§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Bossom
I beg to move,That this House deplores the destruction of beauty in town and country and the danger to houses of historic or architectural interest, declares that these are matters of national concern, and is of opinion that the Government should take active steps to ascertain whether its existing powers are adequate or whether they require substantial reinforcement.I believe that I am justified in saying that practically everybody in the House is to a large extent in sympathy with the spirit of this Motion. I have never before experienced what it means to receive a fan mail. I am not a cinema star, as everyone will realise, but since the announcement that this subject was to be debated, my mail has increased to such an extent that I do not envy the cinema stars when they get their friends writing to them. Therefore, I shall not attempt in any way to apologise for occupying the time of the House in discussing this matter. All Governments and the leaders of all parties have expressed their approval of the preservation movement, yet it is in the personal knowledge of most hon. Members and of the national and local Press, who are daily announcing the fact, that much greater care must be exercised if we are to preserve what we already possess. Beauty spot after beauty spot is being defiled. Our marvellous and old historic places, which have withstood the ravages of man and the storms of nature for centuries, are now, through carelessness, stupidity, private gain or personal greed, passing away to the nation's everlasting loss.
I believe the Motion is somewhat unique in that it does not ask anything from the Government except that it prays them to investigate and see how we can stop the destruction of more of the nation's most precious possessions. From time to time all Governments have passed Statutes which have contained provisions to carry out the idea of the preservation of these ancient monuments and historic buildings. The Ancient Monuments Acts, the Town and Country Planning Act, the Ribbon Development Act, the Trunk Road Act, the Land Drainage Act, the Advertisements Regulation Act, have been passed, but many of them are strictly permissive, they are not compelling, and they frequently have to be administered by 420 small and rather impecunious local authorities. In some cases they call for compensation which these authorities feel they cannot or do not feel justified in paying. These various Acts affect practically all Departments and Ministers of the Government. They were introduced by the First Commissioner of Works, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Transport, the Minister of Agriculture and the Home Secretary, and only a few moments ago we heard of a case where the Air Ministry is involved in difficulties in a certain part of the country. The Secretary of State for War is also in difficulties at the present time in Berkshire in connection with the Shrivenham camp, and we always realise that the Treasury has a lot to say when any money is possibly to be passed out. I think we may say that in situations like this where a matter is everybody's business it becomes no one's responsibility. I have mentioned most Members of the Cabinet in this connection and it works in practice that no special Minister is responsible and the question of the preservation of our national beauty spots and our historic buildings has become a national stepchild.
This lack of a definite responsibility has produced a negative policy, giving the appearance of complacency which I am sure, from what I have seen and heard, is totally incorrect. To make the attitude clear, contrast what is happening regarding architecture and fine scenery with our attitude towards painting. If anybody went into the National Gallery and attempted to destroy one of our national pictures he would be immediately taken to gaol. If a man attempted to destroy even his own historic paintings his friends and relations would immediately put him in a lunatic asylum. Yet we go on allowing the destruction of our most important and historic buildings and take little heed. There is one example which must be remembered by almost everyone in this House. One of the best examples of our monumental town planning is Carlton House Terrace on Crown property, which we allowed to be butchered simply because someone said it would make some money. As a result the whole nation has suffered a real loss. I am justified in saying that many real enthusiastic lovers of England, lovers of the beauties of these islands, live very much in a fool's paradise. They imagine that if attention 421 is loudly called to the fact that any beauty spot is in danger of being destroyed, there are laws existing which can prevent such destruction.
If the House will bear with me for a few minutes I will endeavour to show that this is not quite correct. Take the Ancient Monuments Acts. They are strictly permissive and are administered by a very small staff. I hope the Minister will tell us how small that staff is. They literally have no money. The work is done by voluntary efforts all over the country, by people who have to do other work to earn a living. Those who carry out these Acts cannot take any action on their own initiative in regard to inhabited structures, and I believe we shall all agree that at least 75 per cent. of the architectural monuments which are worth preserving are to-day inhabited, and yet this Act prevents them being touched unless they are voluntarily turned over to the Department. If a building is turned over and those who administer the Act do not quite agree with what is proposed to be done by the owner, their only alternative is to protest for three months, and then at the end of those three months, if the owner does not agree and they cannot reach a compromise, they have to come to this House and ask for money to purchase the monument in question.
Only twice during the life of these Acts has this condition arisen. In the first case the Department came to this House and the House refused the money, and, in the second, they compromised and allowed a garage, I believe, to be built, inconspicuously, in the centre of the monument. I feel confident in saying that as the Ancient Monuments Acts are purely voluntary and permissive we cannot rely on them to protect our ancient monuments if someone really wants to destroy them. Take the Town and Country Planning Act. That again is a permissive Act. Let me quote one or two figures. The Act was passed in 1932 and 37,000,000 acres were covered by it, but only 200,000 acres, mostly suburban, are now completed, controlled by the Act; that is approximately one-half of 1 per cent. of the area possible in the country. The Minister, when speaking on this matter on the last occasion when we discussed town and country planning, called attention to the fact that 20,000,000 acres were under resolution. Let me read a 422 short extract from the statement of the clerk to a town planning authority, which reached me on 28th January of this year. He was referring to a space which had been marked out as a public open space in 1934 but which has since been changed without any warning:As you are no doubt aware, a planning scheme does not become a scheme until it has been laid before Parliament, and that until such planning scheme does become law any owner is entitled to do what he likes with the land.If this is the point of view held by planning authorities I do not think we can place full reliance on the Town and Country Planning Act for the preservation of our ancient monuments and beauty spots. Let me call attention also to the way some of the 1,500 town-planning authorities look upon the Act. In five advertisements asking for fully trained town-planning assistants for the town-planning authorities the highest salary offered was £300 a year and the lowest £200 a year, less than an ordinary foreman bricklayer gets for his work. Yet these men are supposed to be advisers to authorities in matters which will involve control in some cases for at least 50 years. It is perfectly ridiculous. They might just as well give one of their office boys half a crown a week extra and tell him to mug up the subject. It would almost be as intelligent as what they are attempting to-day.
Until the Town and Country Planning Act is administered with vastly more enthusiasm than is shown to-day, we cannot rely very much on it. Another hon. Member will deal with the subject of the Housing Acts, so I shall not waste the time of the House by referring further to them. As to the Minister of Transport, I want most sincerely to congratulate him on those recommendations—unfortunately, only recommendations—which we have seen in the papers to-day. I sincerely hope that in future he will make it his rule to insist on these recommendations being adopted before he gives his grants to local authorities. In the recent past in many road widenings and bypasses many local authorities have quite ruthlessly handled the buildings or cottages on the sides of the roadway. I suppose that the Minister of Transport really is a great champion for the preservation of our town and country in the Cabinet. If he is not, he ought to be. When he sees fine old individual homes 423 continuously being pulled down and great blocks of flats housing 50 families taking their place, he must sadly realise it is making his town traffic problem almost insoluable. Ribbon development must make the number of accidents for which he is to an extent held responsible all the more trying to bear. I hope, indeed, that he will push this matter of preservations of amenities most actively in the Cabinet.
I would call the attention of the Minister who is to reply to two practically parallel cases in connection with road widening. The Minister I believe knows the London-Folkestone road quite well. It has just been widened. It runs through practically open country. Already it has a crop of ribbon dwellings beside it, with some of the most unpleasant petrol pumps that can be seen, many small but growing Peacehavens, and sides like rough railway cuttings in places. There is no planting of any sort and a number of shack stalls have been allowed to gather along the sides. A parallel case is another that, I believe, the Minister ought to know. It is the road between New York and Greenwich. That also has recently been widened, and runs through similar open country. There is not a single atom of ribbon development upon it. There are secondary roads along which any houses are built. There are overhead crossings with very attractive stone bridges, and there are no petrol pumps beside the road. Where needed they have been built back from the road. Trees and bushes have been planted and it is altogether a most charming highway, like a country road for all of its length. There is no reason why we should not have had exactly the same here.
As to the Minister of Agriculture, he comes twice and very prominently into the situation as regards preservation. When we were discussing town and country planning on another occasion, the Minister who will reply explained that the Ordnance Survey was much out of date and said that this was a reason why we had not had more action in town and country planning. There were the War and other delays, and some of the maps were 20 and some 40 years old. A discussion took place between the Ministries concerned to ascertain what could be done about it. There are 4,000 maps required and it was promised that 424 1,200 of them would be ready by the end of 1938. Until then we cannot really push ahead actively and successfully with this important matter. The other instance where the Minister of Agriculture enters is in connection with the catchment boards. Those boards have a very great responsibility. They have to prevent floods and in many instances they have to cut out bends and projections in the rivers. Certainly some of the boards look after amenities and leave the rivers very attractive when they have finished. But that is not always the case.
I will refer to just one case that I know well. It is on a bend of the Medway where, to-day, there are some of the most charming willows and bushes growing against the edge of the river. The board is going to cut down those willows and the proposal now is to plant in their place a number of poplars 10 feet high and 30 feet back from the bank. It will look like the Regent's Canal, with a number of green Belisha Beacons standing away back from it, when it is finished. The responsibility here again is divided. There is the Minister of Agriculture and there are the county council and the catchment board, but there is no one really in control. That sort of thing is largely responsible for the trouble or dissatisfaction in much of the work of these boards.
Others in this Debate will deal with the defilement of landscapes, and the destruction of beloved old cottages, but I would refer to a few glaring and inexcusable examples of vandalism that I have seen in London, where the absence of compulsion is daily permitting destruction beyond power to estimate. In each case there has been a widespread public protest, but without avail. I have mentioned Carlton House Terrace. But look at Adelphi Terrace. We have all seen illustrations of what is to be put there. Has the nation gained by the change? Lansdowne House is another case. They have butchered and buried Lansdowne House. Really we must not let London be Berkeley-Squared out of existence. But I fear that is what we are doing. What do they do in France? Take a parallel case. Behind the facade of those old buildings in the Place Vendome, the Ritz Hotel, the Morgan Bank and commercial con-structures have been allowed, but the facade cannot be touched. Why cannot we do the same?
425 One thing I will protest against, and I believe I have the House with me in doing so. I refer to the scandalous introduction of the blatant shop fronts of the multiple shops in the middle of our village streets. Go into some of our most charming old villages and you see these multiple shop fronts. They have colours of their own which may be good for advertising, but are very bad for amenity. Take the towns in the commercial North, where they have not many very old beautiful buildings. A good many of those towns have very charming hillsides adjoining the outskirts. Owing to lack of proper planning these slopes are being spotted and speckled with dreary uninteresting small houses and the one bit of beauty for all the townspeople to enjoy is being taken away from them. All of these things are beyond recall; we cannot get them back. But there are some things that can be done. At this moment there are those buildings in the corner of Soho Square, Two of the most charming are about to be pulled down. Then there is Reynolds's House in Leicester Square, a building that probably has as much history connected with it as any in London going back to Saxon times, and this seems doomed without a chance of saving. Then there are Wren's churches in the city, going one by one. Another case is St. Paul's Church, Sheffield.
I could go on indefinitely. What happens? Public outcries occur. Where is the power to prevent these buildings being pulled down? It is agreed by everyone that anyone who builds must comply with regulations. Why cannot everyone who pulls down equally comply with some appropriate regulations? In our present-day craze for speed or profit anyone can cite sad instances of the existing laws failing to prevent the ripping down of houses and cottages, the chopping down of trees, the wrecking of lovely landscapes, the ruin of the charm of our country lanes and our rivers, the plastering of advertisements all over our cliffs; and, if we want to unquestionably stop this, the only way is for private purchase. What does the nation as a whole gain by these destructions? That is the problem we have to face. Is not the whole nation losing? Can this sort of thing be stopped? I believe that it can.
In my Motion I beg the Government to ascertain whether its powers are adequate, and, if not, to ascertain what is needed. I realise that it is quite unlikely 426 that Parliamentary time can be given to the subject in the reasonably near future. With the colossal expenditure that has to be met for rearmament it is not likely that very much will be granted as a special grant by the Treasury. We have already had sufficient piecemeal legislation on this subject. The next time we touch it we want to make a thorough and final job of it. I suggest to the Government that they appoint a Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health or the Office of Works. It is immaterial if it is for some reason difficult to so designate him and whether the appointment carries pay with it or not. There are men willing to make a sacrifice in order to get this important work done. Give this secretary an honorary advisory committee, made up of those who have spent their lives on this subject—such men as Sir Lawrence Chubb, Sir Guy Dawber, of the C.P.R.E.; and Professor A. E. Richardson, of London University. Let that committee with that secretary co-ordinate all the voluntary amenity bodies in the country. There exist between 150 and 200 voluntary and enthusiastic bodies which would be only too pleased to be helpful in this condition.
Then I suggest this: To follow the very practical and logical process that was initiated by the Minister of Health when he required a survey for his slum clearance proposals, and had a survey prepared of the entire nation. Get all those bodies under the leadership of this committee to take a survey of the entire country. The survey would reveal the monuments that could or should be saved; the villages, houses, cottages, churches, bridges, the hilltops, rivers, banks and woods, where roads should go and should not go, and where they should by-pass. In fact, it could reveal the whole story of what we possess, and then we could judge what it is vital to preserve and what is not so vital, and stop the present hit-and-miss legislation. With this knowledge final and comprehensive legislation could be designed.
The survey might take at least a year, and possibly a year and a half or even two years, also to fully co-ordinate and prepare any Bills that would have to be brought before this House. By that time, however, I am sure we all trust the present trying armaments situation would have clarified itself and the Government 427 might not feel that it was unable to make grants on a vital matter of this sort. I hope the Government will feel justified in taking up and clearing up this most important subject. We do not want any more piecemeal efforts. In conclusion, all hon. Members will agree that this generation did not bring these objects of charm and beauty into the world and cannot take them out of it; we are only life trustees, and it is our duty to stop the relentless destruction that is now proceeding. I hope the House will support this Motion with enthusiasm, and I hope the Minister will accept it and soon translate its object into beneficial action which will lead to an early termination of this preventable condition.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Keeling
I beg to second the Motion.
This is the third time since this Session began a few weeks ago that the preservation of rural England has been put down for discussion on a Wednesday afternoon by a private Member lucky in the Ballot. That is evidence of the deep interest which the House takes in the matter. It would indeed be surprising if the destruction of the countryside were not very much in the minds and on the consciences of hon. Members. In England, a much larger proportion of the population is cooped up in towns than in any other country. Yet the Englishman is at heart a countryman, and when he finds himself in the town he craves to get away from it. I believe that the week-end and the season ticket were both invented in England. To-day the townsman, at any rate the working man, has more leisure and better means of enjoying it than he had 50 or 100 years ago. But we have the curious paradox that when he leaves the town in search of the country he finds the country receding, like a mirage, further and further away. "Come and live in an orchard!" shouts the builder's advertisement, but that builder has his tongue in his cheek. He knows very well that within three months of the agreement being signed every apple tree will have been cut down. The nineteenth century permitted the industrial revolution to destroy our towns; are we going to allow the twentieth Century to destroy the country? As somebody has asked, are we going to turn the silken purse which 428 we have—the most beautiful in the whole world—into a sow's ear?
