London. Are we not being rather churlish in discussing only an extension of the lease? Why do we not let the society have the freehold of London zoo?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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My hon. Friend and I share the view that leasehold should be abolished completely, with freehold the norm and commonhold in flats. However, the zoo is part of the Crown Estate, so this is a matter for the Crown Estate. If the freehold were to be negotiated between the Crown Estate and the society, that too would be a matter for them, but it goes beyond the scope of the Bill.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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The Crown Estate has discretion to provide either an extension or a freehold. The Government are enabling those with long leases to acquire freeholds. Why are the Government not ensuring that the zoo can have the freehold? Why is there one standard for Crown Estate property and another standard for private landlords?

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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Order. The hon. Gentleman was absolutely correct to say that that goes slightly wider than the scope of the Bill under discussion. I take his point, but that is perhaps a matter for another day.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I take your guidance. I agree with my hon. Friend that that could and should be potentially negotiated. That is, of course, a matter for discussion with the Crown Estate. It may well be that, following the general election and a new Parliament, we might consider taking that forward in a future Bill and a future debate, but for today the debate is about the extension of the lease.

James Wild Portrait James Wild (North West Norfolk) (Con)
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I, along with a number of other Members, have been involved with the Society of Antiquaries’ discussions with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities about extending the society’s lease. I am very pleased that it successfully secured a 999-year lease extension. Was a similar length considered when my hon. Friend was putting together the Bill?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. We started with a provision to extend the lease from its current form to 100 years. The investors who were approached by ZSL to consider whether that would allow them to do what is required said, “No, this is not enough. It would take a minimum of 150 years.” So it is fair to say that, in the negotiations between the Department, ZSL and me, we have come to a compromise of an extension to the lease of 150 years. Were the Department and the Crown Estate so minded, we could look at a 999-year lease extension, but that is what the Bill’s sponsors requested and what I am pleased to propose. I hope the House will go along with that proposal and that it can be put into law and come to fruition after the other place has had a look at it. If there is then another suggestion that we go for a much longer lease, that can be the subject of yet another Bill in the new Parliament and we could take that forward, if required. At the moment, it is not required, but as we know 999 years is effectively a freehold.

Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If any one of us are homeowners, we will know that periodic renovations are required to refresh a commercial offering or our own homes. It gives me some cause for concern that the Bill is based on the premise of a single renovation of the offer at Regent’s Park. My hon. Friend suggests that the full 150-year extension is required to secure the current round of investment. Is it not rather shortsighted to bring forward a Bill that solves only today’s problem and is blind to the entirely foreseeable problems that will come in 25, 40 or perhaps 50 years?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. How long a lease extension will be granted for is obviously a matter for debate. The decision on how much funding is required is a matter for the operators who are considering what they want to do and why they want to do it. Clearly, matters may change in the future, but that is what is required to do the work that is required over a lengthy period. I believe that they have made the right assessment. Things can change, in which case that would lead, I think, to another negotiation and another consideration of what else is required. However, a 150-year lease extension allows substantial investment to be made over a number of years, so as matters change, the investment can be called down, utilised and built upon.

I will end my remarks there. I thank everybody for listening and for their interventions. I look forward to hearing colleagues, including the shadow Minister and my hon. Friend the Minister.

13:40
Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con)
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It is a huge pleasure to speak on Third Reading. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on piloting this Bill on a subject that has been a passion of his for some time, and I am hopeful not only that we will give the Bill its Third Reading today, but that it will sail through the other place.

My hon. Friend has set out pretty well the reasons why this matters, but I think it worth adding some points on the strength of London zoo in what it brings to wildlife not just in this country but around the world, and why the extension of the lease matters. I sympathise with concerns about whether we should be looking to change the 1961 Act to allow for a freehold in this situation, but we have to be pragmatic in what we do. My understanding is that the Crown Estate’s standard lease for buildings is 150 years and, as a consequence, that is the sensible conclusion that my hon. Friend has put into the Bill. There is good reason for that, as has already been outlined, in terms of the potential not only to generate funds to undertake redevelopment, but to predict the future income necessary for many of the zoo’s activities.

One thing that right hon. and hon. Members may not be aware of is that several London zoo buildings have had to be closed. Some have been closed in order then to provide better environments. A good example is the reptile house: it closed in October last year, and a brand new reptile experience was opened over the Easter recess. I must admit that, while bearded dragons may be lovely and glamourous, I am not particularly a fan of snakes, but I have overcome the fear that meant I could not even look at a picture of a snake. Nevertheless, the environment and habitat are absolutely key if those animals are to prosper, and the amount of careful work required is not cheap. Other buildings have simply been closed: London zoo has two listed buildings that need to be maintained to a certain standard, and as we know, the cost of doing so seems ever-increasing.

People should not think that London zoo can carry on as it is. In 1992, the ZSL council actually ordered that London zoo be closed because it was losing money. That would have been devastating for this great city of London, and for the ZSL, given the work that it does not just in this country, but around the world. That is why I am pleased that we have made the progress that we have. Ultimately, London zoo has to generate income in order to ensure that it can continue to function and operate.

On redevelopment, certain buildings have been closed simply because they are not necessarily safe either for the animals or for humans, so it is important that new sources of finance go into London zoo to ensure that the environment for animals is the best it can be, and that it can be a visitor attraction. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will explain that the zoo is the 10th most visited attraction in our great capital, but there has of course been significant investment beyond London. When the elephant house was closed down, for example, an appropriate environment was set up at Whipsnade zoo to reaccommodate them. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs hired the Mappin pavilion last year, when I gave a speech on the progress of the 25-year environment plan. Of course, this is done primarily for the animals, but it has to be attractive so that the organisation can thrive and raise funds.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East talked extensively about the research that is carried out. This is a vital part of zoos. It is only just over 30 years ago that this zoo could have closed. For the sake of global diversity, it is essential that we see our zoos thrive—and all the facilities that go with that and, as I said, the underpinning research.

My hon. Friend referred to the programme on Sumatran tigers, one of the most endangered species in the world. Mr Deputy Speaker, I had the great privilege last year of feeding one of those Sumatran tigers. I have to admit that it was somewhat at arm’s length, understandably, and through bars, but it was an amazing experience. We need to recognise that the work that happens in this country supports the work that is being done around the world, and that is why I shall continue to support any zoo. In particular, it is why I have been so keen to support my hon. Friend’s Bill and to make sure that London zoo has an opportunity not only to keep these animals alive and well, but to thrive.

13:40
Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on bringing forward this Bill and on the amazing way that he dealt with so many interventions on a range of technicalities that have pushed not only his knowledge, but the knowledge of all of us in respect of London zoo. We know that zoos have changed very much over the years. They are far from being what they once were: some of us would think they were cruel places where animals were kept in conditions that would now be deemed unacceptable. We have a proud record in this country of zoos and safari parks being places of education, protection, conservation and enjoyment.

The London Zoological Society might be a bit of a trek for many from my constituency of Darlington. I think our nearest zoo is at Flamingo Land, near Pickering, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). This debate is an excellent opportunity to highlight to my constituents who are coming to London for whatever reason that they could add London zoo to the list of places that they want to visit.

I know that much of the work that our zoos do, particularly London zoo, is groundbreaking and vital to conservation. They ensure that the children of the future can see animals such as Nelly the elephant, Bilbo the baboon, Fletchie the flamingo and, indeed, Patronella the pangolin, to observe their beauty and learn more about these amazing creatures, but we must ensure that worries about London zoo’s lease are put to rest.

While preparing for this debate, it has been quite fascinating to learn that London zoo is leading the way in protecting pangolins, which are the most trafficked animal in the world, with one being poached almost every five minutes. London zoo is a leading partner in their protection, restoration and ecosystems and works alongside those living with these beautiful, shy and critically endangered creatures.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The work on pangolins is a great example of the international reach of our precious asset of London zoo. I wonder what the need is for that protection. Why are pangolins so endangered and what is it that we are doing in London and internationally to protect them?

