HC Deb 25 May 1880 vol 252 cc479-87

in rising to move for the appointment of a Select Committee To inquire into the number, situation, and condition of the various ancient British, Celtic, Roman, Runic, Danish, or Saxon Monuments in the United Kingdom which are of interest from a scientific, antiquarian, or historical point of view, and to report what legislative measures (if any), are necessary for their preservation, said, that it would be in the recollection of a good many hon. Members that at the commencement of the last Parliament Sir John Lubbock, whom they all very much regretted not seeing among them, and whose return he hoped before long they would all on both sides welcome, introduced a Bill for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments. The measure met with much opposition, for which he (Earl Percy) felt himself to be, in some degree, responsible, its opponents feeling that they had not sufficient information before them to justify legislation on a subject of such importance. Before passing legislation of a novel character, the House ought to have the fullest information as to the number of monuments and the extent of property that would be affected. One proposal of a novel character in the Bill of last Session was that of giving compulsory powers to take property from individuals for other than purely utilitarian purposes. No one on his side of the House would regard too lightly the monuments of the past, or undervalue the historical and antiquarian interests which attached to them; but they were also bound to guard against the thin end of the wedge being inserted in our legislation without full inquiry into the merits of such a question. He was told that measures of a similar kind had been tried in foreign countries, and that the expectations of the promoters had not been realized. Such changes in the Bill of last Session were assented to that opposition was withdrawn; but in the other House the Bill was referred to a Select Committee, and that seemed to show that there was still room for further inquiry. It was felt the rights of way to monuments would have involved an unnecessary interference with the enjoyment of property; and that ought, if possible, to be avoided. The name of a right hon. and learned Gentleman on the Treasury Bench (Mr. Osborne Morgan) was on the back of the Bill last year; that right hon. Gentleman, therefore, must be anxious that a Bill should be passed, and he might well consider whether he would not facilitate the attainment of that object by thorough investigation. If there had been inquiry in the first instance, he believed that a measure would have been passed by this time. The Government would have to contribute to the outlay to be incurred; and, therefore, it ought to be proved that the expenditure was to be incurred for an educational, rather than a sentimental purpose. He was rather surprised that more monuments were scheduled in England than in Scotland or Ireland. In the absence from the House of Sir John Lubbock, he believed he was promoting the passing of a measure with which that hon. Gentleman's name was identified. He would readily consent to any verbal alterations in the Motion on the Paper. The noble Earl concluded by moving for the appointment of the Committee of which he had given Notice.


in seconding the Motion, said, he did so with the under-standing that its terms should be verbally altered, so as to somewhat enlarge the scope of reference to the Committee. He believed that if the subject were referred to a Select Committee it would be found that several most interesting objects for preservation had dropped out of the notice of those who had prepared the present Schedule. In his opinion, a Select Committee would be the best means for carrying out the object which Sir John Lubbock had in view.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the number, situation, and condition of the various ancient British, Celtic, Roman, Runic, Danish, or Saxon Monuments in the United Kingdom which are of interest from a scientific, antiquarian, or historical point of view, and to report what legislative measures (if any) are necessary for their preservation."—(Earl Percy.)


opposed the Motion on behalf of the Government. Anyone reading the Motion of the noble Lord, and remembering the course he had taken with reference to the Bill of Sir John Lubbock, must feel that the noble Lord would himself be the greatest opponent of such a proposal. The noble Lord who was said by the right hon. Member who sat next to him (Mr. Beresford Hope) to be an obstructor of that Bill, had stated, no later than February last, that, owing to the modifications made in it, his objections were removed; and that, considering the majorities in favour of the Bill, he should withdraw his opposition and allow the Bill to pass. That Bill was originally referred to a Select Committee, and the Schedule which enumerated the monuments to be preserved had been examined by the Royal Society of Antiquaries. He, therefore, could not see what object would be gained by another Committee traversing the same ground. A full inquiry had taken place into the nature of the monuments, and the necessity of preserving them. At all events, it would be better to defer any action till the return of Sir John Lubbock, who would be able to maintain his own Bill.


thought the object of the noble Lord, who had always opposed Sir John Lubbock's Bill under one pretext or another, was to forestall the hon. Baronet in reference to this subject. He thought they would do well to wait for a week or a fortnight until Sir John Lubbock, who had bestowed more care and thought on the subject than any person in the House, should once more be among them.


said, he had always objected to the principle of the measure, and would continue to do so. He understood, from the speech of the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, that Her Majesty's Government intended to support it. It was right that hon. Gentlemen who were not Members of the late Parliament should know that the Bill was opposed by the then Government on the ground that the measure could not be carried into effect without a very large expenditure of public money, which they, as guardians of the finances of the country, did not conceive themselves entitled to incur. The opinion of the House was against them, and the Bill was carried through the House in spite of their opposition. It was an open question, however, and he ventured to state that the Bill either went too far, or did not go far enough. If a Bill on this subject was introduced, it ought to be a whole and entire measure, which dealt with the question in a satisfactory manner. He ventured to say that the most interesting monuments in this country were not included in the Schedule of Sir John Lubbock's Bill. When he addressed the House against the measure, he urged, among other things, that the only perfect specimen of Roman remains, the New Port Gateway at Lincoln, was not included; and Sir John Lubbock's answer was that it was not included because it would cost too much money. What happened when the Bill was referred to a Select Committee? He would not like to use any un-Parliamentary language with regard to the proceedings of that Committee; but they were well described as nothing at all. When it was proposed that evidence should be gone into as to the proper monuments to be included in the Schedule, the Committee by a majority excluded that evidence. That was a sufficient reason why the proposition of his noble Friend should be accepted.


said, that as his name was on the back of Sir John Lubbock's Bill, he must enter his protest against the course now taken by the noble Lord opposite (Earl Percy). To judge from the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck), one would have thought that it was a new Bill. But it had been read in the House a second time 11 times, it had been passed by a large majority, and on one occasion was referred to a Select Committee. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that that Committee had done nothing at all. He (Mr. Osborne Morgan) was a Member of the Committee, and he begged to differ from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The Committee considered the Bill most carefully, and though it was true they did not take evidence, the reason was because none was wanted. When the Bill was passing through the House every source of information was exhausted, and everything that could be said upon it was said. There was, therefore, in his opinion, no reason whatever why they should accept the Motion before the House. If a Committee were appointed no new information was likely to be received.


as one of those who had always opposed the Bill, was of opinion that the matter had better be referred to a Select Committee. The measure had been brought forward from the first on the ground that the monuments to be preserved were in actual danger of being destroyed by their owners; but in all the discussions on the subject it had never been stated that any of the monuments, with the exception of Caesar's Camp, ran the least risk of destruction. It would be interesting to know whether, since the first introduction of the Bill, the existence of any of the monuments in the Schedule had ever been imperilled. That consideration alone was a sufficient argument for the appointment of a Select Committee, though there were also other reasons of the most cogent kind. The right hon. and learned Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) had stated that no evidence had been taken before the former Committee; and, if that were so, he was unable to discover the principles upon which that Committee had formed its opinion. It seemed to him that if they obtained no evidence they might as well never have been appointed. He was not in the least unwilling to see the ancient monuments of the country preserved; indeed, his main objection to the Bill was that, while it would fail to secure its object, it would effectually deprive the owners of ancient monuments of the power of preserving them. The appointment of a Committee would, he believed, economize the time of the House and be the means of procuring indispensable information.


looked more favourably upon the intentions of the proposal of his noble Friend (Earl Percy), and treated it as a means of reconciling his present with his former attitude on the subject. He would not, therefore, criticize his noble Friend very severely, but would explain his reasons for not thinking the appointment of a Select Committee desirable. Last Session, the Bill, on which he took a great and direct interest, inasmuch as his name had been continuously on the back of it since its first introduction, had been a source of deep regret to all its supporters; because, after making friends on the Treasury Bench, and after having been read a second time in "another place," it had been referred to a Committee, and might probably have become law, but for a little event that happened in Easter week. When Sir John Lubbock returned to the House he believed the present Parliament would be able to give a good account of the measure. The Bill did not involve any dangerous invasion of property. It was, in reality, an ultra-Conservative measure—it sought to preserve monuments even against the ignorant recklessness of an owner. Monuments contained in gentlemen's private grounds and parks were excepted from its operation. It was, perhaps, weak to make that exception, because a person might make ducks and drakes of a very valuable monument if it was on the outskirts of a swampy field with a few alders in it which the man was pleased to call his park. With regard to the Schedule, if they had waited until they had a perfect list of everything in the United Kingdom which ought to be kept, of course, no Bill could ever have been brought in. The list, so to speak, was typical. It was founded on the learning of Sir John Lubbock in a branch of antiquities as to which he stood supreme, probably in England, and certainly in the House of Commons. The Committee on the measure had an Instruction to take evidence, and after considering what their Instruction meant, they came to the decision, which he believed was a just one, that they were not to go as a roving commission over England, but if anybody thought himself aggrieved by the Schedule, he might appear before them and would receive a fair hearing. Mr. Drax, the owner of what was called Caesar's Camp at Wimbledon, claimed to be heard by counsel, and was so heard. His counsel asked what was the use of preserving that to which Mr. Drax had done all the mischief that could be done, and averred that it was not Caesar's Camp, and that no Roman "Caesar" could have been there, because the original Julius Caesar was never there. The Committee said—"Even if any terrible mischief has been done, let it stand in the Schedule as a monument of the necessity for such a Bill, and let it show that Caesar's Camp might have been saved if such a measure had been law some time ago." Both sides of the House, by a conspicuous majority, adopted the Bill, when the Committee brought it up. Later on further modifications were made in it to meet the objections of his noble Friend. For these reasons, he must continue to urge on the Government to take the measure in hand. There was nothing in it of a Party question, and he hoped the Government itself would deal with the subject. He did not think that the Committee would be of any service, since the time at its disposal in the present Session was so short. He thought a Royal Commission would be preferable to a Select Committee, because it would be composed of persons better qualified to deal with the subject, and would be able to continue its investigations irrespective of the period of the Session.


said, that the question had been before the House for some years, and that he took much interest in it, not only from a public point of view, but from private associations, and he contended that it should be referred to a Select Committee. One reason which perhaps, chiefly influenced him was this—that he was much disappointed to find that the proposal to give a controlling power to a Scotch Board, as well as to the Trustees of the British Museum, had been ignored in the House of Lords, and before the Bill became law he should like to see them inserted.


I beg to move the adjournment of the debate.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Lord Randolph Churchill.')


said, they had already had a long discussion on this subject. If they were to adjourn then, they would, probably, only have the same discussion on another occasion, and that would be wasting the time of the House. He thought it would be better to give a little more time to the matter, and to finish the discussion that evening. For those reasons he was opposed to the adjournment at that time.


said, he should be sorry if the House decided to adjourn the debate. He hoped that the line which had been taken by hon. Members upon the other side of the House in endeavouring to stop discussion upon that subject would not be made into a precedent. The debate had been conducted in a perfectly bonâ fide manner. It had not been introduced at any undue length, and had been supported and argued fairly. No doubt, hon. Members upon the other side wished to get to another measure; but he trusted that it was not to be laid down in the House in future that a subject which was introduced and discussed in a perfectly bonâ fide manner was not to be listened to.


said, that if hon. Members opposite were anxious to reach another measure, their object would be better attained by listening patiently to the observations which were made on this subject. In his opinion, the hon. Members who had spoken on this matter had stated their case very fairly; and if they had occupied a long time in doing so it was owing to the interruptions they had met with. If an hon. Member began a sentence, and before he had pronounced three words he was interrupted by cries of "Divide! divide!" of course he took about 20 minutes to say what he would otherwise have said in two. He agreed with the hon. Member for South Essex (Mr. Baring) that it would be much better to take a division upon this subject that evening than to postpone it to a future day and again to have a discussion of several hours.


said, that the course taken by hon. Members opposite might suit their present purpose; but it did not add to the dignity of Parliament. The Forms of the House compelled him to employ suppositions, so he would assume, for one moment, that the mantle of Sir John Lubbock had fallen upon some hon. Member upon this side of the House, and a Bill which was only printed that morning was attempted to be passed post-haste, what would be the comments made? Or let them assume that it was any other Bill of more importance than the one he had mentioned, and which excited a great deal of feeling on both sides of the House, would it be right to endeavour to cut its discussion short?


said, that he must request the right hon. Gentleman to confine his observations to the substantive Motion before the House.


said, in deference to the Chair, he recurred to the Motion of the noble Earl. It was on a question which had excited much interest, and many Members desired to have this subject fully and fairly discussed. Some hon. Members on the opposite side of the House, for some reasons of their own, had endeavoured to cut short a most legitimate, and, so far as this side of the House was concerned, a most good-tempered debate.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes, 177; Noes, 78: Majority 99. (Div. List No. 6.)

Debate adjourned till Friday.