HC Deb 01 April 1985 vol 76 cc1027-32

Lords amendment: No. 8, after clause 19, insert the following new clause—

" .—(1) The Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 shall be amended as provided in this section.

(2) In section 5 (acquisition by the Minister of historic buildings, their contents and adjoining land) after subsection (2) there shall he inserted the following subsection—

"(2A) Subject as aforesaid, the Minister shall have power to acquire by agreement, whether by purchase, lease or otherwise, or to accept a gift of—

  1. (a) any building situated in Scotland and which—
    1. (i) is in an area designated as a conservation area under section 262 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972; and
    2. (ii) appears to him to be of special historic or architectural interest;
  2. (b) any land situated in Scotland and which comprises or is contiguous or adjacent to any building mentioned in paragraph (a) above;
  3. (c) any garden or other land which is situated in Scotland and which appears to him to be of outstanding historic interest but which is not contiguous or adjacent to a building which appears to him to be of outstanding historic or architectural interest.".

(3) In section 6 (which provides for, amongst other things, grants to the National Trust for Scotland for acquisition of historic buildings)—

  1. (a) in subsection (2), at the end there shall be added the words "or of any land or garden contiguous or adjacent thereto or such as is referred to in section 5(2A) of this Act."; and
  2. (b) in subsection (4) (extent) for the words "or buildings" there shall be substituted the words "buildings, land or garden".

(4) In section 8 (power of Minister to accept endowments of historic buildings)—

  1. (a) in subsection (1), for the words "the following provisions" there shall be substituted the words "subsections (2) to (7)"; and
  2. (b) after subsection (1) there shall be inserted the following subsection—
(1A) Where any instrument coming into operation after the commencement of this subsection contains a provision purporting to be a gift of property to the Minister upon trust to use the income thereof (either for a limited time or in perpetuity) for or towards the upkeep of a garden or other land acquired or accepted by him under section 5(2A)(c) of this Act or a garden or other land which he proposes so to acquire or accept or for or towards the upkeep of any such garden or other land together with other property situated in Scotland, he may accept the gift and, if he does so and the provision does not constitute a charitable trust, subsections (2) to (6) below shall have effect."; and (c) in subsection (4), after the word "building", where first and secondly occurring, there shall be inserted the words ", land or garden".

Mr. Allan Stewart

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

I should inform the House that this amendment involves privilege. It will be convenient to take with it Lords amendment No. 15.

Mr. Stewart

Although there was no suggestion in our earlier consideration of the Bill that the existing powers in relation to historic buildings and land in Scotland be supplemented, I am aware of the expressions of interest in this in correspondence with Opposition Members in favour of parity with the powers available to the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England established under the National Heritage Act 1983.

Although it is unlikely that the extended powers will be used in the foreseeable future, I am nevertheless disposed to accept that there would be virtue in bringing the powers available in Scotland more closely into line with those south of the border.

Amendment No. 15 to the long title is necessary to bring the new clause within the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Craigen

I can see the point in extending the legislation in the way that the Minister has outlined, but I should have thought that if the Government were aiming for parity with the legislation in England they would have gone the whole way and agreed to a register of gardens in Scotland as I understand that that facility is available under the English legislation.

I have discussed this, albeit briefly, with the director of the National Trust for Scotland and I had the impression that sympathetic assurances had been given to the trust. At a time when the Government have fallen foul of the teachers and the ratepayers, I should have thought that they would not have wished to fall out of step with the National Trust for Scotland as well. In the interests of protecting the heritage of our gardens, it would seem highly desirable for the Government to agree to a register. I know that several of my hon. Friends have more specific points to put on this matter, and I hope that the Minister will seriously address himself to it.

Mr. Murphy

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sympathetic to the alteration of the long title, but I trust that the spelling will be improved from that which appears on the Amendment Paper which says "acient monuments" rather than "ancient monuments".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman's point will be noted.

12 midnight

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I declare an interest, if not a pecuniary one, in the National Trust for Scotland. For the life of me, I cannot see why my hon. Friend the Minister has not accepted the amendments to bring gardens into this clause, that were tabled in the other place. I welcome the fact that a Minister now has the power to acquire by agreement the Lease of, or to purchase, historic houses, and that includes the purchase, by agreement, of gardens. Subsequently, there is now the power of the National Trust for Scotland to acquire gardens.

However, why will my hon. Friend not include a register for gardens? After all, there is the power in the English Act, which is clear and there for everyone to see. I accept that my hon. Friend will come back and say—[Interruption.] If Labour Members would only keep quiet, other hon. Members might be able to hear what is going on. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has the power to have a register of gardens provided, and the Scottish Development Department and the Countryside Commission for Scotland did a study of gardens in Scotland. However, we cannot prepare the way for the purchase of gardens without having a list to go to and some sort of priority for what gardens might be purchased if they were available.