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know very little about pangolins, but what I have read in preparation for this debate would indicate that they are trafficked for their scales and meat in the far east.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When I attended the convention on international trade in endangered species conference back in 2016, pangolins were the big issue. As my hon. Friend rightly says, people assume that their scales are of benefit, but they are also a delicacy. Pangolins are brilliant at protecting themselves against predators by rolling up into a ball. Unfortunately, that makes them the easiest animal to pick up and poach, and that is why the ongoing work is so critical.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her clarification. It is right that we do much in this place to protect animals, including the dogs and cats that we have done so much good work for already this morning by passing the Pet Abduction Bill. Indeed, through a relatively dry Bill about lease reform and the Crown Estate, we can do something that helps conservation around the world. We must help to ensure that London zoo can continue its good work by amending the Crown Estate Act 1961 and increase the society’s lease on that land to 150 years. Then anxieties about its tenure can go away, and the society can continue to be a place of enjoyment, leading the way in all it does. I am pleased to support the Bill.

13:06
Danny Kruger Portrait Danny Kruger (Devizes) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on the progress made on the Bill, which has all our support. Of course we should extend the lease. To echo the point that has been made about London zoo, it is 200 years old—the oldest zoo in the world. It had humble beginnings, I am sure, as a sort of entertainment for the public, and it has become an incredibly important conservation charity of great global importance. While my hon. Friend was speaking, I thought of how, as barbarism took over the world, learning and culture retreated into the medieval monasteries. It is almost as if the endangered species of the world have been saved by some of these zoological institutions, and are then able to return. It was interested to hear about the species that have been saved or preserved—kingfishers, tigers, the quagga. Well, I am sorry to hear that the zoo did not in fact help to save the quagga, but at least it has some photographs of it, which is encouraging. I did not know about the mountain chicken, and I had no idea of the story of Winnie the Pooh. I am only sorry that Winnie did not stay on Salisbury plain, which is part of my constituency, where we would have given him or her a happy life. It is a very good thing that Winnie ended up in London zoo, and we can all be very proud of that.

I commend the Bill. The zoo is an historic institution, which is one of the reasons we should be so proud of it, and it has a very bright future. I was encouraged to hear from my hon. Friend about the plans for the zoo. I was not aware that Matthew Gould had taken over as chief executive. I knew him slightly when I was a civil servant at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and he was in charge of the nation’s digital policy. It is amazing how people move around in our elite. Why should he not be running the zoo? He is obviously doing a great job, and I commend the plans for it that I hear about, and the skills that he brings from his background. I am interested and inspired by what I hear about the modernisation of the zoo; it is looking forward, and using digital skills and immersive technology to give visitors an enhanced experience that gets them closer to the reality of the natural habitat that these animals come from, and to which we hope that they or their descendants will be able to return.

What I hear is encouraging. I totally agree with my hon. Friend’s argument that to raise the capital that is needed for long-term investment on the site, the investors who finance that work will need certainty that the zoo will be around long enough. This change is the right thing to do, and I echo the point that it would be nice if the zoo was there in perpetuity with a freehold. I commend the Bill. I am pleased that Members across the House support it, and I will be happy to do so myself.

13:09
Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger). He gave an excellent speech, and I must say that there is a certain air of a Victorian zookeeper about him today. It is a pleasure to speak in favour of the Bill, which I support. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on bringing it forward; it is the right thing to do. This is a very small piece of legislation—a tiny blip on the legislative agenda, only a few lines long—but it is important that we amend the Crown Estate Act 1961 to increase the maximum term of lease.

As we have heard, the change we are making does not automatically grant ZSL a lease of 150 years, but crucially—I am looking at the Minister—it allows the Department to offer this length of lease in the future. This is important for so many reasons, as was capably covered by the previous speaker. It is a UK institution, but also a groundbreaker internationally as the world’s first scientific zoo. The Zoological Society of London is an international conservation charity that saves animals that are on the brink of extinction, protects species and restores ecosystems. It is also much more than that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East described. The tourism that ZSL London zoo brings to the UK is phenomenal; it provides £24 million to our economy every year, and that is just its specific impact on tourism; there is its wider tourism pull, as one of many institutions in London that tourists come to.

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend’s constituency in Milton Keynes is far closer and much better connected to London than mine. I wonder if he knows how many of his constituents visit London zoo, and whether schools in Milton Keynes North engage with the zoo to learn about its conservation work.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is a fantastic intervention. The short answer is no, so there is a huge opportunity for me to investigate whether schools in Milton Keynes North have taken the chance to visit ZSL London zoo. The educational benefits would be superb. On my hon. Friend’s point about connectivity and getting to the zoo from his constituency and mine, I can only assume that he has not tried Avanti trains recently. On occasion, I am not sure that the journey from Darlington would be much slower than the journey from Milton Keynes.

London zoo is one of the many attractions—educational, leisure or otherwise—in London, but it can be proud of its position as the 10th most popular tourist attraction in London. The zoo is about more than just education and tourism. A core function of its output is conservation, and it has global reach. It has conservation activities in over 70 countries worldwide. We have seen the reintroduction of many species. All that work is born out of the premises that we seek to support through this lease extension.

On species reintroduction, I think in particular of the reintroduction of the partula snail. On conservation breeding programmes, I think obviously of the northern bald ibis, a species that has not been mentioned yet, and the fen raft spider. The conservation breeding programme occurred partly due to the reintroduction of the partula snail. The work done with conservationists in other countries has meant a huge increase in support for wider reintroduction programmes, such as for griffon vultures, hihi birds and amur tigers.

We have already heard about Goldie the eagle and the story behind Winnie the Pooh, Jumbo the elephant—it was news to me that he added the word “jumbo” to our vocabulary—and Guy the gorilla. I was amused to hear that Guy the gorilla only understood French, and that there is now a statue—

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will give way on foreign gorillas.

Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is obviously a matter of deep concern for the House that Guy the gorilla spoke only French. I meant to intervene on my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) to ask whether Guy, at the end of his life, was bilingual.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We will never know, but perhaps a clue can be found in whether the statue of Guy the gorilla is wearing a beret.

This change to section 7 of the Crown Estate Act 1961—this small tweak to the lease length—will allow London zoo to operate in a much more future-proofed way. It has ambitions to create the world’s first campus for nature. It wants to reimagine the zoo as a series of natural landscapes and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East mentioned, it wants to make the zoo truly accessible for all. That goes to the heart of what we are doing: we want to share the benefits with everybody for generations.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way on that issue. One of the grounds for giving ZSL planning permission for further work is that it would make available facilities for people with special needs, and children from the local area, who could use both the garden area and other zoo premises at a reduced price. As I mentioned, allowing local people with special needs to come in for £3 is a great contribution to allowing community access. As we pursue these changes, it is vital that community access continues.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for that intervention, which leads me to my winding-up remarks—[Interruption.] I can carry on if the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant) wishes me to. The zoo is a jewel in the crown of not just London tourism, but conservation generally. If we succeed in this attempt to allow it to extend its lease and bring in finance to secure its physical assets—the site—and its conservation and education work, done here in London and across the world, that will be of benefit to generations to come.

13:18
James Wild Portrait James Wild (North West Norfolk) (Con)
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I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on bringing the Bill to this stage. Hopefully it will pass today and make its way through to become law. It is yet another private Member’s Bill that he has successfully shepherded through the House; I will have to get some tips from him on how to follow his lead and come higher in the ballot.

I recognise the important role that the Zoological Society of London plays as an international conservation charity. It restores wildlife in the UK and around the world, saves animals threatened with extinction, protects species and ecosystems, and conducts a lot of research internationally with partners. It also plays a fundamental role in inspiring the next generation of conservationists, which is obviously key.

We are here to talk about the impact that the Bill could have on the zoo, and that brings us to the animals. In January, the annual stocktake took place at London zoo, which is no mean feat, given that it is home to over 300 different species, from the endangered Galapagos giant tortoises—we heard about tortoises in an earlier debate—and Asiatic lions, to critically endangered Chinese giant salamanders and Sumatran tigers. It is very good news that three Asiatic lion cubs were born only a few weeks ago. That is a major boost to conservation, given that there are only around 600 to 700 such lions living in the wild. People will be reassured that the annual stocktake, which involves checking how many animals there are and that they are still in the zoo, is part of the licence requirements to which the zoo is subject in order to ensure public protection.

The kernel of this Bill is about safeguarding the future of ZSL and its important work. The society has been very clear about the effect of the current lease’s limitations, particularly on its ability to fundraise and create new partnerships that will enable it to enhance its work, including the support programmes that are available and the great community programmes that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East talked about, such as discretionary access and cheaper tickets for local people to come to the zoo and see what is on offer. The benefits that a longer lease would offer have also been set out by the society. As we consider extending the lease, it is obviously important that we capture those benefits and then hold the society to account on delivering them, should it be granted the lease.

