Zoological Society of London (Leases) Bill

– in the House of Commons am 12:16 pm ar 19 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

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

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

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

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Ceidwadwyr, Suffolk Coastal

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. At what point can we make speeches on the Bill?

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

Once the Third Reading debate has commenced.

Third Reading

King’s consent signified.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East 12:20, 19 Ebrill 2024

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

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

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Ceidwadwyr, Suffolk Coastal

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 Friend the Member for Christchurch for having, in effect, withdrawn his amendment, following various discussions.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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Ceidwadwyr, Darlington

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

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

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Ceidwadwyr, Darlington

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

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

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Ceidwadwyr, Broadland

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Ceidwadwyr, Broadland

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Ceidwadwyr, Milton Keynes North

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

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

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

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

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Ceidwadwyr, Broadland

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Ceidwadwyr, Darlington

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

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

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

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

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Ceidwadwyr, Broadland

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

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

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

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

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Ceidwadwyr, Darlington

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

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

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman was absolutely correct to say that that goes slightly wider than the scope of the Bill under discussion. I take his point, but that is perhaps a matter for another day.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

Photo of James Wild James Wild Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Ceidwadwyr, Broadland

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

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

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Ceidwadwyr, Suffolk Coastal 12:55, 19 Ebrill 2024

It is a huge pleasure to speak on Third Reading. I congratulate my hon. Friend Bob Blackman on piloting this Bill on a subject that has been a passion of his for some time, and I am hopeful not only that we will give the Bill its Third Reading today, but that it will sail through the other place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Ceidwadwyr, Darlington 1:01, 19 Ebrill 2024

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

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

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

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

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Ceidwadwyr, Milton Keynes North

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

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Ceidwadwyr, Darlington

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

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Ceidwadwyr, Suffolk Coastal

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

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Ceidwadwyr, Darlington

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

Photo of Danny Kruger Danny Kruger Ceidwadwyr, Devizes 1:06, 19 Ebrill 2024

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

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

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

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Ceidwadwyr, Milton Keynes North 1:09, 19 Ebrill 2024

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

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

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Ceidwadwyr, Darlington

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

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Ceidwadwyr, Milton Keynes North

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

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

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

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

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Ceidwadwyr, Broadland

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

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Ceidwadwyr, Milton Keynes North

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

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Ceidwadwyr, Milton Keynes North

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

Photo of James Wild James Wild Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk 1:18, 19 Ebrill 2024

I join in congratulating my hon. Friend Bob Blackman on bringing the Bill to this stage. Hopefully it will pass today and make its way through to become law. It is yet another private Member’s Bill that he has successfully shepherded through the House; I will have to get some tips from him on how to follow his lead and come higher in the ballot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of James Wild James Wild Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

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

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

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

Photo of James Wild James Wild Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

My hon. Friend makes a very interesting observation.

Photo of James Wild James Wild Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

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

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

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

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

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

Photo of James Wild James Wild Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

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

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

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

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

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Ceidwadwyr, Milton Keynes North

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

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

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

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

Photo of James Wild James Wild Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

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

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

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

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

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

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Ceidwadwyr, Broadland

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

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

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

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

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

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Ceidwadwyr, Milton Keynes North

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

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

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

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

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

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

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

Photo of James Wild James Wild Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

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

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Minister of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East 1:41, 19 Ebrill 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.