HC Deb 10 February 1937 vol 320 cc456-81

Another piece of fourteenth century England, a cottage, has been shipped to America. Recently the Great Western Railway ran a special train of 67 wagons conveying, in carefully packed boxes and bags weighing 475 tons, what had been a Cotswold cottage in the village of Chedworth, famous as the site of a Roman villa. The dwelling was originally two cottages of true Cotswold type, converted in recent years into one. After purchase by its present owner, it was restored to its original form, even to the reconstruction of a protruding oven. Afterwards it was taken down stone by stone and packed for the journey."

It is no secret that the person who bought the cottage and had it taken to pieces and transported to America was young Mr. Ford, who had been making a tour round the country. We have also to fight against the hideous advertisements, and, above all, the petrol stations, which now are everywhere. Trees also should be preserved. In some countries the preservation of trees receives particular attention. In the Grand Duchy of Hesse, the Finance Minister issued some little time ago an illustrated book entitled "Noteworthy Trees in the Grand Duchy of Hesse." One quality in Lord Beaconsfield that I always admired was his love for his trees. When he died, he left a clause in his will that none of his trees were to be cut down. We want to preserve ancient bridges. One of the great charms of many countrysides is the old high bridges. They were built in the days when pack-men used to carry on the trade of the country. The pack-man had a pack horse and a dog. The dog was called a Talbot. When he went round to call on his customers he had to leave his horse, and the dog was there to prevent his goods being interfered with. You will still see old inns with the sign, "Pack Horse and Talbot." There is one now, I believe, between Hammersmith and Kew.

The prevention of refuse dumps was another provision made in the Bill of Sir Hilton Young. The preservation of village greens and the security of open spaces were also objects set forth in the Bill. There were other matters that called for attention. Even such details as wild flowers ought to be protected. In Cape Colony the wild flowers are scheduled and anyone who plucks them without a licence commits a criminal offence. Even in England attempts have been made to preserve them. The county of Leicester in 1914 obtained power to protect wild flowers, and other counties have similar provisions, but unfortunately they are not exercised. Another thing to be fought against is litter. The worst offenders in regard to litter are the townspeople, and the most offensive of all are the people with the most expensive motor cars. The adults are worse than the children. The worst offender is the adult in an expensive motor car.

Having stated the various objects that we have to fight for, the question arises, How is it to be done? I should very much like to see a Minister of Amenities. I asked the Prime Minister a question about it the other day and, while he sympathised with my object, he felt that it was not practicable, but I think it is an idea that should be popularised. The first to suggest it was Sir Maurice Abbot Anderson, an important authority with regard to the preservation of beauty. Another distinguished man of the same kind was Dr. Vaughan Cornish, who in his new book, "The Preservation of our Scenery," demands a Board of Scenery to keep its eye not on local authorities only but also on the Government Departments, on the Forestry Commission, on the Commissioners of Crown Lands and on others which are in special need of co-ordination in matters relating to scenic amenity. Those proposals, made by those two distinguished men, are both things which should ultimately be carried into effect and which it is worth while to popularise. I note what is done in Italy, in France, and in some of our colonies, New Zealand, for example, which has a population little more than Manchestèr and which has yet set apart great stretches of land as national parks and places of recreation in the future. What New Zealand is doing I think the mother country might also do. I feel that anything we can do for the preservation of our beloved country is well worth doing and will bring supreme satisfaction to the person who does it.

6.5 p.m.

Mr. Erskine Hill

I think that the whole House is grateful to the hon. Member who brought forward this Motion. I have seldom known a case where the House was more united in agreeing that the Government ought to do all they can to preserve our ancient and interesting historical buildings. The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah) referred to my constituency as the second best place next to Bilsion. I have not visited Bilston so I cannot return the compliment, but I thank him for what he said. Those who have been to Edinburgh will realise the advantage of retaining the character of those old streets. The difficulty is that the old houses, which are built with thick walls and with no damp courses, are very difficult to alter. It is true that the Housing Acts do not allow of the same advantage being made as when new houses are being built.

I consider that that is all wrong, but I still think that, where you have a historic street like the Canongate, local authorities have a duty to do something to retain the character of those old houses. The character of a city is made up partly by its site, but also by the houses and buildings in it. In the case of the Canongate, both the Government and the local authority ought to do something to retain the characteristics of the street. I do not mean to say that the houses should be turned into museums. I want to see them retained as dwelling places, not in their present condition, but something might be done to retain the outside facades and still, by necessary alterations, to make use of them as houses. We have John Knox's house and others which are used as museums. We do not want any more museums. It is there where I feel that the Government might do something to help, and I should like my hon. Friend to mention this to the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is not only of local but of national interest and I think the Government, in conjunction with the local authorities, ought to see whether something might not be done to preserve these interesting houses as a relic from the past. If they did, it would meet with the greatest gratitude from the people of Scotland.

The National Trust in Scotland has done splendid work, the same sort of work as has been done by the National Trust in England. It has only comparatively recently been formed, but it has done well. I doubt, however, whether it can do all that is required. I feel sure that the Government will bear in mind the necessity, so far as they can, of coming to the rescue in those cases where there is something worth while to preserve. In every way in which it is possible to retain the historical interest in places like Edinburgh, every step should be taken, and I feel certain that this has the sympathy of the Minister.

