HL Deb 28 May 1913 vol 14 cc419-27

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl Beauchamp.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DONODGIIMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Purchase of ancient monuments by agreement.

1.—(1) Any local authority within the meaning of this Act may, if they think fit, purchase by agreement any monument situate in or in the vicinity of their area, which appears to them to he an ancient monument within the meaning of this Act.

(2) For the purpose of any such purchase, the Lands Clauses Acts shall be incorporated with this Act (with the exception of the provisions which relate to the purchase and taking of lands otherwise than by agreement), and in construing those Acts for the purposes of this Act, this Act shall be deemed to be the special Act, and the local authority shall be deemed to be the promoters of the undertaking.


I move to add a new subsection to provide that the Commissioners of Works may, with the consent of the Treasury, purchase by agreement, out of any moneys which may be provided by Parliament for that purpose, any monument which appears to them to be an ancient monument within the meaning of the Act. I was, unfortunately, not able to be present in your Lordships' House when this Bill was read a second time, but I have read the speeches that were then made. My noble friend Lord Curzon raised the point with which my first Amendment deals, and I agree so entirely with the observations which he made upon it that I need not do more than say a very few words on this occasion. I venture in this Amendment to put back into the Bill the power of the Commissioners of Works, with the consent of the Treasury, to purchase. It seemed to me an extraordinary thing that this power should have been taken out of the Bill, and I do not think that the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, has had an opportunity yet of explaining exactly why it was taken out. I do not object at all to power of purchase being given to local authorities, but I think it is an unfortunate thing that the Government themselves should not retain the power of making purchases. I always understood that, the object in view was that local authorities should deal with monuments of a minor and local character such as could not be described as of national importance, but that if there was a case of an ancient monument of very great, what we may call of national, importance, the Government should obtain possession of it supposing it were for sale rather than that any local authority should attempt to do so. It is with a view of asking for an explanation from the noble Earl in charge of the Bill that I have put down this Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 1, at the beginning of clause 1 insert the following new subsection:

(1) The Commissioners of Works may with the consent of the Treasury purchase by agreement, out of any moneys which may be provided by Parliament for that purpose, any monument which appears to them to be an ancient monument within the meaning of this Act.—(The Earl of Plymouth.)

I should like to support the Amendment of the noble Earl who has just spoken. As I stated in the debate on the last occasion, I can see no reason why the power of purchase by the State, which was enjoyed under previous legislation and which was provided for in the first draft of this Bill, should now have been dropped. There may still be cases, as the noble Earl who has moved this Amendment stated, in which purchase by the State may be an infinitely more serviceable and more practicable method of dealing with the question than purchase by a local authority. I shall have a word to say about purchase by local authorities later on; but I would not have your Lordships imagine for a moment that very much is to be anticipated from the power of purchase by local authorities, because, whatever their inclination, they have not the means. Therefore we should certainly retain the power of purchase by the State. During the Second Reading discussion the noble Earl in charge of the Bill replied to me that the provision in previous Acts regarding purchase by the Government applied only to monuments in the Schedule of the Act of 1882. I think, with all respect, that he was not quite correct in that, and that since the Act of 1900 this provision has applied to all monuments and not only to the restricted number to which he referred.

There is a reason which I did not hear stated by the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, but it is important in advocating a power of purchase by the Government. It is this. Under the terms contemplated by the Bill such purchase, as I understand, would be purchase under the provisions of the Lands Clauses Act, and therefore would be purchase by the State in circumstances more favourable to the State than purchase in the open market. The State, with the protection of this Act behind it, would be in a better position to make a good bargain for itself. Surely in this matter, when we are trying to set up, or at any rate to encourage, a higher standard of public conduct, the State ought not to be behindhand in setting an example. It is all very well to say to local authorities, "You play your part; you conserve your local buildings"; but the local authorities will reply, "Why should not the State give us a lead?" My own impression is that the only reason that deters the Government from taking such a line is fear of the Treasury. I do not see why you should be any more afraid of the Treasury than local authorities should be afraid of the ratepayers. Indeed, you have much greater command over the Treasury than local authorities have over the ratepayers. In my judgment it is for the Government to set an example in this matter. I hope the noble Earl in charge of the Bill will consent to do so on grounds both of logic and expediency—on the ground of logic because it seems unfair that local authorities should be expected to do the whole thing, and on the ground of expediency because there may well be cases in which the State, and the State alone, can be the purchaser. For these reasons I support the Amendment which my noble friend has moved.


