All 4 Lord Gardiner of Kimble contributions to the Kew Gardens (Leases) Act 2019

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Tue 7th May 2019
Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 21st May 2019
Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 5th Jun 2019
Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 11th Jun 2019

Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [HL]

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Excerpts
2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 7th May 2019

(5 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Kew Gardens (Leases) Act 2019 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Moved by
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)
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My Lords, as the Minister with responsibility for the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, I am delighted to bring forward this Bill. First, I place on record from the outset my appreciation for honourable Members in the other place, and indeed my noble friend Lord True, for promoting similar Bills on Kew via the Private Members’ Bill route. I know that many of your Lordships have a keen interest in supporting Kew; indeed, my noble friends Lord Eccles and Lord Selborne were closely involved with Kew as previous chairmen of the trustees.

Kew is a scientific institution of the utmost importance, not only for the UK but as the global resource for knowledge on plants and fungi. We face immense challenges when it comes to the preservation of the natural world. Within this challenge, it is clear that there is an essential role for plants and fungi. Kew will help to provide answers about how plants and fungi will help us to survive. It has world-renowned collections, including the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst, and the Herbarium at Kew itself. The restoration and digitisation of the Herbarium will need considerable investment and will make the collection accessible globally.

Kew’s scientific research leads the world. With more scientists today than at any time, its research is crucial in solving the challenges facing humanity today. Kew plays an extraordinary global role in partnership with scientists, educational experts and communities, promoting research, education and conservation. It does so much to involve the public, with over 2 million visits to Kew and Wakehurst each year, and around 100,000 pupils on school visits. It is building a wider understanding of plants and fungi and why they matter to us all.

I turn to this two-clause Bill. Not only is Kew an extraordinary scientific institution but its estate includes many special buildings and structures, more than 40 of them listed. It is a considerable challenge to ensure the maintenance of both core and non-core structures, which, due to their historic nature, is undertaken at considerable expense. For instance, the restoration over six years and reopening last year of the Temperate House is a tremendous achievement of Kew’s mixed funding approach. I thoroughly recommend to any of your Lordships who have not been to see it a visit to that extraordinary work.

Non-core parts of the Kew estate include some listed residential buildings near Kew Green, which badly need investment to maintain and enhance their condition and enable Kew to realise additional income. Attracting capital investment to refurbish buildings within the boundaries of Kew is one of the great opportunities available, but the current 31-year limit on leases has made that difficult to realise.

The Bill will allow leases to be granted on land at Kew for a term of up to 150 years. Currently, the Crown Lands Act 1702 limits leases at Kew Gardens to a term of 31 years. Longer leases will enable Kew to realise additional income from land and property and will reduce maintenance liabilities and running costs. The additional income generated will help Kew to achieve its core objectives, maintain its status as a UNESCO world heritage site, and prioritise maintenance and development of its collections, as well as improving the quality of its estate. The Bill has the full support of the Kew board and residents in the Kew area, in particular through the Kew Society.

I have reflected on what may be the challenges to the Bill. The various safeguards that apply now would still apply to any lease granted under the Bill. Kew’s activities are overseen by Kew’s board and by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is an executive non-departmental public body and an exempt charity. It is governed by a board of trustees established under the National Heritage Act 1983. As an exempt charity, although the Charity Commission does not regulate it, it must abide by charity law, with the Secretary of State as Kew’s regulator for charity purposes. This regulation is co-ordinated between the Charity Commission and the Secretary of State.

To ensure that Kew’s operational arrangements comply with the National Heritage Act, public and charity law, a framework document exists between Kew and Defra dealing with business planning, resource allocation, appointment of board members and, pertinently, the disposition of land. Thus, at all times in the governance process, the board of Kew, the Secretary of State and Defra play a key role in determining the operational management, and would continue to do so in the grant of any lease under the Bill.

Secondly, Kew’s UNESCO world heritage site status and other designations offer protection under the planning system which would apply to any lease granted under the Bill. Kew was inscribed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2003 due to its outstanding universal value as a historic landscaped garden and world-renowned scientific institution. As a result, the UK Government, through the Kew board and the Secretary of State, have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the protection, management, authenticity and integrity of the property.

As part of UNESCO world heritage site status, Kew has a management plan to show how its outstanding universal value as a property can be preserved. This includes protections and mechanisms in the planning system, including conservation areas in the London boroughs of Richmond and Hounslow, offering protection to the Kew site itself and a wider “buffer zone” that protects the historic landscape character of Kew. The Kew Gardens site is grade 1 on the Historic England register of historic parks and gardens of special historic interest in England. Much of its site is designated metropolitan open land, applying similar protection to that offered to green-belt land. Forty-four of the buildings and structures in the site are listed; indeed, Kew is part of an archaeological priority area. These protections mean that any lease would require local planning permission and compliance with the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, the National Planning Policy Framework and the Government’s policy for the historic environment.

Thirdly, conditions would apply to the lease itself. In accordance with the duties that both the Kew board and the Secretary of State must carry out, the lease, while seeking to be commercial, will be capable of applying the necessary restrictions that will protect Kew. The Bill disapplies the restriction in Section 5 of the Crown Lands Act 1702 relating to leases of land at Kew: it will remove the limit of 31 years and apply a maximum of 150 years. This will bring Kew in line with the provisions made for the Crown Estate by the Crown Estate Act 1961. The changes provide the ability to grant longer leases on the land. The Bill would not alter the many protections in place for Kew and its status as a world heritage site. All proposals for granting leases are subject to scrutiny and must go through Kew and Defra’s governance. All proposals must comply with the protections in the planning framework and, in every case, the lease will contain any restrictions that may be necessary. The very status of Kew and all the protections it comes with make its property one of the safest in terms of conservation that could be envisaged.

In conclusion, I emphasise that this is very much Kew’s Bill. It is about enabling Kew both to manage assets on a sound and sustainable commercial footing and to enhance the site and support its core objectives. Kew’s trustees need this Bill to do what is necessary. The Bill is an opportunity for us to support Kew. Enabling it to maintain and enhance both core and non-core parts of its estate will be crucial to its long-term success and its global role in addressing the many challenges of enhancing a natural world that is undoubtedly in trouble; plants and fungi, and a better understanding of them, will help us enormously to meet those challenges. As I said, this is a two-clause Bill. It may be modest in size but, once enacted, its impact will be of immense benefit to Kew and help it further in its valuable work, which has been described in previous weeks, perhaps previous years, as part of our generation’s custodianship, ensuring that we know more answers about how we will turn things around. Probably unknowingly, previous generations have done things to this planet that we all now regret. As the Minister responsible for Kew—one of the biggest privileges in government, I think—I see the scientists and management there on a very regular basis. This Bill is one that they desire and that will help them to do so much of what we desire. I beg to move.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, the debate has been exceptional. The truth is that we all love Kew but we also admire and respect it. I was interested to hear about the family connection of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. We in this country should be immensely proud of such provenance.

My noble friend Lord Hodgson mentioned soft power. At the last CHOGM, which was held in this country, I was tremendously proud when, while the leaders were deliberating other matters, Kew arranged for the spouses of the leaders of the Commonwealth countries to be shown a plant from every Commonwealth country. What is a better example of soft power? Richard Deverell, the director, was not with us for last week’s briefing meeting, to which noble Lords were invited, because he was busy in China. Kew has a global reach, whether in Madagascar, China, vulnerable parts of the world or Wakehurst. I should say immediately that the Bill is not at all related to Wakehurst, which is owned by the National Trust; this is about the Crown land at Kew.

As I said, Kew Gardens is one of the world’s most iconic—I would say the most iconic—botanical gardens. Yes, it is home to beautiful grounds and historical buildings but, as I deliberately said, I am very proud of the fact that we have the largest number of scientists at Kew that there has ever been. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to cuts. As my noble friend Lord Eccles, said, at times of national difficulty, all institutions and departments must play their part. However, the fact is that there are now more scientists at Kew than there have ever been; it was very generous and quite right of the noble Lord, Lord Wrigglesworth, to refer to the staff and volunteers too. The esprit de corps among the staff is tangible, as it is among the volunteers. Not only do visitors benefit from that, but I know how much volunteers enjoy working at Kew.

A number of points have been made, quite rightly. I am happy to email a copy of the Kew strategy to 2020-21 to noble Lords who have participated in the debate. It is entitled Unlocking Why Plants and Fungi Matter. The noble Baronesses, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe and Lady Kramer, specifically asked about it, but I think that the document is useful to us all. This is what it says about creating the world’s leading botanic gardens:

“We want our botanic gardens to be a reason for people to visit the UK and for British residents to make the journey across the country”—


I rather think that that may be from Somerset and Leicestershire for my noble friends. It goes on:

“We want our visitors to be representative of society and will positively act to ensure there are opportunities for a greater diversity of people to be drawn into our gardens”.


Several noble Lords referred to the next generation. The new children’s garden at Kew is going to be a fascinating place for play and learning. We very much want all members of the community both locally and beyond to feel that Kew is their place too.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Warwick, Lady Kramer and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about the funding. It is the intention that the proceeds which result from this Bill should provide an additional source of income for Kew. The latest spending review settlement extends to 2019-20. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and my noble friend Lady Byford referred to income. While the full scale of the benefits have not been fully market-tested, depending on options and planning decisions, the advice from Kew is that they would be likely to generate up to £15 million of income and cost avoidance, along with the chance to explore further opportunities as the result of this legislation. Kew intends to invest the income in infrastructure, enabling it to deliver its mission.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to the group of non-core estate properties that Kew wishes to attend to. As has been said, there are four houses and three flats on the edge of the site, mainly on Kew Green. The five properties are currently let on one-year leases following renovation work which has been partly funded by a loan. Two properties are unoccupied and require substantial renovation work to bring them up to a habitable condition. This is about ensuring that non-core property can be attended to and for the income then to go towards enhancing infrastructure and the core properties, which is what the Kew trustees wish to attend to. Kew will focus on this portfolio of properties in the first instance, in particular the two unoccupied properties. I am sure that there will be other opportunities.

In my opening remarks I deliberately emphasised that if there is a parcel of land in this country with more safety valves and oversight, I do not know it. Kew has all the designations in terms of conservation, local planning, its UNESCO site status and grade 1 listings. The land is overseen by a board of trustees along with the Secretary of State and, indeed, there is a memorandum of understanding between Defra and the Charity Commission. When reflecting on this candidly with officials, I could not think of a place that has more protections. I would be very interested—as a matter of scientific or nerdy interest—in whether any other parcel of land has the protections that we have quite rightly placed on this one.

In earlier documentation, reference was made to a £40 million; that was in 2015. On further reflection, Kew has looked at this realistically, with the residential properties in mind and the considerable cost of the two unoccupied properties, and realised that the majority of this benefit will be over the first 10 years via capital receipts and cost avoidance—although there may be ongoing revenue impacts over the 150-year period, if a lease were to be granted up to that period. As I said in my opening remarks, this legislation enables exactly the same protections whether it is up to 31 years or 150 years. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that the trustees and the Secretary of State will not permit unsuitable use of these properties—and I use the word “unsuitable” perhaps advisedly. I put on record that there is absolutely no intention of that. This is about a benefit to Kew; it is not about detracting from its reputation. It is about enabling these buildings, in particular the non-core estate, to be habitable—as is the case for two of the buildings—or in a much better condition than they are now.

A number of your Lordships, specifically my noble friend Lady Byford, asked about the proportions of income: 36% is from Defra grants; 26% is visitor and commercial income; and 38% is from private grants and donations. Having been responsible for Kew since 2016, my experience is that, four-square, the mixed-funding model has worked extremely well. By way of an example, Kew’s herbaceous borders—probably the longest in the world—were opened with Defra paying for the attractive gravel tarmac and a very generous philanthropist paying for the border. I do not expect the philanthropist was very keen on the tarmac, but they were engaged with the longest herbaceous border in the world. I do not resile from the fact that the mixed-funding model is absolutely right. The mixture of state funding from Defra, commercial income from non-core property and visitor centre engagement, and philanthropy and so forth is appropriate. My experience of going to Kew a great deal is that it embraces ever more people in its work; whether it is a large or small donation, far more people are embraced. The local residents of Kew, and their regard for its importance, are a key component of that.

A number of other issues were raised. My noble friend Lady Byford mentioned the importation of pests, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, talked about oak processionary moth. I could not regret more the loose connection some years ago of a tree coming from the continent with oak processionary moth. We are using every endeavour to restrain the spread within Greater London and a part of Surrey. We are holding the line with it deliberately, pending research and work. I do not know about previous occasions, but there is active collaboration in Richmond and with the Royal Parks. I spent a day there and saw a tree with 60 nests being removed. The success of this wretched caterpillar and moth is phenomenal, and we need to do all we can about it. Kew is absolutely clear about that, as is RHS Wisley; there is great ongoing collaboration on that. Of course, the research that Kew undertakes on many of these issues is also vital, such as for the fungal disease in ash trees that we have heard about.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and my noble friends Lady Byford and Lord Hodgson raised issues about the decision-making on the granting of leases. The legislation will enable the Secretary of State to grant longer leases on the land at Kew Gardens. The Secretary of State will not grant a lease without the recommendation of the Kew trustees, who will always consider the options in the light of their duty to deliver their mission and statutory duties best. The Kew trustees will of course retain the power to grant leases of up to a year if they so choose.

I just want to re-emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who queried whether the changes could in any way endanger Kew’s world heritage site status, that any proposals for new build or changes to buildings or their use, including the wider estate, will continue to be subject to rigorous review and to the highly restrictive planning requirements of a UNESCO world heritage site. There are rigorous planning consents required for developments at Kew Gardens. Kew is in the process of updating its world heritage site management plan, which will be approved by UNESCO, with the firm intention of maintaining world heritage site status into the future. By generating income from its estate, Kew’s plans will help enable it to achieve its core objectives as well as retention of UNESCO world heritage site status.

I will look in Hansard at the specific points on the charity matters that my noble friend Lord Hodgson referred to. As the principal regulator, the Secretary of State has a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that Kew is complying with its duty under charity law. The Secretary of State has a relationship with the Charity Commission as set out in the Defra-Charity Commission memorandum of understanding. For a body to be a charity, it must exist for its charitable purpose for the public benefit only and therefore must demonstrate independence from any forces that might seek to prevent it doing so. The Charity Commission’s review of the register reports that, where a governmental authority has been given powers under a charity’s governing document—in this instance, the National Heritage Act—it is bound to exercise those powers solely in the interests of the charity, and therefore the Secretary of State cannot exercise that power for the Government’s own benefit. I should also say that I have studied the memorandum of understanding, and I am very happy to discuss that issue with my noble friend if he wishes.

My noble friend Lord Eccles referred rightly to biodiversity. Our forthcoming environment Bill will help us meet our ambitions, which surely must be right in these current times, that we leave the environment in a better state than the one in which we found it—of course, we have a lot of work to do to secure that. We have also committed to working with partners at home and abroad to build support for an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework, putting greater emphasis on the vital role that our natural environment plays in improving our well-being and economic prosperity. I mention that, as did my noble friend, because Kew has an enormous locus in this matter.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, I think that the Hive is an extraordinary experience. It came from the Milan Expo, and we fought quite hard, really, to get it to Kew, which seems such an appropriate place for it—it was Wolfgang Buttress who created this extraordinary place. For any of your Lordships who have not seen the Hive, I should say that it attracts not only children but an enormous number of adults, too. I think the children aspect is really important. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, also mentioned the children’s area. I agree, and that is why I opened my remarks with that. I assure your Lordships that Kew is fully seized with the need to ensure that ever more people, with a greater diversity of background and interest, can see that Kew is the answer to a lot of our travails.