6.10 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers) referred to factories. There is no reason at all why factories should not possess a beauty of their own. Battersea power station illustrates that fact. I should like to join in the chorus of congratulation which has been addressed to the Mover of the Motion. I think that both in bringing it forward and in the very active way in which he urges the introduction of a Time and Progress schedule in building operations, he performs services of very great value indeed. I felt some curiosity yesterday as to which Minister would be in charge of this Debate. It is a great satisfaction to find such a very well-known aesthete is in charge although earlier in the Debate I noticed a Treasury watchdog was at his side to remind him that he must not let his emotions be influenced by the eloquence of hon. Members in this Debate. I feel that in some ways it is rather a melancholy discussion, because those who are in sympathy with the Motion must feel that in many respects they are fighting a lost battle. We must ask ourselves what prospect there is of the Government doing anything practical in the matter. I have no doubt they may agree to setting up an inquiry, but that is the most convenient way open to a Government of shelving some awkward matter. If, instead of setting up an inquiry, they were to show some practical sympathy with our endeavours, for instance by making a grant to the funds of the National Trust, that would be more practical and more satisfactory. I imagine that the Office of Works is in receipt of considerable revenues from the admission fees charged to various buildings of national interest, and perhaps out of their revenues they might feel able to make a grant towards the National Trust.

I should like to mention one or two matters in regard to the countryside out of my own experience. I have known the Lake District from my childhood and have walked and climbed over every mile of the fells of Westmorland and Cumberland. It is a district of extraordinary charm because of the miniature scale of the scenery and the exquisite proportions of everything which meets the eye. I can hardly bear to go back to the Lake District now because the commercialisation of its natural beauties is being exploited. Vandalism after vandalism has been committed. I had to drive past Thirlmere the other day. It was a famous beauty spot but now one can hardly bear to look at it, the surroundings have become so completely artificial. The paths and gateways which give access to the Fells are now of the most approved recreation ground pattern. Afforesters are hard at work destroying the wilds of Ennerdale. They even cast envious eyes on the loveliest tract of all in the lakes, the head of Eskdale where it would be impossible to move a single stone without affecting the genius of the place. Near Eskdale there is Hard Knott, site of an old Roman encampment. If ever there was a place to go when one feels overcome by that longing for quietude and solitude that comes over all of us at some time, it was there. Last year I read with consternation that motor bicycle trials were to be run there. I asked questions in this House and elsewhere and while everyone agreed in deploring what was proposed, I was told that no authority existed that could prohibit those trials from taking place. Why should such trials be allowed to invade Hard Knott and Eskdale and ruin them for those who have found them a refuge from everything that the hooligan on a motor bicycle represents?

It is this lack of authority which seems to be the crux of the matter. For some time I sat on the rural district council at Crowborough. We appointed a town-planning expert and in due course he came along and asked us to appoint an assistant to him, which we did. He used to come into our meetings with very fine plans and charts and the air became quite thick with talk about something called "zoning" and while this went on Crow-borough just continued to grow uglier and uglier. Practically at every meeting we had some case brought to our notice of an infringement of the building bylaw. When that ťook place we used to write to the gentleman concerned and tell him that he had done something which he ought not to have done. He used to reply that he was very sorry indeed about it and would certainly not do it again. That made us feel fine and as the gentleman in question had no intention of doing any more building it did not hurt him in the least. I fled from Crowborough and now live at Wimbledon, where a few die-hards make pathetic efforts to preserve what few amenities are left there, but the council is dominated by the local tradesmen and shopkeepers, and quite naturally they care nothing for amenities. What they want are more customers and so building goes steadily on and the amenities become fewer and fewer.

These are one or two instances. I wonder whether the Minister who is to reply will tell us anything about another matter which has been raised in this House—the case of West Wittering. How does that matter stand at the present moment? There is the question of the commons. The National Parks Committee recommended that a survey should be made of the commons. Legislation is needed in order that that can be done. It ought to be introduced and the duty should be placed upon county councils of completing the survey within a limited period. I hope that the Minister may say something to us on that score.

There is the question of our ancient churches which has been touched upon. What is going to be done to restrain the vandal ecclesiastics and the Privy Council, in the matter of All Hallows which, one hears, is to be pulled down? What has happened during recent years in this connection? I remember that an attempt was made to demolish certain churches in the City of London and that attempt was frustrated by this House. How is it that in this instance All Hallows has been sold and the Church has apparently gone into the service of Mammon and is not opposed to the destruction of this Wren structure, while the House of Commons has not been consulted at all. It would be interesting to hear something about that matter. I agree with everything that has been said this afternoon about the gratitude which we ought to feel towards the National Trust. I do not want to say anything ungenerous about the Trust except that I do wish when they acquire land they would leave it exactly in the state in which they find it. I often notice that when they acquire land they erect seats and shelters in the style of what I would describe as the best Ideal Home Exhibition and instal litter receptacles of a very refined character indeed. These things seem rather to get between me and nature. They make me think of those discreet notices which invite us to leave a certain apartment in the condition in which we should expect to find it.

I agree that the National Trust has very great difficulties with which to contend. I was in Oxford last week and paid a visit to that modern Parnassus, Boar's Hill, where the arts and handicrafts and folk dancing and the Seven Muses generally, flourish in a congenial atmosphere of very hairy homespuns and sandals. The view from Boar's Hill over Oxford was literally one of the most beautiful in the world. It was a view of ever-changing loveliness, never twice alike, and particularly in misty weather most wonderful effects were brought out. The National Trust has bought land at Foxcombe on Boar's Hill, which used to belong to Lord Berkeley, in order to preserve this view. It is very praiseworthy of them, but unfortunately they cannot do anything to prevent the view which they spent so much to preserve. from being ruined. What has been done at Oxford is really the quintessence of vandalism and the University buildings have become an anachronism on the face of an eyesore.

Here in London we are watching a city which had individuality being transformed into a city with none at all. The artist is not allowed to function in the transformation which is taking place in London. Instead of that we are simply turning the engineer loose to do his splendid worst. Ribbon development, as has been said to-day, is dangerous. It is anti-social, it is hideous. We go on condemning it and ribbon building goes gaily on. Wherever we look we see the hand of the speculative builder at work. Why this criminal moron, as he all too often is, is allowed to function without the restraining hand of an architect upon him is something which passes comprehension. Why do we allow the face of our countryside to be determined by uneducated and illiterate men without one spark of taste or feeling? I remember going to the clerk of a rural-council about a bungalow which I wished to build, to make inquiries about the procedure. After he had told me about the procedure he picked up a folder from his desk and said, "You might like to look at some designs which my son has got out," and he added, "They are pretty tasty if you would like to choose one." The son was a totally unqualified man, and in spite of the very plain inference that if I chose one of his "tasty" plans I should find that things would go easier about my plans and my building, I nevertheless refrained, but when I walked about that countryside afterwards I realised that he was doing a roaring trade in his "tasty" plans.

These are just incidents in the retreat from a battle which, I fear, is already lost. The Mover of the Motion and other hon. Members who have spoken to-day, like myself, can only sullenly fire a few shots as we retreat. We are up against Government apathy and we are up against the very strongest emotions in human nature—greed, graft, selfishness, love of money, and I fear we are up against public opinion also. The Government will do nothing because there are no votes in the cause which we are pleading to-day. You can win a General Election on double-crossing. We know that because the Prime Minister has told us so, but you cannot win a General Election on aestheticism. Can this House picture the Minister of Labour and the Assistant Postmaster-General issuing their election address with pictures of themselves as Hercules and Mercury respectively on the outside, and a simple statement inside that they stand for beauty, naked and unadorned? I am afraid that until there are votes in it beauty is fated to go uncherished by politicians, although, self-preservation being the first law of human nature, I should have expected certain Members of this Government to take a lively interest in the Preservation of Ancient Monuments. Again we are up against the fact that there is money in this defilement of the countryside. If you try to oppose it you come straight up against property ownership and the sacred principle that a man should be allowed to do what he likes with his own. Does the Mover of the Motion really imagine that the Conservative Government would not prefer that all beauty vanished from the earth rather than tackle the vested interests of property?

Mr. Bracken

Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman, with whose arguments I am in entire agreement, explain to the House why it is that co-operative societies are building some of the most hideous places in this country at the present time?

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

The hon. Member must not expect that I can explain all the activities of the Co-operative Society, but if that Society does build ugly buildings, then everything that I say this afternoon applies to it in that particular sense. I have already said that there is no reason why factories or warehouses should be ugly. But if there is money to be made it will be made, and if beauty tries to get between the speculator and his prey, then so much the worse for beauty. It is very foolish though, even from the point of view of trade and industry, because in spite of all the abominations of English hotel cookery and plank beds, such as Procrustes never dreamt of, there is a tourist traffic in this country. There is only one thing that we have to show the tourist from abroad which he cannot see better somewhere else, and that is our countryside, which has a loveliness which all travellers agree is unique and cannot be seen anywhere else. When we finally destroy it, what are we going to show the traveller to this country? Are we going to take him to see Peacehaven or South-end-on-Sea, or what?

I said that to a very large extent I feared we are up against public opinion in this matter. At any rate, I am sure that we have not got public opinion behind us to the extent that we should like to have it. Public opinion seems not to want beauty. On the contrary, it seems to want passionately about a dozen things which are totally incompatible with beauty. We know that a waterfall or a river or a bridge is very often the objective of a char-a-banc trip, but that is because a char-a-banc trip must have a point at which it turns round and comes back. All too frequently a beauty spot is selected for this turning point just as a Hollywood director frequently chooses a play by Shakespeare as the vehicle for exhibiting his latest platinum blonde. It is unfortunate that a beauty spot is selected because, unnerved by the unusual contact with beauty, the tripper has to be restored, and so if not a public house you must at least erect "Aunt Priscilla's Parlour," or "Anne's Pantry," or "The Buttery Hatch," where Lyons tea and cakes may be served just as if it were London. If the beauty spot is in Yorkshire, this tea is called a Devonshire Tea; if it happens to be in Devonshire then you call it a Yorkshire Tea. Then there has to be "Ye Olde Tudor Filling Station." There has to be a shack with a tin roof, where cigarettes can be bought, and another shack with a tin roof, where incredibly vulgar picture postcards can be bought. If the trip is to the sea, then what is wanted is a pier, a very long pier. If the pier leads out over an expanse of mud, and the sea is comfortably out of sight, so much the better.

Mountains, I am afraid, to the majority of the race still arouse those emotions of horror and gloom which they aroused in Dr. Johnson, which can only be mitigated if you run a railway up them, as in the case of Snowdon. Then they become bearable, and if you can throw bottles over the precipices, with a good chance of hitting on the head one of those lunatics who prefers to walk up the mountain instead of riding up it on the railway, then supreme felicity is achieved. It is no use pretending that beauty is in popular demand, because it just is not, or if it is, then there is a new conception of beauty which the Mover of this Motion and myself have not yet realised. He and I probably think that the stone of the Cotswolds and the slates of Wales and Borrodale are very fine building materials. We may be wrong, and perhaps breeze and bright red asbestos tiles have a beauty of their own, which we have failed to perceive. Vox popuu, vox Dei. The verdict seems to have gone against us.