At its core, it is about having the world’s first campus for nature, with a centre of research and innovation that is dedicated to protecting biodiversity and strengthening nature, but it is also about enhancing technology. I came across Matthew Gould when he was head of NHSX, where he did a lot of work in developing apps and technology in the NHS. Bringing that knowledge and insight to the zoo in order to have more immersive experiences would be highly commendable.

The zoo is also looking at accessibility. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East talked about the offers to local communities, but this is a world institution. It is one of the most visited attractions in the country, and I want my constituents in North West Norfolk, including children and people with special needs, to be able to benefit from such offers. There are obviously travel costs involved, but coming to see such a great facility is invaluable for them.

As it happens, my first date with my wife was at London zoo.

James Wild Portrait James Wild
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Check out my surname. We had a lovely time, and obviously it paid off. My wife and I were at the zoo a few weeks ago with one of her friends and her young twins, and its ability to inspire is incredible. I watched those two little girls run off to look at the animals, and it was great. When my wife and I went on our first date, which was some time ago, we were a bit concerned about the state of the facilities. Some of the cages had signs to assure visitors that the animals were not in distress, even though they may have been pacing backwards and forwards. There was an urgent need for modernisation, and when I went back a few weeks ago I noted that some of the enclosures had been improved. I am thinking in particular of the penguin area, which is now a great facility and one of my favourite parts of the zoo.

A few Members have spoken about Guy the gorilla. I understand that his tooth decay was caused by him being fed sweets by people visiting the zoo, so it is very important that only zookeepers should feed the animals. It is important to get that on the record.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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Gorillas are herbivores, so they should only be fed by keepers, as my hon. Friend rightly says. They should certainly not be fed sweets. Does he realise that gorillas share 98.4% of their DNA with human beings? They are very close to human beings. Just as tooth decay in humans is concerning, particularly among young children who eat sweets, the same thing applies to gorillas.

James Wild Portrait James Wild
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My hon. Friend makes a very interesting observation.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant
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I bet Guy could get a dentist!

James Wild Portrait James Wild
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From a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman mentions dentistry. I could talk about the need for more dentists and dental vans in North West Norfolk, but that would obviously be beyond the scope of this debate—I will not encourage you to stand up to make me be quiet, Mr Deputy Speaker.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) has pointed out, this is an enabling power; there is no guarantee of an extension, with that coming back to the plans put forward by the ZSL to convince people that it is deserving of this extension. It will be held to account and so it will be able to go off to raise the funds to enhance this world-class facility.

To conclude, having opened in 1826, the zoo will soon be celebrating 200 years. This important Bill will help to ensure that it continues to play the crucial role it has had since then in protecting animals by providing better enclosures and better facilities for them, and ensuring that vital research continues, while remaining a leading visitor attraction where people can come to learn more about our wonderful world.

13:25
Julia Lopez Portrait The Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries (Julia Lopez)
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for introducing this Bill on the ZSL and the maximum lease term that may be granted to it, which has now reached its concluding stages in the Commons. I also wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) for casting his beady, expert eye over the Bill and for not moving his amendment, which led to a degree of shock and perhaps even gentle chaos. That should be seen as a tribute to his fearsome reputation for ruthless and relentless scrutiny. I would like to see that mantle of scrutiny taken up by my hon. Friends the Members for Devizes (Danny Kruger), for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew), for North West Norfolk (James Wild), for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) and for Darlington (Peter Gibson), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey). It was good to hear her particular expertise, as a former Environment Secretary. I thank them for their scrutiny of the Bill.

James Wild Portrait James Wild
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The amendment from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) was about differentiating between residential areas within the zoo and other properties. Obviously, some discussions have taken place that I was not privy to, so I would be grateful if the Minister elaborated on what residential properties there are within the zoo and whether they are purely there for the zookeepers. Obviously, there is no working time directive for animals, as I believe one of my colleagues said, so there is a case to be made in that regard, but it would be good to understand a little more about the footprint of the residential areas.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I will come on to that later in my speech. I understand that we are talking about three properties, but I will probably contradict myself later.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is the Government’s sponsor of this Bill and our interest lies in the location of London zoo, in Regent’s Park, where the proposed extension of the maximum lease term grantable will be enacted. Regent’s Park is under the management of the Royal Parks charity, which is sponsored by my Department. Ultimately, the eight royal parks are owned by the Crown, with responsibility for them resting with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I take an interest also as a London Member of Parliament, as the Tourism Minister—my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East mentioned that the zoo is an important part of the visitor economy, both locally and nationally—and as I have two young children who would benefit from visiting this tremendous attraction.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt
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We have recognised the importance of London zoo as a tourist attraction in its own right, but what are the Minister’s thoughts about its fit with the wider tourist ecosystem within London and within the UK?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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This debate has proved that simply by talking about London zoo we can learn about all the other animal-based visitor attractions across the country, including Flamingo Land near Darlington.

The Bill proposes a small amendment to the Crown Estate Act 1961 to extend the maximum lease grantable to the ZSL from 60 years to 150 years. Although the lease was most recently renewed in 2021 by the current maximum term of 60 years, as any well-managed and forward-thinking organisation should do, the ZSL wished further to extend the maximum lease term, in order to secure longer-term investment and to continue to develop the historic site at Regent’s Park.

James Wild Portrait James Wild
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In an earlier intervention, I talked about the campaign that a number of colleagues were involved in on Burlington House, where a lot of expert societies are based. The freehold for that is the responsibility of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. We finally got agreement from the relevant Minister there to extend the lease to 999 years. I would be interested in any reflections that this Minister has on the comparison between that length of time and the 150 years proposed in the Bill.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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My understanding, which I have gained during the course of this debate, is that the 150-year lease is specific to the Crown Estate. I imagine that is for all sorts of historical reasons, but I am happy to go into those by writing to my hon. Friend.

The Government view the extension of the maximum lease term grantable to be a relatively uncontroversial change that will positively impact the organisation, allowing it to build its resilience, develop strategic philanthropic relationships, and increase the scope of potential commercial partnerships that will ensure its continued growth. It is also important to note that establishing the mechanism for a longer lease term will bring the Zoological Society of London into line with similar organisations that hold leases on Crown Estate land, including the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. The maximum allowable lease for the Royal Botanic Gardens in respect of land in Kew gardens was extended from 31 years to 150 years following the introduction of a Bill in 2019.

Granting a maximum lease term of 150 years to the Zoological Society of London will significantly and positively impact the organisation’s aims. For example, the society is at the forefront of efforts to reverse biodiversity loss, which is one of the biggest challenges of our time. A longer lease will allow for the creation of the world’s first campus for nature, a trans-disciplinary centre of research and innovation dedicated to the protection of biodiversity and strengthening nature. It will also help to reimagine the zoo’s landscape, providing ecosystem-driven spaces designed with an understanding of how each animal now thrives, and providing the assurance that our most at-risk species will be cared for and protected well into the future.

Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew
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We talk a lot in this House and in Committees—I sit on the Environmental Audit Committee—about the challenges of biodiversity net loss across the world, as well as in this nation. About 70% of biodiversity has been lost since I was born in 1970, but a lot of that is driven by climate change. Would the Minister be able to expand a little on the zoo’s plans to deal with climate change in its educational programmes, while also dealing with it in its programmes to protect the long-term future of those species?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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My understanding is that part of the zoo’s offer in relation to this lease extension is that it will deepen its partnerships and relationships with some of the nearby institutions, including local universities and other scientific institutions. I imagine that that shared learning will help to advance our understanding of climate change and its impact on biodiversity. I should also note that this Government, through the Environment Act 2021, brought in the concept of biodiversity net gain, with the impact of construction on wildlife offset by commitments from developers to enhance our local environments.

The Zoological Society of London’s future aims are befitting of an organisation of its high calibre. The society will extend and contribute to London’s knowledge quarter, which I have just referred to: an established landscape of world-leading science and research institutions that spans from Camden Town to Holborn and Covent Garden. The Zoological Society of London has always worked closely with its neighbours—other world-class institutions including University College London and the Royal Veterinary College. The society wishes to deepen those connections to form a network of learning, knowledge sharing, and scientific exploration and practice. We are confident that the society has the ambition, expertise, place and drive to realise the opportunities ahead and bring this amazing, special campus to life.

