HC Deb 16 November 1944 vol 404 cc2196-201

Lords Amendment: In page 48, line 29, at end, insert: and may amend any list compiled or approved under this Section.

2.14 p.m.

Mr. H. Strauss

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Clause enables the Minister to compile a list of such buildings or to approve, either with or without modification, such a list compiled by other persons or bodies of persons. The Amendment is to meet a point of criticism raised by a number of Members when the matter was before the House, that the Minister should have express power to amend a list which he has made or approved.

2.15 p.m.

Mr. John Wilmot (Kennington)

I think this will be the appropriate stage to ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that he has adequate powers under this Bill and perhaps earlier Statutes to do what, I think, he has the intention of doing, that is, not only listing and preserving actual buildings of artistic or historic interest, but also preserving them by preventing unsightly or damaging structures being erected in their vicinity. The Minister will remember that on the last occasion when we were discussing this matter I instanced Mornington Crescent, where a factory was built in the middle, completely ruining the plan. The Minister was sympathetic and said he would look at his powers and see if there was anything he could do to strengthen them. As there is nothing in the Lords Amendments, can he give us an assurance that he has the powers?

Mr. H. Strauss

If I have the leave of the House to reply, I would say that I do not think it would be in Order to refer to that matter on this Clause, which deals only with the list of buildings.

Question put, and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments to page 48, line 34, agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In line 38, at end, insert: (3) As soon as may be after the inclusion of any building in a list under this Section, whether on the compilation or approval of the list or by the amendment thereof, or as soon as may be after any such list has been amended by the exclusion of any building therefrom, the Minister shall serve a notice on every owner and occupier of the building stating that the building has been included in, or excluded from, the list, as the case may be.

2.18 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Dower

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Lords Amendment, line 1, leave out "As soon as may be after," and insert "Before."

The point I wish to put before the House is this. A list has to be compiled of buildings of special or historic importance. It is generally agreed that that should be done, but—and there is a very definite but—it must be recognised that the moment a building is put on the list, although it may be safeguarded, injurious affection can take place in a certain way. The moment a building is listed no alterations seriously affecting the character of the building can be carried out for two months. If it is, there is a fine of £50 and a possible order for re-instatement, and reasonable steps have to be taken to maintain it in a good condition. If the building is of special architectural or historic importance, no exception can be taken to that, but if the owner has any doubt that it should be included in the list because, for instance, it is a Victorian or an Elizabethan imitation of a Gothic house, or is not of sufficient historical value, my Amendment is reasonable. This provides that he should be given notice before the building is listed, so that, before the restrictions apply, he will have a chance of saying that it is not a suitable building to be put on the list and have these restrictions applied to it.

I can give an instance of this. A building which was falling to pieces, and which would have fallen to pieces in spite of the town planning authority, was bought for conversion into a hotel. Had the building been of great historic or architectural importance, I should have been against it being converted into a hotel and the first to lead a riot against such an action being taken. Actually, it was a border-line case. The owner sank all his savings into it, and he will lose every penny if he is prevented from converting it. I suggest that, instead of a building being listed and the owner having to apply for permission to convert it, he should have the opportunity before it is put on the list of saying that it is not a suitable building to be put on the list.

2.23 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks

I beg to second the Amendment to the Lords Amendment.

I do so for the same reasons that my hon. and gallant Friend has put forward, and also for a slightly different reason. In order that the planning authorities can compile the they will presumably acquire some knowledge of the buildings which they are to recommend should be put on the list. Therefore, they will have to carry out inspections of the buildings and take some steps to ascertain whether the properties are worth going on the list. In these circumstances, an owner of property will presumably have some knowledge that his property is likely to get on the list. If he does not wish it, there should be a time within which he can make representations to the Minister. That is one of the objects of the Amendment.

2.25 p.m.