Perhaps I might make two practical suggestions. I am not enamoured of the idea of an inquiry. It may do some good, but only too often an inquiry is a means of shelving a problem. I attach more importance to the education of the children in the schools in a sense of beauty, and I should like to mention a most enlightened leading article which appeared in the "Times" stressing that very point. I should also like to urge upon the Government the possibility of making a grant to the funds of the National Trust. I have said that this is rather a gloomy subject. I can hold out only one ray of hope. The Mover wants immediate steps to be taken for the preservation of beauty and charm. If my reading is correct, then all through the ages the female face and form have been considered the supreme expression of beauty on this earth. If that is so, then there never was an age in which more was being done to meet the Mover's wishes. The sale of cosmetics, of lipstick, of soaps, of creams and of face lotions, has reached an unprecedented volume. In restaurants, in trains, in omnibuses, in every public place women may be seen hard at work on the preservation of places of charm and, may I say, the greater the ruin the more active are the steps taken for its preservation. On other fronts the battle may be lost, but on this front not only is victory with us, but we continue to make more progress.

6.35 p.m.

Sir Douglas Thomson

The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken began his speech by joining in the chorus of congratulation to the Mover of the Motion, but obviously, as he said, the battle is already lost. I was struck by what was said by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) in regard to a building in Wolverhampton which was pulled down about 20 years ago. I do not know whether all the buildings of beauty in Wolverhampton have been demolished since then, or whether the last building of beauty was pulled down 20 years ago. But in Scotland the position is quite otherwise, and I should like to associate myself with the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah) and the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill). In Scotland we are much worse off than in England. There are far fewer old houses in Scotland existing to-day than in England.

Mr. Hannah


Sir D. Thomson

Very unfortunately, and what we have are being pulled down very rapidly. In Aberdeen there is a danger of our losing an old and historic building, Provost Skene's house. It has not yet been pulled down, but plans have been out for its demolition. We still hope that it may be saved. The hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh spoke of the Canongate. We can divide these old buildings into three classes—the class that comes under the definition of ancient monuments, blocks of houses, and single houses that are lived in. The Canongate buildings come in the second class. They have to be used as dwelling-houses. Most of them are scheduled for demolition. The hon. Member for the Bright-side Division of Sheffield (Mr. Marshall) spoke of a cathedral, of which someone had said he felt as if it grew. Go to the Canongate and see the houses recently put up there, and I do not think that anyone would come to the conclusion that they were growing. They may appear sane on the plans, but when you see the finished article it is as unlike the original as can possibly be imagined.

Mr. Lovat-Fraser


Sir D. Thomson

I am very ignorant in these matters, but I do not think that tourists would come from America in large numbers to see buildings such as those.

Mr. Lovat-Fraser


Sir D. Thomson

What! Perfectly modern buildings, put up in 1936?

Mr. Lovat-Fraser

The hon. Baronet is speaking of the Canongate.

Sir D. Thomson

In any case, I should like to come down to a very low level, which may appeal—perhaps that is the wrong way to put it—to the Minister who will reply. The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down said that there was money in the pulling down of old houses. From the nation's point of view, surely there is money in keeping them up. I do not quite agree with the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh on this point. I do not think it would cost much more to modernise these old houses, to take out the back and the inside and keep the front. Usually you have a family on each floor, and it would perhaps not be more than £100 for the house. A small amount of money would go a long way to reconditioning these houses, and if that money were regarded as a capital asset to attract tourists, I should have thought that even on the lowest level of finance, apart from the question of art, it would be worth the country's while to see that these old buildings were retained.

6.40 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. R. S. Hudson)

As the hon. Member who moved the Motion said, we have discussed several times this Session the preservation of the beauty of this country. I had occasion during the previous discussions to indicate the steps that had already been taken, and I do not think that the House would wish me to go over the whole ground again, but I must say, in fairness, that a good number of the speeches that have been made this afternoon would appear to indicate that the hon. Members who made them had not paid much attention to my earlier efforts to explain what is really being done.

I noticed in particular the speech of the hon. Member who seconded the Motion and the speech of another hon. Member, I think it was the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser). Both of them agree that the country cannot stand still and that we must have development. One of the societies interested in the preservation of beauty goes so far as to say, whenever it is proposed to pull down a house or a cottage, if it is less than 100 years old, that it has many years of life still in it, but if it is more than 100 years old, they say it ought to be preserved, because it is an historic monument. Clearly, it is impossible to maintain that point of view. The real question that we have to decide is not whether any old buildings should or should not be pulled down but whether old buildings are unnecessarily being pulled down. Some hon. Members have asked whether I can draw a distinction between the Ancient Monuments Act, which only applies to buildings which are not inhabited, and later Acts, and whether I can say that there are means of preventing the demolition of buildings that are inhabited. The answer is yes, because there is specific sanction in Section 17 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, which allows the local authority to serve a notice on the owner of a specific building, saying that in their opinion that building is historically or architecturally good, and he is not allowed to pull it down. That, really, is the answer to the various complaints that have been made in the course of the Debate.

