HC Deb 18 October 1944 vol 403 cc2390-410

  1. (1) With a view to the guidance of local authorities in the performance of functions under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, and this Act in relation to buildings of special architectural or historic interest the Minister may compile lists of such buildings or approve, either with or without modifications, such lists compiled by other persons or bodies of persons.
  2. (2) As soon as may be after any list has been compiled or approved under this section, a copy of so much of the list as relates to the area of any local planning authority (or, if the list is a list approved subject to modifications, a copy of so much of the list as modified as relates to their area) certified by or on behalf of the Minister to be a true copy thereof, shall be deposited with the clerk of the local planning authority and also, where that authority is not the council of a county borough with the clerk of the council of the county in which the area is situated.
  3. (3) Before compiling any list under this section, or approving any list thereunder subject to modifications, the Minister shall consult with such persons or bodies of persons as appear to him appropriate as having special knowledge, of or interest in buildings of architectural and historic interest.—[Mr. H. Strauss.]
Brought up, and read the First time.

12.15 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Henry Strauss)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The House may remember that during the Committee stage, on 5th October, I accepted in principle, on behalf of the Government, an Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) and widely supported in all sections of the Committee. It had also received a large amount of support from amenity and other societies outside. I said that while accepting it in principle, we would consider which was the most appropriate place or places in which to insert this amendment of the law which my hon. Friend had in mind, and this new Clause is designed with that object. It may be convenient to say that the main discussions will, no doubt, occur when we reach the Amendment which has been put down to Clause 17, page 24, line 23, where the House will see the purpose of this new Clause. The new Clause which I am now moving empowers the Minister to compile lists of buildings of special architectural or historic interest and to approve, either with or without modification, such lists compiled by other persons or bodies of persons. The Clause requires the Minister, before compiling or approving any list, to consult such bodies as may appear to him to be appropriate as having expert knowledge; and it also provides for the deposit with the clerk of the planning authority of a copy of any list compiled or approved by the Minister so far as it relates to the area of that particular authority.

12.18 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Dower (Penrith)

I am sorry that I cannot support my hon. Friend in approving of this Clause as it stands. Under Section 17 of the Act of 1932 before a house which may be of architectural interest alone, because it need not be of historic and architectural interest was made the subject of an Order, the owner was entitled to make representations to the Minister against the issue of an Order. The compilation of the list referred to is very similar to the issuing of an Order, except that it goes further. I gather that the owner of a house which is to appear in the list will not be entitled to alter it, to extend it, or even to put in an extra bathroom without the approval of the local planning authority, and possibly even of the Minister. Therefore, it is a very much more serious thing. Accordingly I would ask my right hon. Friend the Minister, if he wants my support for this Clause, to grant the same facilities as were provided under Section 17 of the Act of 1932, which gave the owner the right to make representations before his house was put in a list.

12.20 p.m.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

I think it would be disastrous if the Minister agreed with the last proposal. Any owner who is not willing that his building should be preserved, if it is one of architectural or historic importance, is, it seems to me, unworthy to own it. I welcome this Clause and am very glad the Minister has found it possible to fulfil the promise that he gave. There is only one observation I should like to make. The Clause says the Minister "may". We all know that the present Minister "will", but we are not so certain about future Ministers, and I should be much more happy if instead of "may" we had "shall" or "must". I hope that it will be possible to make such an alteration and to do so without putting in an extra 30 or 40 lines of legalistic jargon.

12.21 p.m.

Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)

I also think that the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penrith (Lieut.-Colonel Dower) are misconceived, or at any rate inappropriate on this Clause. I cannot see any reason why the owner of an historic or architecturally interesting house should be entitled to be heard on the question whether it should be included in a list. This Clause provides merely for its inclusion in a list. Whether there shall be any restrictions on alterations to such a house is surely a matter for discussion when we come to the Amendment which deals with that matter. I welcome this new Clause, as I am sure a great many other hon. Members do. It will be a remarkable achievement to get into this Bill—it will be the first time it has ever been put into an Act of Parliament—a catalogue of buildings which are historically or archi- tecturally worthy, prima facie, of preservation.

I have, however, three criticisms to make of the Clause. Under Sub-section (1) the Minister apparently compiles or approves a list once for all. There is no express power to revise the list once it has been compiled or approved, and I wonder whether that is really a good arrangement. It will mean either that final lists must be compiled or approved in too much of a hurry, or, alternatively, that local planning authorities will be left for too long without any guidance. I think there ought to be express power to add to or subtract from the list, of course after consultation as provided by Sub-section (3). My next point is that all that Sub-section (2) expressly provides is that the list should be compiled or approved and then deposited with the local authority. Surely publicity is essential here; it is part of our democratic process. We do not want any hole-and-corner business in these matters, especially as there can be no argument about a building once it has been destroyed. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider making provision in another place for publication of these lists by the Stationery Office. To come, finally, to Sub-section (3), I support the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. J. Dugdale). If the Minister "shall" consult in Sub-section (3) surely we ought to say that he "shall" compile in Subsection (1). I hope that all these points will receive consideration before the Bill is introduced in another place.

12.25 p.m.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I should like to support the words which have fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling). We must warmly welcome the Clause, and the decision of the Minister to take this step brings us a little into line with the practice which has gone on in France for very many years, under the Ministry of Fine Arts, of classifying buildings and taking careful steps for their preservation. I hope the Minister will look into the point regarding power to revise and alter lists. As I read the Clause I think it is possible that the existence of the plural—"he may compile lists"—does give him that power and that it will not be necessary to alter the wording; but if it should be necessary to do so in order to secure a right of revision I hope steps will be taken in another place to make the alteration.

12.26 p.m.

