HC Deb 07 March 1966 vol 725 cc1698-700
22. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works on what grounds a substantial grant has been given for the preservation of Blenheim Palace.

Mr. C. Pannell

I have a duty to safeguard the nation's architectural heritage. In the furtherance of this and on the advice of the Historic Buildings Council for England, I offered this grant. Blenheim is in need of very extensive major structural repairs.

Mr. Hamilton

That may well be, but has my right hon. Friend any evidence that the owners of this palace are in one of the pockets of newly-found poverty in this country? Cannot he apply the principle of a means test to applications for these grants? Has my right hon. Friend any assurance from the owners that public access to the palace will be greater now that the need for the half crowns from taxpayers is less?

Mr. Pannell

The answer is that all these people have to submit to a pretty stringent means test. It has happened in this case. As a matter of fact, in all such cases it is the practice for the Council to examine the financial position of the applicants. In this case, to make doubly sure, and probably in anticipation of my hon. Friend's Question, we had the assistance of a firm of chartered accountants.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Is it not a fact that the owner of this property put up an amount equal to the grant? Also is it not a fact that the British people will expect the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill to be maintained?

Mr. Pannell

The hon. Gentleman will understand that I am bound not to disclose all the financial arrangements and those sort of things. It is equally true that I cannot bandy words across the Chamber about the financial settlements which are made. Of course, the owner has paid very considerable sums towards the repairs.

Mr. Marten

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that this is a great national monument built for the nation and that it gives great pleasure to a great number of people regardless of party politics? Therefore, we must not let it fall into decay as is implied by those who hold by the political opinions of the hon. Member who put down the Question.

Mr. Pannell

The hon. Gentleman must not imagine that sensitivity to our architectural heritage or to the history of this country is the prerogative of hon. Members on the other side of the House.

39. Mr. Robert Cooke

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works what are the facilities for public access to Blenheim Palace; and what was the estimated total number of visitors to Blenheim for the last five years.

Mr. C. Pannell

Blenheim Palace is advertised as being open to the public on four afternoons a week from Easter to July, and in October; and on six afternoons a week in August and September. The total number of visitors during the last five years was 672,729.

Mr. Cooke

Will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), who detests the place so much, knows about it, so that he may perhaps be encouraged to visit it?

Mr. Pannell

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) does not detest historic buildings. He is concerned with their economical use and ensuring that there are proper proportionate payments My hon. Friend exercises the scrutiny of public expenditure proper to the Chairman of the Estimates Committee.

Mr. William Hamilton

Has my right hon. Friend had an assurance from the owners, as a result of this public expenditure, that public access to the building will be increased?

Mr. Pannell

I think that public access is good enough, but I will write to my hon. Friend and tell him of the pros and cons of Blenheim Palace. Then perhaps he will be able to return to the subject with greater knowledge on some future occasion.