§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 12.29 p.m.
§ The Minister of Works (Sir David Eccles)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is presented in the belief that half a loaf is better than no bread. Everyone who has considered the range of British architecture agrees, I think, that the family house is a strand of gold running through the pattern of centuries, and will agree, too, that it is our duty to do all we can to preserve the best examples of this domestic art for the instruction and joy of future generations. The extent of the slow creeping disaster which is coming over so many houses was forcefully and fully described by the Gowers Committee.
Whatever view may be held about particular recommendations of that Committee, because of the financial situation we cannot at present afford to implement the grand conception which inspired its authors. We must now be content to make a start in the right direction. Therefore, it is of great importance to see that the machinery set up in this Bill can be used as a pilot plant for much larger operations when more money becomes available.
This is Friday and our time is limited and, as the Government are very anxious to hear the views of as many hon. Members as possible on the principles that should guide us in administering the Bill, I hope that I meet the wishes of the House if I take the general problem as 754 understood and devote my remarks to an account of the Bill itself. The Bill is divided into three Parts. I should like to say something about Part II first. Clauses 10 to 13 have no bearing on the proposals relating to historic houses. They are included in order to tidy up certain defects in the administration of the Ancient Monuments Acts.
For instance, I am asking in Clause 11 for power to substitute special Parliamentary procedure for an Act of Parliament where an objection is raised to a preservation order. In Clause 12 it is provided that compensation can be paid to an owner who is injured by a preservation order. These cases are rare, but I have not at present any power to do justice to an owner who is injured by an order. For example, if a farmer is prevented from ploughing up a field until such time as my officials can get round to do the excavation, I have no power to give him any compensation for his loss of livelihood. I think it is right that we should have that power.
Part III of the Bill makes a minor adjustment in the working of the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946, and in the legislation relating to preservation orders. It is Part I of the Bill with which we are chiefly concerned today. That deals with buildings of outstanding architectural or historic interest. It gives to the Minister of Works power to set up Councils for England and for Wales and, in conjunction with the Secretary of State for Scotland, and on the advice of the appropriate Council to make grants towards the maintenance of such buildings and their contents on such conditions as the Minister may prescribe.
§ Clauses 5 to 8 provide that the Minister can accept an outstanding building as a gift or buy such a building or assist a local authority or other bodies to buy it. Finally, the Minister can also accept endowments towards the upkeep of a building in his charge. Hon. Gentlemen will see that all these powers are very widely drawn. That is quite deliberate. It is done because we are starting on a new service and as we gain experience we want to be able to mould the administration to suit both the money which is available and the classes of building which in the course of time it is thought appropriate to help.755
§ There are no new compulsory powers in the Bill. Everything we do will be in agreement with the owners concerned. For the first time we shall have power to assist inhabited houses. Most people will agree that when a building of the kind we are thinking of is lived in as the home of a family, something of interest to visitors from home or overseas is preserved which is lacking in a museum or institution.
§ The question arises then: shall we use most of the money for helping inhabited houses? I hope so, but it is impossible to be certain, for we do not know how many houses will be offered to us for purchase or in how many cases local authorities and others will ask for help in respect of houses which they wish to see used for some special purpose of their own. As the money is limited all I can say is that we must make the best use of it and in the light of experience we shall know whether more of it will go in one direction or in the other.
§ As this uncertainty about the number of houses that will be offered to us for sale is very real—and we have some reason to know that there are a fair number of offers coming along—it may be just as well that the sum at my disposal for purchases of buildings and chattels is at present no greater than £500,000 over the next five years. That sum comes from the Land Fund. I am very glad that the father of the Land Fund, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), is here. I think he will rejoice, as we do, that at long last a useful purpose has been found for, at any rate, a small portion of the Fund; but the knowledge that there is this capital sum of £500,000 will attract sellers of properties which are difficult to manage.
§ The House will see that every time we make a purchase we shall have to earmark part of the other grant—the annual grant for maintenance—towards the upkeep of the house which we have purchased. Therefore, there will be less for inhabited houses. I think that we all hope that the sale of historic houses will be the last resort and that we shall manage to help as many as possible by way of grants for maintenance. However, it really is not possible to tell in advance 756 just how this will work out. Therefore, I should be glad if hon. Members do not press for more than £500,000 out of the Land Fund at present. Let us see how we get along and when that £500,000 is spent it will be time enough to make the case to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for more.
§ For annual maintenance the sum available in the first year has been fixed at £250,000. This has been very widely held to be quite insufficient, but it will take some months to get into our stride and I am very glad to tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has authorised me to say that when we have been in operation for a year he is prepared to look at this figure again. That is proof of the great personal interest which the Chancellor takes in this Bill.
§ Clearly, with no more than £250,000 in one year we can only assist a small fraction of the historic houses which hon. Gentlemen would consider of outstanding importance. The Minister will select these houses on the advice of the three Councils for England, Wales and Scotland respectively. I very much want the appropriate Council to be the body which advises me on the merits of each case. I expect that successive Ministers of Works will be glad to have a powerful buffer between them and the queue of owners who will want help and amongst whom it may be very difficult to choose without the advice of independent men and women.
§ Provision is made in Clause 1 (3) to pay the Chairman of the Council if a salary is necessary to secure the best man for the job. I feel that we ought to have this power, because the post of chairman is very important and will involve a good deal of travelling. Therefore, if we find that a salary is reasonable, we shall have the power to pay it.
§ It is not easy to determine in advance how the money available for the grants should be divided between England, Scotland and Wales, and I shall have to have the advice of the Councils on this point. The principle is that the houses we are assisting in the three sections of the Kingdom should be roughly of the same standard of excellence. I do not think it would be proper to assist third-rate houses in one part of the Kingdom when, in another part of the Kingdom, houses of 757 first rate importance could not be assisted because there was no money left with which to do it. Therefore, we shall have to see as we go along what are the proportions of the offers and their merits coming from the different parts of the Kingdom, but we shall certainly try to be fair as between the three.
§ The secretary of each Council will be provided by the Ministry of Works, and, in this way, it will be possible to place at the disposal of the Council the expert advice of the archaeologists, architects and surveyors who serve my Department and who have a very high reputation for their ability. The Councils I envisage rather as men and women of the world, like boards of directors, who will get their technical advice very largely from the competent staff in the Ministry of Works.
§ I ought to say a word about the problem of overlapping between the new Councils for England and Wales and the existing body which is responsible to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. This problem does not arise in respect of Scotland. The Holford Committee is concerned with a very much wider field than these Historic Buildings Councils will be. It has no money, but it does good work in supervising the listing of buildings which themselves cannot be pulled down or altered without reference to the planning authorities, and it advises the Minister of Housing and Town and Country Planning upon the application of his planning powers to the listed buildings. I am sure that we can secure harmony here. Harmony reigns between the two Departments in other spheres, and I see no reason why it should not be established here, but I am discussing the administrative arrangements with my right hon. Friend, and we have not yet quite decided what is likely to be the most efficient method of managing the two tasks—listing, on the one hand, and scheduling for grant, on the other.
§ I come now to the principles on which the £250,000 will be allocated. We think that grants to buildings are preferable to tax reliefs to owners. Leaving aside the question of Treasury principle, which is not for me, I am sure that, from the angle of the Minister of Works, whose aim is to see preserved the largest number of fine houses that can be maintained within the limits of the finance 758 available, that decision is right. The objection to tax reliefs is that they are ineffective when the owner has too small an income to benefit by the relief, as is very often the case, or, if he has a sufficient income, he may be unwilling to find the cash for maintenance up to the desired standard.
§ Even if we proposed to assist him with tax relief, we should have to have grants as well, and it is not practicable to divide the sum of £250,000 between grants and tax reliefs. Further, for the houses which are purchased or are given to us, the money for maintenance must come out of the annual provision for grants, and tax reliefs can be of no use to us here at all. For all these reasons, I think the system of grants will, within the limited finance at our disposal, give us the best results.
§ The House will want to know how the grant system will operate, and I envisage something like this. The owner of a house who wishes to have a grant will apply to the secretary of the appropriate Historic Buildings Council. The secretary will get together some preliminary information, and he will submit it, together with the application, to his Council. The Council will then look at this preliminary evidence and make up their minds whether there is a case for assistance. If they decide there is, they will advise the Minister to make a detailed investigation. When reports on the importance of the building and other matters have been prepared, and estimates have been got out of the cost of special repairs, which are nearly always very heavy, and the cost of normal upkeep, the case will go back to the Council, which will then advise the Minister on the amount of the grant which is needed and the conditions to be attached to it. In cases where we are successful in obtaining the co-operation of the appropriate National Trust—and I will say more about that in a minute—it will be the Trust and not the Ministry which will prepare the reports for the Council, and, if the Minister sanctions the grant, the Trust will supervise the use of the money.
§ It will be seen that Clause 4 does not lay down any specific conditions to the grants. There are certain to be cases in which an owner is asked to make a contribution towards the cost of maintenance. 759 Wherever possible, we shall expect the house to be open to the public on suitable occasions, but one cannot say in advance whether this desirable condition can always be fulfilled. For example, if it is thought proper to assist a group of houses in a town, it would not be possible to admit the public to each one of those houses, but the public will benefit by the exterior, the terrace, or whatever it is, being properly maintained. I can give the assurance that, where it is reasonable to attach conditions that the buildings should be open to the public, we shall certainly see that that is done.
§ I come now to the very difficult question of the principles on which the buildings to be assisted should be chosen.
§ Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves that question of grants, can he say whether the grant is to be an annual grant for a term of years, or whether it is to be a special grant in one particular case? Perhaps the Minister is taking power to do anything he thinks fit, but, in the normal case, I take it that the grant will be for a period of years or as fixed by the agreement?
§ Sir D. Eccles
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; I am coming to that point when I deal with the provision which the Government have decided to make for grants over a period of years.
I should like to have the advice of the House on this question, but perhaps it would help if I gave the House the benefit of the view which I hold myself for the moment. Public taste in works of art swings to and fro in the most violent manner. What is praised to the skies in one generation, is condemned out of hand in the next. I suppose that when Barry re-built this Palace of Westminster his design must have been very highly thought of. What we know is that soon afterwards it entered into a period of disapproval—I choose a very moderate word—but I now believe that the architecture of the Palace of Westminster is regaining its popularity.
Hon. Gentlemen who are great experts on this subject will know that hundreds of cases can be cited where works of art are in fashion in one century and completely out of fashion in another. We 760 cannot expect the members of the Historic Buildings Councils to be entirely immune from prevailing fashion. None of us is, though I am bound to say that some of the members of the societies connected with particular styles of architecture appear to think that the one in which they are interested is really the only one worth preserving. But that is not so, and all history shows that it is not so.
I hope, therefore, that the Councils will aim at preserving the best examples of all styles, big and small houses, some situated in the countryside and some in towns, and that they will give weight to the association of the House with great events or with a family or owner famous in our history. The fact that members of the same family have lived for centuries in the same house is also, in my view, worthy of respect.
I understand that there is a difference of opinion between those who think we should parcel out the money in as many grants as we can in order to keep the greatest number of houses from falling down, and those who think that we should make sure that every house we assist gets enough money to be maintained in good order, including the repair of the contents, the upkeep of the gardens and of' amenity lands.
It seems to me that the main object of the Bill is to preserve for future generations the gems of our domestic architecture in a state which shows them to the best advantage. I have always found that spending anything less than is needed to keep a building in first rate repair usually ends in trouble. I will put these considerations to the Councils and will also listen to what they have to say.
On the same point, I hear it said that the Ministry of Works sets too high a standard in this dilapidated world, spending too lavishly and incurring unnecessary expenses. I always try to investigate any allegation of this kind, and what we usually find is that like is not being compared with like, and that our accuser is proposing a scheme of maintenance which my architects consider totally inadequate to the building. I am then urged to simplify my specifications.
I assure the House that there is really very great danger in this kind of advice. 761 The Ministry of Works have long experience in maintaining buildings in the possession of the Crown, and we find that it does not pay to do half the job, and also that the public—and one has to think of visitors from overseas as well as from home—expect a very high standard from the Government, and expect us to give a lead.
My view is that it would be wrong to approve schemes of maintenance which we knew at the time of approval were not going to maintain the house at a really high standard. However, this is a matter for argument, and, naturally, I shall listen to the Councils' advice.
What I have just said does not mean that we shall neglect to get value for the money spent. In most cases, of course, the owners themselves will arrange for carrying out the work with the assistance of the grant, and they will say whom they want to employ to spend the money. We or the National Trust—if it is a National Trust—will see that the results are good. Where our own Minister is concerned, we shall encourage the inviting of tenders by contractors, and if there is an efficient estate staff available we shall certainly make use of it.