Hon. Members seem to forget that the present legislation is only four years old. This House, in its wisdom, decided to confer powers on local authorities, and although I am not going to say that this House is always right, I do think that in the great majority of cases the collective wisdom of this House is probably more often correct than any individual Member. It is impossible to come along now, when the Act has not really had time to get into operation, and say that we must wipe away the whole of the powers given to the local authorities and put them in the hands of the Central Government. You cannot lay down one general line of action, because the beauty of this country is much too varied for that. The real solution lies not in coming to Whitehall and saying that the Central Government must act, and tell the local authorities to disallow this, that or the other, or to do this that or the other, but, as some hon. Members have suggested, in educating public opinion, and especially local authorities, into a realisation of beauty and the responsibilities that are involved in the preservation of beauty.

Mr. Bracken

Is it not very difficult to educate local authorities in preserving the beauties of architecture when the Government themselves have a scheme to pull down the only surviving fine stone Georgian house in Westminster. I refer to the houses in Old Palace Yard. Is not that a very bad example?

Mr. Hudson

That may or may not be true, but if the hon. Member believes it to be a bad example it is certainly not an argument for leaving everything in the hands of the Central Government. We are being asked to take powers away from the local authorities and to put them into the hands of the Central Government, but in the opinion of the hon. Member the Central Government are no better than the local authorities. Some hon. Members have suggested, and I think the Mover of the Motion suggested, that they knew hundreds and thousands of cases where old buildings are being pulled down unnecessarily and where the beauty of the countryside is being spoiled owing to the action of the local authorities.

On the last occasion the House discussed this question I said that the Government were extremely interested in the preservation of the beauties of the country, and that I as one of the responsible Ministers would be delighted to have any cases of spoliation put before me. I suggested that a deputation of the various parties interested should come to me and produce such cases as they knew of, so that we could go into them and see what steps, if any, were necessary to meet the situation. I understand that arrange- ments are being made for this deputation and that they are trying to collect cases. I hope they will come and that our conference will be of great use both to them and to me. But it is somewhat indicative of the situation that they should take all this time to produce a case.

Mr. Bracken

I have given you a case.

Mr. Hudson

If it is true that every single society knows of hundreds of these cases, I suggest that it would not take them so long to come and see me. A suggestion has been made for a survey of the buildings which are still inhabited and which might be scheduled. The Surrey County Council have taken a lead in this matter, and have actually drawn up a schedule of buildings in Surrey which, in their opinion, are worthy of preservation. That is a precedent which the Department is very pleased to see, and we are proposing to call the attention of other local authorities to their powers and suggest to them that they should follow a similar course. Some hon. Members have suggested that the Government should give a lead. Anyone who has studied at first hand the work of the Ancient Monuments Department of the Office of Works must agree that, considering the small sums at their disposal, their achievements have been remarkable. At the present moment in practically every county in England there are ancient monuments and buildings scheduled and being preserved by the Office of Works, representing buildings in all stages of our history, from prehistoric days down to the present.

One hon. Member asked whether the Office of Works were able under the Ancient Monuments Acts to preserve anything after 1714. They can do so, and in fact have done so. Other hon. Members asked whether local authorities have any powers to supervise the e1evation and alteration of historic buildings. The answer to both questions is "Yes" Only yesterday in a Committee room upstairs one of the speakers mentioned a particular rural district council, and accused it of erecting ugly cottages; he said that they were being designed not by a qualified architect but by the local building inspector. He, like some hon. Members, seemed to argue that every architect is capable of producing a beautiful building. The Minister has in fact sent round a circular to all local authorities pointing out that in his opinion it was most desirable that local authorities should employ only persons of experience who were capable of producing dwellings of architectural merit, and asking that if in any of the buildings they proposed to erect they did not employ a qualified architect they should, at an early stage, submit the plans to the Department in order that we may have an opportunity of seeing that they satisfy the canons of good taste. The rural district council in question was Cheltenham, and I understand that they have not yet put up these cottages. I have no doubt that they will submit plans to us. After all, if the architects of Gloucestershire are anxious that the scenery of Gloucestershire should not be spoilt, they have set up a panel, and it is open to them to say to the local authority: "Although you have not actually employed one of us to do your work, may we suggest that before you finally approve the plans you should have regard to such and such?"

I think we have gone as far as the Ministry can go in urging the need for qualified persons to do this work, and in supervising any work not done by a qualified architect. As showing the extent to which some local authorities have taken this matter in hand may I refer to York and Winchester as examples? They have superintended most carefully extensions and alterations of ancient buildings within their boundaries, and anyone who has been to these two cities and seen the work will agree that they have been most successful in their efforts. They are examples which it is worth following. I turn to the National Trust. A good deal has been said about it, and I think that every hon. Member is broadly familiar with its work. The Trust, I understand, is going to submit shortly to this House a Bill to enable it to receive from landowners property, both houses and land, on terms which will allow the trust to own it and prevent its spoliation, and at the same time allow the owners and their heirs to continue to enjoy living there—very much on the same lines as I believe Sir Charles Trevelyan did. I cannot at present express any opinion about the actual details of the Bill before it is submitted to the House, but I can tell hon. Members that as far as we have seen it at present both the Ministry of Health and the Office of Works in general wel- come the Bill, and the Treasury are in general sympathy with it. I hope it will go a long way towards meeting the demand which in France, for example, has been met by the organisation and methods of La Demeure Historique.