On the two previous occasions this Session when this subject has been debated, the Government, in defence, have drawn attention to the progress which is being made under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932; to the activities of the local planning authorities, and of the voluntary organisations which are doing such splendid work; and to the purchase by local authorities of open spaces. I hope that to-day the Government will not be content with dwelling on past achievements or on present arrangements, but that we really shall have some promise of further action, I admit that about half the area of this country has been brought under some sort of control by the local planning authorities. I do not overlook the work of local authorities and voluntary organisations in connection with open spaces. I think that the work of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Society for the Preservation of Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths has been beyond all praise. I am grateful for the splendid success of the National Trust and for the generosity of the landowners, who have not only given many beautiful pieces of country to that Trust, but have also thrown open other pieces of country to the public or have submitted to covenants restricting building. Naturally I welcome, with my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom), to-day's memorandum by the Ministry of Transport laying emphasis on the preservation of amenities on roads. But all that is not enough.
I have no desire to exaggerate, but I ask whether any hon. Member will deny—whether the Government will deny?—that the unnecessary destruction of rural amenities continues every clay on a vast scale, offending the conscience of all intelligent people. The Government cannot evade responsibility by pointing to the powers of the local planning authorities, if the exercise of those powers is not being effective. Five years ago, the Government spokesman who introduced the Town and Country Planning Bill told the House that it was a Bill to enable the nation to economise its great resources. Do the Government really think that the Town and Country Planning Act has been successful in that regard? If not, I suggest it is their duty 429 to bring forward proposals to strengthen the existing law.
Every sensible person realises that the needs of the present generation must be met. No reasonable man wishes to suppress progress or development. Nobody desires to treat the countryside of England as a museum piece. What we want is orderly, seemly and efficient development, so that the economic advantages of new buildings may not be too dearly paid for by losses in other directions. I suggest that a just balance is possible between conservation and development.
What is required? It is hardly for private Members to lay down what the Government ought to do; if the disease exists, it is up to the Government to find a remedy; but I would like to put forward two or three suggestions. In the first place, there should be a central authority, either of the kind suggested by my hon. Friend or on a more ambitious scale, which should be charged with positive planning functions and not merely, as at present, with the vetting of the plans of the local planning authorities and the hearing of appeals from their decisions. The duty of such a central planning authority would be twofold. First, it should hold a survey—I think of a somewhat wider nature than that which was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone—of the whole of the national resources and needs. It should correlate the knowledge, the schemes and the land requirements of the Government Departments and private owners, and it should pay special attention at this time, of course, to the location of industry in relation to the distressed areas and to the growth of London. In a word, for I wish to be brief, the central planning authority should initiate a national plan, a master scheme for both town and country, which could be moulded as required. It goes without saying that such a plan would include a catalogue of areas of special beauty. The State already schedules ancient buildings which are worthy of preservation. Why should it not also schedule what are commonly called beauty spots? A great deal of work has already been done by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. I do not know whether hon. Members have seen, in particular, a complete survey of the County of Cornwall which has 430 been prepared by the local branch of that Council.
The second function of such a central planning authority would be to supervise the existing local planning authorities in order to secure that they are efficient and that their work is co-ordinated. Under the present system, control and progress are left to a vast number of separate independent local authorities, some of whom are efficient and some of whom are not. Some of those local planning authorities carry out the powers entrusted to them by Parliament, but some don't and some won't. I have no time to survey their work, but I will say a word or two on one aspect of that work. Under Section 12 of the 1932 Act, the authority has the right to control elevations, that is to say, to supervise the height, design, and external appearance of new buildings, and to approve or disapprove the plan. It has the sole power to make or mar the countryside—to make it by permitting inoffensive buildings well suited to their environment or to mar it by admitting unseemly and illiterate designs, such as mock Tudor, pink roofs and all the other abominations with which we are so familiar. And mark this, from the plans which are approved by the local planning authority, there is no appeal.
This is an enormously important work, and to help the local planning authorities in it a committee was set up under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Sir P. Hurd) to establish advisory panels of architects. All over the country these advisory panels of architects are available and their advice is free of charge. If the local authority does not want to make use of these panels, there are two other alternatives open to it. It can appoint a special committee for elevations and co-opt architects on it, or, of course, it can appoint architects of its own. Extremely useful work has been done by these architects under one or other of these schemes, and experience shows that buildings the plans of which they approve are no more expensive than others. An inoffensive building is not necessarily any more costly than an offensive building, and it may be cheaper.
Unfortunately at the present time there is no compulsion on the local planning authority to employ architects, and a vast number of buildings is being put up with- 431 out the plans having been approved by an architect. If it were otherwise, should we see springing up around our great cities miles upon miles of new houses, of odious shape and colour, unsuitable to their environment and covered with mean and expensive ornament—scabs on the countryside? I suggest that in the architects we have a powerful weapon ready to our hand for preventing the erection of buildings which are destructive of amenities. Yet three or four years after the Act came into force and the panels were formed, this pestilence continues. Do not the Government think it time that local planning authorities be compelled by law to employ architects?
So much for improving the machinery of town and country planning. I wish now to make an appeal to the Prime Minister and to the Chancellor of the Exchequer even though they are not in their places, and I am sorry that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has just left the Chamber. It happens, as one would expect, that some of the most glorious stretches of English scenery are in the most sparsely populated districts, where the county authorities have the smallest financial resources. Those authorities cannot provide the funds for acquiring beautiful pieces of country, and if they seek to prevent building they are faced with claims for compensation. That applies particularly to two kinds of beautiful country. First, there are wild areas like the Lake District, and other areas which were suggested by the National Parks Committee as suitable for national parks. That committee suggested that the modest sum of £100,000 per annum for five years should be provided by the Treasury. That sum was refused although it is less than the amount spent by the Treasury on the London parks. I am astonished that provincial Members have never pressed home this point about the London parks. How long would it take for the Lake District to become a national park if this House sat in Carlisle, or even in Manchester? How long would it take for the Vale of Neath to become a national park if Parliament sat in Swansea instead of London?
Money is also urgently required for the conservation of our sea coast. The seashore has been the playground of England since the days of King Canute, 432 and every effort should be made to safeguard the public access and enjoyment. Yet the magical beauty of cliff and cove is being disfigured more and more every day by repulsive bungalows and villas. The ribboning of the coast of England is just as bad and is making just as rapid progress as ever the ribboning of our main roads did. We shall no doubt be told that local authorities have it in their power to plan the coasts in their areas and prevent that sort of thing. They have the power, but if they try to exercise it by restricting building they are immediately faced with claims for compensation. Pembrokeshire contains some of the most magnificent coast scenery to be found in these islands. Yet in Pembrokeshire a penny rate produces only £700. It is utter nonsense to tell the Pembrokeshire County Council that it is within their power to preserve the scenery of the Pembrokeshire coast. I urge that both for the preservation of coastal scenery, and for the preservation of other wild areas such as I have mentioned, a central fund should be available. I beg the Prime Minister, who has this subject very much at heart, to take that proposal into consideration.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, I fear, is more hard-hearted, and he may ask, "What should I get in return for such expenditure?" My reply is that if the destruction of loveliness in our country continues as rapidly in the future as in the past, or even if it continues at all, many of the tourists who now bring millions of money into this country, in order to enjoy its gardenlike enchantment, will in the future stay away. I believe they are already beginning to stay away for that very reason. We are driving away the goose that lays the golden eggs.