To my noble friend Lord Selborne who took us back to Joseph Banks and the rows of earlier days, I say that we are extremely fortunate in Richard Deverell and his executive team; they are so well regarded around the world. With reference to the UN, I am pleased to say that this could not be a more timely affair.

My noble friend Lord Holmes referenced the five Olympic rings and I have mentioned CHOGM, which is extremely proud-making. My noble friend Lady Byford referred to international students; I have met many students there from overseas, which is also immensely important. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to restrictions placed on Kew as a result, in effect, of it being listed as a world heritage site. Listing as a world heritage Site sets certain obligations rather than additional restrictions. It is within that prism that Kew is on the list. The local planning authority, advised by Historic England, is responsible for deciding whether a proposed development should go ahead. As I said, Kew is located in conservation areas, about which there have been various references; I will write to noble Lords more fully on that as my time is sadly reaching an end.

The current donor engagement strategy is guided by an organisational ethical position and third-party engagement policy. Kew looks at major funding opportunities on a case-by-case basis while, clearly, considering financial, legal, ethical and reputational factors. The estate strategy is not in the public domain but I would be very happy to discuss it with any of your Lordships who feel that would be helpful, and to offer any appropriate reassurances.

Many points have been made. I believe this Bill—and the need for us to extend the licences—is appropriate, not only to deal with a non-core estate when there are many demands on the core estate, but also as a way of generating income to do the important work that Kew undertakes for us. I am sure that we will discuss these matters at further stages. I am hoping for a speedy passage, as your Lordships can imagine, as I think this Bill is worthy of that. In the meantime I would be extremely grateful if your Lordships would consider giving the Bill a Second Reading.

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

Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [HL]

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Excerpts
Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 21st May 2019

(5 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Kew Gardens (Leases) Act 2019 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 174-I Marshalled list for Committee (PDF) - (17 May 2019)
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, we have considerable sympathy with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. We have also tabled amendments which are another way of trying to address the same issue. Our concern is that this short Bill puts too much individual power into the Secretary of State’s hands, and we need to make sure that the right checks and balances are in place so that that power is used wisely. We seek to have an external body, such as UNESCO, to oversee the powers being allocated, with the Secretary of State unable to influence what UNESCO is doing. However, I appreciate that the noble Lords are coming at this from a different direction.

The point of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, was well made: it is not about now but about the future, about other times and places when other players will be in post, and we need to make sure that they exercise their responsibility wisely. Whatever statements were made about the current Secretary of State, this is about future Secretaries of State and indeed future members of the board, and the need to make sure that they have the correct relationship.

This is also about different circumstances. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said that people juggle with choices, and that is absolutely right. They will always be under pressure and there will always be a shortage of money, so we need to make sure that the financial demands on the shoulders of the individuals concerned do not lead them to make short-term choices which would damage Kew in any way. I therefore have considerable sympathy with the amendment; I am interested to know how the Minister will respond to this and thank the noble Lord for raising this issue.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)
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My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords, particularly my noble friends. The amendment seeks to apply consultation by the Charity Commission to the actions of Defra and RBG Kew, which, I should say, is a charity specifically exempt from direct regulation by the Charity Commission under Section 22 of and Schedule 3 to the Charities Act 2011.

I say this with passion: there is very little difference between what we are trying to achieve in protecting Kew when granting these leases and what we are trying to achieve for future generations, whoever has responsibility for these matters. The Bill does not affect any of the high protections already afforded to Kew; it is about changing a figure of 31 to 150. All the protections will continue to apply. I absolutely understand my noble friend Lord Hodgson’s point, and that of my noble friend Lord Eccles, who has great experience in this field; their intention clearly is not to attack the Bill or Kew—quite the reverse. It is in everyone’s interest to look after Kew.

I need to set out something by way of legal advice on the amendment; I received the advice from senior departmental government lawyers and counsel.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I was coming to that. Let me be clear: Kew will focus on the seven residential properties on Kew Green. Kew has no immediate plans beyond the proposals for those properties. Obviously, the Bill does not stop future plans for any other property on the non-core estate, but Kew wants to ensure that the seven residential properties on Kew Green do not continue in their current unsatisfactory condition. The Bill is about maintenance of the non-core estate, and the whole basis of what we are doing is to enable those parts of the non-core estate not required by Kew—

Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles
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I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend. He has used the phrase “non-core” three times. How does he define that? Until you define your attitude to the six general functions in some detail, you cannot come to a judgment on what is core and what is not. Some properties on Kew Green are occupied by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Some of them, such as Cambridge Cottage, are historic. If I may say so, we must not get carried away with the idea that what is core and what is non-core is obvious. It is not at all obvious at Kew, which is a very complicated institution. What is core and non-core changes with fashion. Now, Extinction Rebellion is changing things too.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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It would be more helpful if I could develop my arguments. It is important that I set out the legal point. My noble friend Lord Eccles is right that I should perhaps get a better legal definition of “non-core”. I am trying to explain, in what I would call lay language, that Kew has recognised that these properties on Kew Green are not required for the fulfilment of its functions, as set out in the National Heritage Act. Here, we are seeking to enable Kew to use the additional income to meet the challenges that I know my noble friend Lord Eccles had to resolve when he was chairman, as will the current and future chairs. I like his point, which is how in these difficult times we can invest more proactively in Kew.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I would like to make some progress.

Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer
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Perhaps I may just ask the Minister a question purely for clarification. I am not the slightest bit fussed about the seven houses on Kew Green as they are all under conservation orders and the local council will certainly be able to prevent any inappropriate development. We can also count on the fact that, no matter what the political colour of the council, the residents will make sure that that happens. What I am trying to understand is what else might be non-core. Does that include the parking area, or is it part of the non-core estate? Is that where we should be focusing our general concern?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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As I say, it goes back to those areas. I want to pin down this point. This is absolutely not about suddenly cherry-picking: “That looks like a nice site; that would be quite lucrative”. It is about enabling longer leases to ensure that there is more money for Kew to do these things. Part of the issue, shall we say, is accessibility for the public, whether that be parking or other general facilities. Yes, such things are part of enabling scientific endeavour, but they also enable the nation to appreciate what Kew does by way of visiting the gardens.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab)
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My Lords, could non-core—

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I am sorry, but would it not be easier for me to develop the argument, because much of this will I hope be covered? I think that that would be more constructive.

I want to go back to the advice I have received, because my response to my noble friends and the amendment hinges on that. These leases of the land at Kew are not regulated by the Charities Act 2011 as the land is Crown land, so in its current form the amendment is not an appropriate safeguard. Kew Gardens is land held by the monarch in the right of the Crown and is Crown land currently managed by the board of trustees and Defra. The board was established under Section 23 of the National Heritage Act 1983. While that Act gave the board a power to purchase land and other powers to deal with land that it purchased, it did not transfer title of the land at Kew Gardens to the board, nor did it give the board any powers of management over the land at Kew.

In granting leases on the land at Kew Gardens, the Secretary of State will act as the freeholder on behalf of the Crown. The Bill does not create the power to grant a lease, merely to make a longer one. Since title is not held by the charity RBG Kew, these leases will not be regulated directly through charity law. It is not the intention of the Charities Act 2011 that the Charity Commission will be consulted on the management of Crown land as it relates only to the disposal of property that is in the title of a charity, which the Crown land at Kew is not. As I say, having taken counsel’s advice, it is important that I say this.