Colonel Greenwell (The Hartlepools)

I am one of those who welcome the inclusion of this Clause, but it does not seem to me to go quite far enough. Will the compilation of such lists enable my right hon. Friend to schedule other areas adjacent to the buildings concerned? It is a source of great satisfaction to the whole House, I am sure, to know that historic buildings and monuments will be preserved for all time, but what is to be the position of land adjacent to them on which there may be developments inimical to the aesthetic value of the building itself? We have before us what I would call the standard example of what has happened to two of our most magnificent cathedrals, heirlooms of the race. I can assure my right hon. Friend that Durham Cathedral means something very tangible in the lives of Northcountrymen; it is something about which we feel deeply. I understand that Lincoln Cathedral, also, is likely to be affected. I am sure the House would like an assurance that it will be possible, either under this Clause or other Clauses, to amplify this protection in order to safeguard that aspect of the situation, which does not seem to have been protected.

12.28 p.m.

Sir Edward Grigg (Altrincham)

I, too, should like very warmly to welcome this Clause, but like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Colonel Greenwell) I have a real fear that it does not go far enough. To compile a list is to compile it, and the Clause does not require more than that, and I gather that it is not to be a list available to the public. I know of cases where historic buildings have been destroyed by a local authority in spite of much public protest in the locality, and I should very much like to see some safeguard introduced for the protection of buildings which are upon the list. Certainly the list ought to be published; that is a first necessity; and I hope it may also be possible to introduce some safeguard under which the owner of the building and the public in the locality and elsewhere may be able to act effectively, or appeal to the Minister himself to act, if the future of a building is in any way to be jeopardised.

12.29 p.m.

Mr. Nunn (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

I should like to inquire whether this Clause will cover land as well as buildings. I am thinking particularly of such lands as, for instance, the Roman Vallums, Druidical circles, and so forth. Perhaps it may be well for my right hon. Friend to consider whether it will be necessary to make mention of such things.

12.30 p.m.

Major Studholme (Tavistock)

I would like to say how much I welcome this Clause, and add my support to the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) that further arrangements should be made for the publication of these lists, that the Minister should have power to revise them from time to time, and that the word "shall" be substituted for the word "may" in line 3. Although to the legal mind, perhaps, the word "may" sometimes means "shall", to the ordinary individual it means "may." In this case, I should like to be assured that it means "shall" and that there is no doubt about it.

12.31 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)

I was the only dissentient on the introduction of what is now Clause 40 upon a certain point, and I should like to say, briefly, that I very much welcome the introduction of this Clause in order to facilitate the general intention of Clause 40. I should like to add my plea that the word "may" shall be translated into the word "must". There is no use whatever introducing these provisions, unless they are to be carried out, and it is obvious to my mind that it would be advisable to say so in the Bill so that everyone will know where he stands.

12.32 p.m.

Mr. Muff (Kingston-up-Hull, East)

I must confess that, as far as Kingston-upon-Hull is concerned, we have few historical monuments, but there is one which has been miraculously preserved. It is the house in which William Wilberforce first saw the light of day, and it has been preserved by the Corporation. It is in a very narrow street and although all the buildings around it have been razed to the ground by bombing, the house itself has not a brick out of position. If the Corporation of Hull wishes to do its duty by this historical monument and enlarge the amenities by taking over adjacent land, which is now, perforce, a mass of rubble, I fail to see how this Bill will give an atom of power to preserve and enhance the beauty of this monument in a city which gave to this House a very great man, William Wilberforce. It seems to me that these "mays" and "shalls," and other qualifying phrases, are as disappointing as the whole Bill, because our corporation is going to be hamstrung, hampered, strangled by the action of the Minister.

12.34 p.m.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

I do not propose to review the historical monuments of my neighbourhood, but I should like to thank the Minister for introducing this excellent Clause and I hope it will be used in the widest possible sense. I share the view that the word "shall" should be put in instead of the word "may," and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give serious consideration to that point.

12.35 p.m.

Mr. H. Strauss

If I have the leave of the House, I should like to say that I am very grateful for the friendly reception of this Clause in all quarters. Some of the points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Penrith (Lieut.-Colonel Dower) can, of course, be raised more appropriately at another stage and this applies, similarly, to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg). As regards the point which is raised in many of the speeches, that it is wrong to say that the Minister "may," and that it ought to read, the Minister "shall" I think the wording as it stands is perfectly correct. It is the ordinary wording where a political duty is cast upon a Minister, and it is not either usual, desirable or, indeed, necessary, to put in the word "shall" for the purpose. The fact that the word "shall" appears in another place, means that where the Minister carries out his duty, he "shall" consult. I think "may" is appropriate elsewhere, but the House need entertain no doubt at all that, where such a duty is placed upon the Minister, no Minister who occupies this position would be able to avoid it. The question was raised about publication. Under the provisions of the Local Government Act of 1933, the lists are open for public inspection. It would be possible by administrative action to secure any desirable publication of them, without any Amendment to the new Clause. The question about the revision of the lists was also raised. I am advised that there would be no difficulty in adding further buildings, but this would not enable buildings already on the list to be removed. I think that is the right and desirable position, but I will certainly have the point further examined, and what has been said taken into consideration.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Newcastle (Mr. Nunn) asked if the Clause covered things which were not buildings at all. I think the answer to that is "No," but that the particular matters which he had in mind could more appropriately be dealt with under the Ancient Monuments Code. I think some of the examples he took may come within this Clause, but not all. I believe I have answered all the various points that have been put, and I hope the House will give the Clause a Second Reading.

Sir E. Grigg

May I point out that I did not say anything about surrounding land?

Mr. Strauss

I am sorry if I did not quite get the point raised by my hon. Friend, but I think that it could be more appropriately dealt with under the later Clauses, whether they are adequate or not. This Clause has no effect whatever except as a preliminary to other Clauses.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.