Second Reading
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.