HL Deb 02 December 1936 vol 103 cc525-47

LORD HAMILTON OF DALZELL rose to call attention to the rapid disappearance of domestic architecture in Scotland of historic and æsthetic interest to the country, and to urge His Majesty's Government to take all practical steps to ensure the preservation of this national heritage without delay; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the matter which forms the subject of this Motion is regarded by the National Trust for Scotland, and by a number of other people who are very much disturbed by what is going on, as one of great urgency and importance. Scotland is fairly well endowed with the more important ancient buildings, many of them in ruins, but for the most part now well tended and guarded against further spoliation or decay. Scotland also has a number of very beautiful and very interesting country houses containing great stores and treasures of furniture and works of art, the preservation of which, as of similar houses in England, is no doubt a matter of national importance. But it is not the castles and abbeys, nor is it the great country houses, that, I had in mind when I put down this Motion. What I wish to call your Lordships' attention to, and the attention of the Government, is the grave and pressing danger which threatens the few remaining examples of bygone domestic architecture of the humbler sort that still remain in Scotland. No observant person who has gone about in Scotland can, I think, fail to have been struck by the scarcity of those villages which owe any picturesqueness and charm they possess to the houses themselves as apart from their surroundings or their setting. That is very far from being the case in England, where villages containing a great number of most charming old houses are to be met with in many parts of the country.

I have often been puzzled to account for the more rapid disappearance of the older houses in Scotland than in England, and I believe that the explanation may be found in a difference between the rating systems of the two countries. At any rate, that is one of the principal reasons. I am fortified in that opinion by a letter which I read not long ago in the Scotsman from no less a legal authority than Lord Salvesen. Your Lordships know that in England the rates are paid by the occupier and, generally speaking, no rates are levied on an empty house. In Scotland the rates have to be paid—at any rate the owner's share of the rates has to be paid—whether the house is occupied or not, so long as it is habitable. My fellow-countrymen do not like paying rates on property which is bringing in no return, and there has been a natural tendency to render an empty house uninhabitable, usually by taking off the roof, and thus to avoid the payment of rates. That is the first thing the factor suggests on such occasions, and it has been very extensively done. But whatever the reason may be, I submit that the great scarcity of such houses in Scotland gives that country a special claim to have the few that remain preserved. The National Trust for Scotland has recently been enabled to have a list made of the houses of this kind which still remain and which are thought to be worthy of preservation. That is a very valuable first step towards their preservation, and I hope that the fullest use may be made of it. I notice, however, that the noble Lord (Lord Derwent) who also has a Notice on the Paper dealing with this same subject desires to make that point, and I will therefore not detain the House by arguing it now.

These houses seem up to now to have been "nobody's child." The Government seem to consider the affair a matter for the local authority, and the local authority has many other things on which to spend the ratepayers' money, with the result that these houses are left to their fate. The urgency of the matter arises from three main causes, of which the widening of streets and roads is one. It is, of course, inevitable that a certain number of old houses shall disappear in that process along with others, but one does hope that when, as must very often be the case, there is an interesting old house on one side of the road and a new and uninteresting one on the opposite side, preference will be given to the older house. That is by no means always done. The practical suggestion that I would make is that no house which appears on the list of which I have spoken shall be demolished for such a reason unless the Secretary of State for Scotland, or the first Commissioner of Works, or whatever Minister may, be ready to constitute himself their guardian, is satisfied that this is inevitable and that a necessary public improvement cannot otherwise be carried out.

