HC Deb 14 February 1961 vol 634 cc1327-66

7.50 p.m.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof. this House takes note of the Fifth Report from the Select Committee on Estimates in the last Session of Parliament relating to Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments, and of the Sixth Special Report of the Estimates Committee. Today comes in the middle of a period of very great Parliamentary stress when we have been marshalling our forces and the parties have been hurling themselves at each other. Today we have a brief pause, and I feel rather like a twittering songbird on the field of battle. We pause for a moment to draw our attention to something which by no stretch of the imagination can be regarded as having in it any partisan passion or the drama of great battle, but which is at the same time a subject that should be of very great interest to the House. This is not for the reason which one of my hon. Friends put to me, when he asked who better to discuss it because most of the people looking down upon this Chamber regarded Members of Parliament as ancient monuments in an historic building. That is not the main reason why I think this is a matter of considerable interest. It is a small vote of just over £1,400,000, and I am proposing to deal with it in three main sections which are covered in the Report of the Committee.

Before I come to look in some detail at the Report and its recommendations, I should like to say that the main Department which came under our examination was the Department presided over by the noble Lord at the Ministry of Works. I personally and, I think, a good many Members of the Sub-Committee, were very much impressed by this. Here was a subject which has no partisan interest but which did arouse very great and deep feeling, involving the views of many people who are accustomed to think and feel in absolutes. They are not the kind of people who like being told that there is no Santa Claus, or who like being told that there is no more money in the Vote.

Yet, in all the evidence that we had, and we went into a great deal of evidence, I do not think anybody, either the amenity societies or the various people who were in negotiation with the Ministry, had anything but a good word for the courtesy of the Ministry, and, on the whole, the prudent judgment of the Ministry and its ability to maintain standards of high scholarship, which is not something which we normally associate with a Government Department. As I say that, may I also particularly say that of the many people who guided and educated us, perhaps nobody was of more interest than the Chief Inspector, Mr. Baillie Reynolds, who, since the Report was published, has retired. I should like to mention that, in his contributions, he not only made many of us who were workaday Members of Parliament, with little knowledge of these subtleties, widen our education, but struggled further to maintain a very high standard of scholarship which made the Ministry of Works approved over a very wide area. It is against that background that I ask the House to look in some detail at some of the points that we have discussed in our Report.

The Minister of Works (Lord John Hope)

On a matter of fact, I should like to remind the hon. Gentleman that he is in error. Mr. Baillie Reynolds has not retired yet, I am glad to say. He will do so very soon, but not yet.

Mr. MacColl

But he is going to retire. I read in The Times that he was going to do so.

The first section of the Report deals with what one calls recording, listing and scheduling. The second deals actually with the ancient monuments, and the third with the grants to historic buildings. The first section, dealing particularly with recording, listing and scheduling, covers a much wider field than the noble Lord's Department, and it is one of the things that very much bewildered me. One finds it very difficult to steer one's way between the various different bodies, all apparently doing comparable work in a comparable field.

There was, first of all, the Royal Commission, and, in this House in an Adjournment debate on 24th May last, the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren) drew attention to what he regarded as the slow work of the English Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. The Royal Commission is charged with the duty of making inventories of the monuments and the construction connected with or illustrative of the contemporary culture, civilisation and conditions of life of the people from the earliest times. The next body we come to is the National Buildings Record, which is charged with making a comprehensive record with photographic and measured drawings of buildings of historical interest. Then, we come to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in England and the Department of Health in Scotland, which are responsible for listing all buildings of architectural or historical interest. Finally, there is the Ministry of Works, which is responsible for scheduling ancient monuments which are buildings of historical, architectural, traditional, artistic or archaeological interest.

It seems to us that there was very little reason why these bodies should not tread very much on each other's toes, except a certain amount of common sense, and, I am sure from a conscientious attempt to avoid duplication. We felt that the problem was one of much complexity, and except for this rather vague feeling of aiming at harmony, there was no real reason why all these different bodies might not in fact arrive at one place independently to carry out their functions, while in another area nobody at all need be doing any work. A great deal of work has to be done in the actual work of recording, and we felt that whatever we decided about the division of responsibility between Ministries, at any rate a very considerable effort should be made to make sure that the ground was divided up between different people so that as much as possible of the area was covered.

I know that the Treasury has been having a working party on this subject. Any hon. Members who serve for any length of time on the Estimates Committee are well aware of finding out, whenever they put their finger on some tender spot, there is always the Committee of Inquiry which just happens to be dealing with it and one rather gets the feeling sometimes that half the Departments of the Government are investigating the other half. I should like to hear if the noble Lord can speak on behalf of the Financial Secretary and tell us how that Working Party is progressing. We attach a lot of importance to this, and we are anxious that it should not be used as a mere convenient excuse for evading these rather important questions.

Analogous to these different Departments are the different advisory bodies which in varying forms advise the Department on the work to be done in this very specialised field. There are a great many of these bodies, and we discovered a very great duplication of members. We found the same people on different committees using their particular "know-how" in a sort of stage army. We mention in our Report that there were fourteen members sitting on three bodies, fourteen members on two bodies and that each committee had about half its members shared with some other body. Very good reasons are given for this state of affairs, but we all feel that something must be wrong. This should be looked at. The time of very important people is being wasted. That again is being inquired into by a working party. I hope that we shall hear a little more from the noble Lord about what is happening.

I Shall not attempt to give detailed definitions of ancient monuments. If hon. Members cannot follow what I am saying, I advise them to read our Report, because we deal with these matters in great detail. What strikes us about ancient monuments is what a great national interest they are. Not only are they an incomparable heritage from past history, things, of incalculable value to our national traditions, but they have a real educational value as an attraction to visitors, both visitors from other parts of the country and from abroad. We feel that more should be done to make them attractive so that visitors will go to look at them.

The Ministry can deal with only a small proportion of the total number of ancient monuments. It can schedule them to prevent them being destroyed, but that does not prevent them from deteriorating. The only ones the Ministry can deal with are the valuable ones, the ones which the Ministry takes under its guardianship.

We think that there is a very great need here to try to arouse local interest.

There is a danger of the relationship becoming one where the Ministry produces the money and everybody else—local authorities, amenity bodies and others—sit around and get as much as they can. That must not be allowed to happen. If we are to preserve our ancient monuments, we must do much to arouse local interest in this local heritage.

I am not thinking of the great local authorities. Many county councils have done much to co-operate with the Ministry. However, the Ministry could do much more to persuade parish councils, for example, to feel pride if in their remote places they have monuments of historical interest. Such bodies should be persuaded to keep monuments in good condition by exercising loving care. They could cut the grass and do the job much more thoroughly than the Ministry in Whitehall, with its regional and local organisations, can do it. We stress that there should be an attempt to secure more co-operation with local authorities.

I turn now to presentation, the problem of making ancient monuments attractive to visitors. We suggeste that one of the best ways to do this is to change the name. It is difficult to convey to the ordinary person that there can be anything attractive about an ancient monument when it is described in that way I am sure that this would not mean vulgarising the monuments. From the evidence we have it is clear that one of the great attractions of ancient monuments, particularly in this country, is that they are not vulgar and are not cheap shows. What people like to see is a well-presented, scholarly, carefully preserved monument of great intrinsic interest. They would resent having such a monument vulgarised.

On the other hand, to present it in that way is quite consistent with providing people with reasonable amenities when they visit ancient monuments. It is no use going out of our way to encourage people to visit monuments unless there are adequate facilities available on the sites. There are a number of places where there are more than 40,000 visitors a year, but there are no lavatories nor parking places. It is a little irresponsible to attract people to such places and not take steps to provide adequate facilities.