A great deal of what we may say on this Amendment is very much a repetition of the discussion which took place on this point on Second Reading, and I am afraid that our positions are the same to-day as they were on that occasion. Therefore I shall have to trouble your Lordships with, in some part at any rate, a repetition of what I then said. In the first place, we are of opinion, influenced very largely by some of the evidence given before the Joint Select Committee last year, that it is important to local authorities that they should be in charge of these monuments. The educational value of these monuments is so great that we should like to put in the forefront the duty of the local authorities to take possession of them. We think that they are more likely to be used in that way than if they belonged to the central authority.

But there is, further, the point mentioned by the noble Earl who has just sat down, that when all is said and done there is still retained by the Treasury a general power of purchase which is unaffected by this Bill. His Majesty's Government for the time being must always exercise the power of being able to buy if they wish to do so, and there is nothing in this Bill which takes away from the Treasury or the Department concerned the power, if great necessity arises, to complete the purchase of an ancient monument. But it is important to remember that, however great that power in the past may have been, it has never once been exercised. The noble Earl, Lord Curzon, referred to the statement which I made on the Second Reading, that power of purchase existed only with regard to those monuments which were specially mentioned in the Schedule of the Act of 1882. My impression, after reading the Act again, remains the same—that at the present moment our power to purchase only extends to certain specified monuments; and the fact that that power is not likely to be of very great use in the future is evidenced by the fact that although we have had the power in the past not one single building have we purchased, though in the Schedule some of the most important ancient monuments in this country have been included. We ask ourselves, therefore, whether it is worth while to include in this new Bill a power which in the past has not been found necessary.

There is yet another reason why the provision in the Amendment is unnecessary. We have gone further in this Bill in the direction of preservation and do more to prevent ancient monuments being spoiled than in the Bill of last year. Therefore for the State to purchase would be in a great many cases at any rate an unnecessary expense; and your Lordships will, I think, see that if you put in the forefront of a Bill of this kind the power of the Treasury to purchase, you are not likely to encourage local authorities to take advantage of the powers which you give them in later portions of the Bill. Considering the large sums which are demanded always from the State on occasions of this kind, it is clear that by putting the State in as a possible rival to local authorities we might do something to force up the price unfairly as against the Government or the local authority. But this is a Bill on which there has been so much general agreement that I shall not press the House to a Division in regard to the Amendment now before us. I would, however, point out that this Amendment, in so far as it creates a charge or a possible charge upon public funds, comes within that debatable ground upon which I venture to think it is sometimes wiser for this House not to trench. It would in another place involve a financial resolution, and in the present state of business I think it is impossible to deny that any further complication of the measure must retard and might even prevent its chance of passing into law during the present session.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


There are one or two questions which I should like to put to the noble Earl in charge of this Bill. In his reply just now he said that His Majesty's Government desire —and I sympathise with their desire—to put the local authorities in the forefront of the Bill, and to suggest to them the desirability of making these purchases when they can. But what will be the result? Look at what will emerge with respect to local authorities under this clause. In the first place the local authority can only purchase by agreement with the owner. That, of course, will in itself apply a very strict limitation to the number of cases concerned. Then I imagine that before the local authority buys there would have to be an inquiry by the Local Government Board, and that the assent of that Department would have to be given in the event of the money being raised.

Thus we arrive at the stage when, presuming a desire to exist to buy and assuming the consent of the Local Government Board to have been given, the money will have to be raised. This is a point on which I ask for some information. How is the local authority going to raise the money? On what security will it raise it? I imagine it can only borrow on the security of the rates. Will the local authority be allowed to pledge the rates? One must remember this, that local authorities are very amenable to public opinion. The noble Earl said just now that the State had never exercised its prerogative of purchase. Quite true. But that has been due, as I contend, to a failure to recognise its duty on the part of the State, or it may have been due to reluctance on the part of the Treasury. But the local authority has its constituents behind it, and I cannot imagine any local authority, certainly none with which I am familiar, voluntarily putting on an extra rate in order to purchase an ancient monument. I am sorry to say that the local authorities with whom I have had contact do not care at all about the archæo-logical or historic value of monuments. What they think of is the value of the monuments as a means of advertisement for the locality, or as a means of entertainment for the people. If you can show that the proper safeguarding of a particular building will bring crowds of people to visit it at a cost of sixpence each, then the interest of the local authority is excited; or if you can show that in a particular locality it is desirable to have as an open space the ground around an ancient monument, they may be interested. But otherwise, their interest is very slight.