I do not however appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer mainly on that ground. Surely beauty is worth preserving for its own sake. We spend £400,000 a year on the London Museums, largely on the care of works of art. We gave £50,000 for the Codex Sinaiticus. Could not we spare something for the preservation of rural England, which is itself a work of art, not the work of God alone but also of man? Its flowering hedgerows, fields, woodlands, and villages are all part of our English civilisation, which has taken centuries to mature.
433 Is not such a native masterpiece as well worth preserving as the masterpieces of foreign artists?
I have one more argument to address to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If he looks through the items of the national Budget he will find that nearly all our expenditure is devoted to wasting assets. The land of England is our only permanent asset, and once you destroy its beauty you can never replace it. If the loveliness of the English countryside be destroyed, then you deprive English literature, art, religion and education of one of their principal sources of inspiration, and you strike a blow at the very soul of the people. Nobody realises that more than the Prime Minister. I urge him to take action.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
The Motion has been moved and seconded, and it is usual on these occasions that the third speaker in the Debate should oppose the Motion. In this case however the third speaker—with I think the rest of the House—is in favour of the Motion, and, therefore, opposition does not play its usual part in these proceedings. The Labour party are not usually considered conservative, but we are conservative when it is a case of conserving the natural beauty of England. We are conservative when it is a case of conserving a national asset, and perhaps our principal national asset is the beauty of England. If I sometimes thought, while listening to the Mover of the Motion, that we had in him an admirable recruit to the ranks of Socialism, I also reflected that in this case Socialism and Conservatism are bound together. They are in one camp with one object. The only question is, how are we to do this thing? Why have we waited so long before bringing forward a proposal for a general survey of the beauties of England and the shaping of legislation to preserve those beauties?
In my recollection planning proposals have been brought forward over and over again. We have frequently introduced legislation for tinkering with this question, but never before has the issue been frankly faced. The question is what additional powers are required by Government in order to preserve the natural beauties of England. I remember when the original housing and town planning Measure was introduced in 1909. Every- 434 body thought the result of that Bill would be an immediate resurrection of our towns, that we would put an end to the old Victorian haphazard method of growth and that genuine development on decent and beautiful lines would take its place. That Measure failed and every subsequent Measure of the kind has failed, and the failure continues to-day, now that we have extended our planning proposals from the town to the country. The Town and Country Planning Act, introduced only three years ago or so, is dead. Schemes are continually brought forward but few of them reach the stage at which they become compulsory upon all landlords and the whole area concerned. As long as a scheme is not compulsory it is valueless for preserving anything. It was said of the original 1909 Measure that it had at least this merit, that it enabled landlords to plan their own property, but it never allowed any local authority to town plan anybody else's property.
The real difficulty is compensation. What are you prepared to pay people to be decent? In this case compensation and blackmail gradually come together. Methods of securing a decent layout of the country have hitherto been left to the local authorities. This Motion seeks to have a central authority. When for over 20 years we have tried to deal with this subject solely through the local authorities, it is a big thing to say now, not merely that the Chancellor of the Exchequer shall supply the necessary stimulus, but that the actual administrative work shall be done centrally instead of locally. The proposal will meet with considerable opposition, but by all means let us pass this Motion and put it into operation. Let us have an inquiry and see what can be done, even now, to promote the salvation of the beauties of England by tackling the question at the right end.
I am sorry to refer to an old subject, but this whole problem would be easier if we had now a valuation of the land of England and the buildings upon it. Once you have a valuation you know what you have to pay. At present the compensation is utterly vague. No one knows what has to be paid and that, inevitably, increases the fees of surveyors, architects and lawyers, and the ultimate decision is always at the expense of the public. It is no wonder that the Treasury and local authorities jib at paying an 435 excessive price for beauty. If we only had a valuation such as I have described, the scheme would be infinitely simpler. It is possible that the report of such a committee as is here suggested might be to the effect that a valuation should now be made of these beautiful valleys, mountains and woodlands, which we desire to preserve, so that the public would not be excessively bled in the cost of retaining the beauties of our countryside. This is an extremely suitable moment to bring this question forward. In the first place, we have had a revolution in transport, which for the first time has taught most people in this country something about England. All that we saw of England before was from the railway train, but now we know England infinitely more closely than we ever did before. Cycling has increased to such an enormous extent that the working-class public know England and appreciate her beauties much more than ever before. This change is being taken advantage of now by the hon. Gentleman who moved this Motion.
But there is more than that. You have seen all over England within the last 10 years, and perhaps longer, but more especially in the last 10 years, the growth of all these societies for precisely this purpose. You have seen the excellent work done by the Ancient Monuments branch of the Government. Wherever you go in England now, you see old abbeys and old castles renovated and preserved and made infinitely more interesting, with written accounts of their history and of what each part represents. That has all been done quite recently, and those excellent books that are being brought out for each county emphasise the fact that some work has been done with universal approval and at a very small expense. Then you have also the work of the National Trust, which is gradually acquiring these beauty spots, but the National Trust is relying inevitably upon the generosity of particular individuals. You have all over the country now these preserved beauty spots, for which generous people have subscribed in order to preserve them. Only the other day I was glad to see that our old colleague in this House, Sir Charles Trevelyan, had presented to the National Trust his magnificent place at Wallington and 50,000 acres besides.
436 That is, I hope, a growing way of dealing with the problem of the overgrown country houses that we can no longer afford to occupy and that, with our reduced families, we can no longer fill.
Both the preservation of the ancient monuments and the work of the National Trust have made this question of infinitely greater importance and understood by the man in the street in a way that it has not been understood before, and all that is asked for in this Motion is that the Government should appoint a committee to consider what should be done. I do not attach much importance to your panels of architects. Most of the atrocities that we see around us have been built by architects. I do not even attach much importance to the co-ordination and discovery of the 160 bodies about England that are doing this work on voluntary lines to-day. What I think is really wanted is a committee, presided over by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom), which shall go into the whole question of what legislation is required in order to put before us something concrete instead of a vague aspiration after preservation. What we really want is to see the thing in the shape of a Bill, though I am half afraid that when I see it I shall be opposing it on some Friday afternoon; but the great thing is to see what is practical at the present time. I part company with the hon. Member opposite when he suggests that we ought to preserve rural England exactly as it is to-day. I want to see the town populations living in the country and not having to get there. Ribbon development is not a horror to me. I say, "Thank goodness, there is somebody who was living in a slum but who is now living in the country." The hon. Member will have to bear that in mind when he gets in committee and is framing his legislation. Do not preserve things as they are for the sake of preserving things as they are, but preserve what is worth while to enable people to enjoy them for ever.
One of the difficulties which we are up against is the question of compensation, another difficulty is the question of the rival interests of local authorities and the central authority, but by far the greatest obstacle which we are up against is the stupidity of mankind, the lack of foresight, the lack of looking forward. If, 437 instead of raising, say, a tithe loan, or whatever it may be, we could put that amount of money into buying at their present values all these places that we want to preserve, I think we should get our dividends back, our interest on the loan, more securely than we shall by endowing the Church of England. We have to consider also not merely the question of the countryside, but the question of the buildings themselves, and there we are up against a much more difficult proposition. If the hon. Member is going round all the small villages in this country and scheduling the houses to be preserved, he will be struck immediately by one feature, and that is that every village that he goes to will want the whole of that village preserved. There will he no lack of desire in any locality for the expenditure of public money upon that locality, and a process of severe selection will have to be undertaken before we are to buy and preserve by buying.
It is easy enough to deal with uninhabited castles and abbeys, and to deal with any property if it is valued first and not after the hon. Gentleman has got into the market. But it is not so easy when you have an unlimited number of people demanding the preservation of an unlimited number of buildings. If you are going to spend your money taking down all the petrol pumps and putting them up elsewhere, I think it will be a waste of money, and you will find that every petrol pump-owner will jump at the opportunity of getting something for removing his pump. Above all, prepare your plans for preserving England, but remember that you have to do it by a practical scheme, which has to win the assent of the Treasury and the Government benches, and get your committee going to see how that can be managed.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Sir Alfred Beit
Contrary to the impression in the minds of some hon. Members, I think that existing legislation on this subject, the Ancient Monuments Acts and the Town Planning Act are sufficient to carry out the purpose of saving the ancient monuments to which they refer, but the trouble is that the definition of the words "ancient monuments" has probably been limited by the terms of reference of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. The shortcoming there is that the terms of reference to that Royal Commission, which was set 438 up in 1908, refer to ancient monuments up to the date 1700, and though when that Commission was recommitted on the accession of King George V the terms of reference were widened to bring it up to the year 1714, thus including the important reign of Queen Anne, the whole of the architecture of the later years of Vanbrugh, the whole of the architecture of William Kent, the brothers Adam, and the Regency school, is excluded from the survey made by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments.
The other great shortcoming in this matter is, as has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom), that all occupied dwelling-houses are excluded from the scope of the Act. The Royal Commission which was set up in 1908 has so far made inventories in England of only five counties and of London, and I would like to know whether it would not be possible in some manner to expedite this work, because at the present rate of progress it will take several centuries before the whole of the work of cataloguing our ancient monuments is completed. I have read the prefaces of several of these catalogues, which are to be found in the Library here and which are, I think, the most admirable guide-books that anybody could read anywhere, and in all of them I have seen that the work has been handicapped by the lack of staff which is at the disposition of the Royal Commission. Therefore, I think one of the first things that we ought to press for is that this work should be expedited, because I believe that the schedule of ancient monuments, judging from the list drawn up by the Commissioners of Works, is to some extent based upon the reports and the inventories issued by the Royal Commission.
I would like to ask my hon. Friend who is going to reply whether the Office of Works schedule for preservation includes any buildings subsequent to the year 1714 or whether they accept the definition of ancient monuments as stated in the terms of reference to the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. I agree with the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle - under - Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) that the Commissioners of Works have undertaken a magnificent task in preserving some of the greater ruins in this country, and have made many improvements in the 439 areas immediately surrounding them, but could not the Act governing this matter be amended so as to include occupied dwelling-houses? Alternatively, have the Commissioners of Works ever taken over private houses which their owners are no longer able to occupy when those houses were still in a good condition, or is it a fact that they have in all cases been obliged to wait until those houses have become ruins? I have often heard of cases of owners of private houses of architectural or historical interest seeking tenants rent free if only they would keep up the property, and I would like to know whether it is not possible for the Commissioner of Works, under existing legislation, to take on this task. A further suggestion that I would like to make, which I believe has been adopted in certain countries on the Continent, is in reference to the case of houses occupied by their owners, who find it difficult to keep them in good condition. It those owners allow access to the public on certain days in the week, I suggest that they should be offered a remission of some of the rates and taxes that they have to pay on their houses.
I have consulted the Indian Ancient Monuments (Preservation) Act, 1904, which was introduced by the late Lord Curzon and has been of extraordinary use in preserving for all time the great monuments of that country for the enjoyment of the public. That Act largely follows the Act which we have here, but it introduces certain other sections, which I think we might well copy, with regard to the traffic in antiquities. In the Indian Act, owing to the conditions prevailing there, special protection is given to sculptural carvings, bas-reliefs, and inscriptions which have an essential local connection, but when some of us think of the staircases, chimney pieces, and the like which have been removed from English homes and sometimes exported to far countries, I think we might also feel that some restriction of this traffic might be introduced, if at some future time it is possible to introduce further legislation on the subject which we are discussing to-day.
The Ancient Monuments Act seems sufficient to protect the monuments to which it refers, but, as has been made clear in the Debate, it is not sufficient to protect the face of London and other great 440 cities. What would have happened to the Place Vendome if it had been in London instead of Paris? Perhaps the same as has happened to Nash's Regent Street. What would have happened to some of those highly interesting seventeenth and eighteenth century churches in Rome had they been in London? They would probably have suffered the same fate as many similar constructions by Wren. Reference was made to the recent destruction of the Adelphi, and it is unquestionably the fact that a Private Bill was introduced here and given a Third Reading which authorised this lamentable change. If the terms of reference of the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments, on which the scheduling is based, had been extended from 1714 to any subsequent date—I should prefer that it should be extended to include any important building which is likely to become of interest in the future—it might very well have been possible many years ago to schedule the Adelphi for preservation. Carlton House Terrace, which was also built subsequent to 1714, suffered from two disabilities. One was that it was so built, and the other was that it was an occupied dwelling house and was not, therefore, affected by any existing Act on the Statute Book.
In common with many other members of the public, I have in recent years much enjoyed the art exhibitions organised for charity by the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Air. I am sorry that he is not present to-day, because I should like to give him a suggestion, if he needs one, for a future exhibition. I suggest an exhibition of changing London illustrated by paintings and photographs. If such an exhibition were to be held, what would there be on the credit side? There would be certain development schemes, such as Kingsway and the Thames Embankment. What would there be on the debit side? There would be a lamentable series of pictures representing the destruction of countless characteristic beautiful buildings, corners and places, and their replacement by some of the worst architecture that has ever degraded a great city.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
I am sure that the House and the country will be deeply grateful to the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) for bringing forward a matter of such general and great importance. One 441 aspect of it was dealt with in December in a Debate, which I initiated, on the subject of national parks, and I recognise that in some speeches to-day further and keen support has been expressed for them. I do not propose to say anything further on that subject to-day beyond stating that, although the immediate reply given by the Minister on that occasion was disappointing, I feel that a development may take place and that the Minister has, at any rate, shown himself willing to consider any practical points where the powers of town planning are not operating which may be brought to his attention. I feel sure that he intends to deal with the matter in a sincerely sympathetic spirit. I propose to leave that aspect of the matter there for the moment, and to say a few words with reference to the preservation of historic or artistic buildings.
I am sure that everybody would desire that some machinery should be set up to prevent their destruction or, at any rate, to secure that proper consideration should be given to the question of their preservation before destruction has actually taken place, unknown, perhaps, to anybody but the owners. We want some machinery to secure that before any building of this kind is destroyed or sold the matter shall he brought to the attention of some public authority. I suggest that in case of doubt the Government Department concerned—perhaps the Ministry of Health—should refer it as a matter of course to the Royal Fine Art Commission who would have the task of expressing a view whether the building was worth preserving in the national interest and whether it would be possible from a practical point of view to incorporate the old fabric in any new structure that it might be intended to put up. The National Trust, or perhaps some other body, should be given the opportunity of saying what it could do to secure such financial support as might be needed. There is no reason why some of that financial support should not come from the Government. If, in spite of all these precautions, it was found not possible to raise the money, I suppose that the destruction would take place, but it would be in a much more limited number of cases than happens at the present time.
Some reference has been made to the practice of other countries in these matters, and I should like to give an 442 example from my own experience. That is in the very beautiful, and yet, at the moment, very sad city of Danzig. I suppose that there are few cities in the world that have more beautiful houses in their streets. They have been preserved for a very long time and it is the law there—one of the laws which I hope is to be observed—that if any particular house has to be pulled down in one of these well-known streets, it must be replaced in exactly the same style as the others in the street. One of the great dangers that is always occurring in connection with the destruction of beautiful buildings is the concentration of the owner, whether an individual, or a Government Department, or a corporation, on the purely financial aspects of the problem. It is natural that the main consideration of owners of property should be what a building will fetch rather than that they should look on the aesthetic side first. We want to see that, in the public interest, that consideration is not overlooked.
