HC Deb 02 February 1953 vol 510 cc1447-8
1. Sir Edward Keeling

asked the Minister of Supply whether he is aware that Fitzharris House, Abingdon, which he acquired, and which, though not of the first quality, was built about the year 1570 and was historically and architecturally of great local interest, deteriorated so much while in his charge that it has had to be destroyed; and whether he will take steps to prevent the decay in future of notable old houses acquired by him.

The Minister of Supply (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

Fitzharris House was not acquired by me; nor has it deteriorated appreciably since it has been in my charge. This house happened to be included in an estate which the late Government acquired in 1946 for building houses for staff at the Harwell research establishment.

In the light of this experience, I have given instructions that in future the Ministry of Supply should endeavour to avoid acquiring ancient buildings which it has no funds to preserve and that where this is inevitable, they should consult the Ministry of Works and the Ancient Monuments Board, so as to establish clearly from the outset who, if anybody, is to be responsible for the expenses of restoration and maintenance.

Sir E. Keeling

While thanking my right hon. Friend for his promise of reform in the future, may I ask him whether he agrees that his Department—not under his rule but under that of his predecessor —disregarded the obligations placed upon a private owner in respect of such houses, whereas his Department ought to have set a good example?

Mr. Sandys

I am not prepared to criticise my Department under a previous regime without having the full facts.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

Is it a fact that under the previous regime this house was neglected? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when I was Minister I had no representation from any organisation or anybody at all about deterioration in this house?

Mr. Sandys

The right hon. Gentleman is correct on the second point. This is a long and complicated story and I do not think it is possible, in reply to supplementary questions, to apportion credit or blame in the matter.