In contrast to that, we discovered that there were beautifully kept sites in glorious surroundings but rather off the beaten track, which very few people visited. We feel that more attention should be paid to encouraging visitors to visit those places and less effort used in other directions.

We visited some very attractive monuments on a hot summer's day when hon. Members were engaged in their legislative duties. We were happily at peace. We sat on beautifully cut grass on a spot of great natural beauty with the sun beating down on us. It was an enthralling day. That was all in addition to the intrinsic historical interest of the place. I am a rather simple Philistine person. I could not obtain a cup of tea or an ice-cream. Much could be done to provide people with elementary comforts without interfering in any way with the intrinsic value of the monuments.

We draw attention to the fact that there is a need to label monuments properly so that people will know what they are. We were told that an official had just been appointed who would start by seeing what could be done to make Scarborough Castle attractive.

For reasons with which I need not weary the House, I found myself in Scarborough last October. I took the opportunity of visiting Scarborough Castle. I sampled both the lavatory and the refreshment accommodation. I found them admirable, but there was no label on any part of the Castle. If a visitor did not buy a guide book, which was to be obtained not at the custodian's office but in the refreshment place, he could walk round Scarborough Castle without anything to tell him what it was or anything about it. We draw the attention of the House to the Ministry's lack of imagination in this respect.

On the other side, we mention the ancient monuments rather off the beaten track. We feel that the fundamental duty resting upon the Ministry is to preserve a monument for posterity even if it is in a remote place. A monument can be preserved without there being a great deal of what I call archaeological "bull", with much money being spent of having the grass cut so that it looks like a lawn at somebody's manor house.

That has no historical value, because when monuments were in their original state they did not have closely cut grass.

The reply of the noble Lord to our Recommendation No. 4 on this was rather prissy. We say on page xxix: where many visitors cannot reasonably be attracted to a monument, the expenditure on the surroundings should be reduced. The Minister said: While the number of visitors to a monument is not, of course, the only consideration, the Minister will review expenditure on surroundings. He has missed the point. Our point is that we want first to persuade people to visit places. If it is clear that people cannot be persuaded to do so, the Ministry should concentrate on the basic job of preservation and not merely have the grass cut in order to keep the custodian occupied.

In regard to historic buildings, as opposed to ancient monuments, the Government make grants to owners of houses for their maintenance or improvement. An extraordinarily difficult task is placed upon the Minister and his advisers. It is evtremely difficult to have a clear idea about what is a grant-worthy building and what is not. One may, on the one hand, give a grant in respect of what one would, with respect, call a beautiful white elephant, something of great aesthetic interest but which, in fact, even if money is spent on it, will not be of any great use to anyone. On the other hand, one way spend less money on a series of small houses which can be made quite comfortable places to live in. It is a very difficult test to apply.

The test which the Minister is charged to apply is, Are the buildings of architectural or historic interest? That is not to say whether they are convenient as residences. It is not to say even that they are beautiful. The difficulty comes in deciding how to spread the money over the various buildings. Who is, for instance, to assess the impact of Hawksmoor on Vanbrugh in the claims for preservation as against those in respect of Robert Adam? Should one preserve building X which, perhaps, shows Robert Adam at his worst—it is interesting to see how bad a great architect can be—or should one concentrate on other buildings which are not unique in that way but which, as I say, can be made reasonable places in which to live?

The answer to those questions, of course, is that the only people who can do this are the Historic Buildings Councils. I think we should recognise that they endeavour to do a very good job in advising the Minister on the work he has to do. But they should remember, I think, that their object is the prevention of deterioration, not the glorifying of less important amenities. The test to be applied is certainly not the worthiness of the owner. There is here one of the paradoxes. An owner who is not particularly public spirited may neglect his own building, and as a result, qualify for a grant. Somebody else who is fully aware of the nature and value of his house and who acts accordingly will not need help. The object of the exercise is not to reward the owner but to preserve the building for posterity.

A great responsibility is placed on the chairmen of the Councils. They have to assess the value of the buildings. They have to assess the amount of money which the owners of the buildings can be called upon fo pay. They have to negotiate with them. I think it worth mentioning that we cannot always be sure that we shall have chairmen of the Councils as good as the present ones. I was worried about whether it was really wise to put so much responsibility on the three chairmen as under our present system we do, and I wondered whether we could have a system which was less dependent upon the knowledge, intuition and negotiating skill of the chairmen.

I come now to two points which I make for myself, not on behalf of the Committee. I felt that the whole business was a little casual. We are, after all. handing out substantial sums of money to private people to spend on their own houses. In some cases, particularly in some of the smaller houses, we are providing the owners with a very nice little property at the end of the day which may well have a value on the market. When a Member comes to the House of Commons, he has to make a statutory declaration to a magistrate that he has not spent more than a certain amount of money in election expenses. If he makes a false statement, he may be prosecuted. No such statement is required of the owner of a house. In many cases, I think, the owner of a house could be asked to produce his Income Tax return. Of course, neither the Ministry nor the Council could ask for that, but the owner himself could, I think, be asked to produce it. The matter needs looking into. Should we tighten up some of these rather obvious precautions?

I come now to two matters where I criticise the Minister's reply. The first is loans. We felt that there ought to be powers to enable the Minister, particularly when a grant is being made for a house which will be a nice little property at the end of the day, to provide for the repayment of grant if the property is sold at a profit. The Minister replied very much to this effect, "If we are bringing in legislation, we shall consider whether that is desirable". I press him on that. That reply was a little vague. In my view, what we suggest would be a very valuable safeguard which, though it need not always be used, should be available.

I quarrel with the Minister also on the subject of retrospective grants. Some of us with local government experience were a little alarmed to find that retrospective grants were being paid where work had already been ordered. The thing which we all learned at our town clerk's knee, if not at our mother's knee, was that if someone asked a Ministry for a retrospective grant he was slapped down at once. We cannot see why at this stage it should be necessary to have retrospective grants at all. It was all right in the early stages when people did not understand the machinery, but there is no need for it now and we think it ought to stop.

I have tried to pick out some of the salient points rather than go through the subject in detail because I know that there are other hon. Members who will, no doubt, be able to fill in some of the gaps.

I wish to bring to the attention of the House the extraordinary situation created by three decisions, one of which was forced on the Council, the others being its own. I am here talking about the English Council. The first was the decision to spend such a very large amount of its total resources on the Oxford Colleges. The other two were the similar decisions in respect of Castle Howard and Wardour New Castle. The decision on the Oxford Colleges was a Government decision and the Council, had no choice in the matter, but the amount involved, although comparatively small when related to the total amount which the Oxford Colleges are costing, is crippling to the work of the Council. It has been made to put a ceiling on its other grants and houses of considerable value which are worth preserving have had to be dropped from the list.

The Castle Howard case is a much more interesting one and, in some ways, more difficult. Everyone from whom we took evidence, I think, agree that Castle Howard ought to be preserved and the Council was doing a very important job in preserving it. I do not question that, but I wish to point to some of the implications. The Castle Howard expenditure includes grants for the mausoleum, grants for the temple, and grants for statues in the park. These are not dwelling-houses. They are not places in which any one lives. We were told by experts of unchallengeable authority that they were part of the mise en scé ne —the general set up—and that we should not get the value of the work of Vanbrugh or Hawksmoor unless they were kept.

The point is that the total grant on these external places is about £34,000. The vast majority of grants are much less than that. Only 2½ per cent. of all the repair grants amount to more than £20,000. Yet more than half as much again is being spent on other parts of buildings, which, as I say, are not "liveable in", and that is something which is open to a certain amount of comment and question. As I say, there is a dilemma between whether we should help the great house, the palace, or spend money on smaller and more practical buildings. If assistance is given in the case of small buildings we may provide a very useful disposable asset.