The Secretary of State, in exercising his powers of management of the land at Kew, balances the freedoms to manage Crown land free of any restrictions. Parliament’s intention was that the land should now be occupied by Kew for use in furtherance of its general functions under Section 24 of the National Heritage Act. However, in reality proposals will be initiated by Kew and in making the decision to support the grant of a lease, the trustees would act in the best interests of Kew, in line with the National Heritage Act and pursuant to the framework agreement between Kew and Defra. That agreement was laid before both Houses of Parliament last year, and I will circulate the framework document to my noble friend Lord Eccles and indeed to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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Could I just clarify something? Does non-core land include land on which planning permission can be secured to build new residential developments?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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All land within Kew and the Crown land, including non-core land—I used that unofficial language, shall we say, to describe the sorts of properties for which Kew recognises that it would wish to avail itself of this legislation—is subject to many protections. I digress slightly from these leases, but for instance if Kew, in its scientific endeavour, wanted to build a new science block or something to enable it to be ever more proactive, as my noble friend Lord Eccles said, given that this is a world heritage site with many listed buildings it would have to be in sympathy with all that. I perhaps wish I had not described it as “non-core land”, but it was a genuine attempt to distinguish between the estate—where all the functions of the National Heritage Act are undertaken, and those functions are set out in statute—and land and property, such as the seven residential buildings, that Kew does not feel it requires for its core functions and that would clearly require the protections I will unfold not only in this amendment but in others. All land that is going to be subject to this legislation has many protections.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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I understand that, but I want to press this. Could a developer, to put it bluntly, build a block of flats on the non-core land, subject to the protections?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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No. On the land under question, one of the seven residential buildings is not listed and all the rest are. On a later amendment I will go into some detail on the conditions that there would be on the leases, because that is probably where I can explain it better. In the leases there are standard conditions and those that recognise the world heritage site, the listed nature and all those things, so any proposal by anyone would have to go through all those hoops. If the noble Lord is asking me what would happen if someone came along and said, “I would like to build some modern flats in the place of those listed buildings”, I cannot see—I am happy to put this on record—the local authority agreeing to it, anyone saying that this was the proper function, or the Secretary of State granting a lease.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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The protections are available for ever to ensure that this would not be the case.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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But it cannot be ruled out.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I think it can be ruled out, because the protections are absolutely, fully in place for the land at Kew, whether the seven residential properties—

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I am not forgetting those, because they are the areas being dealt with. I am going to make more progress; I am happy to continue these considerations outside Committee.

One thing is clear: if a lease was at odds with anything, the Secretary of State would decline to grant it in the first place. With this in mind, and on the advice of departmental lawyers, the Secretary of State would not grant a lease that was in any way contrary to Kew’s objectives as set out in the National Heritage Act 1983, the governance document of Kew Gardens dated July 2017, and the Kew framework document dated June 2018, since this would risk placing the board in breach of its own statutory obligations and the framework and governance documents. For example, no lease of any land or building could ever restrict public access to the plants, collections and other facilities at Kew as this would be contrary to Section 24 of the National Heritage Act 1983.

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Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
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My Lords, my noble friend the Minister has been extremely courteous and accepted interventions from all sides of the House, which is very good of him. He may be regretting the briefing he provided for us before Second Reading, at which he was unwise enough to say, “I hope some of you are going to take an interest in this Bill and we get enough speakers”. He may have put his head into the lion’s mouth there.

I thank my noble friend Lord Eccles, who brings a wealth of experience and insight to this and brought out the difficult balances that are to be struck—no one is suggesting that what we are trying to tackle is easy. To the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, I say that of course we understand that Kew needs the money; but we need to make sure there are appropriate checks and balances and that we are not chasing the money too much. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her general support.

My noble friend made three important points. First, he said that the focus is on seven residential properties but there are no immediate plans to go beyond that. That is a careful set of words. Secondly, he was very careful and courteous also in dealing with the “core” and “non-core” point, brought up by my noble friend Lord Eccles.

Finally, as I understand it, the legal advice is that this amendment does not have effect because the Crown land has no link with a charity and therefore with the Charity Commission. I am therefore not quite sure why the department needs to sign an MoU to ensure compliance with charity law because if it was just—

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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This is because the MoU relates to the plants, collections and functions, not to the land.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
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That is very helpful. So the MoU is narrowly drawn in that sense. I am grateful for that. I want to make sure that somewhere in this legislation we know how big a set of opportunities we are offering Kew and make sure that there are no unnecessary opportunities for side deals which may release funds for Kew in the short term in a way that does not deal with its long-term objectives, which we all support. We will carry on the discussion. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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My Lords, I shall intervene only briefly. I sense that the Minister has difficulty in mouthing the words that residential property development could be considered on that site, not now but perhaps in 20 or 30 years’ time when there is a lot of pressure. I understand that, under residential development for flats, that land would probably fetch in the region of £1,500 per square foot. That provides some fairly expensive property. There will be people who, under pressure and needing funds, might take a chance and put in for a development, perhaps on the car park that was just referred to. I support the amendment suggested by my noble friend. In the event that it is rejected at this stage, I might come back at a later stage to see how the legislation, whose subtext is residential development in the long term, can be interfered with and greater restraints than currently exist introduced.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I say from the outset that I take the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, with the seriousness that I know he takes Kew. I also recognise the direct knowledge of the noble Baronesses, Lady Tonge and Lady Kramer, down to the last tree in the car park, which is probably the one that unfortunately has had most bonnets interfere with it. I understand the local and historical knowledge of the former Minister and the desire of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for protections. My noble friend Lord Eccles is a former chairman of Kew. The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, talked about reputational damage and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, talked about how we ensure that the Bill, which is laudable in so many senses, gives protection for ever. The whole basis of why I am seeking consent for the Bill is to help Kew. I absolutely recognise that your Lordships all want to help it too.

I am, therefore, grateful to the noble Lord for his amendment and for the clear indication that your Lordships regard Kew in the same light as I do, as the Minister with day-to-day responsibility for it. This is an establishment of unique value and an institution worthy of the highest protection. I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, said about children. I was fortunate enough to go to one of the early openings of the children’s garden last week. I did not detect commercialism there; I saw a lot of children running around enjoying plants and understanding more about them. Taking off the rose-tinted spectacles of previous times, families have changed. We have all changed, as have the sorts of things that engaged us. I am afraid I did jump on a trampoline—it was a very small one. There are all sorts of things we can do to engage children. My analysis of the children’s garden and its design is that it gets children engaged. I want children from all backgrounds to think, “I want a life in plants; I want to come to Kew as a scientist; I want to work for Kew”. Those are my ambitions for Kew’s reach to local communities and beyond. I have teased this out myself, because I clearly want Kew to be protected forever. I am grateful for the opportunity to set out the restrictions.

First, as a UNESCO world heritage site and conservation area with 44 listed buildings, Kew Gardens is subject to some of the highest level of scrutiny and statutory approvals available under the planning system —as it should be, of course—and this will not change under the Bill. Regardless of any additional conditions that might be placed on the lease by the Secretary of State, any significant internal or external developments under the lease, whether structural or otherwise, would be subject to the relevant development permissions. The local planning authority, with advice from Historic England, in particular, would be responsible for deciding whether a proposed development should be allowed to go ahead and whether to grant planning permission for new buildings, major alterations, including any to listed buildings, or significant changes to the use of a building or piece of land. The Bill will not change or replace this governance process.

I hope it will be helpful to your Lordships to set out in detail the separate planning controls that protect Kew’s unique heritage. The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 is the legislative basis for decision-making on applications that relate to the historical environment. Sections 66 and 72 of the Act impose a statutory duty on local planning authorities to consider the impact of proposals on listed buildings and conservation areas. This is particularly relevant to the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Kew Green conservation areas, as well as the many listed buildings in the Kew UNESCO world heritage site that contribute to its outstanding universal value.

The National Planning Policy Framework, the NPPF, sets out the Government’s planning policies and how they are expected to be applied, dealing particularly with the historical environment. The Government’s national planning practice guidance gives further information on how national policy is to be interpreted and applied locally. As the relevant local planning authority, the London Borough of Richmond would apply the policies of the NPPF to its local plan, setting out policies for making planning decisions in its area, including those covering historic buildings and conservation areas. The local planning authority is advised by Historic England on all aspects of the historical environment, and by the Greater London Archaeology Advisory Service on all archaeological matters.

The NPPF provides clear direction for planning authorities on the determination of applications affecting designated and non-designated heritage assets. The framework recognises that UNESCO world heritage sites are of the highest significance and that great weight must be given to the conservation of their significance and their setting. It says:

“Heritage assets range from sites and buildings of local historic value to those of the highest significance, such as World Heritage Sites which are internationally recognised to be of Outstanding Universal Value. These assets are an irreplaceable resource, and should be conserved in a manner appropriate to their significance, so that they can be enjoyed for their contribution to the quality of life of existing and future generations”.


The framework also provides for key policy tests for developments that would harm the significance of designated assets, including world heritage sites.

I hope noble Lords can see that these sections clearly set out the importance of a world heritage site and the local planning authority’s duty to ensure that the greatest level of consideration and protection is applied when implementing national, London-wide and local planning policy. Kew Gardens is also located in a conservation area, a designation that ensures that extra planning controls and considerations are put in place. Any significant alterations to buildings or new developments would result in further scrutiny from the local planning authority as a result. Further, 44 of the buildings and structures on the Kew Gardens site are listed, acknowledging their special architectural or historic interest. This designation regime is set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and the list is maintained by Historic England. Any works to alter, extend or demolish Kew Gardens’ listed buildings would require listed building consent from the local planning authority and Historic England, whether planning permission is needed or not. Listed status covers the entire building, internal and external. It is a legal offence to carry out works to a listed building without permission. The Bill will not alter this.

As I have mentioned, any development on a world heritage site or its settings, including any buffer zones, should conserve, promote, make sustainable use of and enhance its authenticity, integrity, significance and outstanding universal value. In particular, it should not compromise a viewer’s ability to appreciate its outstanding universal value, integrity, authenticity or significance.

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Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer
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Can the Minister tell us—clearly not now—what the status is of that car park land? It sits outside the wall of Kew Gardens, so I am not sure how far it is covered by any of the protections he has mentioned, even though it is the obvious site if you were going to have a commercial development. It would be extremely helpful to know what the protection is there.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I referred to buffer zones. This is an issue for Kew in terms of how planning proposals beyond the curtilage of Kew Gardens may, in turn, impose upon the world heritage site. I will write to the noble Baroness about the precise element of the car parks, but they are all part of Crown land, which is part of—ah, the noble Baroness is signalling that that may not be the case. May I come back to the noble Baroness on the question of that car park?

In conclusion, it is important to note that the Bill will not supersede the application of any existing legislation or policy already in place. This includes any proposals for new build or changes to the use of buildings, including on the wider estate. I mention that because Kew is a proactive scientific institution and therefore it is inevitable that, in protecting Kew and its wonderful historic site, we will have to have future state of the art scientific buildings with laboratories to help us find solutions to protect our natural ecosystem. So I deliberately raise the fact that, in protecting Kew, we will need new contemporary buildings to assist it in advancing scientific knowledge. I want to protect this great, historic site, and I am sure that it is our objective to entrench that for ever.

I repeat that I have looked at this in great detail and I cannot think of anywhere that has more protected elements, with so many varied facets, than Kew. So I say to the noble Lord, and to all noble Lords, that obviously I am in tune with what they want from this. I would like to continue discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and other noble Lords, because I want to get this right. However, in the meantime, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that, and I thank all noble Lords who have supported the intent of the amendment. The Minister clearly spelled out the number of protections that currently apply in different statutes and regulations. I concede that they make Kew probably one of the most protected acreages in the world. Nevertheless, I think I am right in saying that none of the protections existed 150 years ago—and not all of them existed 31 years ago. Therefore, we cannot be sure that they will exist in 31 years or 150 years—yet the leases will have been granted when the Bill becomes an Act.

I am grateful for the Minister’s offer to discuss this further. I understand about all the protections, but they could all change—and, even if they do not, issues could still be raised. I am mindful of another UNESCO world heritage site: the Liverpool waterfront. A building adjacent to it has raised serious questions. I think that in the end UNESCO accepted that it did not offend the status of the site. However, looking at it as a lay person, one might think that it came dangerously close. If a similar building were put on the Kew car park—although I suspect the protections would stop it—it would challenge a lot of what Kew stands for and what it looks like.

I am not suggesting that we should preserve Kew in aspic. I recognise, as the Minister has just said, that new buildings and new facilities will be needed to keep up with the scientific and educational activities of Kew—of course that will happen. But my amendment allows for supportive and compatible development, and we must make sure that the outcome of such development is compatible with and supportive of the general objectives of Kew.

I am disappointed that the Minister did not offer to draft a rather better government amendment for Report. However, I look forward to discussing this with him to see whether perhaps he could go some way down that road. In the meantime, I reserve the right to bring this back should that development not pertain. I thank all noble Lords who participated in the debate and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville
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My Lords, transparency is really important, but I am concerned that a set of accounts should be produced just for the income from the leases on seven properties. That seems quite bureaucratic to me. I accept that the noble Baroness said that this was a probing amendment, so I will be interested in what the Minister has to say. I would have thought that these accounts could have been incorporated into the consolidated Kew accounts, rather than being a separate set. That would be a better way of doing it.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Baronesses that we should always be transparent. I hope that I will satisfactorily be able to explain why I think that these matters are covered.

First, pursuant to the National Heritage Act, a statement of accounts in respect of each financial year for Kew is prepared, examined and certified. A report on this statement is produced by the Comptroller and Auditor-General as head of the National Audit Office and laid before each House. Details of Kew’s income, including government, commercial and charitable donations, are all set out in this report, which is a public document.

I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that income received by Kew in respect of these leases, subject to this Bill, will also be reflected in this report. In addition, Kew itself publishes audited annual reports and accounts. These state how much grant in aid it receives each year from Defra and how much is restricted to specific projects. Within this report, Kew will report on funds from the lease income as part of its funding note.

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Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
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Following on slightly from the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, can the Minister address the nature of the leases? These will presumably be repairing and insuring leases, in the sense that at the end of the term of the lease Kew will want the property back in the state in which the lease was granted. It would be worth while if my noble friend could confirm that, either now or in writing later.

The one amendment in this group with which I have particular sympathy is Amendment 7. This seems to provide a way to get some of the answers to the questions posed by my noble friend Lord Eccles about core and non-core land and to the wider concerns in the House about whether this is a one-shot deal or whether there is—as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, just said—around the periphery of the properties a whole series of small plots of land that might at one time or another be envisaged as falling under the provisions of this Bill. Some work on Amendment 7 could provide some answers and reassurance to those of us concerned at the nibbling away that might take place over a period of time in circumstances that are hard to foresee now.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling these amendments. Without going on for too long, I should like to take the opportunity to place on record a number of points.

Amendment 5 seeks to require the Secretary of State to publish, within a month of the Act being passed, an impact assessment covering any property that could be involved in these leases and any related financial liabilities and income projections. I understand that the aim of the amendment is to ensure public transparency on the scope and impacts of the leases that may be enabled under the Bill. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for allowing me to put on record the detail already published in Kew’s annual report and accounts, which includes the valuations set for Kew’s heritage assets of land, buildings and dwellings, as well as those assets under restoration.

Kew has already estimated the value to Kew of the properties affected. I understand that the £40 million was in 2015. Since then, the assessment is that the value of leases and avoided renovation costs in the short term would be up to £15 million. This estimate is based on the seven residential leases, of which two are currently unoccupied properties that require substantial renovation. This means that there cannot be any more quantified projections other than those that Kew has given at this time.

The need to scrutinise the impacts of lease proposals will be fulfilled by Kew in taking specialist advice and preparing proposals for consideration by, first, its executive board and board of trustees and, ultimately, the Secretary of State. This includes the involvement of Kew’s finance committee, audit and risk committee and capital development committee, as well as Defra. As I have said, and as we have all realised, Kew will focus on the seven residential properties currently let on assured shorthold tenancies or empty. As I have said, Kew has no immediate plans beyond that.

I find it really rather alarming that everyone is determined that dreadful things can happen. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has already said that this is one of the most protected sites in the country. No Parliament can bind its successors. All we can do is use our best endeavours now, with the protections that are there in legislation. I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. If a Parliament decided to amend the National Heritage Act in an adverse way, of course we would regret it, but it is for future Parliaments to decide those matters. What we can deal with today is having all the protections we possibly can. I have sympathy with all that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is seeking, but it is on record—even from the noble Lord—that this is the most protected part of the kingdom.

The development of all aspects of the Kew estate will remain subject to the approval of its board of trustees and in line with Kew’s world heritage site management plan, just as any shorter-term leases already would. Although I fully endorse the desire for meaningful transparency in these leases and the motivation behind the amendment from the noble Baroness, the degree of variation means that it would be best served through Kew’s existing proposals and commitments. Indeed, the lease would be publicly available at the Land Registry when the sale completes.

It is the view of my department that this amendment would risk providing information that would not be precise. Of course, it is subject to market conditions. In addition, the Secretary of State has to follow the guidance in Managing Public Money, formerly the Treasury Green Book, which requires value-for-money assessments.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, referring to Amendment 6, made some important points about the local planning authority. I understand and share the wish of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that any refurbishment or development should require the correct approval so that it does not compromise the property—which is Crown land—the world heritage site or Kew’s functions and activities in any way.

Kew’s activities, including any lease under the Bill’s provisions, are overseen by Kew’s board and the Secretary of State. The discussions and negotiations about leases would be initiated by Kew in accordance with its governance. This includes the trustees’ code of best practice, the National Heritage Act 1983 and the framework document between Kew and Defra. The lease itself would be prepared for and on behalf of the Secretary of State using specialist property lawyers and specialist commercial advice.

There will be numerous bespoke conditions in the lease agreement itself that shall offer the appropriate and relevant protection to Kew under this amendment. As I shall detail, these would deal with the unique nature of the land at Kew and, in particular, the listed buildings on Kew Green and, in doing so, provide complete protection for the Secretary of State and Kew.

As well as conditions bespoke to Kew, which I shall turn to in a moment, the usual lease conditions would apply. The usual leaseholder covenants include obligations not to do anything that contravenes planning; to comply with any estate regulations that may be drawn up; not to make any alterations to any part of the internal or external structure of premises without freeholder consent; to submit plans to the freeholder if consent for alteration is required; not to sublet or transfer premises without freeholder consent; not to interfere with or obstruct the performance of a freeholder in carrying out its duties; not to use the property for anything other than the use specified in the lease; not to access the property other than as specified in the lease; and not to cause a nuisance from the property. In addition, I assure your Lordships that all Kew leases will expressly include a leaseholder obligation not to do, or allow to be done, anything that will bring into disrepute the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including its status as a world heritage site or the listed building status of any house, for example.

Some of the houses will contain features typical of buildings of this age, such as plasterwork ceilings and cornicing. Given their listed building status, features such as these may not be altered, so any lease would provide that such features must be preserved and may not be damaged in any way. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, the local planning authority, advised by Historic England, is responsible for deciding whether a proposed development, or even internal renovation, should be allowed to go ahead.

I hope I can also reassure your Lordships that the Secretary of State would absolutely not grant a lease without the recommendation of the Kew trustees. The Secretary of State would take advice from specialist property lawyers as to the appropriate level of protection given Kew’s listed building status and the world heritage site. Therefore, I believe that robust procedures are already in place to ensure that the correct approvals are made. I am as concerned as anyone that none of these buildings be refurbished insensitively, but the terms of any standard lease, bolstered by special conditions for Kew and alongside the governance that the local planning authorities, Kew trustees and the Secretary of State provide, ensure that the points in the noble Baroness’s amendment are already covered.

Turning to Amendment 7, I am again grateful to the noble Baroness for the opportunity to clarify the criteria that would apply. Instead of taking three months, I hope I am able to put on record now these points. I re-emphasise that Kew’s current proposals extend to only seven properties, two of which are unoccupied and none of which is part of the core estate. These leases are being pursued to free up vital revenue for Kew, and will do so with no impact on Kew’s core functions. I am pleased to reassure your Lordships that these criteria derive from the various protections already in place, which I have strongly emphasised. It is, however, absolutely right that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to respecting the property, because that is exactly what we must do.

To preserve the protection of the property and Kew’s functions, obligations on the leaseholders would include the following requirements, which I will place on record in the context of Amendments 7 and 8: to repair and keep the property in good condition and decoration; to allow Defra or Kew to access the property to carry out any necessary works; to make good any damage caused by the leaseholder to the property or to the Kew estate; not to do, or allow to be done, anything that will bring RBG Kew into disrepute, including its status as a world heritage site; to comply with the provisions of any statute, statutory instrument, order, rule or regulation, and of any order, direction or requirement made or given by any planning authority or the appropriate Minister or court; not to alter any of the property internally or externally without the express written consent of Kew’s board of trustees and the Secretary of State; not to sublet any of the property without the Secretary of State’s consent; not to assign, transfer or sell their interest in the property without the Secretary of State’s consent; not to interfere with or obstruct the performance of the duties of the Secretary of State, or Kew by way of servant; not to use the property for anything other than the use specified in the lease; not to access the property other than as specified in the lease; not to leave the property unoccupied for a certain period of time; and, finally, not to cause a nuisance from the property. I want to be very clear that there has been proper consideration of this in reference to, as my noble friend Lord Hodgson said, the status and condition of the property.

The noble Baroness was right to raise also the issue of forfeiture. The right to forfeiture occurs when the leaseholder under a lease breaches an obligation contained within a lease. What these obligations may be are a routine part of lease agreements, and so are the conditions for termination of the lease—I have already placed these on the record—as to obligations that will ultimately result in forfeiture if breached under a Kew lease. As I said, the lease agreement itself will be drawn up by specialist property lawyers acting on behalf of the Secretary of State to reflect the various considerations and protections that need to apply in respect of the property itself, the world heritage site and Kew’s functions and activities. I should stress that lease agreements will need to be, and shall be, drawn up and agreed on a case-by-case basis by specialist property lawyers, even though they will have most conditions in common.

Forfeiture of a business lease and forfeiture of a residential property are not the same. This Bill does not seek to disapply any protection a leaseholder may have from unlawful eviction. The forfeiture clause in a lease cannot be one size fits all, since the court looks very seriously at any possession claim, and it is a complicated area of law. This does not, however, negate the fact that breach of leaseholder covenants under leases created by this Bill—such as an obligation to keep in good repair—can and will, if appropriate and if sanctioned by the courts following sufficiently serious breaches, result in the Secretary of State taking back possession of the property.

Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [HL]

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Excerpts
Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 5th June 2019

(5 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Kew Gardens (Leases) Act 2019 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 174-R-I Marshalled list for Report (PDF) - (3 Jun 2019)
Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab)
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My Lords, I intervened in Committee and put to the Minister a series of questions to which I hoped he might give me the answers in writing. They have not come, so perhaps he might ask officials to consider the questions I asked during that debate.

The most important protection for the land at Kew Gardens has been the fact that leases could be granted for a maximum of 30 years. The moment you transform that system and change the arrangement such that you can grant leases of up to 150 years, you transform the discussion about the future of that land and its potential use by developers. Even though covenants and restrictions will be in place, developers will look seriously at the long-term potential of the use of the land.

The question for me is: what has been Parliament’s intention during the passage of the Bill? As I have understood it, it is to ensure that no commercial development takes place on the site and that residential development should be restricted to a very small proportion of the land. I am not convinced by that. Parliament is being naive in thinking that the position will remain the same for the next 150 years.

So last night, lying in bed at midnight—as happened on the previous occasion—I went through the documentation that the Minister has provided for us in the past week. That is the framework document, from which I want to cite a number of paragraphs in support of my case.

Paragraph 27.1 refers to a “light touch” annual review of the framework document. It then talks about three-yearly full reviews. What will happen at the end of three years, six years, nine years, 12 years, 15 years, 18 years or 21 years? At what stage do Ministers envisage being under pressure, because the Secretary of State retains powers in these areas, to change the arrangements for future development possibilities on that site?