I venture to predict, although we pass this Bill, that just as the noble Earl has said that in not a single case has the Government exercised its power of purchase under the old law, so not a single case will arise in which a local authority will purchase under this Bill. I regard the clause as only of value as indicating to local authorities a form of duty which they will perhaps recognise in theory, but which I expect they will be very reluctant to convert into practice. However, it is not for me to disparage a clause of the Bill will which I agree. But I should like to ask the noble Earl in what manner the local authority will raise the money, and the extent to which, if at all, it will be allowed to pledge the rates.


What will happen under the clause will be that it will become one of its normal powers for a local authority to purchase such an ancient monument as there is within its own borders. Then the process which the noble Earl has accurately described will no doubt take place; but it will remain as it is now within the power of the Local Government Board to say whether in their opinion the money which it is proposed to spend is too much, or whether they think it undesirable that the particular monument should be purchased. We must remember that behind the local authorities there are the electors, and. that the local authorities may be presumed to be anxious to carry out the wishes of the electors, and with that, for my part, I am perfectly prepared to remain content. As to the local authorities acting, I am more sanguine than the noble Earl. Take such a place, for instance, as Anne Hathaway's cottage. I know nothing about it, but it is conceivable to me that the local authority would be inclined to purchase it, and then by the help of a certain amount of contributions—


The cottage belongs to the Shakespeare Trust.


I said I knew nothing about the circumstances of that particular case. But there might be lots of similar places which the local authority might wish to buy and which they would be able to secure with the help of contributions, with the future hope of visitors' fees, and with some assistance from the rates. I am not so despondent as the noble Earl is of the use which local authorities will make of this clause, and I trust that with the hope of contributions and visitors' fees they will see their way in many instances to purchase these monuments.


The noble Earl has replied on many of the points raised by my noble friend, but he has not informed your Lordships whether a local authority could throw a charge on the rates in order to carry out this duty.


Yes, they could do so.


My recollection is that in any Act of Parliament which entrusts local authorities with such a power there are words to the effect that the expense should be a charge on the county fund or on some particular fund. I hope the noble Earl will thoroughly satisfy himself on the point before the Bill passes, so that we may not have inserted a nonsensical provision which by itself has no meaning.


Subsection (1) of this clause provides that any local authority may, if they think fit, purchase by agreement any monument situate in or in the vicinity of their area which appears to them to be an ancient monument within the meaning of this Bill. That obviously gives them power to spend the ratepayers' money upon the purchase, and I should have thought that if they purchased an ancient monument as a direct charge on the rates there would be no need for them to go to the Local Government Board at all. At present we are rather putting up sign-posts, and I hope that these sign-posts will be an encouragement to those who come after us to display more courage and go rather further in preserving our ancient monuments. We have seen, in the case of the purchase of important pictures by the National Gallery, instances where the Treasury have shrunk from giving the whole of the money, but where the Treasury have been stimulated by public opinion into supplementing the original grant. I have no doubt that if a monument like Kenilworth Castle was open to purchase by the public, the people in Warwickshire and outside would come forward with sufficient money to induce the local authority of Warwickshire and the Government to give contributions to complete the purchase. Therefore I hope that words will be inserted which will indicate not merely a power to purchase but a power to contribute towards the purchase.


Clause 21 of the Bill deals with the point raised by the noble Marquess as to the power of a local authority to levy a rate for the purpose of this Bill.


I had not the least doubt as to the power of local authorities to deal with the matter in the way suggested by the noble Earl. I will, however, look into the point, and if that is not so I will bring up any necessary Amendment on Report. But it never occurred to me that a local authority would be able to purchase an ancient monument out of its current rate but would require to get a loan, and in that way the consent of the Local Government Board would be required.


My own experience of local authorities coincides much more with that of Lord Curzon than with that of the noble Earl in charge of the Bill. The noble Earl has given an imaginary case of purchase by the local authority. I should like to give a concrete case—I will not mention the particular place publicly, but will give the information to the noble Earl afterwards if he desires it—where the local authority is already the owner of a building such as would come under this Bill. It is a matter of the greatest anxiety in that county lest the local authority may destroy that monument in the interests of economy, and it is doubtful whether there is power to prevent them from doing so. I mention that as showing that there is a distinct danger in putting too great confidence in local authorities in regard to the care of ancient monuments.


The next is a consequential Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 17, after the second ("the") insert ("Commissioners of Works or") and after ("authority") insert ("as the case may be").—(The Earl of Plymouth.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3: