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I wonder what would happen if anybody suggested that the Chelsea Hospital should be let for 150 years. It would be a disaster. It is inconceivable that such a building should be let for 150 years. However, here we are, thinking of a far greater establishment, a far greater centre at the heart of our naval and nautical experience which we are going to flog off. It is too appalling to think of. I support the amendment.
The Earl of Balfour: I am rather concerned, first, about Amendment No. 12. It has been my experience generally that tenants are not at all good at looking after the building which they rent. I feel that the conditions written into the tenancy should be very strict. However, from the words at the beginning of subsection (3) of Clause 30 I get the impression that the tenant would be responsible for,
I should like to make one or two other points on this clause. First, the Seamen's Hospital specialised in tropical disease, and there is still a need for that in this country. I also have the impression that Clause 30 allows the Secretary of State on behalf of the Crown to let for occupation part or whole of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. Section 7 of the Greenwich Hospital Act 1869, which is being repealed, allows others to occupy unwanted land at the hospital. I wondered why that provision was being repealed as other parts of this Bill allow the hospital grounds, along with the College, to be let.
I have been down to the National Maritime Museum on quite a number of occasions and I must say that I find the Royal Naval College one of the most magnificent buildings I have ever seen in my life. I was there on only one occasion. It has a fascinating naval history. I hope very much that it can have a close connection with the National Maritime Museum.
Legislation often refers to "the Secretary of State", but I wonder whether some other worthy naval citizen could also be a trustee in this case, so that we have a second string to our bow to see that these buildings really are looked after.
Lord Mayhew: I should like briefly to associate myself with the amendment which I warmly support. Parliament has done well on this Bill as far as Greenwich is concerned. The amendment is a very mild one. I look forward to hearing the noble Earl, if he does not accept it, explaining how it would be proper for the Secretary of State to proceed to lease the land, even if he is not satisfied that the terms of subsection (3) have been met.
Earl Howe: Let me say at the outset that I sympathise completely with the concerns that noble Lords have expressed about a worthy and fitting use for these magnificent buildings. The debates in your Lordships' House on the issue have brought out the level of that concern. I hope that the actions the Government have taken will have allayed some of the worries initially expressed last year. There is no real distance separating the Government from Members of the Committee concerning what we all want to see happen to the buildings.
We have taken considerable care to ensure that, as far as possible, the wider interests of heritage and access are reflected in future decisions on the Royal Naval College. It is important to remember that the Secretary of State is holding the land as trustee for the benefit of Greenwich Hospital, which is a Crown charity. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, felt that he had to cast aspersions on the integrity of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State as a trustee of Greenwich Hospital and indeed on his commitment to finding a fitting occupant for the Royal Naval College. That commitment is as strong as ever. Indeed, I believe that the announcement my right honourable friend made recently demonstrates how keen he is to see that we reach the right end point.
My noble friend Lord Clanwilliam expressed the view that it was a disaster that the Navy was leaving Greenwich. I agree that it is a matter of great regret that the Navy is leaving. I believe that the Royal Navy itself is extremely sad at the prospect. The fact is, however, that it is leaving, and for perfectly sound reasons. We have to find an appropriate tenant to take its place. The reason we have to repeal the section in the 1869 Act, to answer my noble friend Lord Balfour, is that the Act specifies that the buildings, which we now know as the Royal Naval College, may only be occupied by the Royal Navy or by a government department. That restricts the choice of tenant available.
Earl Howe: The noble Lord is quite right. I am sorry. The point still stands that the Act restricts the choice of occupant. That is why my right honourable friend felt that it was right last year to see who might be out there as a potential, fitting, occupant of the college. We have found at least two fitting occupants--in fact more than two--and I have every confidence that the question of the occupation of Greenwich will be happily resolved.
The clause as currently drafted seeks to achieve a proper balance between the private interests of Greenwich Hospital, which the Secretary of State as trustee must seek to safeguard, and the wider public interest. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, placed emphasis on the need for a firm link between subsection (2) of Clause 3 and subsection (3). He is absolutely right and there is already a clear link between those two subsections. Subsection (2) lists considerations to which my right honourable friend must have regard in exercising his statutory functions under the Greenwich Hospital Acts. It is clear from subsection (12) that this includes his power to grant the lease of the Greenwich site under subsection (3), so the trustee would be in breach of the clause if he granted a lease of the site without first having had regard to the considerations in subsection (2). The link is there. It was a fair point made by the noble Lord, but perhaps he had not made the connection between the various constituent parts of the clause.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, felt that we perhaps ought to go rather further than we have. The possibility of making this Bill a hybrid Bill was a principal consideration which we bore in mind in drafting the key amendment to this clause, which was then agreed in another place. It was and remains our judgment that the wording of the clause goes as far as it can without raising the spectre of hybridity. The policy which appears to lie behind the noble Lord's amendment would be likely to take the clause, and hence the Bill, over the threshold of hybridity. For that reason we do not recommend that the Committee embraces these amendments, although we hope that noble Lords will see that the spirit of them is embodied already in the Bill and is one with which we can very readily identify.
My right honourable friend announced his intention to grant the head lease of the Royal Naval College to a heritage trust. That announcement was widely welcomed and my noble friend Lord Balfour may like to note that my right honourable friend was very receptive to the suggestion that a retired admiral should serve as one of the trustees of the heritage trust.
The wording of this clause reflects the importance that my right honourable friend and your Lordships attach to the heritage and to access, alongside the charitable purposes of Greenwich Hospital. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, expressed his view that it would be appropriate if these buildings were once again available for the benefit of naval pensioners in accordance with the original purpose for which they were built. One of Greenwich Hospital's objects is the benefit of seafarers. Indeed, they will continue to benefit because rent will be paid to Greenwich Hospital which will then be used
My noble friend Lord Mottistone asked what was the significance of the period of 150 years which this clause lays down. The answer to him is that we need to be able to give a lease a reasonable length of time to make it a worthwhile proposition to a lessee, but not so long as to lose control of the buildings. There is no particular significance in the number 150, although--interestingly--in its 300-year history the Royal Naval College was a hospital for about 150 years and then a college for a similar period. So perhaps there is a certain symmetry in this number.
On a more technical point--if the noble Lord will bear with me--although the clause as drafted requires the Secretary of State to have regard to various matters, it has not been drafted to contain any "objectives", which is the word used in the noble Lord's amendment, such that a court could say that they had or had not been met. So the amendment as it stands is technically incompatible with the current clause and would not actually work.
I hope that I have said enough to persuade the Committee that the Government's approach is right. It is as far as we can go without making the Bill a hybrid one, and I hope that the words that I have placed on the record will give reassurance to those noble Lords who are may have harboured some concerns.
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