HC Deb 24 January 1961 vol 633 cc7-9
8. Mr. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Works for what purpose his Department bought Iver Grove, Buckinghamshire; what was the date of purchase; what was the cost; how much public money has been spent on this house since that date; when it was sold by his Department; for how much it was sold; and what was the net profit or loss to public funds.

9. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Works if he will make a statement on the sale by his Department of Iver Grove, Buckinghamshire, which was acquired on a compulsory order in 1957 with a view to its preservation and opening to the public and in respect of which over £40,000 of public money has been spent covering the installation of central heating and a modern kitchen; for how much the property has been sold; and under what conditions it will be open to the public.

Lord John Hope

On the advice of the Historic Buildings Council for England, my Department acquired Iver Grove by agreement in February, 1957, under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act, 1953, in order to ensure its preservation. The purchase price was £2,700, and expenditure since then has been £37,500 on repairs and £850 on custody. An offer of £18,200 was accepted subject to contract on 11 th October, 1960, so that the net cost to public funds of preserving the building will be £22,850. The house and grounds will be open to the public by appointment.

Mr. Nabarro

Can my right hon. Friend explain to the House why it has been necessary to sell this property at a net loss to the taxpayers of no less than £22,000, according to his figures? Will he also confirm that the purchaser, for £18,000, is the Deputy Director-General of the National Coal Board—Mr. James Mitchell? Finally, will he say why he did not consult Mr. Clore and Mr. Cotton, who habitually make profits out of property deals, instead of incurring a hefty loss by his Department at the expense of British taxpayers?

Lord John Hope

I will answer what I think is the main point of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. The Historic Buildings Council considers that a grant representing the net cost of £22,850 would have been recommended if a private owner had satisfied it that such an amount was needed to preserve the property. It is a little misleading to consider the matter in terms of profit and loss alone, without reference to the object of the Act, which is to preserve houses of historic and outstanding architectural interest.

Mr. Dodds

Is it not a fact that at the local public inquiry, in 1954, the Minister's Department was warned that if it took over this building it would be a costly white elephant? As it is costing about £20,000 in public money, is it not a costly way of going about the matter to buy this building for the public to go into it and then to provide that visits by the public can be made only by appointment and to a limited extent, and also to make people pay to get in? If the Minister does not consider that the sum of £22,000 is a lot of money, does not he agree that it is a lot of money to the Government, who think that £5,000 is a hefty sum to give, in the name of this nation, to the starving people in the Congo?

Lord John Hope

The Question concerns Iver Grove, and what we have been able to do, with the help of the Historic Buildings Council, to save an extremely beautiful house.

Mr. Nalbarro

On a point of order. In view of the highly unsatisfactory Answer, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.

Mr, Dodds

On a point of order. I should also like to give notice that, owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the Answer, I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Lord John Hope

How happy I could be with either, were t'other dear charmer away.