As conservation zoos, both London zoo and its sister site at Whipsnade care for more extinct-in-the-wild species than any other zoo in the UK. London zoo is part of vital breeding programmes for more than 100 endangered species, from the Socorro dove to the Sumatran tiger. Limiting the maximum grantable lease term to 60 years would curtail the magnitude of the zoo’s impact. As we have heard today, London zoo’s animals have inspired a lifelong love of animals in its visitors for over two centuries. Some notable names include Winnie, an American black bear deposited at the zoo in 1914 at the start of the first world war. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has set out, she was visited by A. A. Milne and his son Christopher, and to this day lives on in the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin. As we have heard, there is also Guy the gorilla, spoken of lyrically by my hon. Friend.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt
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Throughout the course of this debate, we have consistently referred to him as “Guy” the gorilla. However, he spoke French, so surely it should be pronounced “Ghee”.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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That surely has to be one of the best interventions on record. I apologise, but I must correct the record: I should have pronounced Guy the gorilla lyrically, like my hon. Friend.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant
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That is going in Hansard.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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That is true. As we have heard, Guy the gorilla would at first respond only to French, having spent the six months preceding his arrival in a Parisian zoo. His statue remains much loved by the zoo’s visitors. We have heard about Goldie the eagle, but I add to this collection my admiration for Ricky the rockhopper penguin, whom I met when I was keeper for the day. I now find myself heading to google the quagga, which I had not heard of before. The touching account of the life of Jumbo the elephant brought a solitary tear to my eye. That was quickly wiped away by the tales from my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk of how the wild animals of London zoo lit inside his heart his inner wild animal.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport recognises the immense value that the Zoological Society of London has within London and the nation at large and wishes to support all initiatives to ensure it has a strong future. Throughout its 195-year history, London zoo has solidified its reputation as an important and unique part of our capital’s heritage, culture and tourism offer. It is the capital’s 10th most-visited attraction and contributes more than £24 million annually to the local economy and more than £54 million to the national economy. It is also the world’s oldest scientific zoo, operating since 1828, and a world-leading force in wildlife conservation and biodiversity.

Charles Darwin, with his significant contributions to our understanding of science, became a fellow of the Zoological Society of London in 1839. During his time at London zoo, he studied the behaviour of animals and developed his revolutionary theories. Today, Darwin’s history is safeguarded in London zoo’s library, and the zoo also safeguards the pangolin, on which there has been extensive debate. The issue is close to my heart, as my niece and nephew held a successful pangolin bake sale when they were most in the news. They are, as we have discussed, the world’s most trafficked animal. Just to clarify for Members, that is because of their value as bush meat and as a delicacy, and their scales are used in traditional medicine and their skins are used for boots and belts.

James Wild Portrait James Wild
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My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. The chief executive of the Zoological Society of London has said how the Bill will secure the future of ZSL and London zoo, ensuring that they continue to inspire and educate millions, to do world-leading science and conservation, and to keep strong an important and much-loved institution. Does she have a sense of the scale of the investment that extending the lease will unlock in terms of the modernisation and improvements that will come from the world-class research facility that will be created through the Bill?

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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As we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, the Bill will unlock substantial investment in the site. It will lead to the renovation of historic listed buildings, but also the creation of new, more appropriate habitats, now that we understand more about the animals that they contain. I firmly believe that the zoo is a historical asset worth championing and protecting for future generations. From its beginning, many leading architects have contributed to the zoo’s built environment. The collection of buildings includes two grade I and eight grade II and grade II* listed structures. The grade I listed penguin enclosure designed in the international modernist style by Berthold Lubetkin and constructed in 1934 is described by Historic England as:

“A key symbol of British (and International) Modern Movement architecture”.

Advances in our understanding of animal welfare have shown that many of the current structures within the zoo’s premises are simply no longer suitable for their intended purposes. Although the zoo has achieved many firsts—including the first reptile house, public aquarium, insect house and children’s zoo—work is ongoing to reimagine those spaces in innovative and sustainable ways.

Throughout, the Zoological Society of London’s efforts will ensure its central aims of conservation and care for endangered species remain at the core. The work of the society and the zoo supports the environmental principles outlined in the Environment Act 2021. The continuing existence of the zoo will preserve wildlife and other natural assets within its built environment and champion measures to reduce biodiversity loss. It is also important to note that the extension of the lease does not equate to extension of land occupied, and the remainder of Regent’s Park will be unaffected by the change.

There is reason to question our support of this Bill in respect of the impact on the public purse. I take this chance to confirm that neither the Zoological Society of London nor London zoo specifically receives any grant in aid from the Government. While the society is the recipient of research grants from Research England, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for international and domestic conservation work, those are applied for through official programmes. There would therefore be no significant impact on Government funding or accrual of public debt if the organisation’s maximum lease term were to be extended.

As a charity, the Zoological Society of London raises the vast majority of its income from its members and visitors to its conservation zoos, including London zoo. Additional field projects, including its community access initiative and rhino bond scheme, are funded through partnerships with funders across the globe. Looking forward, in 2028 London Zoo will celebrate 200 years since its opening, and I am sure I am not alone in wishing it success in the next 200 years. Continued modernisation and redevelopment will allow its animals to thrive, including through the development of the biodiversity campus to champion the needs of nature across sectors and to increase public engagement and learning opportunities.

In addition to benefiting its animals, research and scientific aims, an extension of the Zoological Society of London’s lease for London zoo will provide essential opportunities to access nature, respite and wellbeing for people of all ages and every background. In the February half-term last year, London zoo’s community access scheme enabled over 50,000 people on low-income and other benefits to access the zoo for only £3. Accessibility is a core aim of the zoo, which also runs audio-described tours, sign-language tours and early opening mornings aimed at autistic and neurodiverse visitors.

Over 80,000 school students visit the zoo each year, learning about wildlife conservation and the effects of climate change and plastics pollution. Protecting the future of this organisation through the extension of the maximum lease term makes sure that it will continue to educate and inspire the next generation. The Government are committed to supporting the Zoological Society of London’s ambitions to improve and invest to secure its continued role as a leader in the field. Extending the lease term is part of that much-needed support. We are sure that the Bill will offer the necessary support and protection to the Zoological Society of London and London zoo. I am very pleased to affirm our support for the Bill, and once again I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East for bringing it to the House.

13:41
Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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With the leave of the House, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for her contribution today and her support throughout the progress of the Bill, and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant), for his very brief expression of support for the Bill. It is great to pass the Bill on a cross-party footing in this House, which sends a signal to the other place that it has cross-party support.

I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends for the interventions that tested my knowledge of the position and for their contributions to the debate. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) who, when she was Environment Secretary, was heavily involved in the construction of the Bill and gave it her blessing.

I must also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), who managed to propose an amendment to reduce the lease and then, during his speech, argue in favour of extending the lease. I know we often take contradictory positions in debate, and he managed to do that today. I am grateful to him for not pressing his amendment and so allowing us to move on to Third Reading.

I draw the House’s attention to one of the problems raised during the debate: that because of its inefficient buildings, London zoo’s energy costs rose from £1.4 million in 2021-22 to £3.7 million the following year. The fact is that these old buildings house many endangered species that need consistently high temperatures. Tigers cannot put a jumper on or fill a hot water bottle; they have to be provided with the heating appropriate to their species.

I thank Matthew Gould and his team for inviting me to take the Bill through its Commons stages. I reiterate my thanks to the Public Bill Office for its help, support and guidance during the Bill’s progress, to my office and to my parliamentary assistant, Hattie Shoosmith, for her help in formulating my speeches. I also thank the Members who served on the Bill Committee: my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar), my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal, my hon. Friends the Members for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), and for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson), the Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez), the hon. Members for Warrington North (Charlotte Nichols) and for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir John Whittingdale), my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Sir Bill Wiggin) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Sir Jeremy Wright).

