HC Deb 17 February 1961 vol 634 cc2025-36

4.1 p.m.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Noble.]

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

The matter that I raise this afternoon is one in which you, Mr. Speaker, as a trustee of the British Museum, will be ultimately a party affected, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, likewise a trustee.

Two days ago, we had a debate on historic buildings, homes and the like and a fair amount of ground was covered. I do not propose to trespass on any of the material covered in that debate. I propose to take the subject this afternoon from the angle of the importance of tourism, both at home and overseas, and of the necessity that the Government should regard this as an acute problem, both financial and intellectual and from the viewpoint of the tourist.

We find it difficult to see to which Ministry one should direct one's charges. The Treasury, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Works and various different bodies are concerned with different aspects of the fine arts. All are concerned with different aspects of old and historic buildings and monuments in one way or another.

The first matter with which I want to deal briefly is that in my view, the time has now come when the Government, through a committee of Ministers and, ultimately, by legislation, if necessary, should secure the reorganisation of the Ministries so that one Ministry is able to cover the whole range of these fine arts and the existing duplicity of effort be removed. That Ministry, drawing upon the officials and upon other advisers from other Ministries, should then he able to fold into one Department and co-ordinate future work for the benefit of the nation.

A great deal more co-ordination is necessary within the Ministry of Works concerning historic monuments and buildings. It would be advantageous if within one Department it were possible to cull and bring in for the benefit of that Department, through sub-committees or other available methods, the work of the different advisory bodies and in this way try to secure that we are able to get an infinitely greater cohesion between the Ministry, the Civil Service and the other interested bodies.

Last summer, I spent a great part of my holiday studying this problem in the United States of America to see what experience we could draw from them. Following that, I went on to meet the leading hotel groups. The first of the recommendations which I brought back is that for the promotion of tourism, both at home and overseas, it is essential that we should have a central bureau of information in London from which tourists can obtain the information they want about what they wish to see throughout the United Kingdom, be it in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England.

To that bureau of information could go the travel agents and those responsible for tours in order to get the requisite information. It should be directly analogous to the sort of office that one finds in New York of the British Travel and Holidays Association, which is so useful when one goes to that city. It is needed in this country to deal with overseas.

The second thing which is absent is any proper national guide-book to places of historic interest in this country including monuments and homes, be they under the National Trust or otherwise. There is one book which one cannot get nowadays from W. H. Smith and Sons. It is either out of print, or unobtainable. Such a book should have within it everything about the homes, museums, monuments and the National Trust homes, together with hours of opening. It should include a large map at the back with different coloured pinpoints dealing with different places of interest. Inset there should be another map giving us the benefit of information about some of the places in. London.

The next thing is that there must be direct co-ordination between the Ministry and the travel agents throughout the country through the bureau, to provide the requisite information for those who wish to see the beauties of this country. Take Harlech, for example. How many people know the glories of Harlech? How many people know how to get there, or when they get there are they able to find the proper car park? Is it possible to get a proper meal in an adequate restaurant? That is one of many examples which I could give.

In my work in the United States I did a few television programmes and one was on a day in the life of a tourist. I suggested that Americans coming to London should take care to go in one day to Penshurst, to see one of the finest examples of a fifteenth century house, and then to Knowle, to see one of the finest examples of seventeenth century house, and then on to Merryweather, to see one of the greatest features of domestic Palladian architecture in this country.

Certainly, a tourist would go to the Tower of London and maybe on to Stonehenge. Would he there find adequate catering facilities? No. Would he find a proper place to park his car? No. The difficulty is, of course, the division between those who recognise that the tourist will provide the money for the intellectual to spend, and the attitude of the intellectual who is terrified that there shall exist any opportunity for anyone other than the scholar to examine these things.

I am a collector. It is my sole hobby in life, and this afternoon it is no effort for me to speak any more than it will be for my hon. Friend to reply. I am speaking about my hobby, because my sole hobby in life in dealing with the collections of antiques and living in and being associated with homes of this nature. Therefore, I can assure the House that I do not speak as a Philistine purely for the benefit of tourism, but because I think that this unholy marriage between the tourist and the intellectual should be achieved to provide the money we so badly need for the benefit of what we all wish to do, to educate people about the glories of this country.

In this matter, the Press, television and education can play a part. Far greater importance must be given to a public relations department of the Ministry, or the Treasury, or the Ministry of Education, until the whole thing becomes co-ordinated. This Department should be continually in touch with the Press so that the fullest information is available of all the things we propose to do. What do we propose to do about Audley End? Are we to have a son et lutniere? Are the Press to be told in advance?

What about the television travelling link? Cannot the travel unit go to see some of the houses and take films for our pleasure, in the way in which both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. have done in individual lectures by some of the most renowned authorities? Let us hear from some of these authorities, or, better still, from those who actually live in the home. That may be considered to be difficult, but if we want to find out how to do it, we can get all the information from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts which has prepared, and carried out with great success, a series designed inside a museum. Of course, that presents a much more difficult problem. I do not propose to deal with it this afternoon, because I should be out of order in doing so. But I think that it would be very easy to deal with national monuments and places of architectural interest.

In the education of the public it is necessary, first, to get the assistance of television and the Press. Then there is the question of signposting. As one goes round a building, it should not be necessary to have a guide or to have to rummage in a book for information, particularly in relation to architecture. Arrangements could be made for what I would describe as wall-posting so that the visitor could see exactly what it was to which his attention had been drawn. If one enters Knowle, for example, one is taken round by a guide who will accentuate, quite properly, all the matters of seventeenth century interest, but, as one goes in, one enters one of the finest fifteenth century gateways that one can see.

There is the question of "walkie-talkie apparatus. Some years ago I suggested to Sir John Rothenstein that we should have "walkie-talkie" sets in these places, but is it possible to break down the feeling against that? In the great gallery in Washington the apparatus is set up in every single room, and in some cases benefactors give it. If one is going round alone—as I like to do, because I hate the crowd—one is then able to take up the instrument and, through it, to have the benefit of a first-class lecture by an expert on the subject.

I turn to the question of lighting. Paris lights everything that is magnificent, in l'Etoile and the monuments of the city. I should like on a lovely summer night to see Stonehenge lit in the style of son et lumiere to bring it out on the horizon. I should like to see lighting, as far as it can be done, on all our great buildings. I should like local authorities, where these buildings do not come under the control of the Trust, to consider advancing money for this purpose. I regret that in Thanet we are very limited, but what a magnificent sight it is when we see a place like Chilham Castle, in Kent, lit up for the benefit of the public. The display by lighting of all small and great places would be of great value.

I turn to the question of lighting. Paris lights everything that is magnificent, in 1'Etoile and the monuments of the city. I should like on a lovely summer night to see Stonehenge lit in the style of son et lumière to bring it out on the horizon. I should like to see lighting, as far as it can be done, on all our great buildings. I should like local authorities, where these buildings do not come under the control of the Trust, to consider advancing money for this purpose. I regret that in Thanet we are very limited, but what a magnificent sight it is when we see a place like Chilham Castle, in Kent, lit up for the benefit of the public. The display by lighting of all small and great places would be of great value.

I turn to the facilities in houses to which tourists go. There are books and postcards on sale, but it is important that the person in charge should make an attractive display of them and that the books or cards should not be flyblown and moth-eaten. They should be up to date and attractively laid out, with plenty of postcards and stamps to go with them, but there is never such a stamp. Let them also, in some way. draw attention to the particular build- ings the visitor is seeing, the architectural or historical interest in them, so that the tourist who sends a card to a friend can feel that he scores in relation to the friend at home.

It is essential, when we put our great buildings on show, that they should be attractive to the public at large as well as to the scholar. We must have the trained staff to do this. First, we need craftsmen such as those in the old days. The reason why today we are interested in a Ming vase or fifteenth century architecture is that there were greater craftsmen in those days than there are today, but this need not be a problem in future. I suggest it is time that we had, under Government sponsorship or some particular body which in turn could sponsor it, a national school for guilders, carvers and stonemasons.

There is an acute shortage of them, as I know to my recent cost. To train a guilder does not take a long time and is not a very arduous undertaking. A carver requires great skill, but I believe that those responsible for really fine carving work should be drawn to this task. Outside the Ministry of Works today, goodness knows where we would find really good masons. The Ministry must, in all conscience, know how very short we are of them.

I suggest that training should take place in this way. I also suggest that there should be some method by which we could train the guides. It is not only the few empty homes with which this Ministry is concerned, but the myriad of other homes. What a difference it makes when one gets a guide who has a tender and moving knowledge of his subject. We know who are the good guides to this House. I am not going to give the name of my guide who takes my constituency party round the House.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Richard Thompson)

I am sure that my hon. Friend takes his own party round and serves an equally useful purpose in that way.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I do not. I rely upon an expert, and it is my belief that this afternoon we should secure such experts for the benefit of the tourist public. I conclude by saying that in opening up this topic today I recognise that we have on the one side the so-called Phillistines of the public, the tourists—both national and international—and on the other side, the scholar, the intellectual. I happen to be interested on both sides of this fence. I believe that their marriage can be achieved. I do not believe or expect that much can be achieved this afternoon, but I hope that my hon. Friend can say that he will ensure that he and the other Ministries involved—the Treasury, the Ministry of Education, the Board of Trade, and those concerned with information in the widest context—will treat this subject seriously.