We must not forget that gardens are just as important to our heritage as houses and parks, and many of the finest houses that have come into the hands of the National Trust recently have significant and beautiful gardens with them. Therefore, it is important that we have a register of gardens. I would be satisfied with this clause only if my hon. Friend the Minister makes it clear that we shall have such a register, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will use his power to arrange a register of gardens to be put into effect as soon as possible.

We are not asking for the earth. This list could be compiled relatively inexpensively, but we want one provided, and as soon as possible. I would be happier if I had such an assurance.

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)

I am honoured to be able to say that I agree with everything that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said. I have to say so, because I declare the same interest that he does—a non-pecuniary interest as a member of the council of the National Trust for Scotland.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) says, in a week in which the Government have managed to outrage just about every section of Scottish opinion, including the football supporters, one would have thought that the last thing on earth that they would have wanted to do was to make some more enemies, especially as the National Trust for Scotland holds the tenancy for the Secretary of State's residency in Charlotte square. That might be one of the most popular evictions that could ever take place. In that exceptional circumstance, my right hon. and hon. Friends would not object to that eviction.

However, a serious point is being made by the National Trust. It is asking for parity in line with legislation for England and Wales. It seems incomprehensible that the Government would stand out and attempt to say that powers that the Secretary of State for Scotland has are identical or even superior to those powers provided by the English legislation. The National Trust for Scotland disagrees vehemently with that, as do a large number of other people.

I know the strictures of order in quoting from the other place and I shall paraphrase what Lord Taylor of Gryfe had to say on 26 February. He said that it would be logical to have a register of gardens in Scotland similar to that available in England. The Earl of Caithness spoke on behalf of the Government. Whether that was a one-off occasion or whether he has joined the long list of the aristocracy serving the Government I do not know, but he said that he agreed with the logic of Lord Taylor and went on to say that it was already open to the Secretary of State for Scotland to compile a register of historic gardens if he thought that it would be useful. He said that there was no need to seek the specific power which was in Lord Taylor's amendment. That was the assurance given to Lord Taylor and on that basis he withdrew his amendment.

The National Trust for Scotland has now directly contradicted the assurance given by the Earl of Caithness by specifying that the legislation of 1953 and 1974 for Scotland says: grants may be payable for the upkeep of gardens … of outstanding historic interest". But there is no explicit power to compile a register which would provide a basis for distinguishing between various sorts of important and historic gardens. There is a clear distinction between that and the power that is available within the English legislation for compiling such a useful register in such an important area of Scotland's tourist heritage. This is the opportunity for changing the legislation and bringing that about.

The idea that research is a substitute is to mistake the purpose of the English legislation. There are many valuable gardens throughout Britain. In England they will be compiled and described and prioritised in a register of gardens. But there is no sign either that the powers are available or that the intention of the Secretary of State for Scotland is to compile a similar register, despite the fact, as the National Trust says, that Lord Young, whose meteoric rise to the Cabinet we all noted with interest, has been asked by the Prime Minister to specifically study the tourist industry and its ability to generate jobs, especially for young people. Scotland's gardens are a natural resource and yet the power that exists within the English legislation is being denied to Scotland.

What is being asked for by the National Trust for Scotland, the matter having been considered by experts within it, it is a reasonable request which the Government could easily concede without contradicting any of the ideological hang-ups that they may have. The very fact that the hon. Member for Dumfries and I, and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) can be as one on this matter is as good a sign as he will get of that. The National Trust believes that to be a reasonable request and I agree. The Minister should concede the case and try to buy back a fraction of the popularity that the Government have lost in the past few weeks.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

I welcome the new clause, but I was a little disturbed to hear my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary say that he did not envisage the Government using it in the foreseeable future.

Had the Bill been in force a few months ago, it would have saved considerable problems over Towie Barclay castle in my constituency, because subsection (2A) of the new clause would have covered some adjoining land.

I declare an interest as a subscribing member of the National Trust. It is well known to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that the Trust had considerable problems in raising the cash to acquire Fyvie castle, which had some wonderful paintings and tapestries. Difficulties were posed by Sir Ian Forbes Leith, but eventually the money was raised. Subsection (3) of the new clause provides for grants to the National Trust for Scotland for the acquisition of historic buildings, and I hope that the Government will not decide that there is no need for the provision to be used in the foreseeable future.

More castles in my constituency are liable to be offered to the National Trust and I hope that we shall be able to approach the Government if the trust requires funds to acquire historic buildings for the nation and thereby retain Scotland's historic heritage.

Mr. Dalyell

What is puzzling is why there should be any resistance to the suggestion that a register of gardens should be compiled. What is behind the Government's reluctance? Will the Minister spell out the difficulties?

Secondly, does the Minister agree with the National Trust for Scotland that gardens are more sensitive to neglect than buildings? If he does not agree, he should say so. If he does agree, surely we ought to have the register that is asked for.

Thirdly, the 1983 English legislation was clear. What is the objection to our having parity with it?

Mr. Allen Stewart

May I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) that the powers in the new clause are additional to the Secretary of State's existing powers in relation to buildings of outstanding historic or achitectural interest. I said that the Government had no specific plans to use the new powers, but clearly occasions might arise when it would be appropriate to use them.

The National Trust warmly welcomes the emendment. The debate is about what is not in the amendment and not about what is in it. I reassure the House that if my right hon Friend the Secretary of State wished to establish a register of gardens in Scotland he could do so. A specific enabling provision is unnecessary.

Opposition Members gave stated that the National Trust for Scotland places great emphasis in the desirability of using the Bill as a means of securing parity of treatment for Scotland. I appreciate their concern, but the National Heritage Act 1983 did not confer on the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England a specific power enabling it to compile a register.

The new section 8(c) of the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953, which was created by schedule 4 to the 1983 Act, merely sets out certain procedural steps such as notification to owners, which would have to be taken if a register was set up. Nowhere does the 1983 Act take the specific power to set up a register which the National Trust for Scotland is seeking for north of the border.

Mr. Dalyell

Is the Minister saying that Mr. Lester Borley is wrong in saying that we do not have parity with England, and that the position is the same in England and Scotland?

Mr. Stewart

Of course I have read the letter from the National Trust. I am trying to explain the technical differences between the positions north and south of the border. I have outlined the position in relation to the Act, but of course hon. Members are more concerned with substance than with technical points. I shall spell out the position in Scotland.

Last year the Scottish Development Department and the Countryside Commission for Scotland jointly commissioned Land Use Consultants Limited to prepare an inventory of historic gardens and designed landscapes in Scotland. It is worth emphasising that an inventory involves much more detailed information than a register. A register simply consists of a desk study and a half-page narrative on each site. An inventory involves on-site visits, and detailed maps and photographs of the up-to-date position. That study will take two years to complete. It will involve detailed examination of about 250 of the most important gardens and designed landscapes in Scotland in terms of their extent, component features and condition.

I believe that our decision to join the Countryside Commission for Scotland in commissioning the inventory is ample evidence of our concern for and interest in the subject of historic gardens. So we are taking a different approach from that of the new English commission. But I believe that this very detailed work will be widely welcomed. The inventory will meet the legitimate anxieties of the National Trust that we should all be more aware of this important part of our heritage.

When we have completed the work — and the work on the inventory has been widely welcomed — we can look at the question of a register, with a half-page description of each site.

Mr. George Robertson

How does the Minister answer the point that the inventory and the register are not mutually exclusive? We are told by the National Trust that the development of the register in England and Wales is leading to advice being given to the owners and managers of gardens that will protect them in the meantime. An inventory will be fine when it is eventually finished, but it does not have the added advantage of the register. We are told that a register will give guidance to all owners and authies in respect of gardens of special historic interest that need our concern for future protection. Surely that is the key difference between the interim stage of drawing up an inventory and the register.

Mr. Stewart

The information contained in a register is much less than that contained in an inventory. My point is that it is sensible to obtain up-to-date information, with maps, photographs and so on, together with information from on-site visits from the inventory before considering whether to add to that detailed information with a register. Inevitably, that would contain much less information.

Mr. Wilson

However meritorious the proposal is to have an inventory of gardens with photographs and so on, that would not be available to most people. Have the Government thought of having a summary made of the inventory — in the form of a register or otherwise — that might make such attractions more available to the general public, if not to those with a special interest in such matters?

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly fair point. We have not taken final decisions on the form of publication of the inventory. The information that it contains will certainly be publicly available.

Sir Hector Monro

My hon. Friend is splitting hairs in a monumental manner between the definition of an inventory and a register. Would it not be very much better if he said that the Countryside Commission and the Scottish Development Department are preparing a register of historic gardens for the Secretary of State? We would then all be happy.

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend has made a valuable suggestion. I have tried to explain the difference between the approach in England, which is to provide half-page narratives as a result of desk study, and the more detailed research for Scotland. I assure the House that in the light of the concern expressed by hon. Members I shall reconsider how best we can ensure that the information from the studies is made publicly available.

Mr. Buchan

We wish to register our approval of the Minister's last remark.

Mr. Dalyell

Can the Minister give an undertaking that he will see the National Trust formally before coming to a decision?

Mr. Stewart

I am always available to see the National Trust if it wishes to raise matters that are appropriate for discussion at ministerial level.

Question put and agreed to.—[Special Entry.]

Lords amendments Nos. 9 and 10 agreed to.

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