All those Members gave their support, and although we were not able to have a full Second Reading debate, I think we have tested the Bill both in Committee and, very thoroughly, on Third Reading. I hope that it will now be passed without dissent, and that we can wish it Godspeed through the other place. No doubt their lordships will look at the Hansard report of our deliberations and allow it to proceed so that we can safeguard London zoo for the enjoyment of people long after we have all left this Earth. We all welcome its conservation work and scientific research, and, of course, the joy that people gain from visiting it to see endangered species and species that they would never see otherwise except on their television screens, and we all want to preserve that. We wish the Bill well, we wish London zoo well with its work, and I trust that we can ensure that the lease is extended as we wish it to be.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Zoological Society of London (Leases) Bill

First Reading
15:24
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Second Reading
12:06
Moved by
Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to bring forward to your Lordships’ House this simple but very important Bill, which was admirably steered through the other place by my honourable friend Bob Blackman, an exemplary constituency MP and a champion of ZSL. I declare some entries in the register, of conservation charities that I am a trustee of and in particular that I am a vice-president of Fauna and Flora International.

In his speech, my honourable friend Bob Blackman paid fulsome praise to Matthew Gould and Victoria Godwin of ZSL for their briefing and encouragement. I echo that praise and praise all those staff—those working in research, those in the zoological gardens and so on—for all the hard work they do. I pay tribute to Matthew Gould’s predecessor, Dominic Jermey, who was on this a long time ago and would, I am sure, be delighted to see what is happening today.

This Bill is a simple Bill, which is rather apt because I am a rather simple person. It is asking for an equally simple change to the Crown Estate Act 1961: it asks for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which grants the lease, to be given the power to offer a lease of up to 150 years, as ZSL is currently limited to 60 years. This would bring the lease arrangement into line with other leases of Crown Estate law governed by the 1961 Act, as well as the Crown Estate leases for equivalent organisations such as the very well renowned and famous Kew Gardens.

So why is this needed? It is because it will give certainty of length of time, so that the Zoological Society of London can create a lot of good things. It can create the world’s first campus for nature. With that certainty, it can do a lot more on research innovations and do lots of stuff in the zoo, including making natural landscapes and giving truly accessible opportunities. I think that we all would welcome that. A longer lease will allow ZSL to modernise London Zoo, increasing visitor numbers and hence income for the charity, which is the income that is then put back into conservation and scientific research.

Noble Lords will be pleased to know that I do not have enough time to talk in detail about the incredible work ZSL has done on conservation, both at home and abroad, ranging in the UK from working on hedgehogs with HogWatch, to TB in badgers. I well remember chairing a debate at ZSL on TB in badgers, which was more difficult to chair than any Brexit debate, to be perfectly honest. However, I got through relatively unscathed. ZSL has also been working on oysters in the UK, and lots of other projects both here and of course around the world. It is recognised as being at the forefront of all that.

My first ambition when I was a very small boy—it seems a long time ago—was to be a zookeeper. I got close to that only when I became government Deputy Chief Whip, keeping control of wild creatures—and sometimes cleaning up after them. I have enjoyed visiting the zoo for I think over 60 years, and it has marked many parts of my life. I remember when I was younger seeing the famous Guy the gorilla and Chi-Chi the giant panda, who rejected the amorous advances of the Russian An-An. Those of a certain age may remember that; we had high hopes, but it was not to be. There was also Josephine the great hornbill, which was a very long-lived bird.

Latterly, I remember as a student playing football in Regent’s Park and hearing the lions roar and the elephants walking in the distance while I was fouling Opposition Members—no, obviously, that would be wrong; I mean opposition players. Then, most memorably, when I was government Deputy Chief Whip, we organised a Whips’ outing to ZSL and my Chief Whip, now the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, entered the Komodo dragon enclosure. They gave each other a look of equal awe, both being animals of great distinction.

This has given me over my life a fascination and an admiration for wildlife. I have been lucky enough to travel quite extensively around the world and see a lot of these creatures in their natural habitat, and I have seen the conservation work going on. However, it was that initial visit to the zoo, where I could see the animals at close hand and smell them, which gave me this lifelong passion for wildlife and conservation. I have had some of the happiest moments in my life at both London Zoo and Whipsnade. I therefore hope we will have mutual agreement, and I beg to move.

12:13
Baroness Featherstone Portrait Baroness Featherstone (LD)
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My Lords, if I was investing significant amounts of money in improving the structures of the zoo, I would want a very long lease in order to do that. Extending it up to 150 years will make possible the provision of modern facilities for the zoo’s residents. Obviously, there are issues about keeping animals in captivity in the middle of a city, but the benefits far outweigh the detriment, and these days animal care is superb. I suspect that the animals are treated better than many humans in our capital city—but that is for another debate.

Like many Londoners, I have visited London Zoo on countless occasions. I became a member when I first became a parent. When I was being driven mad and was at the end of my tether, I would shove—or rather put—my daughter into her pushchair and go to the zoo. It was an endless source of entertainment and interest but was also educational and magical. Our favourites were the nocturnal house and the small monkeys. I can remember on one occasion taking my daughter up to the glass. This beautiful tiny golden lion tamarin monkey put his or her hand up to my daughter’s hand and they were looking at each other and communicating. It was just such a particularly tender moment; the wonder of that stayed with us for ever.

The noble Lord mentioned Bob Blackman, whose Private Member’s Bill this is. He talked of Guy the gorilla when he introduced the Bill to the House. I remember seeing Guy for the first time when I was young. He was so huge but so human, and I had never really seen that before.

Reading through the debate on the Bill in the other place and the memories and the stories that were told, it is clear how central London Zoo has been to many generations. I did not know that Charles Darwin had conducted many of his studies at the zoo. How many of us have stood and stared at the snakes in the reptile house—since Harry Potter, anyway—half fascinated and half scared, and half expecting them to talk to us in Parseltongue?

We all have London Zoo stories to tell because it is part of our history and our future. I used to worry about the larger animals having enough space and an environment conducive to their well-being, but the larger animals have now gone to Whipsnade. There are so many important issues that London Zoo tackles. Thanks to the breeding programme, animals facing extinction are now safe for the future. Conservation programmes, animal care and breeding programmes all contribute to a vital and living entity—one where all our children can learn about, experience and enjoy seeing animals such as birds, fish and reptiles, whose variety in size and colour is awesome.

The zoo provides valuable educational opportunities for visitors of all ages to learn and experience wildlife, biodiversity and conservation. Through exhibits, educational programmes and interactive experiences the zoo raises awareness of protecting endangered species and their habitats.

The zoo is actively engaged and involved in conservation efforts, including captive breeding programmes, species reintroduction initiatives, and funding research projects. By maintaining genetically diverse populations of endangered species and supporting field conservation projects, the zoo contributes to global biodiversity conservation. The zoo also provides researchers with opportunities to study animal behaviour, physiology and health in controlled environments. These studies yield valuable insights into wildlife biology and inform conservation strategies both in captivity and in the wild.

On species preservation, the zoo houses species that are rare or endangered in the wild, serving as a safety net against extinction. Through captive breeding programmes, the zoo can help bolster populations of threatened species and provide individuals for reintroduction to their native habitats.

On public engagement, London Zoo offers the opportunity for the public to connect with animals in a way that fosters empathy, appreciation and respect for wildlife. By providing close-up encounters and immersive experiences, the zoo can inspire visitors to take action to protect animals and their habitats, and to be aware of such matters throughout their lives.

On animal welfare, London Zoo prioritises the well-being of its animals through enrichment programmes, veterinary care and habitat enhancements.

It is now time to upgrade the facilities and modernise, but it will be expensive. Some structures have historic value and therefore have to be retained but revamped, which is more expensive than simple demolition and reconstruction. Building or renovating part of the zoo also involves long-term planning and investment strategies which are aimed at achieving sustainable growth and financial viability over time. There is the initial investment in building any new part of a zoo, and the costs can be, as I said, substantial, including the expense associated with construction, infrastructure, landscaping and animal habitats. The length of time it takes to recoup initial investment costs will depend on the magnitude of the investment and on the zoo’s ability to generate revenue from new structures.

By lengthening the lease, the Bill makes the project viable for the zoo and for investors and provides the time to recover the outlay. It is important that today, we ensure the future of the zoo and the future well-being of the animals in its care. We on these Benches therefore support the extension of the lease on London Zoo and wish it every success going forward.

12:19
Lord Evans of Weardale Portrait Lord Evans of Weardale (CB)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, and I will echo a number of her comments and remarks.

The Zoological Society of London is a tremendous national asset. It provides knowledge and research in areas of zoology through its institute, and the Bill is extraordinary timely today. I have been struck by the way in which companies are now increasingly expected to report on their contribution to nature, as well as to climate sustainability, anti-slavery and such other really important factors. How can they do that unless they have proper understanding? That understanding of the scientific background to our wildlife is what the Zoological Society of London can contribute. It is important work, uniquely focused on by this institution, which is also, as has been said, actively involved in conservation. This is not just academic research but an active contribution to conservation in this country and internationally. It is a vital part of our educational infrastructure.

My daughter teaches at a school quite close to London Zoo itself, where many of the children come from a deprived background and have very limited horizons. The access that the zoo provides for those children is vital in exciting them and providing them with a wider aperture to have visibility on the world, helping their education. For inner-city children, that is so important, and something that the zoo does wonderfully.

In the same way, in recent years there has been much greater access. If you go to the zoo as a tourist, it is pretty expensive. If you are a claimant of benefits, you can access it much more cheaply. That is right, and it has greatly extended access to this tremendous location, which is very much to be welcomed. Of course, there is an economic contribution from all this. London Zoo itself and Whipsnade are great tourist attractions, and alongside their contribution to knowledge and education there is an economic benefit.

For all of this, ZSL is not a rich organisation. Unlike many of the museums, ZSL does not receive a grant in aid from the Government. We provide a grant in aid for dead animals but not for live ones, and that is challenging for an organisation that has the sort of infrastructure we see at ZSL. If you visit, it is a marvellous sight. The animals are tremendous, but it is very clear that there needs to be better investment to bring it up to date and to get the full benefit from its location and the knowledge that is there. You cannot do that unless you have a long-term horizon; this is not something that will be done quickly or cheaply. We need to provide the wherewithal and opportunity for ZSL to invest for the long term, to get the opportunities that it offers more widely and to be sustainable.

That is what this Bill does. I heartily support it and am delighted that it has come through the Commons unscathed. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said, this is a simple Bill but it is an important one. I very much hope that we can pass it unscathed.

12:22
Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale. I completely endorse the argument that he made so well about the need for a long-term horizon for the zoo and for it be given the wherewithal to fulfil that vision. I thank my noble friend Lord Randall for his clear exposition of the zoo’s role as a national institution and the love held for it by a great many in this country.

For my own part, I have a huge amount of love for the zoo. I must declare my own interests in this matter: like the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, I am a member of the zoo—with my four horrible school-age children. We go there very frequently. I have had the privilege and excitement of visiting Tiger Territory, with the chief executive, Matthew Gould, to see the Sumatran tigers, Asim, Gaysha and their two lovely cubs, Zac and the improbably named Crispin. That experience absolutely lifted the spirits of us all, particularly my horrible children. It engaged them very much, and we have been very frequent visitors to that much-loved national asset.

My interest in this debate, and the case that I want to make for passing this very important, short but necessary Bill, comes from my experience as a Minister in the Department of Health during the pandemic. The importance of zoonotic knowledge was reinforced very clearly to me when we were trying to understand where the hell this horrible virus had come from. All of a sudden, having people to hand who knew about the habits of pangolins and fruit bats became a matter of incredibly important national security and policy-making. I am pleased to say that we were blessed, thankfully, by an enormous amount of expertise among our academics in the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Evans, made that point very well.

International expertise is critical in this. My experience was that no conversation about zoonotic transmission takes place without a large number of people based in far-flung parts of the world, often in jungles, on sierras or at zoos and universities. That is the nature of global pandemics; they start in extraordinary places but travel very quickly around the world, thanks to the blessings of modern globalisation. Having here in the capital knowledge and understanding of these animals is absolutely critical.

Perhaps I may cite as an illustrative example one of the many academics at the zoo, Professor Andrew Cunningham. He is an expert in Darwin’s frogs and the great Chinese salamander—expertise that may seem niche in our day-to-day lives but, when there is a pandemic kicking off, my goodness, you need people like Professor Cunningham. That is why he is a member of the One Health High-Level Expert Panel. Many of the WHO, OECD and WHA-type expert panels exchange critically important information, which is the underpinning of our One Health preparations for the next pandemic—which I am afraid is just around the corner.

The zoo is a fantastic place; I love it for what it is but, as other noble Lords have mentioned, it needs modernisation. It needs a serious upgrade, not just in the fabric of the zoo—to give the animals the best possible lives and visitors the best possible experience— but to give the science the platform that it needs to be conducted in the most professional and thorough way. That is why I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for curating this Bill, and I wish it a safe progress through Parliament.

12:27
Lord Camoys Portrait Lord Camoys (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Bethell at Second Reading of this important Bill, which I welcome and fully support. I refer Members to my register of interests and my chairmanship of the UK Trust for Nature Conservation in Nepal, a UK charity which has worked closely with ZSL on conservation projects in Nepal for over 30 years, as well as being a member of the international advisory board of Nepal’s National Trust for Nature Conservation.

A longer lease will allow ZSL to modernise London Zoo, one of Britain’s most loved institutions, enabling it to increase visitor numbers and income, which in turn supports its conservation work around the world. It is no surprise that this simple Bill of two short clauses received cross-party support in the other House.

We all remember our first visit to London Zoo and Whipsnade. Opened to the public in 1847, it is the world’s oldest scientific zoo, where Charles Darwin undertook much of his research. It has been the home to animals that have inspired characters beloved by generations of children, such as Winnie-the-Pooh and Dumbo the elephant. Today, it is home to critically endangered species such as the Waldrapp ibis, the Annam leaf turtle and the Lake Oku clawed frog, as well as 10,000 other animals. It is visited by over 1 million people a year, with thousands on income support benefiting from its community access scheme, which enables visits for as little as £3.

London Zoo is more than just a place for people to see animals, though. It is the global headquarters of one of the most important science-led conservation organisations. It operates with some of the most challenging issues facing the natural world, here at home in the UK but also around the globe. Its mission is to end the extinction crisis and really support the integration of nature into all different forms of decision-making.

As my noble friend Lord Randall mentioned, among other projects in the UK it is working to restore our native oyster population after the species declined by 95% due to a combination of habitat loss, pollution, disease and overharvesting. Last year, the project’s marine conservationists successfully released 10,000 European flat oysters on to a 7,500-square-kilometre newly created underwater living reef. This was a landmark moment in the restoration of the native species to UK shores, and there are similar plans for a native oyster reef in north Wales this summer. It is also working to improve the health of the Thames, including by monitoring marine mammals to better understand and conserve these top predators, improving and restoring the biodiversity of the Thames Estuary, restoring sea-grass habitats and installing eel passes on the Thames river basin, making extra habitat available to the species.

Each year, ZSL spends over £25 million on international conservation, working in over 60 countries. People might be surprised to learn that ZSL has 127 staff based outside the UK. As I mentioned at the beginning, I have direct experience of working with ZSL from the extensive conservation work that it does in Nepal. This provides a useful example of the extraordinary global conservation work that ZSL does. If Peers will indulge me, I will say a bit about that, as it helps to contextualise what this amazing organisation does every day around the world and underlines why it is so important that ZSL’s lease at Regent’s Park is extended.

ZSL’s work in Nepal started in the early 1990s, when it first helped establish a wildlife and domestic veterinary programme in the country. It was at this point that my predecessor as chairman of the UK Trust for Nature Conservation in Nepal, the late Field Marshal Sir John Chapple, also took over as president of ZSL. Sir John’s close connections to Nepal from his days as a Gurkha soldier and chairmanship of our charity meant that he could help assist ZSL as it started its work there. As a footnote, it was at this time that Sir John worked literally day and night, sleeping on the floor of his office at the zoo, to turn around the finances of ZSL, which had recently ceased received government funding. It is excellent to see ZSL’s CEO Matthew Gould here today, albeit it is a surprise not to see him in his usual zookeeper attire. It is great that this organisation has been, and continues to be, led by people who really do roll up their sleeves and get stuck in.

Historically, ZSL’s work in Nepal began with supporting the Government of Nepal’s priority of returning the greater one-horned rhinoceros from the brink of extinction. However, since 2014, its work has largely focused on conserving the tiger in Nepal’s Terai Arc jungle landscape—an area that spans several protected areas across the country where 335 tigers and more than 7 million people share the same space and natural resources. By prioritising umbrella species such as the tiger, you create conservation benefits for other wildlife that live in the same habitat.

Over the last 10 years, ZSL has invested over £12 million into these projects in Nepal. I am proud to say that our charity has raised more than £0.5 million of funding towards this, in particular for anti-poaching units and community-based conservation. Its team in Nepal of over 20 staff has worked closely with over 20,000 community members who live around the country’s protected areas and are reliant on natural resources for their daily survival. The projects support the recovery of flagship species, such as the Indian gharial crocodile, the one-horned rhino and the Bengal tiger, as I have mentioned, while minimising conflict between wildlife and people. Having been fortunate enough to spend time with ZSL staff working on these projects, I can say that it is an inspirational experience.

Since ZSL began working in Nepal 25 years ago, we have seen a tripling of the tiger population, four of which I was fortunate enough to see in the wild during a visit to Nepal last month, and a near doubling of the rhino population, making the Terai Arc landscape one of the most successful conservation stories in the world. More recently, in line with the conservation priorities and needs of the Government of Nepal, ZSL has expanded its conservation focus to other threatened species, including the pangolin and Asian wild dog, and to critical habitats outside protected areas, such as in its support to declare the country’s first bird sanctuary—something that I am sure has cheered my noble friend Lord Randall. It has also helped to provide enhanced conservation technologies, including GSM-enabled camera traps, for monitoring tigers and key species. Its outstanding work there is globally recognised, exemplified by it recently being awarded a five-year Darwin Initiative “Extra” grant to scale up its work in three protected areas in the west of Nepal. ZSL will be working to create better human-wildlife coexistence and conflict mitigation preparedness for communities.

ZSL’s global HQ in Regent’s Park is therefore both a zoo, through which it reaches over a million people each year, and a base for extraordinary conservation. Extending the lease on its site is essential to supporting this vital work. I hope the House will join me in supporting the Bill.

12:34
Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, on sponsoring this important Bill and on its introduction. I can honestly say I have never spoken in a debate on such a short Bill before—four paragraphs in two Clauses—but length does not indicate importance, and this is a very important Bill.

I am grateful to the House of Lords Library for their briefing. The Crown Estate Act 1961 grants a lease to the Zoological Society of London, for their use of the land in Regent’s Park. This Bill seeks to extend the length of the lease, in order to carry out much-needed modernisation. I remember in 2019, when the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, was the Defra Minister in this Chamber, the passage of the Kew Gardens (Leases) Act, which had a similar clause to extend the lease to a maximum of 150 years. Both Kew Gardens and the Zoological Society of London require long leases in order to operate and plan for the long term—not dissimilar to farmers; for farmers, a much shorter lease than 150 years is required but certainly one that provides for future planning.

Members taking part this afternoon have eloquently listed the extensive benefits of the work of conservation done by ZSL. Both at its Regent’s Park base and at Whipsnade, ZSL does a tremendous amount of work ensuring the more vulnerable of our planet’s species do not become extinct. At one end of the scale, we have the black rhino in Kenya, which has been decimated by poaching, and at the other end, our own indigenous hedgehog, with currently dangerously low numbers. Both species are iconic in their own way. Sadly, it is the intervention of the human species that has led to the decline of both those species but in different ways.

The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale, referred to the essential preservation work done by the ZSL. The zoo at Regent’s Park and the wildlife park at Whipsnade are efficiently and creatively run by ZSL. I am a great supporter of zoos, and while it is undoubtedly true that animals should be living in their natural homelands and habitats if at all possible—I have been very lucky to experience some of this—this is not always in their best interests, especially when their numbers are dangerously low. The noble Lord, Lord Camoys, told us about the vital work of the ZSL in Nepal, and I am grateful to have heard that.

The work done by zoos is essential in helping children to understand the breadth of species in the world, the difference in their habitats and the need to preserve those habitats for their survival. We can all watch wildlife programmes on the television, which broaden our knowledge of the animal, bird, insect and sea-life kingdoms, but there is nothing quite like seeing live animals at close quarters. The immense wonder and awe at standing the other side of the barrier to a giraffe, or watching a chipmunk scurrying at top speed through overhead tubes and tunnels, is something I and my children have enjoyed. I want this experience for every child, if possible, as demonstrated so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, and his—delightful, I am sure—children. My noble friend Lady Featherstone also referred to this sense of wonder.

I want this experience for every child, as I said. It is only by demonstrating the vast number of species there are in the world that children will grow to understand how important it is to protect them and preserve their habitat. The Zoological Society of London does a first-class job in conservation, preservation and education. It does not benefit from grants, as has already been said, and needs investment in order to expand its vital work. I fully support this Bill, which will allow the ZSL to continue well beyond my lifetime.

12:39
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Randall, on his introduction of the Bill and on this rather joyful debate. On Report in the Commons, my honourable friend Chris Bryant MP stood up, said “I concur”, and then sat down. I intend to say slightly more than that, but we on these Benches do indeed concur.

I want to say two things. We all have our favourite animals. I have spent 50 years living in London and have visited the zoo for 50 years. I have been a member, on and off, for all that time, taking my children and their friends, my nieces and nephews, and now my grandchildren, great-nieces and great-nephews to the zoo, and I intend to continue doing so. For some reason, members of my family are particularly fond of the warthogs. I personally love the penguins, and we all really like the tapirs. We all have our favourites in London Zoo. I just hope that this debate, and the enthusiasm, passion and pride that we all have in the zoo, will be conveyed back to the staff and all the people who work there, including the researchers. They should know how much they are loved by everybody.

The second thing I want to say, which has been explained extremely well by many noble Lords, is about the importance of this very small Bill to the zoo and its future. I thank the zoo for its briefing on this. The argument that the creation of the world’s first multidisciplinary nature campus, bringing together universities from across the UK, the USA and beyond, can be achieved only if the 150-year lease happens and secures the zoo’s future seems absolutely to make the case and we do not really need to say anything more. The Bill has our full support and, I hope, a fair wind.

12:41
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and congratulate him on bringing forward this short but very important Bill. In opening, he declared some of his interests. He is a long-standing and passionate supporter of the other species with which we have the privilege to share our planet. That is something he showed throughout his time as a Member of Parliament in the other place, and which I had the pleasure of witnessing when I worked with him in 10 Downing Street when he was a member of the Policy Unit under Theresa May. It is reflected in his choice of neckwear today—if I spot it correctly, those are giraffes on his tie—in his Twitter handle, where he tweets as @uxbridgewalrus, and in his coat of arms, which contains a splendid heraldic joke. He is a keen ornithologist and, with self-deprecating humour, has included a bearded tit on his coat of arms.

I thank my noble friend for stewarding this Bill and for the way he introduced it. This is also an opportunity for me to echo the thanks that have been paid to my honourable friend the Member for Harrow East, Bob Blackman MP, who championed the Bill in another place, working with my honourable friend Julia Lopez, the Minister for Media, Tourism and the Creative Industries.

Noble Lords might wonder why it falls to me as Minister at DCMS to respond, rather than a Minister from Defra. My department’s interest in this Bill lies in the location of London Zoo, within Regent’s Park, the site on which the extension of the maximum lease term that the Bill seeks will be enacted. Regent’s Park is under the management of the Royal Parks, which are sponsored by my department. Ultimately, the Royal Parks are owned by the Crown, and responsibility for them lies with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Under Section 7 of the Crown Estate Act 1961, the maximum lease term that may currently be granted to the Zoological Society of London is 60 years. As noble Lords have pointed out, this Bill seeks a small amendment, extending that to 150 years. It does not guarantee an automatic extension and it will not affect other parts of Regent’s Park.

Establishing the mechanism for a longer lease term will bring the Zoological Society of London in line with other, similar organisations. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, rightly referred to the Bill brought before Parliament in 2019, which extended the maximum allowable lease for the Royal Botanic Gardens in respect of land in Kew Gardens from 31 years also to 150 years.

The Zoological Society of London’s lease was most recently renewed in 2021 for the current maximum term of 60 years, which would take it to 2081. However, as a well-managed and forward-thinking organisation, it wishes to further extend the maximum lease term in order to secure the longer-term investment needed for the continued development of its historic, important and much-cherished site.

The proposed change is uncontroversial, as has been reflected in the debate today, and will have a positive impact on the organisation. The extended lease term would enable the organisation to build its resilience, develop strategic relationships and increase the scope for potential commercial and philanthropic partnerships to support its growth long into the future.