Mr. H. Strauss

I do not think that my hon. and gallant Friends have clearly in mind the great distinction there is between the effect of placing a building on the list and the effect of making an Order under Section 17 of the Act of 1932, as amended by the Clause which we shall next consider, concerning that building. I know that both my hon. Friends share the enthusiasm which is felt in all quarters of the House for the maintenance of the architectural treasures of this country. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Lieut.-Colonel Dower) said that if something happened he would be the first to lead a riot. One of the objects of this legislation is to avoid the necessity of his leading a riot and to make statutory provision for some other remedy. Let me explain what is the only effect of listing a building. It achieves two things. First, it requires two months' notice to be given to the local planning authority of any proposed demolition, alteration or extension. Secondly, it imposes on the Minister under Clause 17, Sub-section (8), considerable restrictions on what he can allow the local authority to do with such a building, should the authority acquire it.

These are the two effects of placing a building on the list. It has not the effect which my hon. and gallant Friend assumed, that any permission has to be obtained from the local authority for anything whatever. It does not necessitate the owner's obtaining consent for anything, nor does it authorise anybody to refuse him consent for anything. It does, however, restrict him for two months after he has been given notice from doing any sort of repairs or alterations except certain emergency work. That is the sole disadvantage, if it is a disadvantage, under which he is placed; for two months he cannot do any major alterations. The object of those two months is to give the local planning authority an opportunity to consider whether it is a building about which it would like to make an Order under the 1932 Statute as amended. If it decides that it is a case for making such an Order, the owner may, of course, have all sorts of views about it which must be considered before the Order is confirmed. The actual notice under existing Regulations which the owner gets is 14 days. Under the new Regulations which we propose to make the notice will be 28 days.

My hon. and gallant Friend may say, "Although this may be true, why not accept the Amendment and give notice at an earlier stage?" I think I can give an answer which my hon. and gallant Friend, with his usual fairness, will consider is a proper answer. If we gave an owner notice that the Minister proposed to include a building on the list, most owners would consider it improper to demolish the building the moment they got the notice. But would all? Suppose a multiple shop company had acquired a beautiful Queen Anne building in the main street of one of those towns which the late Gilbert Chesterton referred to as the crown jewels of England, for no other purpose than to pull it down and put up its multiple shop. It receives notice that the building is about to be placed on a list, after which things may happen rather rapidly, and the demolition may be prevented. At the moment, the multiple shop people can, with perfect legality, pull that house down. My hon. and gallant Friend might say—

Lieut.-Colonel Dower

May I remind the Minister that, under Section 17 of the 1932 Act, the Minister can make an Emergency Order?

Mr. Strauss

I was coming to that point. It is a technical matter, and I do not think that I should have omitted it if my hon. and gallant Friend had not reminded me. I certainly shall not omit it now, so let me deal with it at once. I assure him that he is wrong. The Emergency Order can be made by the Minister only if the local authority have made a Preservation Order, but the local authority in the case may not have the least intention of making a Preservation Order. The Minister would then have no power to make the Order to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred. The only other thing I think, which he could suggest, holding the views he does on preservation, is that we should give a man notice that we are going to put his house on the list, and should also put in some penal provision, stopping him thereafter from doing any work on it for a period; but that would only enable us to do very clumsily what can now be done quite simply. If we are going to attach penal provisions to his doing anything after we have given him notice, we might just as well compile the list and then, if good reasons are shown that the house should not be on that list, amend the list. If we did the only thing which would make an Amendment such as my hon. and gallant Friend proposes safe, we should be in no better position that we are with the Clause as it stands.

I hope I have dealt with all the points that arise. I am confident that when my hon. and gallant Friend realises that the only effect adverse to the owner of placing his house on the list is to impose a delay of two months, during which he can do nothing but emergency work, and that when the time comes for making the Preservation Order, not only does he have every opportunity of objecting but that we are increasing the notice he is to have before the Order is confirmed, he may see his way to withdrawing his Amendment.

Amendment to Lords Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment, in page 48, line 39, agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In line 40, leave out "subject to," and insert "either with or without."

2.35 p.m.

Mr. H. Strauss

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This is an improvement. It is little more than a drafting Amendment. It does what the House always intended to achieve. Before the Minister makes a list, or approves an existing list, or approves it subject to modification, he is to consult with the proper bodies.

Question put, and agreed to.