Paragraph 28.2 confirms the sharing arrangements for developers’ gains—so in the framework document there is recognition that there will be developers’ gains in the future. I am sure developers will study that closely. It may be that, because the intention of Parliament is not altogether clear, lawyers pore over our debates. I am not a lawyer, but I am told that they often refer to parliamentary debates to try to identify what the intention of Parliament was when a particular Bill went through.

Paragraph 7.4 refers to a requirement on Kew,

“to maximise opportunities to increase income”.

Again, that is a pressure point on Kew to maximise income available from the site. In my view, it would be for the development of commercial and residential property.

Under paragraph 7.2, the Secretary of State can set conditions on grant-in-aid funding. In other words, they could pressure Kew to maximise alternative income streams when deciding on the grant-in-aid funding to be made available in any particular year.

Paragraph 21.1 emphasises the requirement for Kew to have regard to “efficiency, costs and resources”—again, that is a pressure.

In paragraphs 23.2 and 23.3, there is a requirement to avoid balances. Under the agreement as I understand it, Kew must not pursue a policy of having balances at the ends of years. In other words, it cannot save money in that way, which will in itself put pressure on resource availability—so much so that I believe that it will seek profits from the development of land on the site.

In paragraph 25.1, a process is set out for Defra’s approval of breaches of the MPM rules, guidance and advice, and in paragraph 9.2 there is a requirement on the Secretary of State to sign off land sales. This, of course, works both ways: it can put a block on sales, but on the other hand it could serve as a notice to future generations that in 2019 it was envisaged or foreseen that land sales would inevitably take place. The question is: what land? I am not suggesting for one moment that it will be land in the body of the site, but I believe that that site has rich future potential and that developers will look at it and argue that, on the periphery of the estate, particularly near the river, there is potential for substantial development.

In Committee, I pointed to a footage price for flats on the present market. Flats down there would sell, even in today’s market, at £1,500 per square foot. That property in the future, on the river at Kew, will fetch far more money than even today’s prices, because it will become prime property. Ministers have completely underestimated the pressure that will be put on the trustees and the people who will be running Kew in the future to maximise their profits through property development on that site. I heard nothing during the debate in Committee that in any way interferes with my view. I believe that that is what will happen, and what we have in the Bill offers insufficient protection, despite all the conditions that the Minister referred to in his responses on that previous occasion.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)
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My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords for their contributions. I well understand that the noble Baroness’s amendment seeks to restrict the application of the Bill solely to residential properties. It is true that the properties currently in the contemplation of Kew following the Bill are those seven residential properties that are either currently occupied on one-year assured shorthold tenancies or are vacant and require substantial renovation work. That is not to say that these are the only opportunities for Kew, but these are the definite properties that could immediately benefit from the Bill.

I know that noble Lords want only the best for Kew—I absolutely understand what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is saying. In both what I believe I put on record about the protections and, if I am permitted, in suggesting what might follow on the next amendment, Parliament is very clear about the requirement to protect Kew. However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Eccles that restricting leases to residential properties only would have a significant adverse impact on Kew’s ability to benefit from the Bill. All noble Lords have said that we have great trust in the current trustees but we are worried about what might happen in the future. The current trustees and executive feel very strongly that to restrict the Bill will not be helpful to Kew in the future. I want, therefore, to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and other noble Lords by setting out in more detail further properties that Kew might, for example, plan for the future.

Other properties will be considered for the possibility of the grant of a longer lease when opportunities clearly present themselves; for instance, if buildings become vacant and surplus to requirements. As noble Lords know, the care and protection of Kew’s collections is one of the primary duties of Kew’s board of trustees. The board must ensure that its collections are well managed, widely accessible and secure, and provide an optimum environment for scientific collaboration and discovery. This statutory duty will entail developing contemporary world-class facilities for the collections and science research at Kew Gardens, to provide a platform for collaborative, discovery-driven, botanical science to find solutions to the urgent challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.

As these facilities are realised over the medium to long term, this could enable other buildings to be repurposed for a means appropriate to furthering Kew’s mission and statutory objectives. These other buildings could include office accommodation which becomes surplus to requirements or is in need of significant renovation. In such cases, Kew should be able to explore options that deliver the best possible return for Kew, whether for commercial or residential letting, and which can be reinvested to further its statutory functions.

One such opportunity is 47 Kew Green. This is currently an office building for marketing and commercial staff, albeit not fit for purpose as modern office accommodation and requiring significant renovation work. Should Kew identify alternative space for staff to move out of this building into more suitable accommodation, it would be faced with a choice of renovating the building itself or finding a suitable and sensitive lessee to take the building over and improve its condition. I should add that Kew is very clear that, even with renovation, this building would not be suitable as research facilities to further Kew’s purpose—investigation and research into the science of plants and fungi. Kew may not require the office building in the future, but, equally, preventing Kew leasing it out as a business premises would restrict it, even risking that building becoming obsolete. That is clearly one of the key aims that the Bill seeks to remedy.

Another possibility is Descanso House, a grade 2 listed Georgian building on the edge of the Kew Gardens site. It is not accessible to the public and is underutilised due to its condition. It is currently office accommodation for a small number of Kew staff, with a small office let to a Kew partner on a one-year lease. It is in urgent need of repairs. If alternative office accommodation could be found, this building could be considered for refurbishment, subject to listed building consent and in accordance with guidance in the Kew world heritage site plan.

To restrict the Bill to apply solely to the residential properties would not help Kew. On the basis that the protections are already in place, which I have set out at great length—and, if I may be permitted to say, I believe those protections will be considered in the next amendment—there is no reason to distinguish between residential and commercial leaseholds. From my experience of other large estates such as Kew, I would expect a mix of leasehold lets.

I will look into the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I recall committing to write on the specific issue of the car park. A copy of that letter should have been placed in the Library and sent to all noble Lords, but I will check. I know I signed the letter, so I am confident that—

Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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To reassure the Minister, I certainly received a copy of it; I believe my noble friend did as well. I do not know whether other noble Lords did, but it was an extremely reassuring letter.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I will look at Hansard again, because if the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, thinks that I have not attended to other matters, I of course shall.

On the question of the framework document, Kew is protected but it is absolutely essential that there is rigour in that document, given the use of public money, over the arrangements between the sponsoring department and Kew. All noble Lords would be displeased if there were not confidence that there was rigour in the custodianship of public money. I do not resile from the fact that it is important that there is this arrangement between Defra and Kew. From my experience, the relationship between the two is proper, but with a mutual respect that we understand absolutely the functions that the trustees and the executive undertake on our behalf.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours
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The Minister has to accept that what we are discussing today in the Bill is on the basis of the framework document that we can now see. We do not know what the framework document will say in 15 years’ time, yet we are carrying the Bill today.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, with the greatest of respect, none of us can command the certainty of what our successors may do. We are here, doing what we can. That is why I am pleased that in the next amendment we will be discussing our protections, which I have already outlined in considerable detail. I have taken great care and attention when discussing this with the trustees and the executive, all of whom have the ultimate bona fides with regard to the future of Kew.

I believe that Parliament, in its scrutiny, is undertaking what is right: the Bill gives Kew the capacity to reduce its maintenance liabilities and running costs, which must be desirable. It generates additional income from property that will help Kew to achieve its core objectives—which is desirable—maintain its status as a UNESCO world heritage site, and to improve the quality of its estate. I do not mean to be facetious, but resources are not infinite. I do not yet know any noble Lord who truly thinks that we have infinite resources, however wonderful Kew is. Therefore this approach must be right. I go to Kew often, and there are buildings there which we are not looking after as well as any of us would wish. This is what Kew wishes us to do, because this is the way that will help it to fulfil its statutory functions.