The other great danger which threatens these houses at the present moment arises from recent housing legislation. Parliament has of late paid great attention to housing and has rightly and wisely encouraged the clearing away of slums and the provision of better houses. The activity to which local authorities have been stimulated and the powers with which they have been armed are necessarily dangerous to houses of which I am speaking. That danger is made much more imminent, and much more grave, by the conditions which attach to the grant of housing subsidies. As your Lordships are no doubt aware, grants and loans are made under the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts for the improvement of houses, mostly cottages, which will be occupied by agricultural workers or persons in a similar position, and much excellent work has been done during the ten years those Acts have been in force, in that way. There has to-day been published a, Report made to the Minister of Health by the Central Housing Advisory Committee, of which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester is Chairman, and the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, is a member. I had hoped that Lord Crawford would have been here now, but, unfortunately, the early meeting of the House has made it rather difficult for him. However, I hope he will be here before the discussion terminates.

This Report, which I got this morning, is a most interesting publication, and shows what can be achieved under the Acts I have mentioned and at very moderate cost. The Report contains pictures which are reminiscent of the advertisements one sees of patent pills and hair restorers. They show the patient before and after treatment. It is a most excellent official publication, and I hope it will have a very wide circulation. I may say that the cost is only sixpence. Unfortunately, the advantages of those Acts do not extend to towns and cities. In urban districts no housing subsidy is paid except for a new house. Nothing is paid for the reconditioning of an old one. I need not point out to your Lordships how greatly such a regulation increases the probability of an old house being destroyed. The full subsidy can be drawn if the old house is pulled down and a new one built in its place, but nothing will be paid for the reconditioning of the old house. There is no doubt, I think, that many of these houses in Scotland are perfectly capable of being put into condition to meet modern requirements. They are well and solidly built. They have stout walls that have stood the storms of Scotland for centuries. They need modern equipment and sanitation, and given that I am sure they will long outlive the flimsy structures to-day being run up all over the country. In the larger towns and cities of Scotland many of these houses were formerly the residences of well-to-do people. In Edinburgh, in particular, many of them were the town houses of Lords and Lairds before the railways took them and their womenfolk to London.

Apart from their archæological and architectural interest, these houses still retain much of their old-world gracious charm, and we should be distinctly the poorer for their loss. Their recondition as I have already said, is far from being impossible, provided that it can be financed and the whole cost does not fall upon the local authority or the owner. The ideal way of doing what I think ought to be done regarding these houses would be for a sufficient sum of money to be placed at the disposal of some public body—the National Trust seems to be indicated for the purpose—to be used in reconditioning such houses as might be considered suitable for that treatment. The money would be well used, and it would bring in some return, as the houses would be in useful occupation. I hope the Government will give very careful consideration to the possibility of dealing with the matter on those lines; but, whatever the decision on that point may be, I do most strongly urge that the conditions attaching to the grant of housing subsidies shall be reconsidered.

I will give your Lordships an example of what is happening, and what will continue to happen, under the present regulations. The City of Edinburgh is considering an extensive scheme for improving housing conditions in the Canongate and its immediate neighbourhood. The Corporation is naturally most anxious to preserve the historic atmosphere of its famous street. It is equally anxious to see its people properly housed. Those desires are not incompatible. The houses themselves, I believe, could without great difficulty be put into a condition which would make them comply with the requirements of the Ministry of Health, and it is right to say that I understand that the officials of the Ministry have shown themselves most willing to help over this matter. But the Corporation have been told—and here I am quoting from the actual communication which was made to the Town Clerk of Edinburgh—that: If the proposals for reconstruction involve making use of any part of the existing buildings, subsidy under the Housing Acts of 1930–35 could not competently be paid to the Corporation for the work. And in case that might not have been sufficiently definite, the i's were dotted and the t's crossed by the following communication received subsequently: Even if the façade only were used in the provision of the new houses, Exchequer subsidies could not be paid in respect of such houses. So nothing short of complete demolition will serve if any assistance is to come from the State.