It has been suggested that, in spite of all the Acts which are on the Statute Book, further powers are still required. The Bath Corporation have actually presented a private Bill asking for further powers, and specifically asking for powers to prevent any alterations being made to houses at Bath without their permission if they were built before 1820. Again, I cannot say beforehand what our attitude will be on the details of the Bill, but it will be interesting to see what view the House takes, and whether hon. Members who think that fuller powers are necessary will be prepared to give these powers to a local authority. My final suggestion is this. There are scattered up and down the country large numbers of voluntary societies interested in various aspects of the preservation of the amenities of the country, some in our ancient buildings, some in the construction of roads, and some in the preservation of beautiful scenery.

The real answer, I think, to this Debate is to suggest that it is the duty of these voluntary societies to educate public opinion in their own neighbourhoods. I cannot possibly agree, and I do not think many hon. Members will agree, with the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) in his sweeping denunciation of democratic government, a denunciation which we naturally expect coming from an hon. and gallant Member with Socialist opinions. He and I will never agree. Our view is that there is infinite scope for these voluntary societies, and that it is up to them by agitation in their own localities, to see that the very extensive powers which have been provided by law for local authorities shall be put into operation. If as a result of all these efforts it is subsequently discovered that further powers are required, then will be the time to come to this House and ask for them. Meantime I am authorised to say that we accept the Motion, and will continue in the Department to carry out the type of inquiry referred to in the Motion. I hope myself that the deputation from voluntary societies which, as I have said, is coming to see me, will be most helpful in this direction.

6.56 p.m.

Captain Alan Graham

In expressing the satisfaction which, I am confident, hon. Members will feel in the Motion being accepted by the Minister, there is one point I wish to urge strongly, and that is that any inquiry, any schedule, and especially any further legislation which may be passed in connection with this matter, should be extended to the Crown Colonies. Many of these, particularly in the Mediterranean, are absolute treasure houses of beauty and antiquities, and if we do not realise our duty to safeguard these we shall not merely be falling far short of our Imperial duty, but we shall not be proving to the inhabitants of these islands that our civilisation is of necessity so much superior to theirs. We are peculiarly fortunate at the present moment in having a Colonial Secretary of sufficient distinction of mind and breadth of patriotism to take a most thorough interest in the antiquities not merely of this country, as he showed when he was head of the Office of Works, but also in those of the Colonies. It may not always be so. We may have a Secretary of State for the Colonies who may be only interested in politics. It also happens that while a proportion of the Governors of these colonies and dependencies are interested, either because they are genuinely concerned with antiquities, or because they realise the advantages to the islands and the dependencies they govern, from the tourist point of view, of these antiquities and other beauty spots being preserved, others unfortunately are not. There, again, we are at present entirely dependent on the character of the individual Governor.

Furthermore, in what I would call the aesthetic awareness or the patriotic self-sacrifice shown in maintaining these antiquities and beauty spots, we are dependent in these Colonies upon private individuals. Contrast what has been done in the island of Cyprus with what the French have done in Syria in the comparatively short time they have ruled it. During that time they have placed the ancient and magnificent castles of Krak des Chevaliers and others in Syria under their own French Ministry of the Beaux Arts. Or contrast it with Italy, a recent corner in the colonial field, in connection with what she has done with the magnificent antiquities of Rhodes. Compare it with the little that has been done in the 50 years of British rule over Cyprus until comparatively recent times. No Englishman conscious of what the duties of civilisation are in this respect could do anything but blush. In Cyprus especially does one think of Famagusta, with its sixteenth century Venetian in walls, the highest example of military engineering of the time, surrounding a fourteenth century French Gothic cathedral, comparable in style with Rheims and Chartres, and other Crusaders' churches, together with Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Moslem monuments all around. Until some individuals a few years ago became conscious of what our duties there are, and endeavoured to rouse the attention of the British public to them, relatively speaking nothing was done. It is not right that it should be left to the chance of certain private individuals becoming aware, either for aesthetic reasons or reasons of Imperial politics, of their duty in this regard. It is a national duty and should not be left to individuals. No longer have we in these days a number of men of vast wealth who could be relied on to devote large portions of that wealth to objects of aesthetic value, as was the case in the eighteenth century and the first part of the nineteenth century. There are fewer rich men to-day with money available for public purposes-it is taken from them-and consequently there is the greater need for the State to provide for what is not an individual but a national duty. For that reason I strongly urge the Government to see that not only are further steps taken to make effective existing legislation in our own island, but to extend it to the Crown Colonies and Dependencies.

7.5 p.m.

Mr. Harold Mitchell

A great deal has been said about the amount of destruction of ancient monuments that has taken place, and particular reference has been made to London. In my own constituency we have a good example. We are one of the comparatively few areas near London where there still exists a great deal of unspoilt beauty, largely because Chiswick is bounded by the River Thames. But even here the river has provided no protection. The Ministry of Transport constructed a bridge across the river. The bridge was in itself a beautiful thing, but when the Ministry found that nobody was using the bridge they hit on the plan of extending the Great West Road through some of the best parts of Chiswick. They had as their allies the Tory Middlesex County Council, and the Socialist London County Council, and in spite of the opposition of the local authority and some private members of this House, the Bill was swept through some months ago.