I have said that we believe that the appropriate National Trust can be of great help to us when dealing with inhabited houses. Their experience is of the greatest value, and I very much hope that they will be willing to undertake on our behalf the negotiations with the owners of inhabited houses who are prepared to treat with them, and that they will supervise the maintenance.
There cannot be any hard and fast rule here because we do not know whether all the owners of inhabited houses who come to us for grants will prefer the National Trust's scheme of supervision or that of the Ministry. We shall just have to see, but I hope that the National Trusts will do the bulk of the work. The Trusts have told us that they would have liked us to hand over to them endowments in respect of houses which have been bought by or given to the Government and then transferred to their care. I think they were thinking more particularly of endowments given by the Government in respect of houses which had been offered direct to them by the public without endowments.
762 This is a very difficult point, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor feels that it would be too great a departure in financial principle, but he is ready to authorise me at the appropriate time—and this brings in the point made just now by my hon. Friend—to promise annual grants for a period of years. If that is done to the satisfaction of the owner and of the Trust it will, in fact, be a fair alternative.
Again, as with the tax reliefs—leaving on one side the question of taxation principles, which is not my affair—I should have thought that as money tends to depreciate, endowments—and we have had a very good case in Chequers—soon become insufficient for keeping up a house, and it would appear to me easier to get a future Government to add to a grant rather than to an endowment. What matters is that the annual sum for a period ahead attaching to a certain building should be sufficient to keep it in good order.
I have already said that Clauses 5 to 8 of the Bill give the Minister power to buy and sell buildings and to accept endowments. I have no idea how many of these properties will be offered to us, but when we make a purchase we shall have to find a new user. It is our intention to set up a central agency where private persons, Government Departments, local authorities and other bodies can obtain information about the houses for which a new use has to be found. I believe that the centralising of this information service in one place would be a great help to many people.
I have tried to answer a number of points which were raised when we discussed this matter before, and no doubt there are many other questions which arise out of the Bill, and to which answers are desired today. These can be dealt with by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I should like to pay tribute to him. During the winter and the spring months he has done by far the larger share of the work in preparing the Bill, and his skill and patience in negotiation have allowed us to have the Bill today. The Bill looks small, and it is small, but it touches the hearts of a great many people and raises problems of art and tradition which are very difficult to solve to the satisfaction of everybody.
763 It is because we have in mind these considerations of personal and artistic interest that we come to Parliament with a request for flexible powers, and if Parliament is willing to grant them they will enable us to find by experience the best way of starting this new service to help historic houses which are in need of assistance. We realise that this is only a beginning, but we think it is a good beginning, and I therefore commend the Bill to the House.
§ 1.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Dalton (Bishop Auckland)
This is a small Bill in form, as the Minister has said, but it is an important Bill. The previous Government were working before the General Election on a Measure somewhat similar to this, and we certainly should have brought in a Measure aiming at this same object if we had continued in power beyond the autumn of 1951. There is general agreement as to the need for more speedy and effective action to achieve the main purpose of the Bill to prevent the decay from natural causes, and even in some cases the deliberate destruction by shortsighted people, of beautiful and historic buildings in which are preserved our splendid national heritage of the works of the best architects and craftsmen of the past.
I certainly think that the money provided here is inadequate. I believe the Minister agrees with me and, if I read correctly between the lines of what he has said, he has so argued with the Treasury, and he has got from the Treasury a half-undertaking to look again at this annual grant of £250,000. That is not a bad beginning—not a bad interim report from the Departmental battlefield—but the money now provided is not much.
With regard to the capital sum, £500,000, I should like to say a word or two particularly about the National Land Fund which, as the right hon. Gentleman recalled, was instituted by me in 1946 under the Finance Act of that year. The right hon. Gentleman spoke as though no one so far had made any use of it at all, and he said that I ought to be glad that some use was now going to be made of the Fund. Some considerable use, although not enough, has already been made of it. A number of properties have 764 been transferred from the owners to nonprofit making bodies, mostly to the National Trust. Some fine houses have been included in this list. I have not with me the list of the properties concerned but most of them have been of beautiful open country rather than of beautiful and historic houses. There is, for instance, the Glanllyn property in Merioneth, and part of the Penrhyn estate in North Wales, including some very beautiful mountain country, such as the Glyders and Llyn Ogwen.
But the amount of property so far transferred has been very disappointing to me, as the author of this scheme. I hoped that the owner of a fine house or other real property would often consider that it would be an advantage to him that payment of Death Duties should take the form, in whole or in part, of the transfer of the property direct. I am sure that I was right in thinking—I hope the Minister will agree in regard to this aspect of the Bill—that the National Trust in England, where it has operated on a large scale, and to a lesser extent in Scotland, where it is operating as yet only on a small scale, has been found to be a very admirable holder of these transferred properties.
None the less, it is true that the Land Fund has been to some extent accumulating at compound interest. It now amounts to more than £54 million as against the £50 million which I originally put into it in 1946. Therefore, there is evidently a case for extending the use which this Fund can be put. I do not know whether this will affect the Minister's arrangements in any way, but one reason, I think, why the use of the Fund has been disappointing in regard to Death Duties is that valuations for probate are generally less than the values which can be got in the open market. It will therefore often seem to trustees that, if they want to part with real estate at all, they will do better to sell it than to pass it over on the probate valuation.
When we instituted this Fund in 1946 we contemplated not only that all the interest would be spent, but that the principal would be spent too, over a period of from 10 to 20 years, when we might again look at the situation and see whether further financial provision should be made to prevent the Inland Revenue from being out of pocket when 765 Death Duties paid in land or other properties and not in cash. It is disappointing to find, not only that the principal has not been drawn on, at all so far, but that not all the interest has been spent.
I must quote one sentence only which requires some comment, as to the character of the National Land Fund. A Member of Her Majesty's present Government said in another place:If you spend £2 million or more out of the National Land Fund you have to raise a further £2 million by taxation to meet your other expenditure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 9th June, 1953; Vol. 182, c. 784.]The Lord Chancellor said that in another place. It is completely wrong. The Lord Chancellor has completely misunderstood the matter. Either he was very badly briefed or he read his brief with insufficient care. The Land Fund is wholly set aside for one special purpose. Even if, to take an extreme case, the Minister were to persuade the Chancellor to give him the whole £54 million for next year, that would not involve, as seems to be imagined by his learned colleague, any additional taxation at all. It has no relation to general taxation or to the level of taxation. I hope, if this illusion is widespread among his colleagues, that the Minister will take steps to correct it. As it stands, it does damage to an understanding of this particular problem as well as to the general intelligence of Ministers.
I will now pass from the Land Fund, commenting merely on the fact that to give the right hon. Gentleman £500,000 over five years is to take out of the Land Fund over the period of five years less than 1 per cent. of the total in it and to give him over the next five years 0.2 per cent. of the total Fund which might be used for this purpose. A strong case for increasing the drawings on the Fund can be made.
The Minister spoke about the choice, which cannot be easy and which will involve much detailed study and good judgment by the members of the Historic Buildings Councils and by himself, as to how far we should extend over a large number of cases, or concentrate upon a few cases, the grants which will be possible under this Bill. In a previous speech the right hon. Gentleman spoke in favour of which I think he called "concentrating 766 on a few representative gems." I was a little perturbed by that phrase, but I was a little reassured today when he said, and I think that I use his own words. "We must aim at preserving the largest number of fine houses which it is possible to do within the financial means at our disposal."
In other words the Minister was today emphasising the desirability of preserving the largest number possible, whereas previously I thought that he was too much inclined to concentration. I will not enter into discussion at this stage as to how high the standards of repair and maintenance should be. That is a technical matter, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will approach that problem, and that the Historic Buildings Councils will do likewise, with the phrase which he used today in mind.
It is very important that we should have some further discussion, which could readily come both today and on the Committee stage, about a matter on which the Minister said that he had received representations from the National Trusts—that is with regard to endowments for the maintenance of houses that were taken over, whether by the Trusts themselves or by other bodies. I gather that one of the new departures which may take place under this Bill is that local authorities in more cases than hitherto will have the possession and care of these houses. That is to be welcomed.
Two hon. Members, one on this side of the House and one on the other side, will no doubt speak in greater detail on how this problem appears to the National Trust for England and Wales, both being on its Executive Council. But, as I understand the matter, a large number of fine houses, well worthy of preservation, have been offered in recent years to the National Trusts, and particularly to the National Trust for England and Wales. The Trusts have not been able to accept them, not always because the owner could do nothing towards maintenance and repair, but because a larger sum than could be raised from private sources would be required as an endowment to enable these houses to be kept in good condition in the future. It is important that we should do whatever we can, and it might be an economical way of doing this thing well, if the Government were to supplement out of 767 these moneys an endowment which is, not non-existent but not sufficient, to enable a fine house to pass into the hands of the National Trust.
The only other point on which I wish to say something at this stage is the administrative relationships between the Ministry of Works and the Ministry which is now called the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. All the "Planning" has disappeared from this Ministry—or at least from its title. The right hon. Gentleman was not up-to-date in his speech today. But the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has had until now important functions very closely related to and indeed mixed up with the purposes of this Bill. In the Bill that we on this side of the Committee would have introduced had my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) continued to be Minister of Works, there would have been a straightforward transfer to the Ministry of Works from the then Ministry of Local Government and Planning of all the existing powers regarding listing and making preservation orders and so on. That, surely, is the clean and appropriate administrative solution.
I cannot think that it is sense to leave listing and preservation orders relating to these historic houses with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and I cannot think that it is sense to leave in existence their separate advisory committee. Although there may be one or two points which that committee consider from time to time that would not fall exactly within the ambit of the Historic Buildings Councils, surely the work overlaps to a very great extent. I should have hoped that in this Bill there would have been a clean transfer of these functions from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to the Ministry of Works. No doubt some members of the advisory committee would be very suitable members of the Historic Buildings Councils and the advisory committee, which is not, I think, a statutory body, could disappear.
I cannot see why that move should not be made even now. I have heard it suggested that it would be more appropriately done in some future legislation relating to town and country planning, 768 but I see no reason to delay until then. I should have thought that, either by a Clause in this Bill or by a transfer of powers order such as we considered the other day with regard to civil aviation and war pensions, the transfer could be made at an earlier date. I am sure that it will assist the working of the scheme to get all the administration into one hand and I do not see why the Minister of Works should object to receiving it or his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government object to handing it over. I was prepared to hand it over when I was in that office.
We shall support the Bill on Second Reading. We hope that it will be passed into law at an early stage but that in certain respects it will be strengthened and amended; and we shall wish the Minister all good fortune in his continued wrestlings with the people at the Treasury.
§ 1.19 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Fleetwood-Hesketh (Southport)
I am grateful for the opportunity of saying a few words on this Bill. If I offer anything at all in the nature of criticism I hope that no one will suppose for a moment that I do not feel extremely grateful to the Minister for having done something, at least, to preserve the architectural treasures of this country.
I should like to approach this subject simply as a student of architecture, and I will not enter upon the wider question of whether it is morally or socially justifiable for a person to continue to live in a house which his family may have built and which they may have occupied for several centuries. That is far too controversial a question for me to develop in the few minutes at my disposal. Therefore, I should like to confine myself to what I feel to be less debatable ground, namely, that if we leave the owner of a house in occupation as guardian of that house, the maintenance will probably be done more cheaply than in any other way, and we shall also stand a better chance of keeping the fabric and the contents of the house together. That is an important architectural consideration when one remembers that many of these contents were made for the places which they still occupy.
769 But my main object is to compare the relative benefits given by the Government to architecture as opposed to other works of art. I think that those of us who wish and hope that the sum provided in this Bill will be increased in the future have a good argument here. I feel that it is not so much the form which a benefit takes that counts as the amount of the benefit. If a certain amount is to be granted for the preservation of a particular work of art, it does not greatly matter whether that amount is given by way of abatement of Estate Duty, enlargement of the maintenance claim or, indeed, by a direct grant; though I am bound to say that without some form of abatement of Death Duty I do not see how we shall ever obtain enough money for the purpose we have in mind. I hope that I may be allowed very briefly to develop this argument, even if I have to refer to benefits not actually contained in this Bill, but which are now enjoyed by other works of art, since that is the only way in which I can make the comparison I wish to draw.
If we consider the benefits now enjoyed by pictures, furniture and things of that kind, as the House well knows, certain previous Finance Acts provide that:Pictures and other works of art of national, scientific or historical interest are exempt from Death Duty while enjoyed in kind.That is to say, until they are sold. Let us consider what this means in £ s. d.
We have in that regard an excellent example from the saleroom only last week. I refer to the Ashburnham sale. I do not think that anyone would argue that the great works of art sold there would not have qualified for exemption under these Sections if they had not been sold. That sale realised between £130,000 and £140,000, and, according to the published figures, the probate value on the remainder of the estate was about £650,000. Let us suppose that these Sections of the Finance Acts of the past, to which I have referred, had never been enacted, and let us also suppose that the pictures to which I have referred had not been sold.
In those circumstances, taking aggregation into account, it strikes me that 770 these pictures would have paid duty at the rate of about 75 per cent., and the Treasury, on the whole transaction, taking the duty paid on the pictures and the higher rate of duty on the estate as a whole, would have benefited to the tune of about £120,000. This concerns one collection in one house in Sussex. There are hundreds of other comparable collections scattered throughout the country, yet the amount which would be allowed in respect of this one single collection is nearly half the whole annual sum which is offered to save all the best architecture in the whole of Great Britain.
We have heard a great deal about the difficulty of selection within a class; that it is difficult to accept one person's house and to refuse another's. But I must point out that this trouble has been successfully overcome in connection with other works of art for many years by the officials of the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum in the case of pictures and similar objects under the sections to which I have referred. It should also be noted that under this arrangement, the custody of the objects remains with the owners. I do not for a moment criticise this form of relief; in fact I feel that much good has come from it, and that many works of art have been retained in this country and in their best setting which would otherwise have gone abroad. But I do fail to understand why architecture should remain such a conspicuous Cinderella amongst the arts, receiving perhaps not one-tenth of the benefit offered to painting and other works of art which I have mentioned.
I do not press the point that from one point of view architecture should have the first claim because the costs of preservation are so much higher. After all, pictures and furniture do not stand in the open air and are not subject to the rigours of our climate. I feel, therefore, that I am speaking for all serious students of architecture when I say that all we are asking for is that the works of our great architects should have the same regard paid to them as is already paid to the works of our great painters, silversmiths, cabinet makers and sculptors.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
This is a well-intentioned and long overdue Bill. I should like to welcome it warmly on behalf of the National Trust. The National Trust, as the Minister has said, has been closely concerned with the objectives of this Bill over a long period—the preservation of houses of historic and architectural interest. The Trust will be only too pleased to extend that co-operation for which the Minister hoped in his opening speech. We realise that we have a considerable function to perform in the administration of this Bill, 'and we shall be very pleased to do so. I want to express this welcome at the outset of what I have to say because I have certain criticisms to make of the Bill, and I have one or two more to make on my own account as well. So the welcome is perhaps not an entirely unqualified one.
It is always invidious to name the progenitors of a Bill of this kind. They are usually many, but I think that the House would agree that two of the most important ones in this instance were my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who set up the National Land Fund under the 1946 Finance Act, and, perhaps more important, the late Sir Stafford Cripps, who was responsible for the setting up of the Gowers Committee. It was Sir Stafford Cripps who first saw the danger to these priceless historic houses. It was always a subject very dear to his heart. I think that the House might be interested to know that on the 27th July, 1950, which was a few weeks after the publication of the Gowers Report, Sir Stafford Cripps met a small group of hon. Members of this House in order to discuss the Report with them.
There is no need to tell the House what he said in any detail, because he had not at that time come to any final conclusions about the problem. But he did make two important points. The first was that so far as possible these houses should continue to be inhabited and not become mere empty, lifeless museums. I think that sentiment is shared on both sides of the House, and it is a principle which has always guided the National Trust. The second point which Sir Stafford Cripps made was that the Government should have power to acquire houses in 772 danger of demolition or decay. It is gratifying to see both these principles enshrined in the Bill we are discussing today. I have mentioned this meeting with Sir Stafford Cripps, not only for its relevance so far as this debate is concerned, but because it was the last occasion on which Sir Stafford Cripps addressed hon. Members of this House. He was obviously in very great pain at the time, but so deep was his interest in this subject that he stayed discussing this matter for 1½ hours.
The National Trust has been waiting for many years for some such Bill as this. We are very glad that the Government have made this small beginning. We think, as I believe the whole House thinks, that £250,000 a year for maintenance grants is pitifully inadequate, but we were very glad indeed to hear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer may have second thoughts at the end of the first year's working under this Bill. In an Adjournment debate which we had some months ago, the right hon. Gentleman said that he thought, or he hoped, that this sum might enable him to preserve some 50 to 100 historic houses. I very much doubt whether it will go anything like as far as that.
I believe that the Minister will find, particularly among the first batch of applications, that there are many houses which have an accumulation of special repairs, and that his £250,000 will trickle away much faster than he imagines. At a later stage it may be possible for him to maintain roughly this number of houses on this money, provided that the initial repairs have been done, but there is an overwhelming case for a far larger sum to be made available, at any rate in the first year or two of the scheme.
I now come to the Trust's major criticism of the Bill. It has been referred to by both right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken. During the 15 years that the Trust has been operating its Country House Scheme, it has been responsible for the preservation of more than 100 historic houses, but it can only do this when the owner is able and willing to put down an endowment, in the form either of a capital sum of money or of land, to enable the Trust to maintain the property in perpetuity and to declare it inalienable.
773 Even over the last few years there have been about 30 thoroughly desirable houses, in every way worthy of preservation, which the Trust has had to let go because the owner was not able to provide the full endowment. In many cases the owner could provide part of it, but we had not the money with which to supplement partial endowment. We hoped that the Bill would contain powers to enable the Minister to provide endowments or, perhaps even more important, to supplement endowments in cases where they were inadequate. We think that this would be the most economical method of using the money at the Minister's disposal, because in those cases we can be fairly certain of bringing the owner in. I believe the right hon. Gentleman will have many applications where the owner is not very keen on making his contribution. I hope the Minister will have second thoughts—probably it is the Chancellor who needs to be made to have second thoughts—because we propose to move an Amendment, or a new Clause, during the Committee stage to include this provision.
The Trust knows that it cannot expect much money out of the £250,000 to be made available in the form of capital endowment. I should have imagined that the £500,000 out of the Land Fund, which is, after all, a capital matter, would have been very much more appropriate in this connection, and if it is a slight departure from normal financial practice, then let us make a departure. The House can do exactly what it wants, and I do not see that it is an adequate argument for turning down the proposal now just because the situation has never arisen before. What we want is powers for the Minister to make grants for endowment. Even if it is not possible to take advantage of this during the first few years when the Act is in operation, there might come a time when more money is available and then, unless these powers exist, the Trust may still have to turn down desirable houses which we could otherwise preserve.
I now want to ask one or two questions about the Bill, particularly about the meaning of Clause 6 (2), which refers to the National Trust. It is not clear to me whether the Minister will be able to make a grant to the National Trust of the whole purchase price of a building 774 acquired by the Trust. I should like to know whether the phrase:… defraying in whole or in part any expenses incurred by the Trust …include the purchase price. It might be made a little clearer. If the phrase does include the purchase price, might we have it extended to include associated land and associated chattels.
We should also like to know why associated land is differently defined in Clauses 4 (1) and 5 (1). In Clause 4 (1) it is described as:… land held with any such buildings and forming part of the amenities thereof …In Clause 5 (1) there is the more desirable definition:… land comprising, or contiguous or adjacent to, the building.I hope that during the Committee stage we may be able to agree on a common definition and that it will be the latter.
I now want to ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions on my own account. There is not very much in the Bill about the Historic Buildings Councils which is at all concrete. It is clear that they are very much weaker and less substantial bodies than those envisaged by the Gowers Committee. Their function seems entirely advisory, which was not what the Gowers Committee had in mind. On the other hand, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that, in many respects, the less specific the Bill is the better it will be.
I was very much interested by Clause 1 (3), which says that the salaried chairman of the Historic Buildings Council can be a Member of this House without being disqualified from sitting or voting. I should have thought that if ever there was an office of profit under the Crown, this was one. Perhaps we may be told why that specific provision has been inserted in the Bill.
I was not entirely convinced by the references of the right hon. Gentleman to the question of transferring the listing and building preservation order functions of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to his own Ministry. Everyone agrees that at present there is considerable duplication. We have all heard stories of sets of officials from the two Ministries going to inspect the same property on successive days. As my right hon. Friend said, surely the Bill 775 provides the occasion to make what we all agree would be a most desirable administrative change.
I wish also to refer to the National Land Fund, which was referred to at some length by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland. There seems to be a great deal of confusion in the minds of the Government about just what the National Land Fund is. My right hon. Friend quoted the words uttered by the Lord Chancellor in another place, but he did not quote the most telling passage. The Lord Chancellor also said:… the mere act of creating that Fund does not put any extra money into the Government's pocket. It is not like the Road Fund or the National Insurance Fund, which had been collected by a particular means for a particular purpose. It is not a Fund established out of monies provided for a particular purpose by the public. The whole £50 million simply came out of the Consolidated Fund. It is not in any sense real money at all: It is simply a collection of Government securities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 9th June, 1953; Vol. 182. c. 783–4.]Apart from the last few words, almost every statement in that passage is completely inaccurate. It is a fund created for a special purpose. As Lord Methuen reminded the Lord Chancellor, the money was derived from the sale of surplus war material. It consisted of capital money which the Treasury did not want to apply to revenue and it was, therefore, put in a special fund to be used for capital purposes. I should have thought that the purposes of acquisition and the provision of endowments under the Bill were most admirable uses for the Fund.
I thought my right hon. Friend rather understated the limited use to which this Fund had been put. Only a very small fraction of the interest has ever been expended since the Fund was set up, even though the rate of interest is an extremely low one, about 1–8 per cent. This is presumably because the Treasury invests it in securities to suit its own convenience and not to suit the convenience of the Fund itself. After all, even the extra half a million pounds, which the right hon. Gentleman has managed to extract from his right hon. Friend, spread over five years, represents only six months interest on the Fund even at this low rate of interest. I hope he 776 will be able, when the financial provisions of this Bill are reviewed in 12 months' time, not only to get some more money for maintenance, but also to get a good deal more capital money out of the National Land Fund.
There is general agreement in the House over the desirability of this Measure itself. It has become in recent debates almost a cliché to say that these national houses are part of our national heritage, but it is a fact that British architects, from the beginnings of architecture in this country, at any rate to the early part of the last century, have always excelled in the private country house, from those vast mansions like Knole and Chatsworth to the perhaps even more charming smaller manor houses.
As a Socialist, I can never entirely forget the gross inequality that produced this type of building, which produced magnificent houses when abject poverty was the lot of the many. But happily we have these houses with us today, and they are irreplaceable. There is undoubtedly a duty on us as a community to preserve at least the best of them. We must do this not so much for the private enjoyment of those who are fortunate enough to live in the houses, but for the wider public, who will be able now to see the houses, to wander through their parks, and to enjoy the treasures within them.
That brings me to my last criticism of the Bill, the fact that there is no mention anywhere about public access. The right hon. Gentleman assured the House that his intentions were completely honourable in this respect. I think there should be some explicit statement of this in the Bill, even if it is not made absolutely mandatory. After all, the taxpayer is providing this money, directly or indirectly, and he wants to be definitely assured that he, too, is getting something out of it.
Having made these few criticisms I should like once again to welcome the Bill as a modest beginning. We think that as an instrument it can be improved in Committee, and we hope it will be. I hope it will go out from this House that this Measure will bring not so much financial relief to the privileged few, but real pleasure and enjoyment to the many, indeed to all, who can appreciate the arts of man and the beauty of Nature.
§ 1.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)
I very much welcome this Bill. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) recalled Sir Stafford Cripps's talk on 27th July, 1950, but actually some two or three weeks before that I was the first person to mention the Gowers Report in an Amendment which I moved to the Finance Bill in that year, and I had a most sympathetic response from the then Chancellor both in the House and privately afterwards when I saw him. He treated the matter as one which was very near to his heart and he said, "Go ahead and try to popularise that Report as much as you can." Having had the luck of the Ballot in this House, I have had an opportunity on two or three occasions of drawing attention to this Report. I hope the House will forgive these personal recollections of this matter.
Whilst I welcome this Bill, I must say quite frankly that it is only half the loaf to which my right hon. Friend referred, and I am not sure it is the best half, either. The Gowers Report can be summed up by stating that it contained three main recommendations. The first was the institution of the Historic Buildings Councils. We have that in the Bill, I am very glad to say. Secondly, there was taxation relief, which we have not got; and, thirdly, a system of grants, which we are getting. Whether we have got the better half of the loaf or not I am not quite certain, and I think I must deal with that aspect for a short time, because the Minister, in his introductory remarks, said that he felt certain that these grants for buildings were better than tax reliefs.
I am not going to dogmatise, and I think the Minister was wise when he said that we will learn a very great deal during the next year or two, both from the operation of the historic councils and of the grant system. I will leave the question of the National Trust. On both sides of the House we have experts who know far more about it than I do. I want to speak mainly from the point of view of the occupying owner, not of great palaces like Castle Howard and buildings of that kind, which are very few and can be dealt with as a special class, but rather of the medium-sized houses, which at present are occupied mostly by owners whose families have been there for some considerable 778 time. Does the grant system really assist those owners to keep up those houses and to continue to occupy them?
I would ask hon. Members for a moment to put themselves imaginatively in the position of such owners. We know that their income cannot be more than £3,000 a year because very few people have £50,000 a year today, and one has to earn £50,000 a year gross to get a net sum of £3,000 under the present system of taxation. There he is struggling to keep and maintain the house, probably living in a corner of it and only opening the entertaining rooms occasionally, while throwing open the grounds for the benefit of local societies of one kind and another, as we all have to do.
Then he says to himself, "Am I justified in struggling on in this way? Am I being fair to my family? Would it not be better if I sold this place and went and lived in a small house or flat in London? I have the education of my children to provide for and I may very-well have to start one or two of them in a profession. Am I justified in spending so much energy and such a large portion of my income on maintaining this house?" Such an owner soon comes up against the point that it is possible that within a few years Death Duties will have to be paid. Soon he will be faced with the problem of maintaining the house and doing his best for it as against his duty to his family, when in all probability his successors will have to do what he is struggling not to do—sell the place to the demolition contractor and get out.
That is why, while I welcome this Bill, I feel that none of us should overlook the taxation position. While we shall get valuable experience and some help in maintaining our heritage through the present proposals, I hope that the Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not shut their minds to the possibility of perhaps suspending Death Duties while certain provisions are made. Unless that is done, make no mistake, no Land Fund or anything else will prevent the owners of the majority of our most desirable houses from selling out during the next generation.
779 That has been recognised on all sides. The Gowers Committee, appointed by the late Stafford Cripps, was a fine Committee, and their Report from the literary point of view alone, was one of the most intelligible and best written reports I have read. Those people, after months of consideration and after seeing nearly everybody concerned, came down emphatically on that point, that unless something was done in regard to taxation, particularly Death Duties, no machinery devised would save the bulk of the houses in question.
It has been said that any relief of taxation of the kind recommended by the Gowers Report would show special preferences to special classes, and that this would be unprecedented and would break the uniformity of taxation. That matter was dealt with in another place by an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer who was an ex-Chairman of the Inland Revenue, Lord Waverley, who showed that there was no shred of evidence to support that argument, and that similar principles to those applied to capital expenditure on research could be applied in this case.
Although my right hon. Friend was good enough to give us details, it is clear that in Committee we shall require further explanation of the mechanism by which grants are to be applied. A mere grant in itself will not carry us far. To be of any use it must be made for the lifetime of the owner concerned. A grant for a single occasion, or even for a few years, might enhance the value of the building and so increase the aggregate amount upon which Death Duties would have to be paid. So we should have a clear idea of the kind of agreements which will be provided.
I agree with the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North that there must be ample safeguards with regard to access for the public who, quite rightly, would not stand for any grant or taxation relief unless a corresponding value was given to them. Those of us who are keenest on this subject would feel that we were not achieving our object unless those houses were available to the public, because we believe that not only do they bring great pleasure but also enormous education to the people who have the good fortune to see them.
780 I hope the Minister of Works will not tidy up the situation too logically in his own mind. We do not want two classes—unoccupied museums and occupied houses. The fewer unoccupied museums we can have, the better. I believe that has always been the policy of the National Trust. A great deal can be done in this way by the agency which the Minister proposes to set up and which is, in fact, a house-letting agency. Private people will be able to occupy these houses at reasonable rents because, if they are taken over, no question of Death Duties and other liabilities will arise. I believe that is has been found possible by the National Trust to secure satisfactory tenants in some cases with benefit to everybody concerned.
§ The question of repairs bears on what I have been saying about occupying owners. The Minister drew a slightly disheartening picture of people making applications for grants, somebody going down to see what should be done, that being reported back, and the Ministry of Works then sending down an architect. My right hon. Friend mentioned the phrase "outside tenders." We know what that means. We know that by that time a large sum of money has been spent. An occupying owner normally has a small estate office and a saw mill to utilise his home-grown timber on his cottages, and so forth, and usually he can carry out substantial repairs for probably less than half the cost involved by the use of outside contractors, architects' reports and so on. I hope, therefore, that careful consideration will be given to the question of how far use can be made of those small existing estate offices, estate workmen and saw mills to do the repairs.
§ I feel grateful that we have at last made a start, and it is up to everybody interested in this subject to do their best to make this Bill a success while using every instrument of propaganda to get something more next time, not merely a grant, whether from the Land Fund or elsewhere, but also relief from taxation, particularly Death Duties. Unless we do that, I am certain that we shall not succeed to the extent we hope. Meanwhile I hope that everybody will not merely vote for this Bill but will work for its objects in order that this great heritage, which is in such jeopardy, may be preserved for those who come after us.781
§ 1.59 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Colegate) has done a great deal to popularise this subject and I am sure we all agree with his closing words. I also am of opinion, like him, that the question of a remission of taxation should be examined further, and I shall return to that in due course.
I am a member of the Council of the National Trust for Scotland and am also its ex-Secretary. The Trust has certain points which it wants to put forward, most of which are similar to those put forward by the hon. Member for St. Pan-eras, North (Mr. K. Robinson). There are, however, one or two things I want to say from my own experience. The first is on the question of the adequacy of the money provided.
Every speaker has said that the money is quite inadequate to save the large number of beautiful houses and buildings which we would like to see saved. In one of those fits of honesty which affect even politicians, I lately looked up the cost of the various things I have recommended or voted for in the last month. I found that, had I been successful on every occasion, it would have cost the country more than £150 million. One can understand that there has to be some priority in these matters, and there are many other deserving things besides the preservation of even the most beautiful houses. But we have every right to press the Government further on the use of the Land Fund.
The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) has already done that, and so has the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North. The Fund appears to me to accumulate and the Treasury simply borrow from it at a cheapish rate, and we do not get the benefit from it that we might. Here we have a Fund which might well be used for some good purpose. If it cannot be used for the purpose of preserving these beautiful or historic houses, we should be told what purpose is to be found for it.
The main theme of my speech is that in this matter our approach should be what the Minister has called flexible. In addition we must, as the hon. Member for Burton emphasised, attempt to keep these buildings in the living traditions of the country. We do not want to see the 782 country dotted with museums which have been extracted from the general life of the country and solidified in amber at a certain stage of their development.
The countryside, I suppose, reached its greatest beauty at the end of the 18th century and the early part of the 19th century. It was then a wonderful mixture of nature and art. It was formed partly by the national features of the countryside and partly by mankind, not only by architects and craftsmen but by landscape gardeners and farmers; and it has been developing ever since. In Scotland today we greatly regret that so many 18th century houses were demolished to make room for Scottish baronial keeps, but the time may come when these will have become very fashionable and many interesting specimens may be taken over by the National Trust.
§ The question is, how are we to preserve the past and to weave it into the development of the countryside? I, like the hon. Member for Burton, feel that the question of taxation has not been properly examined. It is a very powerful argument that the Gowers Committee, whose authority no one disputes, supported by Lord Waverley, said that this was the most satisfactory method. I do not want to go into the details now, but there are two arguments against it which are unsound. One is that it puts a certain class of people in a privileged position. I do not think that that matters.
§ I do not think the people of this country are apt to be a jealous people. If they are getting something from having houses which they want preserved and they can spend a happier Saturday afternoon or Sunday in visiting them, they will not be unduly concerned if the owner also is happier. I do not particularly mind about the owner's position, but it makes a lot of ordinary people very happy to get into a bus or charabanc and to go off to see beautiful houses. It is a growing pleasure, and some of the big houses in Scotland like Culzean, are visited by thousands of people every year.
§ Mr. Grimond
Secondly, it has the advantage that it is not only a method of keeping the house in the occupation of the people who know about it, but it is one very simple way of doing it. That is immensely important.
783 What the visitors enjoy is not only seeing beautiful pictures or architecture. They enjoy seeing the blotting paper bearing the imprint of the owner's last letter, and that sort of thing. I have been taken around his house by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). I should hate to liken him in any way to an ancient monument, but there is no doubt that what pleases the people who visit his house is not only its beauty but the fact that he occasionally takes them round the house. When he points to the pictures of his ancestors on the walls, the visitors feel that they are being shown them by a chip off the old block. All that is very important, and we must look at it from the point of view of the people who are being taken round and not so much from the viewpoint of the owners of the houses. It gives pleasure to people who go out for their Saturday afternoons and Sundays to find the owners of these houses at home.
Another point which I emphasise about the Bill is that the contents of a house are of great importance. There is power, I understand, in the Bill for the Minister, by agreement, to purchase chattels in various classes of buildings. That does not, however, give him power to purchase furniture, and so on, except in houses of which he already has guardianship or which are under the National Trust. I cannot see from the Short Title of the Bill that it would be outside the scope of the Bill if the Minister were given power to purchase pictures or furniture even from houses which he is not taking over.
I turn now to the definition of buildings. It is true that with the amount of money which is contemplated in the Bill, the Minister will not be able to do much except for very striking examples. I presume, however, that "buildings" would include other things besides houses—possibly bridges, and conceivably mills, which are sometimes of some beauty.
I should like to say a few words on points which have been put to me by the National Trust for Scotland. In the Bill, the method of remission of taxation has not been taken, and we must accept that, at any rate, for the moment. The grants which the Minister has prepared will often go through the machinery of one of the Trusts. The National Trust for Scotland 784 would like to draw to the Minister's attention that throughout the Bill as far as Clause 9, reference is made to the National Trust. It is true that Clause 9 makes it clear that by "National Trust" the Minister means the National Trust, as it is called in England, or, where appropriate, the National Trust for Scotland. As hon. Members know, the Scots are a proud and thorny race. I see the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) sitting in his place. I have no doubt that his blood boils frequently at this, though little of it is Scottish. We naturally wish to defend our position on grounds of sentiment, but not only on grounds of sentiment.
There is wide confusion about the fact that two Trusts are concerned. The National Trust for Scotland came, admittedly, late into the field, which has made its task all the more difficult. It did not have any time, during the years when money was a little easier, to get endowments. It had a very hard life, starting, as it did, in the early 1930s, but it has done a good job in Scotland and has preserved all sorts of beautiful places and buildings which would otherwise have gone. It has deserved a great deal of encouragement.
There is, however, still the feeling in the country that there is only one National Trust. Sometimes people leave legacies to the English Trust when conceivably they might have left them to the Scottish Trust had they known of its existence. Even the authors of articles in newspapers forget that there are two bodies. I do not want to labour the point too far, but if it were possible to redraft the earlier Clauses so that "Trust" was made plural or the appropriate Trust was referred to, this would be much appreciated in Scotland.
§ The question of endowments was raised on behalf of the English Trust. The Minister has said that he feels that a grant is a more satisfactory way than an endowment of helping to preserve ancient houses. I see what the Minister means. There is the point that an endowment may prove inadequate, and it would be difficult to come back to the Government to ask for more money. From experience in the Trust, however, I emphasise that it is vital to be able to endow these houses in some way, whether by grant or by a straight endowment.785
§ The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland said he was disappointed that more use had not been made of the National Land Fund, and he suggested that that might be because there was a difference between the probate value and the sale value in certain cases. In my experience, which, admittedly, is not very extensive, the difficulty nearly every time turned on the question of who was to pay for the upkeep of the property if it was taken over. For these reasons, as other hon. Members have said, some provision, at least, should be made for a payment of grants for a considerable period so that the Trust or owners can see their way ahead and will know, whether they will be able to take on the very heavy expenses of repair and maintenance.
§ There is another proud Scottish point. In Scotland, the small houses in the burghs are of great importance. Towns like St. Andrews, Falkland, Kirkcudbright and some of the Highland towns—for example, Kirkwall, in my own constituency—have great beauty. They are the type which do not exist anywhere else in Britain. I hope that the National Council will give due emphasis to the importance of preserving the small houses in such places. I know of a very good example of what has been done at Culross in combination by the Ministry of Works and the National Trust. That is a very good combination and should be encouraged.
§ May I say a few words about the standard which the National Councils should set? The Minister said he would like to see a certain standard of excellence established and to see uniformity between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. So should we all, but it has to be a flexible standard for it is difficult, for instance, to compare the beauty of Kirkcudbright with the beauty of Blenheim. I do not know how we can fix such a standard, but I suggest that there might be two additional tests. The first is simply and plainly, public enjoyment. We may have a place with associations, for example, in Scotland, associations with Burns, which is worth preserving even though its architectural merit may not be of the highest. The second is that we should preserve not only the finest of gems but those places which still play a part in the day to day life of their district and countryside.786
§ This brings me to my last point. As I said earlier, we do not want to see these houses preserved as mere museums. The National Trust has done a great deal to find a suitable use for them and has introduced an amazing variety in its methods of handling them, which I very much welcome. It has a great advantage in that respect over the Ministry of Works, whose handling of property is bound to be very similar in all cases, and they always leave their mark. There is the grey plate, for instance, which incidentally refers the reader to Westminster—a sore point in Scotland. There are the gravel paths. We know the similarity of all their property, excellently kept though it is. The Trust gets away from that uniformity and can do more in the direction I have indicated.
§ A good many of these places might be used as schools for architects and artists. So many of our architects and artists are taught in very dull, practical, rather ugly buildings. If they could go out and plan their work in beautiful surroundings in the country, amongst the traditional architecture and the traditional landscape of this country, that might be a very good thing. I believe that these buildings could be used for all sorts of social and educational experiments. They could be used, indeed, for the sick and for children. There is no end to the ways in which we can weave these buildings and houses into the national life if we hand them over to the National Trust or use the necessary imagination in their disposal. If we are to get away from the museum outlook we must regard this work not so much as preservation but as the conscious continuation of the great tradition which has made our countryside so beautiful.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)
The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Cole-gate) paid a very high tribute to the Gowers Committee for the literary quality as well as the content of their Report. I suggest to the Minister that this Report might be regarded as of high literary and photographic excellence for use among the upper forms of our secondary schools. It is probably the best written. Government-inspired Report which has been produced. A most remarkable fact is the quality of its English—all the more remarkable when, as far 787 as I know, there was not a single Welshman serving on the Committee.
The second main suggestion of the hon. Member for Burton, in which he was supported by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), is one which I must oppose. I am very glad that the Bill is so non-controversial and that we can give it an all-party welcome. It is long overdue. The position is getting more and more urgent. In my view, however, the introduction of the method of assistance by relief of taxation, suggested by the hon. Member for Burton and supported by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, would make this a most controversial Measure and would probably postpone the introduction of even the slice of a loaf which is offered us today.
§ Mr. Colegate
It is true that I dwelt on that subject, but I did not suggest it. It was a main recommendation of the Gowers Report.
§ Mr. Roberts
That is perfectly true. It was one of the main recommendations of the Gowers Committee, but the hon. Member for Burton so cogently supported the Gowers Committee on that point that I felt I should raise my very small voice in opposition to his very strong advocacy.
The position is growing more and more urgent and in this country, more than in any other, this type of unifying action is now necessary. All over the country, and indeed in my constituency, Caernarvon, fine houses are being taken over by merchants merely for the timber and are being dismantled for the lead, the panelling and the building materials which can be obtained from them. The quicker we move, the better. For that reason I am very glad to see that the provisions of the Bill are fairly widely drawn. It can be implemented fairly swiftly and by the time the first annual reports of the various councils are available to Parliament it may be possible to improve or modify the methods of action outlined in the Bill.
The responsibility for acquiring buildings, and, it may be, their contents and amenity land, now lies squarely on the shoulders of the Minister, who is responsible to Parliament. That is as it should be. I believe this is the beginning of a concerted attempt to preserve what is 788 noteworthy and beautiful and significant in our very remarkable past in this country.
Furthermore, the Minister is to be advised by Councils comprised of experts who understand what is at stake. Not unnaturally, I particularly welcome Clause 3, which provides for an Historic Buildings Council for Wales. That is not only the equitable but also the intelligent thing to do in this matter. Unfortunately, the Gowers Committee Report made no such recommendation. I see from today's Press that there are one or two objections to this special treatment for Wales. The Committee, however, made a very good case for a separate Council for Scotland and, with the indulgence of the House, I should like to read a very brief paragraph in which that case is made: It is paragraph 77 on pages 20 and 21 and it reads:The system of land tenure in Scotland is fundamentally different; there are important differences of history and traditions; and the questions that arise in Scotland out of the selection, preservation, maintenance and use of historic houses are by no means the same as in England. There are fewer houses with contents of outstanding value; special arrangements have often to be made for dealing with the surrounding land; and there are exceptional problems in finding uses for houses in so sparsely populated a part of Britain as the Highlands.Every one of these differences, except the one dealing with the system of land tenure, is abundantly applicable to Wales.
Indeed, I would go further and say that there is one unique reason why the Minister cannot be properly advised about the position in the Principality except by a separate Welsh Council, and that is because of the way in which the Welsh language, which has been so persistent and prevalent in Wales throughout the centuries up to the present time, is bound up with the way of life in the Principality and has affected in direct and indirect ways even the physical expression of our society. No Council except one composed of men and women who wholly understand the peculiar and deep-seated differences which exist between Wales and the other member countries of the British Isles can possibly assist the Minister in the right way. I congratulate him on understanding so fully that aspect of the problem.
That leads me to the question of the constitution of the Councils. The Gowers 789 Report makes a number of practical suggestions in this respect in paragraph 79. I endorse what the Report says about the desirability of having experts of various types to serve on this Council. I would further draw the attention of the Minister to one particular feature which no doubt he has already noted. I refer to the existence of the National Welsh Folk Museum. I think I am right in saying that this is the only institution of its type, certainly of its scope, in the whole of the Commonwealth.
It is indeed a unique institution. The house at St. Fagans is an outstanding example of historic interest and beauty. It is an Elizabethan house set inside 13th century fortifications and was given to Wales in 1947 to form the nucleus of a Welsh Folk Museum. The curator, Dr. Peate, is a man of outstanding repute internationally in this field. This folk museum is especially interested in architecture. I will not weary the House by describing some of the extraordinarily fine work of building re-assembly which this museum has been able to accomplish. But I would say that the folk museum in Wales should, from the start, be able to contribute to the work of the new Welsh Council, possibly by some method of linked membership. I strongly commend that to the attention of the Minister. I have very high hopes that the proposed new Welsh Council will work in a most exemplary manner. This is a field which touches our national feeling very closely. I think the Minister is using a method which will derive from the Welsh people the fullest possible co-operation and enthusiasm.
I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) touch on the point that this Measure should not concern simply the larger type of house. If there is a small criticism of the Gowers Committee Report which I would venture to give it is that they seem to be preoccupied unduly with the large and grand type of country house. I would be the last to decry the importance and significance, both socially and historically, of that type of house. I agree from the architectural point of view with what the Minister so attractively said at the commencement of his speech about that type of house, particularly in England. But I support my hon. Friend in the view that it is not 790 always the size and grandeur of a house which makes it historically interesting and of value architecturally. Indeed, in Wales it is the smallest houses which have produced the greatest men.
I sometimes wonder whether our conception of historic interest is not unduly physical and material. In my own Ogwen Valley which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) there stands Penrhyn Castle, lately taken over by the National Trust to whom we in Britain owe an immeasurable debt. One can hardly realise what would have happened to so much of our heritage were it not for the activities and functions of the National Trust. The castle is a magnificent building set in rolling parkland on the shores of the Menai Straits. The population in the adjoining areas are now able to visit it with the charming co-operation of the former owner.
Two or three miles away from that magnificent castle there is a stone cottage of real charm and, indeed, possessed of a poignant beauty because there was born and lived a great man. He was a slate quarryman, William Williams or as we knew him "William Arafon." He not only led the slate quarrymen of Wales, but he taught them the abiding value of religious culture. I hope that these councils, while remembering the magnificence of castles, will not forget the grandeur of cottages.
§ 2.30 p.m.
Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)
I did not follow why the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) sounded so sad. Even if the Gowers Report did appear to do injustice to Wales, my right hon. Friend has reversed the decision, and now I understand Wales is to have a Council of its own which will be able to consider all the things which the hon. Member has in mind.
I am sure there will be very widespread satisfaction that the Government at last propose to pay more than lip-service to the value of our architectural treasures. They are going to do something more than make fresh lists. What is more, although, as my right hon. Friend has said, this is only the start, it is a better start than was at one time forecast.
The Bill is widely drafted and we all welcome the provision by which my right 791 hon. Friend will draw on the Land Fund. As this Fund is so large I hope he will soon be able to draw further on it to help to deal with the task confronting him. I cannot see why we should be bound to consider it available only for capital expenses. As we have been told, it was found from the sale of war stores, which also provided substantial revenue and I cannot see why this £50 million should necessarily be thought of as being in a different class from the rest. I must not be led away into a long discussion about the Land Fund.
Clearly the extent of our architectural treasures is not appreciated as it should be either by people at home or those from abroad. Our architecture ought to contribute far more to our own enjoyment and at the same time help us to encourage and develop a valuable tourist trade. It is a rather sorry reflection that our people look most at our buildings when they are floodlit or partly obscured by bunting. We saw a good example of that in London in recent weeks. When people can see them as the architects intended they should be seen, they go away and look at something else.
I want to follow the hon. Gentleman who queried the interpretation of the words in the Title, "historic buildings." I think it is understandable, in view of the emphasis that the Gowers Report gave to the problem of historic houses, that most of the time of this debate should be devoted to a discussion of that problem; it is the outstanding part of the whole, and the most urgent. Yet I hope the Minister intends, when time and funds allow, to take as wide an interpretation of these words, "historic buildings" as is possible.
It is not only the big houses which are of architectural importance. There are smaller houses too. There are farm houses in many counties. My predecessor, Mr. Oliver Stanley, sponsored a book when he was Member for Westmorland describing and illustrating many of the remarkable farmhouses in the county. Not all are in good repair at present and their special quality could be lost to us unless some aid is given.
Again, in the current number of "Country Life," there is a magnificent photograph of a stable block attached to a great house. We have had town buildings 792 mentioned and bridges, but there is one other group of buildings which has not been mentioned—ecclesiastical buildings. I doubt whether it is the intention of the Minister that ecclesiastical buildings should be considered as coming within the scope of the Bill, but I can see no words in it which in fact specifically exclude them. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will clear up that point.
We always come back to the position that it is the larger houses which present the most urgent problem and the most difficult one to solve. It is true that there is no country in Western Europe, France included, which can equal what we have to show over the whole field of domestic architecture. There are many hon. Members present who must have been down the Loire Valley and looked at houses which are open to the public there. But there really is not as much to see in the Loire Valley as there is in Northamptonshire, certainly nothing like the gardens or the contents of the houses.
I hope that as we make progress under this Bill there will not be too heavy an emphasis on purchase. If the maintenance fund is then to be taken up largely in maintaining houses in State ownership, we shall then find that the typical English character will be lost and something more like the French character of the Loire houses will take its place. Anyone who has visited the Loire Valley will bear me out in this: whereas there is a certain interest in Azay-le-Rideau, a house now the property of the State and partly furnished from the French museums, or Chambord which is like a huge empty village, they are nothing like as attractive as Cheverny, which is still lived in as a private house by a family which has been there for many years, or Villandry, which is lived in by a family who recently purchased it and have spent an enormous amount of affection as well as money in re-creating the famous garden. What we do not want at any cost is to see our money spent in creating a string of provincial museums. I fear that that is the great danger.
There will always be a temptation that after we have bought a house and filled it in part with pictures and furniture from the cellars of our museums where they are not on show at present, that we should 793 go into the market to buy expensive curtains on the grounds that the effects of a famous room will not otherwise be fully brought out. And it would be unfortunate if, as a result, the smaller houses, whether in Kirkcudbright or in Wales, were lost to us for ever just for want of a very small sum of money—less than the cost of the curtains.
These fine buildings have not deteriorated solely because they stood out in the rain, as one of my hon. Friends said when comparing architecture with pictures. They have reached their present state largely because of the taxation system adopted and followed in this country over the last 50 years. The situation we are in today is the direct result of that taxation system. It has made it inevitable. I should have thought that it was neither impossible nor unfair to try to remedy that situation by looking again at the taxation system to see whether something could be done.
When my right hon. Friend dismissed so quickly the suggestion that we could do something by taxation reliefs, I could not help wondering how indignant he would have been in the days of the last Government if a Socialist Financial Secretary or Chancellor of the Exchequer had dismissed some Amendment which he had moved from the other side of the Chamber with those same arguments. I think that he would have taken a very different line and would have been up on his feet again, arguing hard. I hope that he has not shut his mind to the suggestion which I know other hon. Gentlemen, at least those on this side of the Chamber, will make that the remedy for the situation that we are dealing with today cannot be found solely in selective grants. Surely it would not be unfair to modify the maintenance claim regulations slightly in favour of those buildings which are on some approved list which restricts or limits sale or alteration.
Again it might be possible, as recommended by the Gowers Report, to enable owners of houses to which the public have access to claim assessment under, I think it is, Case 1 of Schedule D. I do not suggest for a moment that there should be a door opened to claims to substantial repayment from "artificial," losses; but it ought to be possible, if 794 the will were there, to find some way by which, for a service to the public—and surely allowing access by the public is a service—some return could be made to the owner who does not happen to be one of the few to come out lucky under this Bill. And we want the public to be granted such access.
One other point which has not been touched on is the suggested aid for local authorities. Undoubtedly some local authorities have taken great care of individual buildings but, by and large, I should have thought that the local authorities were doubtful guardians of the architecture within their areas. Look at the streets in our towns. Whatever character they may have had once, is rapidly disappearing behind the new shop fronts of the multiple stores. It will not be very long before the main shopping streets of all the larger provincial towns all look exactly the same—the same dreadful plate-glass sameness. I will not mention the names of some of the worst offenders, but I expect that hon. Members know them just as well as I do. So I hope that we shall be extremely careful not to give more than the smallest share of this very limited aid to local authorities unless they happen to be among the minority which have a real sense of architecture.
In my last point I am in full agreement, though most unusually, with the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton). He referred to the overlapping between Departments. I am sorry that it has not been possible to bring the whole responsibility for historic buildings into the charge of one Department and one Minister, instead of leaving it divided between two. I think it is correct to say that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government still has some responsibility, even though it is only for making lists.
If there is one thing which an hon. Member learns after being a Member of this House for no more than one month, it is that if any subject is the responsibility of more than one Minister, the likelihood of anything ever being done quickly is very remote. Unless there is any great administrative difficulty in bringing the whole responsibility for historic buildings under the charge of one Minister, I hope it may be found possible 795 to do that during the Committee stage of the Bill.
Although I understand that it does not come within this Bill, I hope that my right hon. Friend will again look into this question of tax relief, where it can honestly and justifiably be given, in return for some particular service. I hope, too, that he will make certain that under this Bill the smaller houses as well as the larger, and other buildings as well as inhabited houses, will be considered for aid, and that he will try, at all costs, to save this Bill from developing into a triumph of bureaucracy.
§ 2.41 p.m.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
It must be very satisfactory for the Government and, I think, for the House as a whole that we are this afternoon not arguing against each other but discussing how we can best co-operate in order to carry out an objective which we all have in mind, namely, the preservation of beautiful houses. I think the best thing that many of us can do, and what I myself propose to do, is to be very brief, in order that the Government may have the opportunity of getting this legislation through the present stage, as we, on our side, promised.
There are, however, one or two points I wish to raise. I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) into a discussion of the relative merits of houses on the Loire and in Northamptonshire, but I should like to follow him in one respect and ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he will give us some information about the Government's views on the preservation of redundant churches. It is important that they should be preserved, but I am worried lest this Fund which is to be applied to the preservation of houses should also have to bear the cost of preserving redundant churches. I think the latter should be done by means of some other fund. There is, in fact, a fund which has been raised by the church authorities themselves for churches actually in use, in which services are taking place, and I hope it might also be made to cover redundant churches so that this very small fund that we are considerng today may be confined to the important task of preserving these country houses.
796 I want also to support what the hon. Gentleman opposite said about the need to include the smaller house. I am, indeed, terrified that the Minister and his Ministry may be so worried about the preservation of one pearl of great price that the whole of the money may be spent on that pearl, and, in particular, that they may over-embellish it with too many curtains and knick-knacks here, there and everywhere, while other houses of less importance are allowed to fall down.
I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he will tell us how much guidance is being given to these Councils. We can, obviously, preserve buildings for one of two reasons—their architectural or historic interest—but I hope that greater weight will be given to architectural reasons rather than historic reasons. I hope, for instance, that if there is a choice to be made between a house designed by Robert Adam and some house vaguely described as belonging to the 15th or 16th Century and in which Queen Elizabeth is alleged to have slept, the house designed by Robert Adam may have precedence even though nobody of any particular fame ever slept in it. It seems to me to be much more important that we should preserve the former type of house.
I would also ask the Minister if he can give us some information about the use of these houses. The right hon. Gentleman himself gave us certain information, and it is very important that these houses should be used in ways in keeping with their particular character as much as is possible. I agree that they cannot be used in the way in which Ditchley was used, because most of the furniture there was the original furniture and the house was in its original state. There is a great deal of difference between that case and a beautiful house such as Stowe, which is now used as a school, in which there is none of the original furniture and very little of the original interior, except the actual structure. I hope that, if there is any question whether the users will use the house well or badly, preference will be given to those users who will maintain it in keeping with its original design.
I should also like to ask a question on another point, on which I am not clear. The Minister said there is no question of using compulsion, and I quite see the 797 point there, but I am disturbed lest we should get a case, such as may well occur, where the owner of a house is offered a fairly high price by some organisation—and this actually occurred, in a case of which I know—which proposes to establish a dirt track in the gardens surrounding the house. If such an owner is offered a relatively small price, or, at any rate, let us say a reasonable price, by the Ministry of Works, is there any power by which the Ministry can compel the owner to accept that offer rather than allow others to ruin the house altogether? I agree that it is a very difficult point, but it does require some consideration.
I hope that not only are the houses themselves to be preserved but that steps will be taken to preserve the gardens attached to them, many of which are of as great importance as the houses themselves. There was the famous case of Wentworth Woodhouse, in which the criticism was made that the gardens were threatened with destruction by opencast mining, and I think we ought to take steps to see that, if the houses are to be preserved, the gardens also, and particularly those designed in the architectural manner, should be preserved in the same way.
I think that all hon. Members feel thankful that the Government have introduced this Bill, but not too thankful. I was indeed disturbed at the Minister's reference to the £500,000 and his fear lest we should press for some greater sum because a greater amount would be required for maintenance. I think that anything that any of us can do, on either side of the House to press for an increase either of income or of capital should be done, and I think that, in his heart, the Minister himself would really welcome any pressure that we might bring upon him. This Bill should mean the beginning of better days for the houses which all of us love and hope to see preserved.
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamilton Kerr (Cambridge)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. J. Dugdale) asked whether this money will be used to preserve churches, and whether churches were included in the scope of this legislation. I am bound to say that they are not. I myself once rattled my antique bones in a pair of shorts on a frosty December morning from the Mansion 798 House to St. Mary-le-Bow to raise £4 million for parish churches. It is still very necessary to do that, because churches are not included in this Bill.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) gave us a vivid description of the pleasure which our people derive from visiting houses whose preservation we are discussing today. I will not discuss with him whether the sight of the owner's blotting paper or the Cromwellian relics shown by my noble Friend prove a greater attraction. I need not remind hon. Members that at one time Oliver Cromwell was a Member for Cambridge. Therefore, I have to be careful.
In the course of his speech, my right hon. Friend said that this Bill touches the hearts of many people. I am glad to say that it touches the hearts of all hon. Members on both sides of the House. I believe why it does so is because the buildings in which we are interested tell not only the story of a single family, however illustrious and however great its contribution, but of British ideals throughout the centuries and the story of British craftsmanship with its quality unequalled.
My right hon. Friend asked us to give him our opinion on what type of house should receive priority from the fund. I think we all know the famous definition by Constable—painting is with me but another word for feeling. I believe that our country houses show a feeling for continuity and the successful blending of moods throughout the centuries. The types illustrating this dominant national characteristic should receive especial attention.
What can we do about these houses? Is this Bill enough to save them? Quite frankly, I feel it is only a temporary Measure. I know that all of us in this House, whatever hard words we may say to each other across the Floor of it in the course of debate, do not wish to see a society based on injustice, or a society where the most terrible poverty exists alongside exorbitant wealth.
But I feel that the time has now come when we must get out of the frame of mind which believes that we can save ourselves by dividing up existing wealth rather than by creating new wealth. Therefore, it is vitally important, if we 799 are to save these houses, that future Governments, of whatever complexion, should consider a reduction in Income Tax and Death Duties to make possible the survival of these historic buildings.
My right hon. Friend likewise said that the Chancellor will further consider, in the course of time, what extra monies may be needed for the preservation of these houses. I wonder if he will be good enough to look at the case of France, and try to find out how much foreign exchange is obtained by the French Government from the tourist traffic by an unrivalled genius for showing a glittering shop front to the world. We in this country possess priceless assets as well. Do not we sometimes tend to forget that our great houses up to 1775 form not only part of our own history but also that of the United States of America? The architects of the United States—of the little white houses of New England, of the brick mansions of Virginia—found their inspiration in England, men such as Thomas Jefferson himself, a brilliant amateur architect and President of the United States. Were we to make known to our American friends the great national heritage which they share with us, might we not considerably increase our tourist traffic, and thereby obtain extra foreign exchange as well?
I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary three questions which I have been asked to pose to him. First and foremost, will the Historic Buildings Councils be able to give their advice regarding methods of repair of houses which are under repair? Secondly, when a house has been scheduled for repair and for a grant by the Minister, will the owner in occupation be able to suggest that the work be undertaken by his own architect, provided that work receives the approval of the Minister? Finally, when the Historic Buildings Councils are formed, will they consult the various national and learned societies who interest themselves in the preservation of historic buildings, and will those societies be able to lender advice to the Historic Buildings Councils?
§ Sir D. Eccles
If my hon. Friend will permit me, perhaps I might answer those three questions straight away. The first was, will the Councils be able to give 800 advice on repairs to owners seeking such advice? I should suppose that the Councils will always have access to the architects and other experts on the staff of the Ministry of Works. We are not—and that is one of the reasons for the shape of the Bill—setting up a new body of experts paid for by the Councils. Therefore, I should think that the proper method would be for the Councils, through their Secretaries, to bring the case to the attention of the Ministry of Works who now give exactly that service.
As regards my hon. Friend's second question, I think I answered that in my opening speech. Yes, the owner will be able to use his own architect if he so wishes in preparing a plan to bring the house up to a good state of maintenance. The answer to the third question is "Yes."
§ Mr. Kerr
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving those answers.
I will conclude by reinforcing two points I wish to make. The first is that the only way of safeguarding these historic houses in the long run is to reduce taxation. Secondly, that if our American friends come to know the treasures we share between us it will help to forge an added link between our two countries.
§ 2.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Hamilton Kerr) and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) both raised an important point which I hope the Minister will clear up. The one hoped and the other suggested with some confidence that churches were excluded from this Measure.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Yes, the hon. Gentleman regretted that they were excluded, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that they are not excluded.
§ Sir D. Eccles
Obviously churches are included because of the use of the word "buildings," but I would like the House to know that I expect it would be an exceptional case where a church was helped. The main purpose of the Bill is to help historic buildings, but all ecclesiastical buildings come within the definition of the Title of the Bill.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am much obliged. As I read the Bill, it applies to all buildings and is not in any sense limited to historic houses. It is not confined either to large houses or small houses, or even to houses lived in by private persons. It applies to all secular buildings of historic or national architectural value including, for example, alms houses. There is a considerable number of alms houses of great architectural value which come within the scope of this Bill. It applies equally to municipal buildings. There are some very famous old municipal buildings which are worthy of preservation on architectural and historic grounds which are equally eligible for help under the Bill. Clearly the Bill also covers ecclesiastical buildings.
In regard to the desirability of churches being included within the scope of the Bill, very recently an appeal was launched under Royal patronage and with very distinguished sponsorship, with the object of collecting some £4 million from the public to restore parish churches. That appeal was launched before the Bill was introduced, and I would not imagine that the sponsors of that appeal would think that churches were less eligible for making application to this Fund merely because that appeal has been launched. I would commend to the Minister's attention some observations in the Report on the Preservation of Churches, published a year or two ago under the chairmanship of a, former Member of this House. In so far as a church may apply for assistance from the Fund, it would no doubt do so not qua church but qua historic building of architectural importance.
I am very conscious that £250,000 will not go very far, but there is nothing in the Bill that refers to that amount. It may be that the economic stringency of the time means that we can only look forward to that sum at present, but we all hope that the time will come when the Treasury will be able to provide much more adequate financial assistance for the objects of the Bill.
Before leaving Part I of the Bill may I, in response to the Minister's request for opinions from all sides of the House, express the hope that he, and the Councils which advise him, will be selective in their recommendations for assistance? There is a danger that by attempting too 802 much we may sacrifice doing what is essential. It is important to try to save the priceless gems of our architectural heritage rather than to try to save everything. I hope that in selecting mansions, houses and dwellings which are worthy of preservation the Minister will aim at a balanced treatment so as to preserve for future generations examples of the best traditions in architecture over the centuries.
The Minister quite rightly devoted the larger part of his speech to Part I of the Bill, and most subsequent speakers have done the same, but the Minister will be aware that Part II is not unimportant. I regard it as rather disappointing. The Bill is concerned not merely with the preservation of historic buildings but with the necessity for tightening up existing measures for the protection of ancient monuments. Here was a golden opportunity for going much further than the Minister has done in the Bill.
Everybody interested in the preservation of ancient monuments was shocked a few months ago when they heard of the destruction of the famous Long Barrow dating back some 4,000 years on Manton Down in Wiltshire. It was a scheduled ancient monument, well known to a great many people. Its fate brought home the fact that the machinery for the preservation of antiquities is not all that can be desired. It came as a further shock to learn, either from the Minister or from the Press, that owing to the fact that that famous monument of antiquity had been destroyed for more than six months before the discovery, it was too late for the Minister to take any steps to prosecute the offender.
I quite agree that in some respects Part II, which supersedes the provisions of Part III of the Ancient Monuments Act, 1931, is an improvement on the former code, particularly in so far as it simplifies the Parliamentary procedure for regulating confirmation Orders and so on. It also gives the Minister some additional powers. But I hope that before this Bill emerges from the Committee stage the Minister will either sponsor or welcome suggestions, which no doubt will be made in Committee, designed to tighten up the powers of the Minister even more than they are tightened up at the moment.
803 I should have thought that that could have been done by four specific measures. In the first place, I should have thought that, having regard to the experience in the case of the Long Barrow at Manton Down, we might reasonably provide that the period within which an offence of this kind can be prosecuted should be extended from six months to 12 months or even longer.
Secondly, I should have hoped that the Minister would have encouraged some method whereby the owners and tenants of property on which there are scheduled ancient monuments could be reminded periodically, either by a simple circular or by some other method, that they had a scheduled monument in their keeping. This recent experience at Manton Down revealed that the owner or farmer was apparently completely ignorant of the fact that this Long Barrow was of any importance or had been scheduled by the Minister as something which ought to be preserved as of national importance.
Thirdly, would the Minister not consider whether more notices should be erected, without great expense, indicating the presence of scheduled monuments and notifying the public that they cannot be destroyed or interfered with without his consent? Only too often one finds that there is nothing on the ground to indicate the presence of ancient monuments which are clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey map. It would not be very expensive to erect notices. If the Minister had no powers to do that I respectfully susgest that he should seek powers in this Bill.
Finally, I would have hoped that the Minister might have done something, or said something, to encourage more regular inspection of these ancient monuments for which he is responsible. In Clause 10 (2) of this Bill he is asking for power for the Ancient Monuments Board to inspect these monuments and to incur certain expenditure for that purpose. In fact, a great deal of voluntary work is being done already by local archaeological societies and others.
All their activities are now co-ordinated by the Council for British Archaeology, to which the Government makes a substantial contribution, and by arrangement 804 with them it would not be very difficult to devise a system whereby, without considerable expense, there would be a method of regular inspection by persons in the locality who are both competent and interested in the subject. If any authority were required to enable them to make periodic visitations, then I should have hoped that the Minister would have been prepared to have acceded to a request for the extension of the provisions in Clause 10 (2). I imagine this is necessary in so far as the right to enter on private property is required. It should not cause hardship or inconvenience to the owners.
Having made these observations, may I conclude by saying that, like other speakers, I welcome the Bill, support it on Second Reading, and hope that it will be considerably improved in Committee.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Mr. C. E. Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
The Minister very properly said just now that the main purpose of this Bill was to deal with historic houses, though it is quite clear from the use of the word "building" in the Bill that it is not exclusively confined to that purpose. This is the first occasion we have had to hear the views of the Government on the recommendations made by the Gowers Committee. Since the Gowers Committee reported over 2½ years ago neither the clerk of the weather nor the inspector of taxes has been idle.
Many of the houses which are precisely of the type and qualification which the Gowers Committee sought to preserve are now beyond our assistance altogether. Of the 320 country houses which the National Trust and the Ministry of Works classified as long ago as 1939 as being of the first importance, over a dozen have been abandoned altogether and many more are threatened with destruction or demolition. Hardly a month goes by without one reading in some newspaper or other an offer for sale for demolition of some house of very great historic or architectural value.
Let us get this problem into the right perspective. We possess in this country a large number of buildings of great architectural and historic merit. Inside many of these buildings are treasures of priceless value which everyone wishes to preserve. We have cathedrals, churches, guildhalls, almshouses, tithe 805 barns, terraces, such as Nash built in Regents Park and Wood in Bath, and country houses both large and small. If I may say so, the fact that most of the country houses are still in private ownership does not make them less worthy of preservation.
If a building is of architectural value, its value clearly does not change according to whether it is owned by the National Trust, by a municipality or by a private individual. If a picture or a piece of furniture is of artistic value, the value is the same whether it be in the Victoria and Albert Museum, in the National Gallery or in a private house. That seems to be the problem, and now we come to the difficulty of how to deal with it. Our total national expenditure is already large enough, and nobody, I take it, wants to see increased taxation.
One of the curious anomalies is that it is precisely the incidence of taxation Which itself has created the very problem which we are now trying to solve. The question, therefore, is one of priorities. How much, within the total field of expenditure, ought we to allocate to the preservation of buildings of great architectural or historical value? The Gowers Committee attach a high priority to expenditure for this purpose, and the Government attach a much lower one. The Gowers Committee assessed the value of a historic country house in one paragraph which I should like to read, because I think it puts it in words which cannot be bettered.
In the second paragraph of its Report, the Gowers Committee says:It is not too much to say that these houses represent an association of beauty, of art and of nature—the achievement often of centuries of effort—which is irreplaceable, and has seldom, if ever, been equalled in the history of civilisation. Certainly nowhere else are such richness and variety are to be found within so narrow a compass. In the words of another witnesses, 'the English country house is the greatest contribution made by England to the visual arts'.The Bill is all right as far as it goes, but the trouble is, as my right hon. Friend really admitted, and as almost every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate has admitted, that it does not go far enough. The provision is for £500,000 over five years for the purchase of buildings of outstanding importance and £250,000 per year for repair and maintenance. I am relieved to hear my right 806 hon. Friend say that the Chancellor will look at this again after we have had some experience with these sums.
I merely observe that, if that is all that can be done at the moment, I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will keep the administrative costs, in respect of staff and so on, down to the smallest possible figure. If administrative costs start rising, the amount of money available for purchase and maintenance will be very small indeed. The Gowers Committee referred to the possible existence of some 2,000 designated houses. It is in the context of that number that we must look at the £500,000 and £250,000.
The composition of the Historic Buildings Councils is of very greatest importance because such limited success as the Bill may have must depend upon the standing of the Councils, the confidence of the public in the Councils and, most important of all, the confidence which the owners of historic houses which are likely to benefit under the Bill have in the Councils. If the Minister is to persuade people of the highest standing and qualification to serve on the Councils, as he must, he must treat them as highly responsible bodies, paying the greatest attention to their views. If the Councils are to act purely as agents of the Minister, and if their advice is to be consistently ignored at a future date and by a future Minister, the quality and independence of the Councils will quickly deteriorate.
My right hon. Friend told us a little about how he proposes to allocate the grants under Clause 4. It seems to me to be an almost insuperable problem. I do not envy the task of those who will try to pick out which sort of houses in which part of England, Wales or Scotland are to receive some assistance from the meagre grant. A number of other problems will have to be solved. Once a grant is given to a certain house, is that house never again to be allowed a further grant? If £2,000 is allocated to a certain house to stop dry rot and a couple of years later dry rot breaks out again in another quarter of the house, will the house be debarred from having another grant allocated? It is clear that many similar problems will arise before the scheme can work properly.
With reference to Clause 5, does my right hon. Friend contemplate the family 807 being allowed to live in a house which he has bought by agreement or accepted as a gift? This brings me to a crucial point. If it is in the national interest that a certain number of historic houses should be preserved, we must ask ourselves what will be the cheapest way to achieve that object. Here I hold very definite views. I am quite certain that it would be cheaper to give tax relief.
The urge to preserve and maintain a particular family association with a particular house is often so strong that the owner feels it well worth while to make a great many sacrifices in other directions. That is a wholly healthy urge and ought not to be written off as an out-of-date sentiment. I have no doubt in my mind that the family to whom that house belongs or belonged would in most cases lavish care and attention upon it far in excess of the most conscientious Ministry of Works official or the most devoted municipal caretaker.
There is all the difference in the world between a house that is lived in as a home and looked after by the family and a house which merely serves as an empty and impersonal museum. It is the difference between a living entity and a corpse. It would be far cheaper to give financial assistance in respect of tax concessions—in respect of death duties so long as the house is not sold, or under Schedule D where the house is open to the public—or extend the maintenance claim to cover repairs to the interior and to the furnishings.
I do not believe we will begin to solve this problem unless there is a fundamental change in the outlook of the Chancellor on the question of tax reliefs. This Bill is confined to direct grants. If we could have the benefits of this Bill, that is, direct grants, coupled with a change of heart on the part of the Treasury, we might get somewhere. At the present moment all we are doing is to buy time, and I do not believe the results will take us very far.
In conclusion, I would say that two wars have brought great devastation and upheaval in the civilised world. In the vast areas behind the iron curtain culture and the arts as we know them are nonexistent. The advance of science has brought very many material benefits to the human race. We should rightly earn 808 the contempt of the generations that come after us if in our quest for material comfort and convenience we allowed buildings, upon which some of our greatest architects, sculptors and painters have poured out their skill and genuis, to fall into decay.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)
I am very glad that the Minister of Works paid a tribute to the Parliamentary Secretary for the work and patience he has devoted to the preparing of this Bill. I agree with that tribute, because although he sits on the other side of the House it is very much more than in the conventional sense that I describe him as my hon. Friend, for such he has been for far more than half of our respective lives. I welcome this Bill, for I believe it to be a step to avoid something which, if it took place, would be a major disaster to the aesthetic and social life of this nation.
I am glad too that the right hon. Gentleman described it as being an experimental step. But when he said it was a pilot plan for a much larger operation which would lie in the future, I wondered whether he was not raising or encouraging, or keeping alive in the hearts of some of his hon. Friends and of people outside hopes which cannot be fulfilled and which, quite frankly, in my opinion ought not to be fulfilled. After all, social life over the centuries has manifested an endless variety of change, and change always includes the growth of one thing and the decay of another. I am quite sure that neither of these processes ought to be indefinitely resisted.
The country house life in the 19th century was undoubtedly gracious and spacious. My own family lived, I think graciously and usefully, in two of the middle-sized country houses, which are charming and architecturally attractive, but neither of them can be described as one of the couple of hundred of the real national gems. That spacious living was an expression of the social life of the 19th century, which went on happily and not uncreatively on the basis of a very definite social idea.
That social idea was that this island was inhabited by two kinds of men, one kind which ought to live spaciously in 809 country houses and the other kind which ought to live at a level of poverty that would be unacceptable to anybody living in the present day. The difficulties with which owners of country houses are now confronted are not primarily due to an iniquitous system of taxation, as the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) supposes. The originating cause of the difficulty is that we as a people are leaving behind the major social idea on which the spacious life of the 18th and 19th century country houses was founded. I do, not think we can ever go back on that process, and I do not think we can or should resist some of its practical consequences.
The hon. Members for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe) and Burton (Mr. Colegate) ought to accept the fact that we as a community cannot indefinitely, either by grant aid or by tax relief, preserve the present and future generations of all the existing country house families in the spacious occupation of their middle-sized country houses.
§ Mr. Mott-Radclyffe
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive my saying so, that was not my suggestion. I have never suggested that all the middle-sized houses should be preserved. I suggest that those in the best architectural category of each size should be preserved because I believe the nation wants them to be preserved, and the best way to do it is to let the families go on living there.
§ Sir R. Acland
If the hon. Gentleman speaks in that way of what might be a couple of hundred of the gems of all sizes, very well; but the suggestion of tax relief will cover far more than that number. Do we, then, face the alternatives that large numbers of the nice country houses must in the next 100 years or so either decay or be preserved rather artificially as gems? I am sure that for many there is a better way.
I do believe, however, that between now and the middle of the 21st century many nice country houses will crumble and turn again to their dust if they are not so fortunate as to meet the speedier fate of being taken to pieces by people who will use their materials for some more contemporary use. I do not regard that process as one of absolute and complete 810 tragedy. We can test it over the long perspective of years by looking back to the past, when this land was occupied by the Romans.
There must have been in this country many hundreds of Roman villas, every one of which must have been an object of art and of some beauty. I am sorry that during the Dark Ages there was no institution which had the will or the power to preserve for our education and enlightenment a few of the gems. But supposing that such an institution had existed and had the power? I know it is a hypothetical, almost a mythological supposition, but we can test what we should do now by thinking what our views would be in that case. How many Roman villas should we have liked preserved?
§ Sir R. Acland
My hon. Friend says six. I was about to say a couple of dozen. I do not think anyone would want to have cluttering up this country two or three or four hundred Roman villas. Therefore, I do not regard it as an unmixed tragedy if a considerable number of nice country houses, which were an appropriate expression of the social life of the 19th century, find that they serve no purpose in the 20th or 21st century, and crumble again to their dust. It is an integral part of life that change is the growth of one thing and the decay of another.
However there is an alternative way of preserving for the future a number of these pleasant, middle-sized country houses which are not in the gem category. As the Minister suggested, it is by finding for them an alternative and a contemporary use. I was for a short time the owner of three of these houses. It was congruous with the social life of the 19th century that my great-grandfather lived jn two of them, with a domestic staff which ran into more than a couple of score of retainers. It would be entirely incongruous with the social conditions of this century if I made any attempt to continue to live in even one of these houses.
They are now owned by the National Trust, and I hope it will not be judged 811 selfish on my part to have retained what was the nursery wing of one of them, subject, of course, to the liability to repair it if anything goes wrong with it. The remainder of that house is occupied by the Workers' Travel Association. The second of the three houses is occupied by the Holiday Fellowship and the third I hope, will shortly be occupied as a convalescent home by the Marie Curie Memorial Fund.
All those three houses in that user are alive, living in this century, serving a contemporary purpose consistent with the social ideals of this century, which say that there is only one kind of man living and not two. If by tax concession or by grant I as an individual were somehow enabled to live in the whole of what I now regard as a vast mansion, I think that it would in this century be socially dead. Of course, one has a great sentimental attachment for houses which have been associated for a long time with one's family, but if the time should come when neither the Workers' Travel Association nor the Holiday Fellowship, nor any other contemporary institution could find any useful and financially feasible method of making use of these houses, then looking at the matter objectively I say that it would be better that they should disappear than be artificially preserved.
I therefore welcome particularly those provisions of the Bill which enable the Minister, in co-operation with the National Trust or other bodies, to give modest sums either by way of grant or, as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) suggested—he hoped that by way of Amendment we would make it possible—by way of endowment in order to bridge the gap which often stands in the way of achieving an up-to-date contemporary use for these houses. I hope that the agency which the Minister foreshadowed, whose business it will be to put possible users of such houses in touch with the houses that are available, will be an active and diligent body, for I believe that by assisting on these lines it is by far the best way to keep our architectural heritage alive and up to date in the remainder of this century and right through the next.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Hugh Molson)
I am extremely sorry that I have to rise at this moment and prevent the House from having the pleasure of hearing contributions from a number of hon. Members, including some who have taken a most active and valuable part in the preservation of our historic houses. We must, however, get not only the Second Reading of the Bill, but also the Money Resolution, by 4 o'clock if we are to get the Bill during the present Session.
One of the remarkable things about the debate is that there has not been a single speech in which the view was not clearly expressed that we should get the Bill passed into law as soon as possible. My right hon. Friend wishes me to express his great gratification at the reception which has been given to this small and modest Measure.
If I may give precedence to one promise of co-operation, it is to that from the two National Trusts. For 15 years, as is so often the case in this country, private enterprise has been doing what now the State is to undertake; but as the State steps in, we are most anxious to obtain, and we are delighted to have the promise of, the co-operation of those who have given of their money and their time in order to do this work during the last 15 or so years.
As for the Scottish National Trust, I can assure the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that we will gladly make any drafting Amendments to provide for the substitution of the plural for the singular in order to meet the point to which he attaches importance. It had been our impression that by referring to the National Trust, although in Scotland it would be the Scottish National Trust, no reference would be made to the English National Trust; and that would be a delicate tribute to Scottish nationalist sentiment which we thought would be appreciated. Since the opposite is their wish, that shall be done in the Committee stage.
We are very glad that the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) has spoken in so cordial a manner of the Bill. It was in order to obtain the cooperation of Wales and the Welsh national sentiment that we departed in an important respect from the recommendations 813 of the Gowers Committee. I am confident that we shall be able to arrive at arrangements which will canalise into our work the Welsh sentiment to which he referred.
The Bill has been widely drawn and refers to historic buildings and not to historic houses. One hon. Member mentioned bridges and mills. Both of these can at present be dealt with by the Ministry of Works under the Ancient Monuments Acts, but we are most anxious that all other kinds of buildings can be brought within the provisions of the Bill. The hon. Member for Caernarvon referred to the cottages of Wales. They can be included. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) referred to farm cottages. They also can be included. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred to Kirkcudbright and other Scottish burghs where there are typical town houses which should be preserved. They also can be included within the terms of the Bill.
As has been pointed out by several hon. Members, the greatest difficulty has arisen in the case of the great country houses which are so costly to maintain that it is beyond the purse of even the wealthiest family at the present time. Therefore, while including all these inhabited houses and, indeed, uninhabited houses, if necessary, within the scope of the Bill, we have had these large houses specially in mind. It is because of the smaller houses that we have not provided in the Bill so far any reference to access for the public. Obviously, if we are preserving the houses in Kirkcudbright it would be intolerable that there should be a right of access to each one of them. But certainly we are willing to consider on Committee stage whether it would be desirable, as was suggested by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson), that there should be some reference to the matter, even if there were power to exclude.
The right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) asked about churches. Ecclesiastical buildings are not excluded in words from the Bill, but it is not our intention that this modest sum of money, which is intended to preserve one particular kind of architecture, should be used for the preservation of churches.
A number of hon. Members have complained that in this Bill there is no 814 remission of taxation for the owners or occupiers of houses. It would not be appropriate for me to discuss this extremely difficult matter and in any case there is not time. But it is the view of the Government that it would not be appropriate to provide for remission of taxation. There are two reasons. One was given by implication by the hoc. Member for Caernarvon. In a speech in which he pledged his cordial support for the Bill, he indicated that his party would not have been able to support it in the same way had there been provision for the remission of taxation. It was our desire to ensure that this Bill should be as non-controversial as possible.
The other reason was given by my right hon. Friend in his opening speech, when he pointed out that this was the most effective way of using only a limited sum of money. By the payment of grants the Ministry of Works can make certain that the money is applied to a particular house or building in the most effective way. A remission of taxation would give the maximum benefit to the wealthiest owners and it would still remain necessary to provide machinery for the payment of grants. Therefore, from the administrative point of view the Ministry have no doubt that this is the simpler and more effective way of applying such moneys as the Chancellor of the Exchequer is able to make available.
The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) felt that there was overlapping between the Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. He will remember that in the Bill prepared by his right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) when he was Minister of Works it was found necessary to devise rathei complicated machinery to enable this transfer of listing to take place from what was then his Department to the Ministry of Works. It would be possible to do the same thing today. But it is simpler for the time being at any rate to have just close co-operation between the two Departments.
That co-operation does exist. As a result of the reduction in the number of inspectors in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government we have been asked to give further co-operation from our Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments, and that we are doing. So, in fact, there is 815 close co-operation administratively at the present time, and even though the machinery may appear to be somewhat cumbrous it is working satisfactorily.
A number of hon. Members have asked questions about the Historic Buildings Councils. We intend they shall be bodies of the highest standing and independence. We regard it as most desirable that the Minister of Works shall have authoritative, independent bodies to which he can refer the numerous requests that will be made to him. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe), I would point out that the Bill provides that the Councils will present annual reports to the Minister, who is under an obligation to present the reports to the House. If, therefore, there were cases in which the Minister disregarded the advice of the Historic Buildings Councils it would then become known to the House of Commons. That is the best guarantee that we can think of that he will not disregard the advice of the Councils for any improper or frivolous reason.
There is no reason at all why the grant should not be repeated if need can be established on another occasion. It will be very largely for the Historic Buildings Councils to decide exactly how thick or thin the butter is to be spread. We have heard a number of speeches today suggesting either that the maximum number of buildings should be preserved or that those that are preserved should be really well looked after. Obviously that is not the kind of thing about which anybody can be dogmatic. It is all a matter of degree and it would all depend upon the circumstances of each case. The principle of the Bill is that if we establish responsible and authoritative Councils composed of the right kind of people they will be able to take a general view of the whole case and will arrive at the best conclusion in respect of each building.
My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Colegate) referred to the possibility of there being too many inspectors paying visits and the procedure as outlined by my right hon. Friend being too elaborate. It is our hope that the machinery will be as flexible and also as inexpensive and informal as possible, but naturally that will depend very much 816 on the house in question and the extent of the work.
In dealing with that point perhaps I may now answer the questions of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Hamilton Kerr) about whether the Historic Buildings Councils will advise on the conditions under which grants are made, with special reference to the methods of repair. They will certainly be able to advise on all those matters but, of course, methods of repair are becoming very much a technical matter for architects and archaeologists, and they will have before them reports which will have been prepared by the architects and archaeologists of the Ministry of Works.
My hon. Friend also asked whether the works would be supervised and carried out by the Ministry's own personnel or whether owners would be permitted to employ their own achitects. As far as possible we hope that the owners will be free to employ their own architects, contractors or estate labour; but this is public money and the Minister of Works will be responsible to the House of Commons for the way in which it is spent. Therefore, there will have to be some supervision by the Ministry of Works.
It is not my right hon. Friend's intention to consult any of the national societies formally about the membership of the Historic Buildings Councils. It is not intended that the members shall be representative but that they shall be selected for their own personal qualities. However, as we are so anxious to have the fullest co-operation from all these national societies, naturally we shall not go unnecessarily against what we believe to be their feeling in the matter.
The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland complained that my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor appeared, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, to have somewhat misunderstood the character, the nature and the metaphysical form of the National Land Fund which he set up in 1946. Anyone who is replying to a debate is apt sometimes inadvertently to use a wrong word, and, when my noble and learned Friend said that it would be necessary for any money withdrawn from the Land Fund to be substituted by money raised by taxation, I think he did fall into a verbal error.
817 The general gist of his speech, however, was quite correct—that, at the present time, money in the Land Fund is lent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and is, in fact, used as part of the capital resources at the disposal of the Treasury, and that, if some of the Government securities which constitute that Fund were sold in order to raise money for this particular purpose, the money would have to be borrowed from elsewhere.
We have been asked once more whether the Government could agree to capital sums for the endowment of individual houses. The Government feel that that would not be in accordance with the general principles of finance and Parliamentary control of expenditure. We are doubtful, indeed, whether it would commend itself to the Public Accounts Committee, and, therefore, we are not at present able to agree to that proposal, attractive as it would be from many points of view.
I have tried to deal with most of the important points raised, and I have tried to elucidate one or two features of the Bill. I should like once more to express our gratitude for the general tone of the debate, and to undertake that, in all matters of clarification and elucidation, we shall be very anxious to do what we can to help when this Bill goes, as I hope it will, to a Standing Committee upstairs.
§ Mr. K. Robinson
Can the hon. Gentleman say why there are these two definitions of associated land, which is rather mysterious?
§ Mr. Molson
I thought we might deal with that matter during the Committee stage. The first one deals with land for an amenity purpose and the other with land which is being purchased, but I would rather develop that further on the Committee stage.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Keeling (Twickenham)
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has not dealt with the important point made by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) about the investments of the National Land Fund. I should like to amplify what he said. If the Land Fund had been invested in ordinary trustee investments, it could have earned something like 4 per cent., which is almost double its present revenue.
818 In reply to a Question on 20th November by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North, the Financial Secretary said that the Treasury seek to obtain the maximum interest on the National Land Fund compatible with the type of security required and the commitments of the Fund. That was an equivocal answer, which begs the question. It is quite clear that the Treasury borrowed the money from the National Land Fund at a far lower rate of interest than would have been obtainable if it had been invested for the purpose for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) established the Fund in 1946. That purpose was the preservation of beauty, not the convenience of the Treasury. This House never intended, when setting up the Fund, that it should be the milch cow or the hand-maiden of the Treasury.
The Government of Northern Ireland have set this Government an example in the matter. I have in my hand the accounts of the Ulster Land Fund, which is a comparable body. These show that almost all the money is invested in stocks such as Government Loans and Savings Bonds, and the rate of interest obtained is far higher than that obtained by our Land Fund.
Of course this matter cannot be dealt with by an Amendment to the Bill, but I ask that the Treasury should change the investments of the Land Fund. A few days ago the "Daily Telegraph "suggested that there should be independent trustees of this Fund. I think that is worth consideration. The Treasury, as the manager of the Fund has, I submit, been false to its stewardship.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.