Surely that is obviously wrong. Here is a great public body, the heir to a priceless heritage from the past, who wish to secure the health and comfort of their people, and who wish to hand on to their successors the treasures they have inherited. I cannot believe that what I have quoted represents the considered policy of His Majesty's Ministers on a matter of this sort. It must be, I think, that something has crept into an Act of Parliament which was never meant to be there, or it may be that the trouble is caused by the regulations which have been framed under the various Acts of Parliament by the Departments which administer them. If that is the cause of the trouble, it ought not to be difficult to have the regulations altered. If the law is at fault I submit that it ought to be amended. We are not asking that these houses shall be preserved as dead empty things, simply as museum pieces; we are asking that they should be enabled to go on living a useful life, rejuvenated and refreshed from the public purse. The subsidy can be claimed if an old house is pulled down and a new one built in its place. It need not cost the Exchequer a penny more if the grant is used for reconditioning the old house. I beg to move.


My Lords, I wish to support the noble Lord in the matter that he has brought forward this afternoon. In the first place I would like to assure those noble Lords whose homes may be in the South, and therefore who may not have an equal opportunity of following the course of events in Scotland, that it is difficult to understand the great destruction of ancient buildings that has gone on in Scotland during the last few years. Nothing like it, I think, has taken place in England and, as far as I know England, I feel safe in saying that nothing like it ever will take place. And yet, as the noble Lord said, these old houses in Scotland are more solidly built, have certainly an equal window space, and are as roomy as their counterparts in the South. This destruction has been done in a wholesale way and without any regard whatever to architecture, or history, or workmanship.

I believe that in the town of Dundee there is not now a single really old house left, not even one as an historical mark of life in times gone by in this ancient burgh. I believe the oldest houses now left are two or three of the Georgian period. Even one of Adam's masterpieces, which used to be called the Old Town House, has been wantonly destroyed. It was in good repair and was used, in fact, as the Town Hall, and yet it was simply pulled down against the known desires of the Office of Works, apparently in lack of any definite action on the part of that Office. In other places, such as Stirling and Falkland, where the old Royal Palace stands, and I believe one or two other places, the inhabitants, having got a foretaste of the havoc awaiting them, have formed some sort of association or society to preserve their ancient town and save their homes.

I believe I am not exaggerating—and I shall be only too pleased if it can be shown that I am—when I say that in the City of Edinburgh, which used to be one so rich in interesting buildings, dirty though they were, the Office of Works has only scheduled one house, the Cannon Ball House, next to the Castle. It is true that the Office of Works has in hand another building called Abbey Strand. This building can scarcely be said to be undergoing restoration. It stands directly opposite Holyrood Palace and a small part, it is true, has been restored, but by far the greater part of the building appears to be merely being fitted up with a view to obtaining the greatest possible rent. This property was bought by the late Lord Rosebery with a view to improving the amenities of Holyrood Palace, and the present noble Earl presented it to the Crown. To treat it as a commercial asset does appear to me a careless way not only to treat a gift but to treat the memory of the late noble Earl, whose desire in acquiring the property and whose wishes in regard to it are well known.

I own that this last point may perhaps not be one directly connected with the matter under discussion, and I certainly do not wish any noble Lord to get up after this and complain that I have made an attack on the Office of Works. I wish to do nothing of the sort. I am bound to refer to the Office of Works and to the Ancient Monuments Department, but I believe that the whole blame rests with the Government. The restoration of these old buildings cannot interfere with the new housing proposals, and the Ministry of Health, having seen the devastation which has been occasioned, is now, I am glad to see, doing what it can at all events to delay the pulling down of interesting buildings. In doing this the Ministry of Health is only doing what the Ancient Monuments Department should have done years ago. The reason for the inability on the part of the Ancient Monuments Department is, I believe, this, that some rule or order has been made whereby no building may be scheduled unless the funds for its immediate repair are available. The Government very simply withholds the funds, so that the Department in this way is relegated to the pointing of old monastic ruins and the measuring up of stone circles.