Another problem to which I wish to draw attention is regional variation. It seemed to us that the standards for grant in Scotland were different from those in England. The reason given was that, whereas in England Elizabethan and Tudor buildings were two a penny, in Scotland and Wales they were rare. Therefore, buildings which we would not need to preserve in parts of England we need to preserve in Scotland and Wales. It is a matter of judgment and I merely draw attention to it, but, if we are to have that standard, should not we have varied regional standards within one country?

Dr. Alan Thompson (Dunfermline Burghs)

My hon. Friend says that it is a question of judgment, but it is also a question of historical fact that in Scotland there are fewer great houses and many more small buildings of historical importance. As my hon. Friend knows, the Industrial Revolution swept away many small towns, and deprived Scotland of much of its architectural heritage.

Mr. MacColl

The resources are very limited, particularly by the overall ceiling resulting from the expenditure on the Oxford Colleges and Castle Howard. If we are to have different standards between one country and another, I ask whether we should not have different standards between one region and another inside England. In other words, there may be parts of the North of England—here I can declare some interest—which ought to be preserved as against some of the great palaces of the South, although I appreciate that Castle Howard is in Yorkshire, which rather spoils the uniformity of my argument.

I have endeavoured to go quickly over some of our Report to bring out some salient points and to underline them for the benefit of the House. It is valuable that the Select Committee on Estimates should have turned its attention to a subject like this, because it raises some important administrative questions and some very fascinating problems of judgment and policy about what we should do with a limited sum of money. Although in general I would say that we were very delighted to learn of the great respect in which the Ministry is held, this is a case where there is probably room for review of the position. As it is about seven years since the 1953 Act was passed, it is a happy moment to be able to look at the matter now on the basis of this Report.

8.25 p.m.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

My first task should be to acknowledge the patient and perceptive work of the Select Committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl). As a member of the Historic Buildings Council for England—that was only one segment of the Select Committee's inquiry—I must say that I thought the hon. Gentleman's criticism appeared to be kindly and constructive. In any case, on this subject it is better to be criticised than ignored. I hope to touch on some of the points which the hon. Gentleman made—I would not presume to do more—as I go along. This is the first opportunity we have had of examining the Council's stewardship since the passing of the 1953 Act, which was eight years ago. I think that it might be profitable to touch on some of the wider problems which have confronted the Council and with which I know both the Select Committee and the House have some sympathy.

I think that it is generally understood that this £500,000 a year, which for accounting reasons was rather less in the current year and last year, is not spent on the greater physical or mental comfort of the owners of houses, but to preserve fine buildings which would otherwise be lost to the nation. That point has been stressed in the Annual Report and it was acknowledged by the Select Committee. It is to help neither the rich man nor the poor man. It is to help houses in distress.

It is not simply a question of saying, as some people would like us to say, "So-and-so is a rich man and therefore, regardless of the high quality of his house, he can afford to fend for himself and we must spend the money which we have on a dozen humbler objects". So-and-so may be rich, but when £20,000 or £30,000 may have to be spent on a house—the hon. Gentleman it clear that that is not an exceptional circumstance—he may well find that there are other courses open to him. If he abandons it or tries to demolish half of it or even puts up the rather forlorn "For sale" notice which is apt to hang for a long time on very large mansions, it may be entirely lost to the nation. In the end, the nation's loss is larger than his, because the house will last him only during his lifetime but it will last the nation longer.

I must add that it is not always the finest houses which are owned by the richest people, In those cases the share which the nation must give towards the work has to be proportionately higher.

It is very difficult, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, to strike a balance and there are other balances which have to be struck. There is certainly no quarrel with the Select Committee on the allocation between the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy. In the minds of some people it will always be a disturbing factor. The grant is not only payable on large houses. I would not presume to answer the hon. Gentleman on the question of Castle Howard, part of which came a little before my time. I am a recently joined member. If it is true that it took nearly a quarter of one annual budget, that reflects not only on the judgment which may have been exercised; it also reflects on the size of the Historic Buildings Council budget in relation to the national task. If the nation wishes a place like Castle Howard to be preserved that is something the Council is steward for and no more.

An attempt has been made throughout to strike a balance between the large and the small. Size is not the yardstick. Perhaps I may touch on a point that the hon. Gentleman made about accounting. It is tempting to feel that a tidier system of accounting might insure the taxpayer against all eventualities. I put on record my own feeling that if the records were scrutinised it would be found that over the years the taxpayer has not been robbed of very much over the administration of these houses. It was the larger houses that Parliament originally had very much in mind—I have refreshed my mind by looking at the debate in 1953. I think that the view of Parliament was reasonable, because, first, neglect will eventually involve much larger sums of money for the large houses, and, secondly, intrinsic merit apart, they are increasingly becoming centres of public attraction.

When one says that they are centres of public attraction, one must add that that sometimes goes for the ornamental gardens and temples which it is sometimes very easy to suggest have been over-endowed but which remain quite unique of their kind. I think that no other country in the world can offer anything quite like them. The third reason that big houses have always attracted more interest and attention is their widespread decay which would appear a slightly bigger reproach. It has been compared with the decay of the monasteries in an earlier period.

Not the least important part of this policy, which has not been mentioned, is to keep in being as homes and not museums a diversity of oustanding buildings. I mention that, because it is at variance with what I thought in 1953. It then seemed to me dubious whether public funds should be used, not only to preserve outstanding architecture but to preserve a social state which had also become part of history. I thought that in 1953, although I did not say it. I was quite wrong. It is of the essence to keep as many homes alive as we can and not a handful of facades. The family enters into this, and very often when a family has had a long history in one of these homes that is not the least part of the public interest, and rightly so.

Perhaps one should say a word about the limitations. As the Annual Reports have shown there have been heavy losses. For instance, there have been houses for which in the end nothing could be done. Perhaps that has been the case a little more so of late, because the standard has had to be not less high than it was seven years ago in order to keep within the budget. Again, there were some buildings of all sizes which, I think I am right in saying, had reached, as it were, the standard but not that of the premier cru. When it came to the end of the year they were at least temporarily lost. One should not make too much of that. It is inevitable. Parliament did not set up the Historic Buildings Council believing that all deserving houses would automatically be preserved. Sometimes a big loss locally may act as a salutary shock to a district and remind them of the problems in hand. I do not think that it has ever been, and it never will be, an insurance scheme—I hesitate to use the word "haphazard", but it cannot be nearly as sure as that.

I will mention one ailment of these houses which has struck me very forcibly. I have no figures, and I do not suppose they are on record, but I have the impression that a disheartening amount of devastation is caused by dry rot. It is the cancer of old buildings, and once it starts it spreads like wildfire. It may often be the cause, as suggested by the Select Committee, of supplementary grants when a house is opened with a view to doing something and the damage is discovered to be two, three or four times as bad as it was thought to be. There is then seemingly endless cost to try to complete the task which has been put in hand. This is often the legacy of dry rot. I would say to my hon. Friend that I often wonder whether we could save money—certainly we could save a great deal of heartache—by entering into some more intensive research, through some other Department such as the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, into this disease. Are we doing all we can to get to the root of it?

I should like to mention one other factor which I do not think was considered in 1953 but which enters largely into the work of the Council. As the House is aware, we are going through a period all over the country, of widespread rebuilding and rapid development, much more pervasive, noticeable and striking than seven or eight years ago. Some of it is good, some not so good. We shall never agree which is which, nor does it enter into the argument to judge it now. It seems to me, however, to be of growing importance that we should try to strike a balance between the best from the past and what is going up now.

The more that goes up, the more important it is to try to keep this somewhat tenuous balance with the past. We are dealing with a languishing asset. With the best will in the world, we cannot get over the fact that historic houses become fewer and fewer. Year by year, they become less. The new waxes and goes up and very often appears to eclipse almost everything else. It is not simply mournful, but it is a misfortune if the best of the nation's older houses fall into decay too rapidly while new buildings, new in idiom and materials, leap ahead.

There should be a relationship. I stress this for one particular reason. Just now, we have a generation of architects who, no doubt, for excellent reasons, owe or appear to owe very little to their immediate or distant past. I make no complaint about that. These influences go in cycles, however, and they are unpredictable. A generation or two ahead may feel the urge to look more closely at the craftsmanship in some of the houses that we are discussing this evening—the Queen Annes or the Georgians—if they are still there to be judged. We here are ourselves the heirs to the Gothic tradition, although our predecessors before 1834 were not. These things have a way of coming round again. We should keep that in mind in relation to these houses.

I am not thinking only of architects. It is a condition of the grant which is made that the public should have access to these houses. That right is fairly firmly guarded by the Council and nobody should think otherwise. With the spread of the motor car, one must hope that the influence of the historic houses will become more pervasive and more persuasive in the public mind.

Surely, the advertising of fine craftman-ship, of symmetry and of proportion, qualities with which this generation is not overendowed, will not be without its influence on public taste. It is not necessary to go to Castle Howard or to Blenheim in order to see these qualities. They can be found in the local manor house, a group of cottages in a village, the corn exchange, the clock tower, and so on. These buildings are not only being kept for the generation to which they belong or for the generation which can now look at them. This is partly the answer to another point that was made constructively by the Select Committee about the thoroughness with which the repairs are undertaken.

The lease that is added to the life of these houses should not necessarily be measured, as we increasingly tend to measure so much, by the span of our own lifetimes. Preserving a home for its owner and preserving a home for the nation demand two slightly different standards of workmanship and planning at the outset. The second should be more thorough and more painstaking.

This is a matter of keeping a balance between the past and the present. This arises in another sphere which is destined to grow much more important—that is, local government. A great deal of the work which comes before the Council—I would think increasingly, but I have not been there long enough to judge—comes through local authorities. Not only major schemes like Bath, but many smaller schemes—the terraces, bridges, corn exchanges, town halls, and so on—and, of course, the larger mansions, have tended to come increasingly into the hands of the local authorities.

It is fair to say that the difference between the best and the worst of local authorities in this respect is striking. The best cherish their buildings as the most loving owner would. There are some who apparently find it difficult even to answer letters which offer tbean assistance. However, we must hope that the less good will join the virtuous.

Many of the largest local authorities are engaged in new developments on their own account. It is immensely important that they should be made to feel the influence of the best of the historic stuff and encouraged to give it a high place in the future as they see it for their town. All this amounts to quite a considerable responsibility on a budget of £400,000 to £500,000 a year. I am not saying that it is not enough. Everybody wants more for their own particular cause and otherwise economy in general, but at least in assessing the value of the work Parliament ought not to underwrite the size of the task.

It certainly has not diminished since 1953. It should not at least become any less and if, as the hon. Member for Widnes has suggested, loans should come along, I suggest they should come additionally and not, as they might become in the Treasury mind, as part of or a substitute for grants already made. Parliament ought not to be under any illusion about how far the Historic Buildings Councils through no fault of their own have fallen short of the ideas entertained in 1953.

The cost of work has increased by about 25 per cent. since then. The ability of owners to contribute has fallen from about £2 in every £3 to £1 in every £2. The slightly higher contributions called for by the very large houses come into a later period, and for accounting reasons which I need not elaborate the Council has had to work in the last two years on nearer £400,000 than £500,000. For that reason, it has had to introduce a waiting list and a stricter standard, with the result that it has had to accept some failures. The total sum spent on building in the last twelve months throughout the country may have been over £1,000 million. Therefore, this expenditure represents one-twentieth of 1 per cent., and with that we have to strike the best balance we can between ancient and modern, which lies at the root of and certainly is not the least of the Council's purpose and work. It is for other people to judge whether the right balance has been struck.

8.43 p.m.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)

I should like to join the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) on the way in which he introduced the discussion on this Report which provides us with the first opportunity to debate the matter since the three Historic Buildings Councils were set up under the 1953 Act. I should like to refer particularly to Recommendation 14 on page 5 of the Observations of the Minister of Works to which my hon. Friend referred. That Recommendation is: There should be consultation between the Historic Buildings Councils for England, Scotland and Wales, with the aim of achieving common standards of 'grantworthiness'. The Select Committee shows in the Minutes of Evidence which it has published that its members were quite rightly concerned about the variation of standard which appeared to exist among the three National Councils in this matter, but I hope that the Minister and the House will not lay undue stress on the supposed need to try to achieve a uniform standard in this connection.

The purpose of the 1953 Act was to arrest the decay and indeed to prevent the complete disappearance of buildings of outstanding historic or architectural importance in the three countries of Great Britain. It was expressly understood on both sides of the House and by the then Minister of Works that this object could be achieved only if Councils were set up to deal with the position in England, in Scotland and in Wales separately, and it was quite rightly recognised that the word "historic" in this case meant that which exemplified, and was significant of, the traditions and way of life of these national communities.

What is outstanding historically or architecturally in one country may not be so in another. In England we have great, indeed, magnificent. country houses which are expressions of social and historic movements in the 18th and 19th centuries. But match them against the Taj Mahal, for instance, and what are they?

If the criterion is to match the best of one country with the best of another, then I am afraid that we shall not make any progress. It is a fact that in Scotland and Wales, precisely because the movement of historic and social forces was different, there are no "Castle Howards". There are Elizabethan farm houses and cottages of intrinsic beauty and of significance in the context of the histories of these countries.

I strongly suggest that it will be a mistaken policy and, indeed, a dangerous one, to insist on a common standard between the three Councils. I welcome very much the phrasing of the Minister's observation on the important Recommendation 14. He says: It is not considered that the achievement of identical standards is practicable or necessarily desirable. As the Select Committee themselves said, 'harmony' should be the aim. We should all welcome the Harmonisation of technique and, indeed, criteria in relation to the process of making these grants. Anything like an arbitrary and, indeed, artificial common standard would militate against the very purpose of the Act, which was to ensure the preservation for posterity of what is historically significant and architecturally of importance in the context, as I have said, of the history and traditions of these countries.

I wish also to say something about the manner in which the three Councils have discharged their duties. Here, I must plead a kind of interest, as the hon. Member for Ashford took care to do. I, too, am a member of a Council—of the Welsh Council—and I feel bound to say that of all the committees on which one has served—and they have a way of increasing as the years go by—this, I think, is one of the most responsible and careful in its attitude towards recommending the expenditure of public money.

I think that is an assurance which might quite usefully and properly come from a member of a council, and I want to pay a tribute, as my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes did, to the three chairmen, and, in particular, as a Welsh Member, to the Chairman of the Welsh Council, Sir Grismond Philipps, a public servant of outstanding repute and a man distinguished in this field. I can assure the Minister, the Select Committee and the House that not a penny has been spent under his leadership which has not been very much worth while.

I now wish to bring to the notice of the House one or two points which may serve, if it is necessary to do so, to justify this expenditure. The hon. Member for Ashford rightly emphasised that the amount spent in this regard throughout Great Britain is not great in amount or in percentage of the total spent on buildings of all kinds. He made a calculation and I have made a similar calculation and I find that towards this great work of preserving a priceless heritage for ourselves and our children we are devoting rather less than 05 per cent. every year of what we spend on building generally. That is the decimalisation of what the hon. Member said and I think that it matches the results of his calculations.

I conclude by commending three points to the Minister. First, it is important that there should be power to "open up" some of these buildings to ascertain the true extent of the work which is necessary. That is not an easy thing to do. It is a risk if one engages in heavy work in some of these old buildings where one is likely to do damage which may be irreparable, but I think that it is the general feeling in all three councils that it is necessary that power should be given to open up these buildings in order to know quite clearly at the very beginning how much work is likely to be necessary.

Secondly, I entirely agree that there should now be provision for recovering part or whole of a grant when an assisted building is sold. That is a reasonable provision, but I join with the hon. Member for Ashford in emphasising that it is not a question of assisting individuals or families to improve their property.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

The Report says it is.

Mr. Roberts

That is not the object and that is not what happens. In the great majority of cases, the entire property is not rehabilitated. Features of a house or a building are preserved from disintegration, from disappearance, or the owner is prevented from botching the thing on his own. If the Councils had intervened only to prevent innocent vandalism, they would have been justified on that account.

Thirdly, to remove any misapprehension—although I do not think that there is ground for misapprehension about the object or the effects of the grant in individual cases—the time has come when a system of extending low-interest loans in preference to grants in certain cases could well be examined. It may be found to be impracticable. It is often necessary to persuade the owners of historic buildings to allow the Council to look into the matter in order to assist in their preservation, but it is well worth examining the substitution of loan aid for grant aid in certain cases.

I join with those who have said that this is a worthy cause. It is a question of preserving a priceless heritage, the greatest heritage that the world has known—the visual expression of British civilisation as expressed in the architecture of England, Scotland and Wales. I hope that the House and the Ministry will continue to support the efforts of the three Councils and their admirable chairmen.

8.55 p.m.

Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)

. I do not think there will be any doubt that the subject we are discussing is extremely important. Nor do I think there will be any dispute that, whatever party we belong to, we are under an obligation to do our best by our lights to preserve the buildings of historic and architectural importance that we as a nation have inherited.

Mr. Ellis Smith

In the same week that we increase the health charges.

Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe

If we fall down on the task of maintaining the buildings of historic and architectural importance, we shall incur, and rightly so, the odium of the generations to follow us. There may be disagreement on how to achieve the goal. There are a number of other hon. Members who wish to speak tonight, and I do not want to detain the House unduly long. I will therefore confine my remarks to one aspect of the Report, namely, that dealing with the functions and the tasks of the Historic Buildings Council.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) in saying that we are all indebted to the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) and his Parliamentary colleagues for the extremely interesting, compact and lucid report they made, and for many of the recommendations in it. I also think that the House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and his colleagues, and to all Members of the Historic Buildings Council for the impeccable way in which they discharge an extremely difficult task.

I do not expect all hon. Members to agree, but I am one of those who think that the difficulty which the Historic Buildings Council faces is that it has insufficient funds. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works, or one of his predecessors—perhaps for accountancy purposes, I do not know—made a request to the Council which resulted in restricting its recommendations in the current year to about £400,000, when the recommendations it made in the year 1958–59 amounted to about £600,000.

This merely increases the awful dilemma of the Council. Should it spread the butter thickly over a few slices or should it spread it thinly over rather more slices? In other words, should it do a few really slap-up jobs, or should it undertake rather more work with the knowledge that, because of the financial ceiling imposed on it, the extra work is bound not to be so good as it would be if it concentrated on one, two or three main items? This dilemma was well brought out in the decision to which the hon. Member for Widnes referred, the decision to devote a large slice of the annual expenditure on Castle Howard. I believe that the decision to do a few jobs really well is the right one. I believe it is preferable, in spite of all the disadvantages, to doing a larger number of jobs less well.

The effect of the decision is this. The less money the Historic Buildings Council has at its disposal the higher must be the individual minimum standard to qualify for a grant. That leads to a further difficulty. As I see it, the Council can no longer even deal with houses in what I might call the top category. It is obliged to confine itself to dealing with houses and other buildings which are in the cream of the top category.

This means that house after house and building after building which, by any normal yardstick, ought to be preserved, gradually falls into decay because the Council is unable to admit it to the super-category of buildings which it can afford to do anything about. Thus, a building of first-class architectural or historic importance becomes, within the necessary financial yardstick of the Council, a marginal building. The Council discharges its tasks and takes its decisions quite impeccably. Every decision it takes seems to me to require the judgment of Solomon. It is precisely because of that that I do not understand the comment of the Select Committee in paragraph 70 of the Introduction to its Report, when this extraordinary sentence appears: Your Committee would expect that, now that the scheme has been in operation for some time and is well known, the great majority of owners who had accumulated a heavy backlog of repairs before 1953 would by now have received sufficient assistance to put their buildings in good order. In order that a building may qualify for a grant the standard required by the Council now is a great deal higher than it was in 1953. The sum of money available is not vary much more, but the cost of repairs and maintenance, and everything else connected with the preservation of an ancient or historic building, has increased enormously. I can see no justification for the Select Committee's comment.

This difficult problem would seem to be rendered doubly difficult by the system of accountancy in the Treasury—which we all accept—by which you cannot transfer the unexpended portion of the day's ration to the next day. By that I mean that if a particular sum of money is unspent in one year the balance cannot be carried over to another year. I should have thought it was extremely difficult to estimate with any degree of accuracy the sum of money which the Council is likely to be able to spend in a given year on buildings of first-class importance for the simple reason that there must be a considerable time lag between the date on which an application for a grant is received and the date on which, supposing the grant to have been approved, the work is completed.

I should have thought that in many cases it was almost impossible to judge exactly how long the work will take. Therefore, able and fully qualified though the Historic Buildings Council may be, I do not see how they can estimate with a reasonable degree of accuracy what their expenditure will be within one financial year. There is a strong case for my right hon. Friend's pressing the Treasury for a grant to be given to the Council not on an annual basis but on a five-year basis, just as the Treasury does in relation to University grants and the British Council.

I now turn to the question of the repayment of grants in cases where houses which have received them are subsequently sold. The hon. Member for Widnes referred to this matter. I agree with him that this is not an easy problem. If an owner receives a grant in respect of his house in order to prevent it falling into disrepair, since the grant comes from public money the house should be open to the public. That rule has to be applied with a certain amount of commonsense, however, because we are dealing with a series of different types of houses.

It is one thing quite rightly to impose this condition upon a great house with an enormous suite of state rooms and formal gardens and say that all of it must be open to the public if the owner has received a grant. But that is not the only category of house with which we are dealing. There is also the small manor house—referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford—which has perhaps four or five bedrooms, a couple of sitting rooms and a very small garden. Such a house may be of great architectural value, but it would be unfair to expect the owner to have the public running about all over the place on two or three days a week. For that kind of house the right solution would be to say the members of the public should be allowed to visit it upon application to the owner.

If a group of people happen to be interested in that type of architecture or in the design of the garden, or in some piece of furniture or a picture in the house, they should be allowed to see them on application to the owner. Although such a house may be of great architectural quality the owner cannot be expected to have the public in the house two or three days a week as might well happen if the house was geographically in a rather popular area. That would seem to me unreasonable. I know that the Historic Buildings Council does not impose that condition on the owner of that sort of house, and quite rightly.

There is a third category, which may include a house of first-class importance but which geographically is almost inaccessible. Such a house may qualify for a grant under all the rules, but the cost of maintaining it, of smartening it up to the sort of condition the public rightly demands, would be vastly in excess of what the owner could possibly recoup in the form of half-crowns from visitors on one or two days a week. So I think that the condition that houses in receipt of a grant must be open to the public has to be applied not by rule of thumb but with a certain amount of common sense.

I feel that the grant should be attached to the house and not to the owner. When or if an owner sells the property, having received a grant, there would be an obligation on the purchaser to undertake to fulfil the obligations of the previous owner and to keep the house open to the public, in exactly the same way as in the case of a woodland property which has been dedicated under a Forestry Commission covenant and for which a grant has been made for planting and maintenance. The new owner of such a property is expected to undertake the obligations of the previous owner in carrying on the planting programme and abiding by the rules of good afforestation. If he does not, he repays the grant.

I am not at all certain whether my right hon. Friend could so arrange matters that this could be the subject of legislation. I do not believe that these things can be worked out by rule of thumb. Some time limit would have to be imposed. That would be the first difficulty. Suppose there had been a grant of £10,000 in 1955 in respect of a house which was subsequently sold in 1970. What is the value of the grant which the new owner would have to repay if he did not want to keep the property open to the public? I do not know how that could be worked out.

Take a second case where an owner died suddenly. He may have died a few months after the work on the historic house which he owned had been completed. Suppose he was killed in a motor accident. His trustees or executors would be in the unenviable position, not only of having in all probability to find rather heavy death duties, but also of repaying the grant which had been paid perhaps only a few months before.

In that sort of eventuality if these kind of conditions, however unexpected, were likely to arise, we might well destroy half the object of the whole scheme, because owners of houses in the top class which ought to qualify for a grant would refuse to apply for such a grant if they were getting on in years, or not in very good health, for fear the executors would have to repay the grant when they died. That is a problem which has to be looked at much more carefully than anything envisaged in their Report by the hon. Member for Widnes and his colleagues on the Select Committee.

I was also interested in the recommendation that the Historic Buildings Council and the Treasury should get together to see whether there ought to be interest-free loans. I agree with the Select Committee, but I was not frightfully impressed by the Treasury argument that a loan would not have much security. I cannot see why a loan made over a period of years should be less secure than a grant made in one year. Nor do I think that a loan ought necessarily to be given instead of a grant. There ought to be considerable licence. It ought not to be an "either/or" transaction, but in exceptional cases it might be "both and".

There is no doubt whatever that the historic houses hold great attractions for the general public. The published figures show that each summer somewhere just short of 2 million visitors pay half-a-crown, or whatever the sum might be, to go to look at historic houses which have been in receipt of a grant from the Historic Building Council. There is not the slightest doubt, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said, that when the public go to look at an historic house, they infinitely prefer to see a house as the living entity of a home instead of some vast, empty, marble mausoleum containing only ghosts of the past. The one is living and the other is dead; the one has an atmosphere and the other is a vacuum. There is no doubt, whether on grounds of the economics of sheer cost or on grounds of sentiment, that it is far more expensive to get a house back into decent repair once it has been abandoned than if it can be saved before it is abandoned.

For these reasons I think we in this House tonight—my noble Friend and others—ought to ask ourselves, bearing in mind the number of houses and other buildings—public and private—of great architectural and historic importance, whether one-twentieth of 1 per cent. of the total sum we spend annually in this country on buildings of all kinds is sufficient to be devoted to historic buildings.

9.14 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

First, I wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) for the way in which he introduced this debate, and those who have participated in it for the tributes they have paid to the work of the Historic Buildings Council, of which I have been a member from its beginning and in which we have had only one change—when the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) was substituted for the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), who attained the high dignity of a seat on the Government Front Bench.

I can assure the hon. Member that all his old colleagues valued the great work he did as a chartered surveyor in assisting us in our negotiations with some of the house owners who applied to us. In fact, towards the end of his association with us, I began to wonder whether, if they all claimed all that they could by way of Income Tax and agricultural subsidies, there would be any need for the Historic Buildings Council at all, but that they could all be expected to keep up their houses out of money they had not previously known how to get. However, I am afraid that his ingenuity would not have been quite sufficient to relieve us of all our duties.

In addition to interest in historic buildings, I have had a long-sustained interest in ancient monuments. I want to congratulate the Ministry of Works and successive Ministers on the improvement they have established in the custodians and guides employed at these places. I recollect being shown around Holyrood House about 40 years ago, in a small party that included two American ladies, by a guide who had obviously been a non-commissioned officer in a Scottish regiment. In each room, the American ladies started asking questions, and the guide then had to go back to the beginning. If his recitation was interrupted, he had to start again—he could not take it up in the middle.

In recent visits to big and small ancient monuments where guides and custodians are in service, I have been greatly impressed by the way in which those people have received instruction which they are able to impart to the visitors, and which enables them to answer questions whether they are asked before the start, or in the middle of their recitation, or at the end of it. That adds very considerably to the pleasure of visiting these places.

I want now to deal with one remark of the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe). We are handicapped by Government accounting. As long as Government accounts are kept on a receipts and payments instead of on an income and expenditure basis, everybody connected with the service will be handicapped by financial arrangements that are limited to the period of one year. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's remarks will not fall on deaf ears.

There were some criticisms in the questioning of the Chairman of the Historic Buildings Council for England—who brings to his task a great knowledge, not merely of the buildings but of the owners, and who assists us very considerably in our deliberations. I noticed that there was some criticism of expenditure on town halls. One finds that the history of this House is very largely associated with most of these town halls in small villages which, prior to 1832, were "rotten boroughs." It appears to have been one of the levies made on the two Members of Parliament for a borough that they should build a town hall and maintain it. Their successors in the great county divisions do not now, apparently, regard themselves as being called on to uphold that tradition.

Some of these buildings are gems of civic architecture. I think of the Town Hall of Wallingford—one of the bigger and better of them—to which the Historic Buildings Council recommended a grant, and there are others dotted about in what are now small villages. They should be preserved as reminders of the past and of the way in which things have altered in recent years. I do not think we ought to have been criticised for being a little bit too casual in our attitude towards some of our duties, because the point that was raised by the hon. Member for Windsor is a matter that has to be settled in conversations which we do not want to get too formal in order to have the two sides arguing as if this were some intricate and difficult legal transaction.

The extent to which a small family—I mean small in numbers—can be inconvenienced if they are the owners of one of these houses which it is necessary to preserve must be taken into account when we are trying to arrange how the public access shall be secured and granted. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are some cases where one day a week by appointment may be sufficient access, if it is well advertised and understood, but one does not want to be told that the Tuesday in the second week of the month or the fourth Wednesday in the month will be sufficient. There should be the quite clear understanding, which can be advertised in the local hostelries, as to the periods when the house is open, and provided that access is secured, and it always must be secured, I think it is a matter for arrangement. If the way in which it is entered into is a little too casual, I do not think that that is a criticism which we need fear.

Now we come to the big house. I thought that I had managed to get to Castle Howard in circumstances which would not reveal my identity. I went with the Archaeological and Historical Society of my constituency of South Shields on a Sunday excursion, but I regret to say that they had felt it necessary to inform the owners of Castle Howard that they would be accompanied by their Member of Parliament. So I was received by the wife of the owner, a very charming lady, and was wished "Good-bye" by the owner. My view about Castle Howard is this. I very much doubt if anybody has ever had a hot dinner there, and that is one of the difficulties of imagining life in these great houses. I am certain it ought never to have been built, but having been built I am quite certain that it must be maintained. If I may say so to my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes, it is also important that the garden buildings, to which he alluded, should be preserved, provided that that can be done at reasonable expense.

Mr. John McCann (Rochdale)

That was the difficulty that we found—that £20,000 for the garden buildings, the statues and the temple was far too much, when other historic buildings were crying out for more money.

Mr. Ede

It is not a matter of £20,000 per year, but once it is spent it will suffice for part of the expenditure for a good many years indeed. The estate also requires embellishments. We must not forget that Capability Brown and others transformed dreary expanses into vistas which are a delight to every human eye. It is as well to remind ourselves that the English genius has presented us with landscapes far better than anything nature could have done. We should remember always the statement of the Vicar to the poor man when he congratulated him on the way in which God and he had made such a beautiful garden. The poor man said, "You ought to have seen it, Sir, before I came on the scene". This is all part of our heritage.

We were seriously handicapped in our work when a predecessor of the noble Lord declined to let us take any account of what we called "outstanding group value". I rejoice that the noble Lord has reversed that decision. What most of us regard as the typical English scene is the village street in a small market town in which no one building is of great outstanding architectural value, but which as a whole is unique and reminiscent of the England which is developing continually. It is the same with the cottages, the church and the vicarage round a village green. If they make a beautiful picture, although no one house can be said to be of outstanding architectural interest and no one knows who the architect was, if there ever was one, they make a picture far more typical of the English life than Castle Howard or other great houses

We were concerned at the reaction of an owner who asked what it would cost to put his house in order. When he was told he said "When it was built in the early eighteenth century it did not cost half as much. Therefore, how can it cost as much to put it in order today?" What the hon. Member for Ashford said about dry rot and how once one starts opening up one never knows what will be discovered is one of the answers to that query.

The House has had good value for the money it has laid down. I wish we could find a few more houses that describe a humbler life than that which was lived in the large houses which account for so much of our expenditure. I am certain that the smaller houses represented the happier lives, the more useful lives, and a better history of the English people.

9.29 p.m.

Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)

I want to mention only two matters which I consider to be important. Anyone who has listened to the debate will realise that the work which is being done by the Ministry is greatly appreciated. The devoted approach of the people in the Ministry and those who work with them in this matter calls for mention, but as my hon. Friend, the Member for Ashford (Mr Deedes) said, also for a conscious balance. In my view, an effort should be made to make many of our ancient monuments more attractive and more suitable places for people to visit, and perhaps to stay for a time to enjoy the beauty.

The best illustration I can give is that of Stonehenge, which is, I believe, the one monument we have which really makes a handsome profit. At Stonehenge there is now, or there was when we went there some time ago, a comparatively small place where teas are served. Everything is hugger-mugger, with sweets, picture postcards and all the rest in a confined space. We were told that this small building had not been replaced by more suitable and adequate premises because, if anything of that kind were built, there would be a danger of it spoiling the monument.

Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)

Hear, hear.

Sir E. Errington

I doubt that very much.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

Will not my hon. Friend agree that much of the charm of Stonehenge lies in its magnificent open setting? Any restaurant or car parking facilities would have to be very carefully sited out of view. Indeed, that is the criticism one could make of the present car parking arrangements.

Sir E. Errington

I agree, of course, that it would need careful siting, but there is a dip in the ground where an appropriate building could be located. That is but one example of an approach which is not, I think, fully understood by the Ministry.

I go further and say that I should like there to be son et lumiere performances at some of our ancient monuments. They should not take place only in occupied buildings, although I know that the present idea is that they should. For instance, Fountans Abbey, with its lovely green sweep down from the actual ruins, would be an excellent place for such a public occasion. If people could be gathered ther for a special purpose of that kind, we should vastly increase the popularity of those lovely buildings. I hope that my noble Friend will consider such possibilities. Classical plays, medieval plays and the like performed within or about our ancient monuments could do much to increase the knowledge and use of our wonderful heritage of buildings.

9.33 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I thank the Estimates Committee, the Sub-Committee and the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), for the work which has been done for the public benefit and for the way in which it has been put before us both in the Report and in what has been said tonight. On behalf of all my hon. and right hon. Friends, I join in thanking also those who serve voluntarily on the various bodies which give advice and which work in that process which is called listing, scheduling and recording.

Substantially and broadly, the Minister is accepting the Report of the Estimates Committee, subject to three points which await the investigation of a Treasury working party. I look with some suspicion on Treasury working parties. I hope that they will proceed with reasonable rapidity and with due regard to the public interest. On the other hand, I have the impression that there is too much overlapping in the business of listing, scheduling and recording and that if approached in a sensible manner the work can be not only cheapened but expedited, which I think is very important. Progress in some respects is disappointingly slow.

Secondly, the Report provides some very useful and interesting information. This is a continually changing problem. I hope that the Ministry will find it possible to resume the practice of issuing annual reports and letting us see what goes on. We should not have to depend on the recommendation of an Estimates Committee.

I attach the greatest importance to what is called presentation. It does not seem to me that our heritage can be regarded in the abstract. It is there for the people of the country to look at. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that much of it consists of groups of small buildings, the preservation of which in one form or another is just as important as the preservation of large houses. That is perhaps the concern of the planning authority rather than the Ministry.

I wish to make three points about large houses. First, there are plenty of cases in which a house may even be acquired and the owner may go on living in it. I hope that the possibility of putting quite a number of people into some large and unmanageable buildings will not be forgotten. The housing conditions in some parts of the country still leave much to be desired, and we should not be so careful of every nicety of preservation that we omit to consider that possibility. I can think of other possible uses, but perhaps that is enough for the moment.

Secondly, what we do concerning the surroundings of buildings ought to be tested by one rather simple standard. In the Report there are lists of visitors year by year. Sometimes the number of visitors goes up, sometimes it goes down. Sometimes it goes up very sharply. It seems to me that that is the right test to apply. If fewer people are going to a certain monument, we should consider why. I can give several possible reasons. First, I do not entirely agree that we ought to neglect the surroundings, at any rate in many oases. A second reason is the tea problem and the third is the question of what is presentation, advertisement, or whatever one may call it, both at home and abroad. After reading the Report, I am not at all happy that that matter has been sufficiently considered. A great deal has been left to the tourist organisations. For instance, there does not seem to be any comprehensive guide or map. I should have thought that there was a great deal to be said for something of that sort.

I now wish to say a word or two about owners. I hope that attention will be given to the possibility of obtaining people's Income Tax figures when a grant is being considered. The Treasury was in favour of that. The figures must be given by the man asking for the grant and not by any one else.

Lastly, I feel that if local authorities are to be approached there is room for tackling, not only the parish councils—and we must remember that there is not such a thing as a parish council in Scotland—but also the county councils a little more thoroughly than appears to have been done. I promised to take a very short time, and I sit down wishing the Ministry well in this work. This is no party matter.

9.39 p.m.

The Minister of Works (Lord John Hope)

The Committee used these words very early in its report: Your Committee would like to record the good impression received of the high regard and respect in which the Department and its officers are held. In making some specific criticisms and suggestions. Your Committee hope that they will be considered against this background of a task wisely and prudently discharged. I do not quote those words in any way as a mark of complacency on my part—far from it. I and my Department regard this tribute as a spur, not only to the maintenance of our standards but to their improvement whenever and wherever possible.

I add my personal tribute to those which have been so freely paid on both sides of the House to those who serve me in the Ministry. I also include in that tribute the Historic Buildings Councils and their Chairmen. I sum up that introduction by offering humbly my congratulations to this Committee on a very valuable and thoroughly constructive Report. This great task of the preservation and presentation of our past—for that is what it is—is a most inspiring challenge, and it is impossible to separate one of those two aspects from the other and it is necessary to preserve the balance between them.

I am most grateful to the House for the way in which the balance has been so helpfully preserved during the debate. I and those with me do our best—and it is not always easy—to preserve the right balance. I wish to pay one more tribute. It is in the context of presentation. I am sure the House would wish me to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) who as Parliamentary Secretary to my Ministry did so much along the lines of presentation.

The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) referred to his feelings romantically and not unsuitably as those of a twittering songbird on the field of battle. It was a song which I think was thoroughly to the liking of the House, and I will take up one or two of its notes. He came straight to the point, which other hon. Members have touched on, namely, the apparent confusion of various sources of action here. I say "apparent" because undoubtedly there does seem to be some confusion. I do not believe that the confusion is quite as bad as it seems, but nevertheless there is undoubtedly a case to be looked into and, as the House knows, it is being looked at now by this Working Party. I assure the House that the Working Party is getting on with its work extremely well and quickly. It has got right into the investigation already. It is meeting regularly, and it is composed of Ministers.

The hon. Member next dealt with presentation. He made a point, which was taken up later by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford and other hon. Members, concerning the chance that existed to stir up local authorities. I certainly echo the words used in this debate concerning local authorities. I particularly echo the words of one hon. Member who divided the local authorities into the extremely helpful and the less helpful ones, to put it no lower.

I and my Ministry are extremely grateful to those local authorities who have helped us and are helping so much. There are, however, some authorities who still do not seem to realise that it is their duty, just as it is the duty of others of us, to take an interest in the past of the country so far as it concerns them. I regret to say that I have encountered one instance where an official of the county council expressed his view that it was no business of the ratepayers to take any interest in the past. If that were at all widespread, it would be serious, but, thank goodness, it is not.

Local authorities, except district councils, have power under the Ancient Monuments Act, 1913, to buy or to take guardianship or to make grants. They have had the power all these years. I hope very much that as a result of this debate, there will be a reawakening of interest and a readiness to attack the problems on the part of some local authorities who have not so far seen their way to do so.

The hon. Member for Widnes made a plea, which, like so much else, was echoed by both sides of the House, that reasonable amenities must be provided without vulgarisation. The hon. Member said that we must have adequate facilities and elementary comforts. As the Committee recognised and as, I think, the House knows, we are doing our level best to get right up to date in this context.

My hon. Friend the Member for Alder-shot (Sir E. Errington) asked about Stonehenge. This is what I am anxious to do—and I have put my request to the National Trust, which owns the surrounding land—I want to substitute one low, unobtrusive building for the three little buildings which now exist and which are not particularly beautiful. I hope very much that I shall receive a helpful answer from the Trust.

The existing car park and the main hut have been there for twenty-five years and have not spoilt Stonehenge for anybody. If one stands anywhere near Stonehenge, however, one cannot fail to see the ugliness of Larkhill in the distance. Any hope that one can get back to the sort of neolithic openness that was once ideal is, therefore, doomed to failure.

The hon. Member for Widnes also asked me to concentrate on the most promising examples. I think that he meant that we should pick out the most promising schemes on which to launch our attack. That is precisely what we have been doing for some time and what we accelerated last year. There was an extremely interesting result, the subject of which the hon. Member mentioned, namely, Scarborough Castle. The result of our attack there has been a 54. 6 per cent. increase in admissions and a 73. 1 per cent. increase in sales. It shows therefore what can be done if one brings the right amount of artillery to bear on the right target, and we shall continue on these lines.

The hon. Member criticised the provision of signs at Scarborough. We may already have seen to that but I will check on it. At any rate progress at Scarborough belies the criticisms which the hon. Member felt that he ought to levy. On the question of cutting the grass too much there are two views. One must keep the grass down to protect the monument and also to ensure that the plan is perfectly clear for those who want to see it.

The hon. Member also asked how we applied the test to an application for a grant for a historic building. Probably by accident, but significantly, he omitted the operative word when he quoted the words "historic or archaeological interest". The operative word is "outstanding". That is the answer to the hon. Member's question on the test and that is the test which the Historic Buildings Councils try to apply.

Several hon. Members made the point, which was worth mentioning, that these grants should not be intended to help the owner. Indirectly they do because they help the owner to repair what he has got, but it would be a great mistake for anyone to look at these grants in the context of some person receiving them from the taxpayer for himself. The money given in these grants must be paid in the course of the repair of the house concerned, and that is in the public interest. That is all there is to that point and to the anxiety which I know is felt from time to time in the country.

I was asked whether we put too much on the Chairmen of the Councils. I do not think that we do and I hope that we do not. We have been very fortunate in our chairmen. We have always tried, and we must try, to get the best men. If one gets a good chairman he must be by definition an able man capable of stand- ing pretty tough burdens. Those we have are certainly able to do that.

The question of the financial position of the owner when he asks for a grant is important. It is not an easy matter, but I assure the House that in every case the chairman of the relevant Historic Buildings Council goes confidentially but absolutely thoroughly into the owner's means. I believe that as long as this system works as it is now working this is much the best way to deal with the matter.

On the question of the repayment of grants on sale, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe) and the hon. Member for Widnes referred, as I said in my answers to the Select Committee's recommendations, that will be examined. It would be wrong for me to express any opinion on it, because if one is going to examine something one is going to examine it, and I shall examine it with a very open mind. I can see possible snags here in terms of grants not being asked for where they should be asked for in the interests of the public when a house ought to be repaired. This must be considered very carefully.

We heard about Castle Howard. I was extremely glad that both sides of the House felt that on the whole this difficult case was rightly tackled. Not the least enchanting part of the story was the visit of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) to this lovely place.

Great houses or small houses—there is no arbitrary division. So long as a great house or a small house, or a group, is outstanding in the opinion of an Historic Buildings Council, then it will recommend a grant. There is the difficult point about standards in one country as opposed to standards in another. One or two hon. Members did not feel too happy about that, but I believe it to be right.

It is very difficult to decide how one can differentiate, but, like other things which are difficult to describe, this does work. We have a council in each country. Each Council knows the standards in its country better than anyone else. Then, if there is difficulty as between a recommendation from one country and a recommendation from another country, in the end there is the Minister and his expert advisers to try to hold a fair balance. I believe that this differentiation is vital in the interests of the three countries.

The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) made a point about which I want to reassure him. It concerned whether power should be taken to open up buildings. We have looked into it, and the legal position is that we already have that power under the Act. Until the point arose, I do not think that it was certain that we had the power, but we have now ascertained that we do possess it.

Low interest loans were mentioned, and again I have undertaken to consider it. One can see difficulties, but the idea has merits.

My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor made a number of valuable points, and he dealt with the dilemma of an Historic Buildings Council in seeing a few jobs done superbly well or many jobs rather less well done. I believe that he was right in saying that the present system is correct: what we do we must do superbly well, and if that means that other jobs cannot be done it also means that we have done what we have done to the best of our ability.

I am most grateful to the House for the way in which the debate has gone. For my part, I wish that we had more opportunities to discuss this important matter. This has been rather a short debate, and I would have liked to have heard more hon. Members, for it is most helpful to me to do so. However, I hope that this will not be the last opportunity to discuss a subject which is not a light one and which has a great deal to do with the past of these countries and the example that we can give to the world in the future.

Mr. F. Noel-Baker

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, could he answer a question about Stonehenge? Would he examine the possibility of putting these various facilities underground before he commits himself? We hope that one day the unsightly phenomena at Larkhill will be removed. In the meantime is it not possible to put them underground?

Lord John Hope

We have had a go at the lavatories already. They are already underground. No doubt the hon. Member will agree that this is a question of priorities and that we have tackled it in the right way so far. It was an expensive job. It would be extremely expensive to put the car park and the other things underground.

Mr. MacColl

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Committee Tomorrow.