Sometimes the work of the Office of Works is not too well directed. The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) talked a great deal about the need for further powers, and rather emphasised the fact that the present statutory powers were limited. So far as buildings which are occupied are concerned that is true, but in regard to buildings not occupied wide powers are held by the Office of Works and the Ancient Monuments Commission. An example came to my notice a short time ago. The owner of a certain church in the North was suddenly served with a notice that it had been scheduled as an ancient building. It had been extensively repaired at considerable cost a year or two before by a private owner. It was admitted by the Department that the church was in excellent condition, and no reason was given that it was of any particular historic interest. It is rather a pity to waste the efforts of the Department in scheduling buildings which are not of any particular value. It has the effect of making it more difficult for private owners to take an interest in those buildings, because as soon as a building is scheduled it becomes illegal for the owner of the building even to do repairs until he has obtained permission from the Office of Works. Before a building is scheduled the Office of Works and the Ancient Monuments Commission should discuss with the owner the desirability of scheduling the building.

I am referring particularly to those lesser buildings which must depend largely for their preservation on private ownership. It is impossible for the country, particularly now, to vote enormous sums of money for the restoration of ancient buildings. We can only do so in regard to those of great historic interest. In the case of other buildings everything should be done to try to co-operate with the owners, and where those owners are in a position to do preservation and repair work, to try to get them to carry it out. I hope the Minister will bring this to the notice of the Office of Works, to see if he cannot get a little more co-operation between them and the present owners of some of these ancient buildings. The Debate has shown that the House feels strongly the need for doing all that we can to preserve our ever-diminishing works of art.

7.10 p.m.

Mr. Radford

I am not going any further afield than the building in which we now are. In age and beauty combined, there are no buildings better than the Palace of Westminster. The outside is beautiful and the inside is beautiful, with one exception. That is St. Stephen's Hall which, for some extraordinary reason, was permitted about 10 or 12 years ago to be defaced with eight or 10 pictures utterly unworthy of this great building. It is my privilege to take numbers of people round, in many cases strangers to me, and to show them and to dwell for a long time on the pictures in the corridors between here and the House of Lords. But I always make it a condition that they shall not look at the pictures in St. Stephen's Hall. It may be that I am lacking in a capacity for judging what is now called art, but I can see no beauty and no art in these pictures. Nor have I ever yet met anybody who has expressed admiration of them. It is a thousand pities that the Office of Works permitted them to be put on the walls. This Debate has shown that the House is sympathetic towards the preservation of our old buildings and things of beauty in the country, and yet at the entrance to this building, through which every stranger must pass, the walls are defaced with pictures utterly unworthy of their surroundings.

7.13 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Moore

We must all be grateful to the hon. Member for Maid-stone (Mr. Bossom) for resisting the temptation to introduce a Motion of local of sectional interests, and bringing forward, instead, a matter which affects the well-being and happiness not only of this but of succeeding generations. We must also be grateful to many hon. Members for their sympathetic and informed contributions. I would also like to thank the Minister, with a certain amount of restraint, for accepting the Motion on be- half of the Government. I would like to feel, however, that there will be some greater co-operation effected by the Government than has been the case hitherto. It is a co-ordinating committee of existing departments which is needed, to ensure that all effort is devised towards one end instead of being dissipated among official and non-official bodies all over the country. I would like to feel that the Prime Minister was going to take a personal interest in the inquiry that has been promised, and would keep in touch with the discussions and conclusions. There is no man who has a more active understanding and sympathy with the needs of the plain people of this country, and also the beauties of the countryside. If the Prime Minister were to assert his great authority, not only to see that an inquiry takes place but to see that there is a co-ordinating authority and that real efforts follow it, I should feel far more happy than I do at the moment concerning the remarks of the Minister.

There are one or two points which have occurred to me and which have not been put by hon. Members who have spoken. The first concerns not the preservation of old buildings, but the destruction of some of the old buildings which are at present strewing the countryside and which fill one with feelings of regret and sadness that things that were once so beautiful should have been allowed to become unpleasant skeletons. I believe the time has come for many of these old wrecks to be removed, for they are no longer things of beauty, and for us to concentrate on preserving things of beauty which still exist and which it is still possible to conserve.

Reference has been made to the various defacements that have already taken place in London. We have seen Carlton House Terrace largely removed from that once gracious and dignified facade which it presented. We have also seen St. James's Square—I do not say it was a very beautiful square in itself but it did preserve a certain atmosphere—destroyedby the erection of a building totally out of proportion with the others in the Square. Now we read in the newspapers—and I hope the Minister will contradict this—that there is an idea of pulling down some of the charming Nash terraces in Regent's Park, for instance, Cumber-land Terrace and Gloucester Gate. I cannot believe that one of the last exist- ing and most perfect examples of Nash's architecture is to be pulled down and replaced by large groups of flats, the architecture of which we know nothing and which are more likely to resemble Borstal institutions than anything else, although I do not see that there is any reason why a Borstal institution should not be something of beauty and grace, if this country is determined to have it. We have the Battersea Power Station and Bush House, which are to my mind examples of what architecture can do with offices and public utility structures. I am only mentioning these things because I wish to make sure that the Committee shall take into consideration the points that have been made and that we snail not come to the House in a few months' time and find a cut-and-dried scheme which possibly does not deal with the situation as we see it.

