HC Deb 18 October 1944 vol 403 cc2461-4

3.35 P.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Dower

I beg to move, in page 46, line 41, at end, insert: Provided that as respects any building occupied by the owner as a residence a local authority shall not be entitled to make an order prohibiting the owner from altering or extending the building so far as may be reasonably necessary for the comfort or convenience of the owner and his family. The object of this Amendment is to enable alterations which are reasonably necessary to be carried out. My quarrel with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is upon the wide interpretation of the word "buildings." As far as I can see, "buildings" can represent the Albert Memorial, Nelson's Column, even the statue of Genesis—which belongs to the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) and which can be described as an architectural or structural work—or it may be Farmer Giles's Elizabethan week-end cottage. The issues and the considerations really differ very considerably as to whether a thing is a statue, an immobile architectural or historical work, or whether it is a home in which somebody has to live. I do not see how you can draft Clauses and make all kinds of laws which apply to those different types of cases. In putting forward this Amendment I want to supplement the argument put forward so ably by my hon. Friend that homes have to be lived in as well as looked at. I suggest that my right hon. Friend might give this his sympathetic consideration, because it is much better for a home to be lived in than looked at, and it will be much better kept up than an empty shell where, if you pay 6d. to some good old lady who has finished a hard life's work, she will be good enough to show you where the ghost of Mr. X walks and the haunted moat and chamber. I think it will be 6d. but if it depends on the 1939 price—

Mr. McEntee

Perhaps the price of ghosts has gone up.

Lieut.-Colonel Dower

Well, 6d. plus 30 per cent. I really would suggest that we try to encourage people to occupy the homes. I am in earnest on this point because, if they are lived in, they will be better looked after than if they are just kept as museum pieces.

Sir J. Mellor

I beg to second the Amendment.

3.38 p.m.

The Attorney-General

I have a great deal of sympathy, and I am sure everybody else has, with the general notion that so far as the bulk of these houses are concerned, it is better that they should be lived in. There are some houses of such special and peculiar interest that it is desirable for members of the public to have access to them at any time, but the bulk of houses which are worth preserving, and which we want to preserve, will be much better if people continue to use them as homes. However, that does not mean that this Amendment would improve the Bill. I hope I may convince my hon. Friends that this Amendment would really go too far and, indeed, might, to a large extent, defeat the purpose which we have in view, which is to use the statutory powers of the Bill to see that buildings of architectural beauty and interest shall not, as they have been in the most wholesale and wanton manner, either be destroyed or so marred by alterations as to have lost a large part of their beauty.

This Amendment suggests that the person who lives in one of these houses—and I have every sympathy with such a person—should have the power to make alterations as may be reasonably necessary for comfort or convenience. That raises, I should have thought, a very difficult question and one on which many different views might be held, and which would cover alterations that might ruin the beauty or the interest which we are seeking to preserve. Let me take an extreme case, which I simply put as an illustration, and which is not likely to arise. If one were living in a Norman keep, it would obviously be for one's comfort and convenience that those narrow slits through which the boiling oil or lead was poured should be expanded into proper windows. Obviously, nobody in the least intends that there should be power to enable a person to do that.

Let me take another example. There have been many cases in which big plain glass shop windows have been inserted on the ground floors of lovely old Georgian houses. One or two streets in Bath have been ruined by that. That was obviously thought to be for the convenience of the people who lived there and who wanted to keep a shop. I think one is more likely to go into a shop which has no window these days, rather than into a shop which has, because one thinks that there will be more inside. At any rate, it was thought by those who wanted to start shops in Queen Anne or Georgian houses that the thing to do was to ruin their general appearance by putting plate glass windows on the ground floor. The appearance of these houses has been ruined by people taking out old panes which were an essential part of the design and putting in pieces of plain glass.

I think by what I have said, I have done enough to show that this Amendment would go too far. Under the present procedure is there an unreasonable block to repairs and alterations? In the first place the preservation order has to be approved by the Minister, who is required by Section 17 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, to consider representations made to him by the owner. The same right to make representations applies to any restrictions on alterations or extensions. The owner has the right of putting representations to the Ministry. When the order is enforced the owner can apply for consent to make alterations or extensions, or to have the order varied or regulated, and in the event of refusal he can appeal to the Minister. Where it is reasonable that certain alterations should be made in a proper manner to preserve the architectural features of the building and the local authority refuses—as is unlikely—then there is an appeal to the Minister. Further, an order under Section 17 which really diminishes the value carries with it compensation. In cases which my hon. Friend had in mind, that is to say, a habitable house which it is desirable should continue to be inhabited, I think the Amendment would go too far in that it would give people who have not a proper appreciation of these things unrestricted power which might lead to the ruin of what we want to preserve. I think the machinery under the Clause, read with the Act of 1932, is not unreasonable, and gives an owner who wants to alter fairly quick access to have his representations considered by the Minister.

Amendment negatived.