I am going to give examples of authorities and Government Departments where this is occurring at the present time. It was said the other day, in reply to a question I put to the Government, that the Royal Fine Art Commission is the body which can be called upon by Government Departments and public authorities for advice in any case of this kind. That is true, but they do not in fact do it. They do in certain cases, but there are a large number of cases where this aspect of the question is neglected altogether. The main Government Departments and the Office of Works have the Commission to refer to, and the Crown Lands Commissioners have an advisory committee of their own which was appointed owing to certain accidental circumstances which are familiar to us. It is difficult to see why in principle they should not take exactly the same advice as the other Government Departments from the much more effective body, the Royal Fine Art Commission. I do not want to say anything derogatory to the distinguished members of the Crown Lands Advisory Committee, but it obviously has not the wide experience of the other body.
There are other bodies which should seek advice. There are the Ecclesiastical Commission, the Charity Commission, and even the Forestry Commission. They do not give the attention that is deserved 443 to the aesthetic aspect of these things. The Ecclesiastical Commission are notorious for the fact that money is the thing that bulks largely in their eyes, and the name of the commission makes it rather surprising to find that they concentrate so little on the spiritual side and so greatly on the purely financial side. I am not blaming them, because for them it is a matter of administration, of business, and of getting the money. They ought, however, to be checked and controlled. They have not among their own staff people really competent to give proper advice on a matter of this kind, and they will not go to the people who have been provided by the Government to give advice. I feel very strongly that before bodies of that kind are permitted to perform any acts of destruction, it should be made mandatory upon them that the opinion of the Royal Fine Art Commission should be taken.
I want in this connection to pay a tribute to the splendid work that has been done during the last few years by the Royal Fine Art Commission presided over in such an inspiring manner by Lord Crawford. That body contains some of the most distinguished architects and others in the country, who give their services without charge, services which, if employed professionally, would command large sums. They are working on a purely voluntary basis, and the interesting point that arises is that in cases where their opinion has been taken upon some new building, or new municipal structure, or new bridge, they have been able in the course of friendly discussions with the authorities concerned to make suggestions which have resulted in saving enormous sums in construction. It would be interesting to find out the sum of money saved in this way by the commission in their excellent work. They have only a small staff, and I look forward to the future when it will have very largely increased, and when it will have been made a condition of any grant of public money that the approval of the commission shall first be obtained.
I would like to give an example of the sort of thing that has happened in the past in England owing to the absence of powers of this kind. It refers to an incident in my own constituency. The corporation of Wolverhampton is usually a singularly progressive and enlightened 444 body, but there was an occasion about 20 years ago when it seemed to me that they hardly lived up to their usual high standard. Until 1846 the Deanery of Windsor was linked with the Deanery of Wolverhampton. In that way a number of distinguished men occupied the dual office. Towards the end of the seventeenth century a building was erected there, under the influence certainly of Christopher Wren, whose father and uncle were Deans of Windsor, and it remained until 20 years ago as the only beautiful building of that period left in the town. It was a very fine example of domestic architecture of its kind. Then the site was purchased for a technical college, and the question arose of what was to happen to this singularly attractive building. Plans were got out on a voluntary basis with the object of showing how it could be incorporated magnificently, as administrative offices, with the technical college, but, unfortunately, the local view could not see the value which the national view would place on the building, and a decision was taken to pull it down. That is a permanent loss to the town and the whole of that neighbourhood. If it had been part of the policy of this country at that time to say that no grant—because a grant of public money was to be given—should be given without a report from the Royal Fine Art Commission I am sure that commission would have recommended a scheme which would have ensured the preservation of that fine building.
Some reference has been made to the preservation of country houses, and it is interesting to note the developments that are taking place under the administration of the National Trust. Many owners of such houses are looking with doubt towards the remote, and often the immediate, future, wondering how they can keep them going even into the next generation, and on the analogy of what is happening in France and other countries the idea is growing up that the owners of those houses should hand them over to the National Trust—endowed by the owner, but preserved by the National Trust—with public access, but with an option, not on a legal, but on a purely voluntary basis, for the existing owner and his family to reside there as long as they care to do so. The great point about such houses is that the public do not want to see them simply as museums; 445 they want to see them as houses which are being lived in, and from that point of view I think the development which is taking place should be encouraged in every way by public opinion. If the State, through the Chancellor of the Exchequer, can give any help, I think that point ought to be considered. I have only intervened to make a few suggestions which I think may be helpful. I hope the Minister will appreciate once again that he has a unanimous House on this subject, and that he will be encouraged to do everything possible to further the objects before us, as I am sure he would personally desire.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Marshall
We are all indebted to the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) for bringing this subject forward and making such a delightful contribution to the Debate. We know his interest in this matter, and we really did expect that he would "fill the bill." I remember the occasion, many years ago now, when I saw my first cathedral, and a lady friend who was with me said: "You know, this has never been built, it has grown." That seemed to me a very apt phrase. The cathedral was in such perfect harmony with its surroundings that it did seem that it had grown rather than been built. Some time after I had the opportunity of reading the works of William Morris, who wrote very charmingly about our ancient buildings. He talked of the marvellous craftsmanship which had been expended on them, and about the joy which the individual had felt when he was carving those, shall I say, barbarous gargoyles and those wonderful decorations; and that set the line for me so far as beautiful buildings are concerned. If anyone were to attempt or to propose to destroy one of our ancient cathedrals, or to pull down some of our old abbeys, even though they may be in ruins, there would be a public outcry against it, and rightly so. A national conscience has been growing up with regard to those very fine buildings, which are representative of all that is best in English architecture, and perhaps represent a wonderful period of English labour, a period in which the craftsman could express his individuality on the work under his hands. From that point of view we are all delighted to know that the people of this country are determined to preserve our cathedrals—I speak of 446 the major cathedrals, such as Lincoln, York and Westminster—and to act as trustees to hand them on to future generations in the shape in which they are to-day.
If we go to some of our beautiful old villages, the villages in the Cotswolds and in Devonshire and Derbyshire, there, again, we shall find a wonderfully charming architecture. I think it was the Prime Minister who said on one occasion that this village architecture was wedded in a very peculiar way to the landscape in which it was situated, because it was in local stone. The main theme of the buildings was simplicity and not over-decoration, and the old builders had created them very beautifully. I listened with some degree of trepidation to my right hon. and gallant Friend on the Front Bench here when he spoke about making a ruthless selection, because I am afraid he would spoil the whole group, and leave a vestige of these ancient villages stuck out in a world of commonplace buildings. I cannot support him on those lines. I know some of the Derbyshire villages very well. To men coming from the South they may look, to some extent, hard and forbidding, but one has to remember that they are built from that marvellous stone which we get out of Derbyshire, gritstone, which weathers rather dark. Taken in conjunction with the stone hedges, they fall naturally and beautifully into the landscape, and are characteristic of the county, and it would be vandalism of the worst type to pick and choose which building should he left.
One has not to go very far along the Derbyshire roads before coming also to the old limestone villages. We see whole villages built out of limestone and weathered very beautifully. Generally speaking, it would be difficult to find in all the country anything more beautiful and more harmonious than an unspoiled Derbyshire village, and I feel that we should all like to see such villages preserved in their entirety. When I read the other day that the Government had given somebody a licence to bore for oil in Derbyshire I felt a great deal of anxiety, because if one could imagine them boring for oil on the top of Kinderscout they would spoil a countryside which has definite and strong claims to become a national park.
447 I agree that to some extent this subject is bound up with town planning, and as chairman of a town planning committee I should like to point out what I consider to be some of the shortcomings of legislation dealing with it. Town planning is not merely the orderly arrangement of streets and buildings, but goes very much further than that. It is not just the restriction of ribbon development, although that is necessary. In my submission town planning connotes a far wider idea. It connotes the orderly planning of a town, the preservation of a green belt, and the preservation, too, of large stretches of country in their agricultural character. Further, town-planning authorities ought to exercise definite and drastic control over the elevations which are put up. My right hon. and gallant Friend, when talking about ribbon development, seemed to be pleased that people are living at the side of these beautiful roads, because it meant that they had been taken out of the towns. I heard a very distinguished member of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England describe a certain piece of ribbon development as "road scarlet fever," and I think there is a great deal of truth in that observation. When one sees at the sides of beautiful roads, long lines of buildings all alike, with the same round bay windows, a few tiles over the top, and probably the coigns of different material and different colour, it is enough to make one weep for the beauty of this country, and as chairman of a town planning committee I shall do my best to prevent it. There is a good deal to be said for the provision of suburban villages, with communal halls, and with control over the elevations, so that they do not outrage one's sense of beauty; but to allow long ribbons of houses to be built at the sides of our main roads is the worst ruination of scenery that one can imagine.
The hon. Member for Maidstone mentioned the imminent destruction of St. Paul's, Sheffield. I hope that he will not ascribe the blame for that to the local authorities. I should do my utmost to preserve that building, and although, possibly, it is not one of the finest types of Renaissance architecture we should certainly like to preserve it; but we are 448 up against those who own it and want to build about a dozen churches with the proceeds of what they get for the site. Whether this House will allow that to be done remains to be seen when the Bill comes before us. Sometimes local authorities can pay too much for the preservation of such buildings, and this is where I want to have a word with the Government. I contend that the existing legislation pertaining to these matters is neither sufficiently wide nor sufficiently drastic. Any enlightened town-planner must take into consideration the advisability of sterilising large stretches of land as green belts just outside cities, or sometimes within their borders.
Take a great industrial town like Sheffield. Had town planning been in operation 100 years ago it could have been one of the noblest cities in this or any other land. Built on seven hills, it has beautiful valleys coming down to the city. Had town planning been in operation and had the local authority been endued with powers to control development and elevations, it could have been a very worthy place. Instead of that, private enterprise has been allowed to build, and to encroach upon the glorious valleys and the hillsides, and now we are faced with a problem which is almost superhuman, if we are to do something worthy.
To continue on the subject of land; if we feel that a patch or an area of land inside the city ought to be kept as an open space for the amenities of the inhabitants, we have to pay very heavily for it. We have to pay building price for it. I think we have reached a time when we ought to say to private enterprise in this matter: "Thus far, and no farther. We are going to prevent you from spoiling our cities and ruining the countryside, and we are going to sterilise that land without paying compensation for it." Those seem drastic powers, but town planning will never be put into complete operation and brought to a satisfactory conclusion unless local authorities have the power to sterilise land and to prevent it being built upon. The Government ought to look at that question very carefully. Take ribbon development: we can prevent building within 220 feet of the centre of the road. It is possible, if powers are taken on the matter, to make very nice pathways in the villages. Wythenshaw, Man- 449 chester, has been made into a very nice place. But think of the enormous cost that is involved to local authorities. The Act is an impossible one for local authorities to use to the extent they would desire. The Government ought to take steps to see that local authorities have not to pay through the nose on every occasion when they acquire land in order to prevent development which would ruin their city.
I want to see a public conscience grow on this subject to compel the Government to give local authorities the power to make their villages beautiful at a minimum of expense. The only person who is responsible, as far as I can see, is the landowner who is trying to extort enormous sums from corporation or municipality. I thank the hon. Member who brought this Motion forward. It enables some of us to indicate our difficulties. I hope that the Government will take steps to bring in legislation enabling municipalities to make vast improvements in our cities.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Hannah
It is with very great pleasure that I see all parties joining to-day in regard to this great national question. The face of England and Wales for a considerable time to come may depend upon what the Government do, as a result of this Motion. I would emphasise the importance of preserving ancient buildings for succeeding generations, as well as for those who live in the present time. Every day, in this very building, we have a very inspiring example indeed in the great Westminster Hall. We see the noblest timbered roof in the world, every part of it admirably adapted to its purpose, beautifully worked out by cunning craftsmen in days gone by, and there is an enormous amount of individuality. We see new beauties in that glorious roof every day as we pass beneath it, and we realise how magnificently the work was done when it was so admirably restored. Can we feel quite the same interest in this particular Chamber? No doubt it represents the old tradition of the Tudors, but it is an obvious copy. Those pendants in the roof have no particular use. They do no work, and they do not represent cratfsmanship and the principle of construction as does the work in Westminster Hall.
450 We may now have a very clear definition of what we really mean by ancient buildings that are worth preserving. To me, each period has its very special charm. From the time of the Roman occupation, then at Brixworth we see the Saxons trying to reproduce the glory of Roman construction, through the Norman and Gothic periods, and the triumphant classicism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we reach the Adam Brothers, getting new inspiration from Greek influences and from the examples which they got from the Eastern Mediterranean—from the very fount. I think we feel for all these buildings a real enthusiasm. They represent the spirit of the time and they give us true craftsmanship. They give us the ideals which England had at the time when they were raised. We then come to the period since that time, and since the sad days of the industrial revolution, about which there is now but little difference of opinion in this House. Then we have mass production, a mere imitation of work, and we have buildings, which may no doubt be useful but have not the spirit of craftsmanship. They have not the atmosphere of the past. They do not represent the ideals of any particular period.
I am most thankful that no speaker has accused antiquaries of the smallest lack of enthusiasm for the re-housing of the people. We all love these council houses, ugly as they are and we are all thankful that this magnificent work is giving our people new and better homes. Let there be no difference of opinion on that point in any part of the House. When I see what is going on, even at the present time, in what is in some respects the noblest of all mediaeval English cities, York, and, next to that, Norwich, and when I see buildings of antiquity, mediaeval fabrics, torn down and replaced by others obviously inferior, I feel terribly sore. One feels that this age is lacking in its duty. In that city which, next to Bilston, I love more than any other in the world—[Laughter]—Yes, I am a very keen antiquary, but I do love my own people at the same time—I was referring to the fair City of Edinburgh. In early days, it was one of the most interesting and splendid in the whole country, although not for any outstanding buildings, for St. Giles is not accounted one of the greatest churches in the land, and 451 Scotland has better palaces than Holy-rood house. The Castle itself at Edinburgh has comparatively little of real architectural interest compared with its magnificent situation. Only in Herriots Hospital do we get really first class work in Edinburgh. An enormous number of magnificent old buildings give us the very soul of Scotland of an early day. If no individual building was particularly outstanding, the general effect produced a magnificence that, in its own way, no city in Europe could rival.
We have seen one after another of those ancient monuments torn down. I am afraid that it is not an exaggeration to say that, in the last 30 years, Edinburgh has passed from being among the first great cities, from the architectural point of view, definitely to a second-rate place. What is the reason? One of the most important things that we need to talk about this afternoon is the unfortunate characteristic of the Housing Acts, which permit a grant to be made for tearing down and rebuilding, but not for re-conditioning ancient buildings. I am certain that that was done inadvertently; nobody would want to bring about anything of that kind. The Housing Acts are, to a very large extent indeed, too rigid and wooden. The dons of St. John's College, Cambridge, have the noblest combination room in the University, a magnificent, long gallery, which was erected in 1599. I think I am right in saying that if the Housing Acts applied to it, it would have to be destroyed, because it lacks about three inches of the necessary height. What I want to protest against with all the enthusiasm in my power is the way in which the Housing Acts, in so many cases, are compelling the destruction of ancient buildings that would be very much better reconditioned. It is obviously more convenient for the people to be housed in the solid stone buildings of days gone by than in cheap bungalows. It is not merely that; it is because there is not a grant for restoring buildings which are perfectly good in themselves, and because the various Regulations about the height of rooms and so on are far too wooden.
