HC Deb 20 March 1962 vol 656 cc182-6
2 and 3. Mr. Denis Howell

asked the Minister of Works (1) to whom Mawley Hail, Shropshire, has been sold as a result of his Department's activities; what was the price obtained for the hall; and how much land was sold with it;

(2) why he undertook the sale of Mawley Hall, Shropshire; what inquiries he made concerning the owners' reasons for wishing to sell the Hall without having occupied it; what was the cost to public funds of the advertising and sales services carried out; how much has been charged by him for the use of these services by his Department; and on whose behalf the sale was effected.

4. Mr. Tomney

asked the Minister of Works if he will make a statement concerning the circumstances involved in the sale by his Department of Mawley Hall, Shropshire.

5. Mr. Jeger

asked the Minister of Works what discussions he has had with the new owner of Mawley Hall, Shropshire, and with the previous owner, on the subject of improvement grants; what offers have been made for the property; and what is the amount of public money involved.

6. Mr. W. Hamilton

asked the Minister of Works why his Department have taken part in the sale of Mawley Hall, Shropshire.

Lord John Hope

With permission, I will answer Questions Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 together.

Mr. Denis Howell


Lord John Hope

I think it is better to tell the whole story at once. Mawley Hall, an early 18th century house of outstanding architectural importance, was bought by my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) in November, 1960. He agreed to defer proposals to demolish it and redevelop the site so that attempts could be made to find a purchaser who would preserve it. I then referred the case to my Historic Buildings Bureau, which helps to find uses for historic buildings. I did not undertake the sale, but because the situation was urgent I decided in July, 1961, to advertise the property. The cost was £433 15s. and was borne by my Department. Several inquiries were received and were referred to the owner's agents. The property was bought by Mr. A. M. G. Galliers-Pratt at, I understand, the district valuer's valuation.

On the recommendation of the Historic Buildings Council I have offered, and the purchaser has accepted, a grant of £60,000 towards the cost of necessary structural repairs. I do not make grants for improvement. To secure the preservation of this outstanding house by other means would, I am sure, have involved greater demands on public funds.

Mr. Howell

Is not it monstrous that in the middle of a pay pause the Minister's hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) should be assisted by the Ministry to the tune of £33,000, plus a gift to the purchaser of £60,000 to put it in order, making a capital gain for him of something approaching £10,000? Is it not the fact that the hon. Member for Brierley Hill bought this Hall and 121 acres of land for £15,000 and that in fact the Hail and 80 acres were subsequently sold by the Ministry for nearly £22,000, so that if we take the cash gain plus the land gain a capital gain in all of about £10,000 has occurred in the middle of this pay pause, as a result of the activities of the Ministry, to the hon. Member for Brierley Hill? Is it not further scandalous—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Is it not scandalous that one of the byproducts is that the hon. Member for Brierley Hill did not live in this house and never intended to live in it but asked Ludlow District Council to terminate the water supply to one of the tenants of—

Mr. Speaker

Order. All the previous questions in that one supplementary question were in order but the last one was not.

Lord John Hope

It is not for me to express opinions about anyone's motives here. I cannot do that. What I did was my duty as I conceived it to save this house from destruction. I have told the House that as far as I understand—and this is not really my business—the price was the district valuer's valuation. If incidentally there was a profit involved that has nothing to do with me—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—nothing whatever. I cannot and will not refuse to try to save a building of this sort of quality because someone may say to me in the House of Commons, "You should not have done this because someone has made a profit". That would not be the right nor the courageous way to go about it.

Mr. Jeger

Will the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that we all agree with the general principle of his action and hope that he will repeat it in principle in similar cases, but with a safeguard for the taxpayers' money? What I should like him to tell us is why £430 odd which was spent on advertising this property was borne on his Vote and why he was not reimbursed out of the capital profit made by the original owner of the property?

Lord John Hope

Time was of the essence here. It was urgent to prevent demolition. That is what I mean. I realised that unless I acted quickly and advertised there might not be advertisement, and it would have been wrong for me to shirk that as well.

Mr. Hamilton

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when it became urgent? Did it become urgent before the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) purchased or subsequent to that purchase? Can he answer the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) as to whether when the hon. Member for Brierley Hill subsequently got a seller he made a gain of so many acres of land—above 40 acres—apart from the profit he made on the building? Is it not a thoroughly disreputable practice that a Government Department should appear to be conniving at a capital gain made by one of the Government's friends?

Lord John Hope

I do not quite know what the hon. Member was driving at in his last sentence, which seemed to be an unnecessary and rather offensive innuendo. The urgency arose after the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) had purchased this building.

Mr. More

Will my right hon. Friend accept from a member of the Shropshire Planning Committee that the future of this building had been an urgent critical matter for a long time before any of the transactions mentioned in these Questions took place? Will he also accept that there is widespread gratitude in Shropshire for the help he has given in preserving this artistic and important item of our national heritage?

Sir H. Kerr

While the grant appeared to be a large one, may I ask if the new owner has not taken a large and recurring obligation for the maintenance of a building of outstanding importance?

Lord John Hope

Yes, he has. Had someone not come forward who was prepared to do that, very much more expense might have fallen on the taxpayer.

Mr. Mitchison

Had the Minister no power to buy this property and, if he did, to resell it and keep the profit for the public?

Lord John Hope

If I tried to do that and went for compulsory purchase the obligation on me—and therefore on the taxpayer—to repair the property and keep it going would have cost the taxpayer far more than he will now have to pay.

Mr. Nabarro rose

Mr. Denis Howell rose

Mr. Speaker

I cannot receive more than one point of order at once. My impression was that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) rose first.

Mr. Nabarro

The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) is a constituent of mine. He is an alderman of the Borough of Kidderminster. In addition, the postal address of the property we have been discussing is Mawley Hall, Kidderminster, although it is in Shropshire. Would it not be appropriate for the hon. Member for Kidderminster to be called on such an important occasion?

Mr Speaker

That does not involve a point of order. I did allow a question by the hon. Member in whose constituency the building is situated.

Mr. Howell

I beg to give the customary notice that I shall raise this matter again as soon as possible.