I say in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that, having spoken to those at Kew, I have given examples of buildings that they believe could be better suited to a commercial let but with all the current protections and what I believe we may well go on to. I therefore respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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My Lords, I very much welcome the steps the Minister has taken to listen to the concerns that have been raised around the Chamber in the earlier debates and again today. I know that he has done his best to answer all the issues that we have thrown at him over that period, and he has done so again today. It was helpful to hear the examples that he gave. I felt that in earlier debates there was a bit of a black hole, but he has populated that black hole with some credible examples. None of us wants buildings on the site left empty, obsolete or run down, and if there is a plan to deal with those in a constructive way, I think we would all want that to happen.

My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours was right to say that the lawyers will pore over these debates in years to come, so it has been helpful to have that on the record as Kew’s general intent. The Minister caveated his comments by pointing out that we will shortly have another debate. On the basis that there is more than one way to skin a cat—this was only one way and another is coming up—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty (Lab)
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My Lords, while moving Amendment 2, which is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Jones, I will also speak to Amendment 3—the two are clearly interdependent.

Your Lordships may recall that I expressed my attachment to Kew, its history, scientific excellence and amenity value, and to its aspect and its contribution, as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, said, to that beautiful stretch of the Thames. None of us wishes to prejudice any of that. We want to preserve all those outcomes and benefits, but I recognise that to do so costs money. I was, like the Minister, responsible for Kew for a number of years, and understand that we need to increase the private money going into it. I recognise that the 31-year restriction on the lease was an inhibition on raising some of that money.

However, as my noble friends Lord Campbell-Savours and Lady Jones said, the Bill presented to us was very open-ended and was not restricted to the seven Kew Green properties but applied to any form of asset, building or land within the Kew estate. I therefore clearly felt, as did many other contributors to that debate, that we needed to place some restriction on how leases could be extended. I recognise the need for resources and to update some of the estate, but we need to be pretty firm in ensuring that such leases as are granted by virtue of this very short and apparently innocuous Bill are preserved and that Kew can continue to provide both scientific excellence and amenity value to our people—indeed, to the planet as a whole, because Kew’s contribution to botanical science is a very important element in biodiversity and climate change strategies.

As noble Lords will recall, in Committee I produced an amendment which I thought was pretty good and nailed the restrictions necessary. It referred to any such lease having to be,

“supportive of, or be compatible with the core botanical, scientific, environmental, educational and amenity activities of”,

Kew. I thought that was pretty clear, but since then, after consultation with lawyers—both mine and the department’s—it has become clear that that is too generalised and must be anchored in existing legislation to which future generations can refer. I therefore welcome the discussion that the Minister had and allowed his officials and Kew officials to have with me so that we could come up with a form of words which I hope meets all the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours and others. There is concern in the community around Kew, in the scientific community and in the minds of those who use Kew for recreational purposes that if we allow any open-ended leases, there will be developer interest, with the disastrous effect that we have seen on other stretches of the Thames applied to this very special piece of ground.

I therefore accept the advice of the lawyers to a large extent and have attempted in my amendments to place restrictions on future leases in terms, on the one hand, of the universal World Heritage Site provisions, which are pretty clear and, on the other, under the National Heritage Act, which includes the six principles under which the trustees of Kew are supposed to operate, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred at earlier stages. That pretty much covers the basis on which we must ensure that restrictions are placed on leases.

The amendments place the obligation on the Secretary of State, who would grant the leases, and therefore on the lessee, who would have to abide by the restrictions required by the Secretary of State. That may not be 100% watertight, but it is much more watertight than the original Bill and, I think, reflects many of the assurances which the Minister has tried to give us today and at earlier stages of the Bill. I think we can move forward with confidence and avoid the kind of intrusion on, and misuse of, the assets and land at Kew that some of us have feared. I beg to move.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I think that it would be helpful to your Lordships if I confirmed that the Government support both amendments.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I hesitate to intervene, particularly after what my noble friend on the Front Bench said. I assure the House that I will not inflict a Second Reading speech on noble Lords.

I proposed the Bill kindly taken up by the Government, which has become the Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill. Therefore, in some senses, I am a guilty party. I apologise for the fact that, because the Bill was taken up at short notice, I could not be present either at Second Reading or in Committee. Having read the proceedings carefully, I express my thanks to all those noble Lords who have demonstrated their love for Kew and their concern for it and its importance as a world heritage site and a world scientific centre. The words used by Peers on all sides of the House have been wise and shown a duty of care. My noble friend on the Front Bench has been wise in negotiating and listening to come forward with a compromise, which I hope will satisfy the House.

I have been in the two buildings mentioned by my noble friend in the debate on the previous amendment. There is no doubt that they have a better longer-term purpose. Something was said about how people may construe the intentions of Parliament—indeed, those of all concerned. When I had the honour some years ago of being the leader of the local authority, I walked the grounds with Mr Deverell, the truly outstanding director of Kew. We discussed this problem and these propositions, which eventually led to the Bill. With the benefit of those private discussions over a number of years, I can assure the House that never at any stage was any intention expressed, either in private or in public, by those involved with Kew that would lead towards the kind of concerning developments rightly raised by some Members.

With that assurance, added to what I know of Kew’s intentions and the benefits that this Bill could secure for Kew, I will not trespass any further on the House’s patience. I apologise for not being present to support a Bill I proposed in my name and support wholeheartedly. I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Let us hope that the Bill goes forward and becomes law, to the benefit of this great institution.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I am most grateful for all noble Lords’ contributions. I am struck that, as is so likely in your Lordships’ House, I am looking at two former Ministers responsible for Kew and behind me on the Government Benches are two former chairmen of Kew. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked: what is the worst that can happen? We have all worked tremendously hard to ensure that the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, set out the right position. I am very pleased that the Government support them.

The conditions centre on Kew’s status as a UNESCO world heritage site and the functions of the board of trustees of Kew as set out in primary legislation. I was struck by what the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said about the political composition of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Thinking back to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, I cannot imagine any local authority of any political complexion, given all the safeguards I know there are in the borough, allowing this theoretical block of flats getting into any sort of starting stall. The point about the local authority was precisely put. I regret that my noble friend Lord True, who earlier pioneered this Bill, has only now had an opportunity to demonstrate his expertise and experience of Kew and the sorts of properties that the Bill is designed to help remedy in order to provide important resources for Kew.

I share noble Lords’ aim to protect Kew when granting these leases, and I believe that the amendment provides a robust assurance in response to many of the points raised in debate in your Lordships’ House. As I have stated before, the strong and multilayered protections already in place, together with planning permissions appropriately tailored in accordance with listed status, ensure that only development in keeping with Kew Gardens and its status as a UNESCO world heritage site will be permitted.

Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [HL]

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Excerpts
3rd reading: House of Lords
Tuesday 11th June 2019

(5 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Kew Gardens (Leases) Act 2019 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 174-R-I Marshalled list for Report (PDF) - (3 Jun 2019)
Moved by
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)
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My Lords, in moving that the Bill do now pass, I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all noble Lords for their interest in the Bill and for their contributions. I am grateful for the positive engagement and support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Kramer and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, on the Opposition Benches; and I thank my noble friends Lord Eccles, Lord Selborne, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and Lord True, and the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Campbell-Savours, for their active engagement and our constructive discussions. I have of course been struck by the level of support for, and the degree of close association with, Kew, including two previous chairmen of Kew and two previous Ministers who had responsibilities for it in your Lordships’ House. I also place on record my appreciation to Defra officials and those from Kew who have assisted us all.

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Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, I would also like to thank the Minister and Defra officials for their time and patience in providing the very useful briefings. These were very welcome and greatly assisted the process of understanding what the Bill was about for those of us not steeped in the history of Kew. Many of your Lordships are, and it was a great comfort to know that so many Kew experts were taking part in the debate, thus ensuring that this short Bill was improved and provided the necessary requirements.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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In the spirit of what I said before, I want to place on record again that what the noble Baronesses have said is precisely what I feel we are intended to do: to look at these matters and decide a way forward. I was very pleased to play my part in getting the resolution we all wanted: to ensure that this unique scientific institution is properly safeguarded. I am most grateful to noble Lords because we have a Bill we can all be proud of.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.