I notice another Minister sitting on the Front Bench who is concerned with the tourist trade aspect, and has been for some years. I am convinced that the number of tourists coming into the country within the next three to four years can, and will, be doubled, but it will not be a success if, in coming to the hotels—when we have improved them—there is no central means by which they, and those advising them, can find out where they want to go, plan it, and, when they get there, see that there are the finest facilities that our hospitality can offer.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Richard Thompson)

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) for raising this important matter in the way in which he has. It give me an opportunity to show our keen awareness of the importance of our ancient monuments and historic buildings, not only intrisically for what they are, but as attractions for tourism, which was the underlying theme of my hon. Friend's speech.

A great deal of what he said, as he admitted, covered the responsibilities of other Departments and I am limited to answering for my own Department. Nevertheless, I hope to show that the contribution made by the Ministry of Works to this matter is already important, that it is growing and that we are anxious to make the most of what we have to show.

At the commencement of my hon. Friend's speech he made some comments on the question of the organisation within the Ministry of Works, suggesting that we draw more closely together the voluntary and other bodies, whose work has some impact on what we are trying to do. I have a great deal of sympathy for what my hon. Friend says in that respect. He knows that there is a Working Group, of which I am a member, now sitting under the chairmanship of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. It is currently examining this problem in a particular field, namely, whether the various bodies which are involved in the recording, listing and scheduling of monuments are doing the work in the best possible way or whether there is, perhaps, overlapping and duplication.

I expect that in the course of this examination consideration will be given to some of the matters which the hon. Gentleman raised this afternoon. I would not want him to think too easily that there necessarily is overlapping or duplication. That is what we are looking into. The House can be assured that an administrative tidiness can be achieved by doing certain things but what often happens in the end is that various skilled people are taken off the tasks for which they are trained and applied to other tasks where people of such experience and knowledge are not needed. I do not think I need go into that in any great detail this afternoon. It will be better to wait to see what the Working Group has to say about it.

In dealing with my hon. Friend's speech, perhaps I should say a word or two about our own policy in the matter of the presentation to the public of ancient monuments. Later I will deal with some of the more general points.

As part of this policy, my Department has for a long, time provided picture postcards. Over the last forty years we have been producing guide books each of which gives an authoritative account of the history of a site and all that there is on it for the visitor to see. The production of these guides, which have a very high reputation, is a slow process, because the research involved is often long and it is not always easy to find the right authors with the necessary time available to do this work. Nevertheless, we have produced 246 standard guides, of which 137 have come out since the war. I assure my hon. Friend that none of these figures includes reprints, revisions or the popular or card guides. In addition, at 230 of our smaller monuments, where the number of visitors does not justify the production of separate guide books, descriptive notices are being erected of the history and importance of the monuments. That is as far as we can go in respect of those monuments where there are more limited attendances.

My Department's primary purpose is the preservation and maintenance of these historic and ancient buildings, but, while acknowledging that, it does not ignore this very welcome growth of public and tourist attention to which my hon. Friend referred. Our postcards have been improved and a new series of individual guide books have been introduced. Regional guides, which we started to publish before the war, now cover the whole country, and colour transparencies have been produced to meet strong public demand. A few years ago a series of popular pictorial guide books for the greater monuments was introduced.

The fact that the public have appreciated my Department's work is shown by the remarkable record of attendances at ancient monuments. The number of visitors has increased steadily, especially since the war, no doubt thanks to the growing ownership of motor cars and holidays with pay. In addition, there has been a spate of articles, books, and radio and television programmes on subjects of archaeology and history, leading to an immense growth of interest in our antiquities.

The growing ease and the cheapness of world travel have brought more and more visitors to our shores with the result that Britain now has a most important tourist industry instead of merely providing, as used to be the case, the bulk of the foreign travellers to support the tourist industries of France and Switzerland. It is now becoming the other way round. During the past few years there has been a most marked and welcome growth of public interest in ancient monuments. For instance, in 1955 we had just over 5,800,000 visitors to ancient monuments and historic buildings in our care, and by 1960 this had grown to over 6,700,000.

This has placed on my Ministry a much greater responsibility for presentation work. The man on the coach tour and the woman from the holiday camp have developed an interest in what we are setting out to do and what we have to show, but they need guidance and a reasonable opportunity for rest and relaxation, as well as instruction. Because we recognise all those things, we set up a Departmental Committee in 1958 under the then Parliamentary Secretary. I am now Chairman of it. It is to advise my right hon. Friend on the general arrangements for presenting to the public the monuments and historic buildings in our care. We stepped up our activities in the past year.

Our main aims are as follows: first, to inform people where the monuments are by improved road signposting; secondly, to make it clear to visitors why the monuments are of interest, so that they will understand why they were charged to go in and why public funds have been spent on their upkeep—this being done by means of helpful, interesting and easily comprehensible guides; and, thirdly, to provide rest and where possible refreshment to the visitor after his tour of the monument, by means of seats, bookstalls, refreshment facilities and proper lavatory accommodation.

We have been giving increasing attention to the production of pictorial or souvenir guide books to supplement the standard official guide books for the more popular monuments. The Stonehenge-Avebury guide is an impressive and vary successful example.

My hon. Friend said a few words on the subject of Stonehenge. I will tell him what we are trying to do there. In last Tuesday's debate my right hon. Friend explained what he was anxious to do. He said that he wanted to sweep away three inadequate and somewhat unsightly structures which at present neither adequately serve the public nor enhance the attractiveness of the surroundings. He proposes instead a low-pitched, unobtrusive, single-storey building which will combine under one roof the ticket selling, the sale of guide books, and the provision of teas, which are at present divided between two structures and a mobile trailer. The effect of my right hon. Friend's proposals will be to reduce, not add to, the clutter on the site.

Of course we want to preserve as far as we can the feeling of isolated grandeur which Stonehenge inspires, but there are practical limits to what we can do. Two busy main roads pass within a few hundred yards of the monument, and we must accept a steadily increasing volume of motor traffic on them. Since nearly all the visitors come by car, we must have a car park. The present one has been there for twenty-five years by permission of the National Trust, which agreed to its extension only last year. We must provide basic facilities for refreshments, the sale of guide books, and the collection of entrance money, just as we do at many other major monuments—for example, at the Tower of London and Hampton Court.

These proposals represent the best compromise between what the immense influx of visitors has a right to expect and the minimum interference with the appearance of the ruins as a whole. We should be failing in our duty to the public if we provided less or tried to pretend that we can really create the conditions of 1500 B.C. in the vicinity of the monument today.

We are most anxious to have these improvements functioning, if we can, in time for the tourist season this year and we are relying on the National Trust for its co-operation in agreeing to them, which we have had so readily in the past.

We cannot do everything we would like at all the monuments because of questions of expense, but we are doing what we can. In 1960, a Commercial Manager was appointed to help implement the policy of presentation. During the year the Presentation Committee concentrated on improving presentation at certain Yorkshire monuments, particularly Scarborough Castle. Improved selling techniques at Stonehenge and the Tower increased takings very significantly. Sales of publications were up by 67 per cent. and 50 per cent. respectively as compared with 1959.

My Department has agreed wholeheartedly with the views of the Select Committee on Estimates that the public should be encouraged to visit ancient monuments, not only to bring in revenue through increased admission receipts and sales, but also because, if monuments are to be maintained at public expense, it is right that members of the public should derive the maximum benefit from them.

I ought to mention a new season ticket scheme for all our monuments which we launched last April. Four thousand, six hundred and thirteen of these 7s. 6d. tickets have so far been sold, as against 53, for which we charged £1 each, in the preceding year. The gratifying demand for this season ticket has shown the effectiveness of the publicity arrangements that accompanied the launching of the new scheme. Currently, we are receiving about 60 applications a week from the United States and Canada, where the season ticket sells for one dollar. At Christmas-time a "Give a Season Ticket" campaign sold 857 tickets and a renewed publicity campaign for the ticket is planned for the spring.

We propose to consider programmes for providing more car parks, lavatories and refreshment facilities as funds are available and in accordance with need. For instance, on the question of our booklets, one of the best sellers in the world is the booklet on the Tower of London, which is currently selling at 100,000 copies a year. That is a rate of sale which puts it right in the Lady Chatterley's Lover class, but, of course, in the commercial sense and not with reference to morals or aesthetics.

We have other things in the pipeline. We are co-operating with Her Majesty's Stationery Office in an exhibition proposed to be held in August at Charing Cross Underground Station and a large section of this will feature ancient monuments and the publications connected with them. I am confident that large numbers of foreign visitors as well as the people of this country will patronise the exhibition.

On 17th March, I propose to open at the Heifer Gallery, Cambridge, an exhibition on the treasures of Audley End. The aim of the exhibition is to attract attention to this wonderful house in the care of our Ministry and to give a glimpse of the many beautiful things it contains.

We also keep a very careful watch on new building operations at likely sites so that when material of public interest is discovered we can take immediate steps to invite representatives of the Press—

The Question having been proposed after Four o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-nine minutes to Five o'clock.