I would like to refer to an eyesore in Scotland which must strike everyone who visits that lovely country. Dotted about the country are drab, squalid, dreary miners' villages. Nobody could be expected to live and to be happy in such surroundings as one sees right through the industrial centres of Scotland. I suppose they are a relic of the Polish labour invasion, when cheap labour had to be brought over to work in the mines at any cost and nobody took any interest in seeing that these human beings were properly housed. The result has been that it has grown up as a tradition that miners' cottages must be ugly, and it is now possible to bring that tradition to an end. We have to-day, owing to an Act which was passed by this House some time ago, the Architects' Registration Act. There is a new school of architects who are keen, enthusiastic and only too eager to be given an opportunity of testing their skill, judgment and aesthetic knowledge on the working-class houses that are now being erected in such numbers all over the country. Let us give the architects a chance and let us not leave these houses a prey to the borough surveyor and the sanitary engineer, and untutored local authority officials who have little or no knowledge of the subject. Let us use the men who have been trained all their lives for the job so as to make certain that the knowledge, experience, enthusiasm and artistry that is available in the country will be placed at the disposal of the poor as well as the rich.

Only a few months ago, our late friend and colleague, Sir Godfrey Collins, was so interested in and moved by the problem of which I am speaking that he sent his architectural advisers all over Europe to find out where there were the most suitable housing schemes, so that the working-class cottages and great blocks of flats that were to be erected should be of a quality and design which would give the best accommodation, combining beauty and utility. I am glad that the present Secretary of State is following that example, and we may hope that the housing drive that is now being made in Scotland will shortly remove this eyesore from our midst.

There is only one other point I wish to mention in order to show what can be done if the spirit is there. In a little burgh in Scotland, Helensburgh, the local authority have planted flowering shrubs in alternate designs along every street and road in the burgh. When spring comes it is a joy to go into the town, and life is made so much more happy and pleasant for the people who live there. All this merely demands a drive from the head, from the Government through the local authorities down to the individual builders, whether they be corporations or private people. I hope the Government will consider this matter as one of great seriousness and gravity, and that they will believe it to be in the national interest to utilise every method they can devise for preserving such beauty as we have and bringing added beauty into the lives of the people. If they succeed in doing that, they will deserve the grateful thanks not only of this House but of many people outside.

7.25 p.m.

Mr. Bracken

I wish to ask the Minister a very simple question on a matter to which I have already drawn his attention at Question Time, but on which I have received no answer. I asked the Minister whether the Government intend to proceed with the scheme to pull down numbers 5 and 6, Old Palace Yard, Westminster. The House will not deny that that is one of the few remaining stone Georgian houses in London. I asked the Minister whether he had taken the advice of the Royal Fine Art Commission on this matter, and the answer was in the negative. I wish to draw attention to the extraordinary inconsistency of the Government. They come to the House and give their blessing to a scheme for the preservation of ancient buildings and at the same time the house-breakers are waiting to pull down one of the few fine houses left in Westminster. I know that questions of this sort sometimes cause amusement on the Treasury Bench, but I do not think this is a matter of amusement to hon. Members. If the Government will not set an example, what is the good of calling upon people in the country to assist in the preservation of ancient buildings?

Nobody knows the origin of this extraordinary scheme to pull down numbers 5 and 6 Old Palace Yard. It was conceived, I think, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, it has been agreed to behind the back of this House, and when the Government are questioned concerning it they simply take up the attitude of a rather obstinate donkey, and will give no answer. The Minister's speech will be read in the country to-morrow and people will say, "What an excellent person represents that Department in the House of Commons!" I hope people will also read that the Minister who sheds crocodile tears over ancient buildings has up his sleeve a scheme to destroy the only surviving stone Georgian house in Westminster. I think the hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Government regrets this scheme as much as I do, but his chief, who is unfortunately not in this House, has accepted the scheme to destroy one of the few remaining architectural amenities of Westminster. I would like the hon. Gentleman to explain why this extraordinary scheme has been conceived. It is supposed to be part of a scheme for a memorial to King George V, but it is a very poor memorial to pull down one of the very best houses built in the reign of King George I. I would ask the hon. Gentleman why the Royal Fine Art Commission was not consulted on this matter and why the Government, after showing a benevolent interest in old buildings this afternoon, should more or less acquiesce in the ruin of this fine old building? I hope the hon. Gentleman will explain why this outrage is being perpetrated.

7.28 p.m.

Mr. Hudson

If the hon. Member had been in his place and had asked the question he had on the Paper, he would have received an answer, but he thought so little of the question that he was not in his place to ask it. As a matter of fact, the Government have no responsibility in this matter. It is not the Government which is pulling down this house, but the Committee which raised the money for the King George V memorial. I think I am correct in saying that I told the hon. Member, in answer to a question, that the Government propose to do their best to try to preserve the facade of this house.

7.29 p.m.

Mr. David Adams

It is a compliment to and an indication of the sang-froid hon. Members and the people of this country, in the dangerous 'days in which we live, that in the midst of great armament preparations and complications in foreign affairs, we can for a short time, in this great legislative Chamber, turn aside to deal with amenities, beauties and things which concern the more private associations of the individual. It is, of course, necessary that an effort should be made, both by local and national methods, to curb the destructive temperament of modern capitalism or modern enterprise. Action is so rapid to-day that unless we also act rapidly so much loss will have occurred that it will be irrecoverable. I feel that a little information which I have as to what is being done in Northumberland and Newcastle might be of use to some hon. Members. We have in Northumberland and Newcastle a society for the preservation of the ancient buildings, amenities and beauties of Northumberland country, and particularly of the city of Newcastle—

Mr. Sandys rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, as he thought the House was prepared to come to a decision without that Motion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House deplores the destruction of beauty in town and country and the danger to houses of historic or architectural interest, declares that these are matters of national concern, and is of opinion that the Government should take active steps to ascertain whether its existing powers are adequate or whether they require substantial reinforcement.