We have heard from the Zoological Society of London that the impact of its work is currently being curtailed by the legislation that restricts the lease. The extension of the lease will allow key partnerships to be activated, which will help further unlock the society’s aims to offer immersive and accessible ways to connect people with nature, and to give the animals in its care the safest, most stimulating and natural environments.

The society’s impact extends beyond the premises in which it is based. London Zoo is an important and unique part of our capital’s heritage, culture and tourism. It is the capital’s 10th most visited attraction, contributing over £24 million annually to London’s economy and over £54 million to the national economy. It is also the world’s oldest scientific zoo, operating since 1828, and a pre-eminent force in wildlife conservation and biodiversity. The society works around the world, in regions as varied as Polynesia, India, Mongolia, the Caribbean and, as my noble friend Lord Camoys eloquently set out, Nepal.

In addition to the world-leading research and conservation science carried out by the 140 scientists in its Institute for Zoology, the organisation’s work protects and restores wildlife in 69 countries, from hazel dormice to the critically endangered European eel. In the coming months, London Zoo will return the previously endangered Guam kingfisher back into the wild, and recently, as my noble friend Lord Bethell pointed out, three endangered Asiatic lion cubs were born at the zoo. Neither they nor my noble friend’s own offspring could be described as “horrible”.

The zoo’s conservation of native UK species includes running oyster nursery projects, which a number of noble Lords mentioned, monitoring wild shark populations off Wales, the mapping and promotion of conservation strategies for hedgehog populations across London, and mapping species in the River Thames.

Since its opening, the zoo has achieved many firsts, including the first reptile house, public aquarium, insect house and children’s zoo. I think that is a zoo for children to enjoy, rather than be kept in. It is a historic asset worth championing and protecting long into the future.

Many of the zoo’s assets, beyond the wildlife, have notable architectural significance. Leading designers have contributed to its built environment, creating a collection of buildings that include two grade 1 and eight grade 2 or grade 2* listed structures. Of these, the penguin enclosure, completed in 1934, designed in the international modernist style by Berthold Lubetkin, remains a cultural icon, hailed as a classic of modernist architecture upon its completion. It featured in an episode of “Agatha Christie’s Poirot”, and recently in the video for a song by Harry Styles. The Snowdon Aviary, designed in 1960, was a pioneering project that would inspire future generations of architects.

Advances in our understanding of animal welfare have shown that many of these structures are, sadly, no longer suitable for their intended purposes, as they were once thought to be. The Zoological Society of London is therefore working hard to reimagine these spaces in new, innovative and sustainable ways, while ensuring that conservation remains at the core of its work and that it continues its important work caring for endangered species. That includes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said, the creation of the world’s first campus for nature—a multidisciplinary centre of research and innovation dedicated to protecting biodiversity.

The zoo is also committed to making itself accessible to all. Last year, the introduction of a community access scheme helped families with lower incomes visit the zoo for just £3 a ticket. The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale, spoke of its importance to schoolchildren from challenging backgrounds, including those who live nearby. The zoo puts on audio-described tours, sign-language tours and early-opening mornings for visitors with autism and neurodiverse needs. More than 80,000 students visit the zoo each year to learn about wildlife, conservation and the impacts of climate change.

In 2026, the Zoological Society of London will celebrate its bicentenary, and I am sure that noble Lords will wish it success over the next 200 years and long into the future. Looking forward, the society has ambitious plans to modernise and redevelop its site, creating naturalistic, multi-species zones that will allow animals to thrive, as well as this important new biodiversity campus.

It is a pleasure to echo the praise that has rightly been showered upon the zoo today, and to support this small but important Bill, which is part of our work to ensure that the zoo and the Zoological Society of London can carry on their important work for many years to come.

12:50
Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this joyful debate, as described by the noble Baroness opposite. It has been a great pleasure to hear all the contributions. The noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, mentioned particularly the therapeutic nature of access, which I have experienced over the years. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Evans, for his contribution on access and the important conservation work.

My noble friend Lord Bethell was exaggerating, I am afraid, about his children, as we know that they are very, very nice children. I should say that I forgot to mention that I am a member, and have been for some time, and so are my children and grandchildren. I would recommend any Member of your Lordships’ House to join, so that, if it is all getting a bit much for them here, they can just get on the underground, walk across Regent’s Park and talk to the animals that do not talk back. My noble friend also mentioned the incredibly important work that has been going on. The Covid pandemic has made it more important that we understand zoonotic diseases.

To the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, I say that a short Bill is the ideal Private Member’s Bill. Speaking as the Friday Whip for many years down the other end, I can say that this is ideal, as you cannot put too many amendments down. I see there was an attempt by somebody who did it just to tease us, but it is the ideal Bill, not only because you will get it through but because it is very easy—particularly because I do not have to answer any questions.

Finally, I thank my noble friend the Minister—apart from when he divulged some of my secrets, which I thought I had kept quiet. I was obviously mistaken in that. I am delighted that we have got to this stage. If we are lucky enough to pass this Bill, I would put it at the very top of my achievements in Parliament.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Zoological Society of London (Leases) Bill

Order of Commitment discharged
Friday 24th May 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Zoological Society of London (Leases) Act 2024 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 19 April 2024 - (19 Apr 2024)
Order of Commitment
11:01
Motion
Moved by
Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge
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That the order of commitment be discharged.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con)
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My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

Zoological Society of London (Leases) Bill

Third Reading
11:02
Motion
Moved by
Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge
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That the Bill be now read a third time.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con)
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I wonder whether King’s consent comes in now. Anyway, I beg to move.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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A member of the most excellent Privy Council has to give King’s consent, so I suggest that the House adjourn during pleasure for two minutes so that a privy counsellor can join the Government Front Bench.

11:02
Sitting suspended.
11:04
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I have it in command from His Majesty the King to acquaint the House that His Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Zoological Society of London (Leases) Bill, has consented to place his interest, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Motion agreed.
Motion
Moved by
Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con)
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My Lords, I will say a very few brief words. First, I will redress an omission from my Second Reading speech in not paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Paul, who has been a very generous donor to the Zoological Society of London. We should all recognise his valuable contributions.

Yesterday, I advised the excellent director of the Zoological Society of London, Matthew Gould, that he might have to invest in some groundhogs, because this Bill was threatened with extinction and I was not sure that we would get it through. However, with my extremely grateful thanks to so many people both in your Lordships’ House and down the other end, the civil servants and a lot of people from the very highest—or almost the very highest—to Back-Benchers like me, we are where we are today. I thank everybody for bringing this Bill back from the brink, just as the Zoological Society of London has over the years brought back species that were threatened with extinction. I particularly mention my honourable friend Bob Blackman, who did so much work down the other end.

This Bill will give us certainty for important conservation work, which will create an opportunity for the Zoological Society of London to create a world-leading centre for nature. I hope, understand and can see that nature is shooting up the international agenda. ZSL will also be able to update and improve a lot of the facilities in the zoo. As we heard at Second Reading, the zoo gives a lot of pleasure not just to noble Lords but to people all over, young and old. I advise any noble Lords who get a little fed up with the endless election broadcasts to go and have a few minutes talking to the animals and refreshing themselves.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I will very briefly add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, who has stewarded the Bill expertly through your Lordships’ House, not least in the last 24 hours, when he has been a redoubtable champion for it. I echo his thanks to our honourable friend Bob Blackman MP, who championed it in another place. I thank my noble friend the Chief Whip, who sprang like a gazelle into your Lordships’ Chamber to make sure it could reach the statute book. As my noble friend Lord Randall says, it enjoys the wholehearted support of the Government and, as we saw at Second Reading, unanimity of support from across your Lordships’ House. I am grateful to officials in my department who have worked on it, not least to my private secretary Rebecca Tuck and our colleagues in my private office, Jack Mattless, Claudia Harper and Nausheen Khan, who have been excellent zookeepers to me over the past couple of years.

Bill passed.

Royal Assent

20:32
The following Acts were given Royal Assent:
Finance (No. 2) Act,
Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act,
Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Act,
Media Act,
Pet Abduction Act,
Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Act,
Building Societies Act 1986 (Amendment) Act,
British Nationality (Irish Citizens) Act,
Zoological Society of London (Leases) Act,
Victims and Prisoners Act,
Leasehold and Freehold Reform Act.