In other lands, this matter is much better attended to than in our own country. In order to mention a place which will not arouse the susceptibilities of anyone in this House I will talk about Sweden. In the schools in Sweden every- 452 body is taught about the local architecture, the folk lore and the buildings in the villages and towns, and the result is that all Swedes know about their own country and are proud of their ancient buildings. Whenever a new case comes up in Sweden, it is always possible to preserve an ancient building.
At the present time I am particularly interested in one of the noblest monuments of Edinburgh, Tailors Hall. It represents the middle of the seventeenth century, the first beginning of those skyscraper forms which afterwards became so characteristic of Edinburgh street architecture. I am sure that every antiquary will bear me out when I say that it is the finest example of street architecture of its kind left in Scotland at the present time. Will it be believed by this House that it is actually proposed to take down the front of Tailors Hall to widen Cowgate, although, a few yards away, Cowgate goes through a narrow arch that cannot possibly be widened. I want, as provocatively as I can, to appeal, in the most desperate way, for the preservation of Tailors Hall, and the old monuments of my own Scottish capital.
It chanced a few days ago that I was reading the works of a great Irish poet in the Library of this building, and I came across a rather interesting passage not, I think, very generally known, in Goldsmith's "Deserted Village":Ill fares the land to hastening ills a prey Which lightly casts its heritage away.New council houses flourish, but soon fade;A breath can shake them as a breath has made.But noble monuments, their country's pride,When once destroyed can never be supplied.I commend, with rousing enthusiasm, the voice of Oliver Goldsmith to this House and to the Government.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Sir John Withers
I have great pleasure in associating myself with the hon. Members who proposed and seconded this Motion, and I should also like to congratulate very heartily the hon. Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. Marshall) on his very practical remarks. He obviously knows all about town planning. I myself was engaged in putting through the first town planning 453 scheme that ever was put through—the Ruislip-Northwood scheme—and I have taken a great interest in it ever since. I can quite see that the criticisms of the hon. Member are very forcible. I was very much interested by what he said about the improvement of elevations. The other night, at a meeting of a committee, which the hon. Member did not attend—
§ Sir J. Withers
—a lecture was given by an eminent architect connected with the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, in which he said it was very doubtful whether local authorities had the power to judge as to the suitability of elevations. I should like to know very much whether that is the real truth of the matter, because, if it is, it makes a great deal of difference, since the question of elevations is a very important one. In this matter there are two very great subject-matters of criticism—the Ribbon Development Act and the Town and Country Planning Act. I say further they are objections because they mislead the public. They are not compulsory, and the administration is carried on by people who have not the taste and knowledge and power to do it, and, moreover, they have not the money, which is a very important matter. These are questions which would have to be considered by the Government if the suggested new body were set up to consider what has to be done. Obviously all parties in the House are agreed that something should be done. The Government themselves, I am sorry to say, are not beyond criticism. Look, for instance, at their suggestion to put up an aircraft factory near Maidenhead, which would have brought needlessly a large body of industry, for no earthly reason, right into the middle of a lovely piece of country near London, and would have done tremendous damage to the countryside. Another matter has been brought before me only to-day in this letter from the secretary of the Hertfordshire society:At the present moment there is a Bill before the House, the London Passenger Transport Bill, 1937, which I believe came up for Second Reading yesterday."—I do not think it did—This Bill aims at the establishment of a tube station and railway extension to the neighbourhood of Aldenham Reservoir, and will, if passed, ruin for all time the amenities 454 of a beautiful countryside and destroy the existing amenities of the Watford by-pass trunk road.Surely, the Ministry of Transport can see to it that, while the utilitarian requirements are provided for, the artistic amenities are preserved at the same time. I think, also, that the Forestry Commissioners have to be watched extremely carefully. I have noticed with great doubts their activities in the Lake District. Of course, one naturally supports them theoretically in their work, but the idea of planting trees in great batches on low-lying ground, wherever it happens to be, is not really proper. They may spoil a view, and it has to be done with the greatest care. One or two cases have been brought to my notice where afforestation has done considerable harm from the point of view of the amenities of the district.
The Government should most certainly agree to this Motion, and to the formation of some body which would ascertain what requires to be done and supervise the local authorities. Personally, I think that such a body ought to be of a statutory and permanent character, under the control of Parliament, so that the whole matter can be looked into properly. One question which ought to be considered is the question, which I understand is fully dealt with in France, of the abatement of Death Duties where land or property or houses are given to the nation, or where facilities are given for the public to have access to and visit the property. I think the Government should consider, in return for such facilities, some remission of Death Duties. In addition, I would suggest that education authorities should take in hand the inculcation of taste and historical knowledge, as outlined by the hon. Member who spoke just now. After all, it is public opinion that ultimately matters, and that will ultimately decide this matter. I heartily support the suggestion that we should follow Sweden and have these various matters pointed out in our primary elementary schools. I support the Resolution with all my heart.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Lovat-Fraser
For a very long time people have complained about the country being spoilt by the town, and about the urbanisation of the country. As far back as 1770, Dr. Johnson, speaking of his own time, said that:He observed that the influence of London now extended everywhere, and that, from all 455 manner of communication being opened, there shortly would be no remains of the ancient simplicity or places of cheap retreat to be found.A hundred years later, Sir Walter Scott made the same complaint, that Scotland was being urbanised and brought under the influence of the towns. Speaking of his own city, he said:Betwixt building and burning, every ancient monument of the Scottish capital is now likely to be utterly demolished.It is our duty, while recognising that there must be change, that things can grow up which we do not like, and that changes may take place which we lament, to prevent as far as we can the destruction of what is beautiful and ancient. It has been said that we get from the past a burden to be removed and a heritage to be preserved. We have to preserve the heritage of the beauty and charm of our country. The "Times" has again and again, in striking articles, called attention to what is now going on, and one such passage is so apt and suitable, and expresses so well the happenings of the present time, that I will ask the House to allow me to read it. The "Times" said:The English scene is being changed very rapidly, and being changed for the worse. Scarcely a week passes but our attention is urgently called to a new road that is to ruin an old village, a valley, a stretch of woodland; to an electric cable that is to be swung on huge steel towers across a country sacred from its beauty and its associations; to the ill-considered, ill-designed, ill-placed building of anything from a factory or a housing estate to a shoddy shack; to advertisements that are like electric motor horns screeching through a Mozart quartette; to old houses pulled down and fine trees cut down; to ravage and defilement by trippers; to offences of many kinds against the form, the colour, the peace, the health, the decency, the dignity, the spirit of the English country.That is the spirit of the "Times," a newspaper which cannot be charged with lack of broadness of mind or lack of fairness of view. What are the amenities that we want to preserve? I think that perhaps the best list is given in a Bill that was introduced into this House in 1930 by Sir Hilton Young, as he then was. In that Bill there were set forth the various amenities which it was desirable should be preserved. They included the protection and acquisition of ancient monuments, and the prevention of the exportation of ancient houses. In this connection I should like to read another paragraph which appeared in the 456 "Times" a little while ago. It was as follows: