HC Deb 03 June 1932 vol 266 cc1555-61

I beg to move, in page 21, line 30, to leave out the word "their" and to insert instead thereof the words "the county."

This is a drafting Amendment which becomes necessary in consequence of an Amendment enabling county councils to exercise the power of making orders under these schemes.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 21, line 32, after the word "demolished" to insert the words: and shall not be altered with a view to use otherwise than as a dwelling-house. The Committee made an alteration in this Clause with reference to the powers affecting dwelling-houses and the question of demolition and it has been thought that, if there were no order for demolition, it might be possible for somebody to alter the character of a house in a radical way, so as to effect demolition by indirect methods. It is proposed, therefore, to insert these words which would prevent the essential character of a dwelling-house being altered by, for instance, its conversion into a shop with a modern front, and all the rest of the paraphernalia, with which we are only too familiar.


On a point of Order. Am I to understand that the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Western Derbyshire (Marquess of Hartington) and myself to leave out Clause 17, is not being called? If so I should like to speak on this Amendment.


No, I have not selected that Amendment.


While I do not desire to oppose this Amendment in view of the remarks which were made in Committee, I desire to raise the whole principle underlying the Amendment which is really the principle of the Clause. As originally drafted the Clause drastically restricted the use to which anybody who was fortunate enough to live in a house of historic interest might put that house. He could not, for instance, build on a bathroom. Any alteration which affected the exterior of the house could be refused by the local town planning authority. The Minister saw fit to remove that restriction and make the Clause somewhat less tyrannous and less vicious than it was originally. But immediately arises the question which underlies this Clause, namely: What is a man allowed to do with his own property?

Speaking on another Amendment the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) acknowledged that a lot of the trouble which has necessitated this Bill has been due to the falling into disrepair of ancient buildings and monuments as a result of high taxation. He added that we have to take things as we find them. I agree, but that is not to apply also to the question of the owners of ancient buildings scheduled under this Clause. We have to accept the results of our actions, and if we are going to impose such taxation as to prevent these buildings being properly kept up for the purposes for which they were intended, we have also to accept the fact that these buildings must suffer. This Amendment will cripple the man who has a large, unwieldy house, scheduled as an ancient monument of great historic interest, in which he cannot live, which he cannot sell, which, under this Clause, he cannot demolish, and which he cannot, without the consent of the local authority, alter in such a way that it shall be used for anything else. What is he to do? We all know the magnificent country mansions which this country possesses, which now, owing to modern taxation and modern so-called progress, are no longer able to be lived in by their owners, and if we go on in the way in which we are going, less and less will it become possible for these magnificent piles to be able to be kept up as dwelling-houses by their owners.

What, under this Clause, other than paying rates and taxes on them—because I notice that there is no provision in the Bill to relieve the owners of that duty— are the owners to be allowed to do? Take the case of a large house in a park. The owner of it cannot live in it. He may want to keep the estate together, to live in a smaller house on the same property, and to prevent the ribbon development of his estate, with the bungaloid growths which we all so much deplore, but if that building has been scheduled by the local authority as coming under this Clause, the only thing that he can do is to let it stand a mouldering ruin, a monument to the past grandeur of his family, a house which cannot be kept up, which is not only unhealthy, but is probably dangerous as well, which spoils the amenities of the park, and which is no use to anyone. I submit that that is an absolutely unreasonable proposal. I quite see that if you have this Clause at all, you must insert the words of this Amendment, on the ground that, if you admit that, in spite of the fact that they pay rates and taxes, the owners of these buildings are not in fact the owners, you have to have machinery for protecting them, but that is the contention of the hon. Members opposite, a contention which nearly all parties connected with the National Government have always opposed.

I submit that, in passing this Amendment, and admitting the reasonableness of the Clause, we shall be flying in the face of the principle that an Englishman's house is his castle, and inserting the principle that an Englishman's house is the plaything of the local town planning authority. I appeal to the Minister that, if he inserts these words, he should consider in another place the question of the deletion of this Clause. It is unnecessary, it is outside the scope of the Bill, it must inflict hardship, and there is very little benefit likely to accrue from it. I know of one case, the case of Stowe, which would have come under this Clause, and I shudder to think of the disastrous results that would have ensued. We know of these cases all over the country. Many hon. Members of this House have suffered under them personally and know the ill effects, and I ask the Minister, having done so much towards making the Bill a slightly less bad Bill, if he cannot go one step further, confine it to its original scope of the control of development, and leave the unfortunate owners of these extensive and unwieldy buildings free to dispose of them in the best way they can.

Marquess of HARTINGTON

I object to the words of the Amendment, which add appreciably to a Clause which is already thoroughly vicious. I do not want to seem ungrateful to my right hon. Friend for the very considerable concessions which he made during the Committee stage on this Clause. Benevolent local Bumbles may no longer decide what wall-paper the owner of an interesting or historic house may put up, or about the pattern of the panelling or the nature of the flooring, and we are exceedingly grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has done in that respect. But the Bill still provides that local authorities, in certain conditions, will have very considerable powers of interfering with the owners of those properties. This Clause, so far from needing extension, ought not properly to be in the Bill at all. If we desire to give local authorities power over such buildings, the place for it is not a Bill dealing with the lay out of property and town and country planning.

As my hon. and gallant Friend pointed out, you solve no problem by merely giving local authorities power to say that buildings may not be demolished. He dealt very clearly with the case of the large house. In a very few years of taxation such as we groan under to-day, none of these houses will be able to remain in existence. But it is no use saying that you cannot pull down a house. It will be left slowly to moulder away. What are you going to do with it? You cannot compel the owner to keep a roof on it, and it will simply fall into decay. It is far better, in a case of that kind, that it should be demolished. During the Committee stage the right hon. Gentleman said he had not in his mind so much the larger house as the smaller house which he described as the little gem which was being exported. There have been cases of buildings of this kind falling down and being exported. One regrets it in some ways. On the other hand, they may have some civilising effect on a country. A curiously squalid and uninteresting blank wall ran along the front of the old Devonshire House. A very enterprising and ingenious American comes along and purchases it and erects it on Long Island. It is no very great loss, but in such a case the local authority might say "No, no. This is a priceless national monument." I believe that this Clause is unnecessary, and will inflict very real hardship on certain classes of property owners, without, so far as I can see, doing any good to the country. It is as well to demolish a building quickly as to let it fall down slowly, and if we really want to preserve buildings, we have already powers, which have been exercised in a good many cases, to take over buildings.

We are imposing a new body of powers and duties on authorities which they are really incapable of exercising. The control of the fine arts is not a matter for local authorities. I would remind my right hon. Friend once more of the case of the Town House at Dundee. In spite of all the efforts which were made by everybody interested in the preservation of this building, the City Council resolved to destroy their own Town House, and now the right hon. Gentleman comes along and gives them power to interfere with other people's houses. It seems most unnecessary. These powers cannot be exercised without the employment of experts. They are outside anything which falls within the scope of local authorities, and to exercise them means the employment of new officials. Because the Clause will impose expenditure and new duties which local authorities cannot carry out without expenditure, and because it will not solve any problem or preserve anything worth preserving, but impose a burden on owners of property, it ought not to be in the Bill. I strongly urge that the House should not in any case add the Amendment to the Clause.


I would like to ask my right hon. Friend a particular question. I take it that under the words of the Amendment it will be possible to demolish a whole wing of an ancient house in order that the owner may live in the remaining wing. We know instances where present-day houses have on their walls old prints of the houses as they used to be 100 or 150 years ago. In many cases, the prints show an additional wing which does not stand to-day. I want to be assured that it will be possible for an owner, if driven by necessity, to demolish a wing of his house so that he may be able to live in the rest of it and keep his property together. It may be said that you have to draw the line somewhere. It is like the case of the vegetarian. He cannot really tell you where he draws a line between animal and vegetable food. Every time he drinks a glass of water or eats a cabbage he may be killing some form of life, and no one knows where he draws the line between a bullock and a maggot. Will the owner still have the right to alter his house with a view to its use as a dwelling if it involves the demolition of a considerable proportion of it?


I support the appeal made by my hon. Friend who has just spoken. If the Amendment be incorporated in the Bill, it will be a great misfortune both from the point of view of the nation and of the individual owner. A good many large houses in the past have been turned into hospitals, convalescent homes, museums, and the like. Under this Amendment it is doubtful whether the first two will be allowed, and the third instance will become illegal. We have not only to consider the question of large houses. We have also to consider the case of small beautiful cottages which are not sufficiently old to schedule as ancient monuments, but are beautiful enough to preserve. An owner may want to leave the cottage and use it for, say, the purpose of a tea shop without in any way altering its construction. If the Amendment be carried, that will become impossible and it will deprive the owner of the small revenue which he could get from his cottage, and it is likely to moulder away. Many houses which are attractive objects on the landscape will have to sink into decay simply because no local authority or private person will be responsible for their upkeep.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made:

In page 22, line 1, after the word "the" insert the word "county."

In page 22, line 18, after the word "demolition" insert the words: or to its alteration with a view to use otherwise than as a dwelling-house."—[Mr. E. Brown.]


I beg to move, in page 22, line 33, to leave out from the word "building" to the end of the Subsection.

The part of the Sub-section which it is proposed to omit provides that where a person proposes to take measures for the protection, preservation or maintenance of a building to which an alteration has been prohibited he is to give notice to the council unless the work is urgently necessary. The issue has already been discussed to-day, and I do not think I need detain the House any longer with it.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made:

In page 23, line 28, leave out the word "enactments," and insert instead thereof the word "enactment."—[Mr. E. Brown.]