The people of Scotland have been miserably misled. Some of your Lordships may think I use too strong an expression, but I cannot feel so. I submit that if a Government sets up in Edinburgh a Department whose sole and avowed object is the preservation of ancient buildings and deliberately prevents that Department from functioning in the manner in which it is advertised to function, then no expression is too strong to describe the manner in which Scotland has been treated. The position therefore is that with the exception of Edinburgh, which I believe has the power but has never put it forward, local authorities and civic bodies hold they have no power to rate for the purposes of reconditioning. Therefore they simply pull the places down. The Ancient Monuments Department is prevented from taking action and has to stand by silently watching the disappearance of the very buildings that it is supposed to safeguard. The public does its best to save at all events seine of the national heirlooms, either by individual effort or by subscribing to one of those societies whose object this particularly is. No doubt the public will continue to do all in its power but, with taxation at the level which it has now reached, it is impossible to expect to be able to keep an equal pace with this surge of destruction.

The excuse so often and so speciously heard that the cost of reconditioning of an old building is greater than the cost of its demolition and the building of another in its place is, I feel, quite unfounded. I agree that in some cases the cost will be greater, but in other cases the cost, of necessity, must be less. But in any case these old buildings, whether a cottage or a mansion, when they were were built not as the very cheapest thing obtainable. They were built as the best thing that could be got, and they were built with the object of providing a home. They have stood a very long time, and they will stand a very long time vet, which is more than can be said of most of the houses that are now being put up in their stead. So now, as the result of this process of excuse and equivocation, there is now comparatively little left to be saved. I do not think it could be argued that it is not through the sudden somewhat hurried action on the part of the Ministry of Health, combined with almost total inaction on the part of the Ancient Monuments Department, just at the very time when that Department's help was most urgently needed and expected, that this irreparable loss has occurred.

I hope, therefore, that the Government may see its way to do something adequate to put right this great loss which has come about. I can see no way myself, I admit, except by a grant of financial aid, and I suggest that perhaps this help might be given to the National Trust; in the first place bemuse of the apparent inclination on the part of the Office of Works to treat some of these old buildings in a commercial way rather than as subjects for restoration, and secondly, because the lists of ancient buildings issued from time to time by the Ancient Monuments Department contain only comparatively few of that domestic type of building which forms the subject of this evening's debate. But whatever may be done I hope it may be done without delay, because the tide of destruction rolls on.


My Lords, I also wish to support the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton. I do not know very well what is going on in the rest of Scotland and in Edinburgh with regard to these houses, but I do know something of what is going on in the West of Scotland, and particularly in my own County of Ayr, and ought perhaps to restrict myself to that. I think what is going on there is deplorable, and I dare say the same kind of thing is going on in other parts of Scotland. The Ayrshire County Council, along with other county councils of Scotland, has to carry out its housing schemes on the lines of economy and efficiency and with the aid of Government grants, and is supervised to that extent by the Government. It is the duty of that admirable body of men, the county council officials, to advise committees of county councils in Ayrshire and elsewhere on matters concerning housing, and they are not to blame if their advice sometimes clashes with the ideas of the National Trust. They do their duty in putting forward their measures with efficiency and economy, and they have no room perhaps for sentiment in doing so, but they are not to blame on that account. Those who are to blame are, I think, the members of committees of county councils who have not yet been educated up to the importance of the tradition and sentiment which animate Scotland to-day.

I am sure the noble Lord who moved the Motion will agree with me in that, and I think also he will agree that the officials of the county councils are not to blame in this matter. Those of your Lordships who have had to do with local government know quite well that most county councillors are all out for economy in public work, and for obvious reasons they are very loath to advocate economy in anything which has to do with the Social Services. To my mind there should be more economy in the Social Services of this country to-day. I do not know where we are going to stop in the matter of Social Services. We are going so fast in this direction that nobody knows what is going to happen. But, as I have said, county councillors, at any rate, do not like to advocate economy in the Social Services, and they are ready at any moment to seize on an opportunity of reducing expenditure upon things outside these Services like housing schemes and schemes of that kind.

There is a deplorable tendency in Ayrshire, at any rate, and I presume the same thing happens in other parts of Scotland, not only to do away with these old houses which are of interest to the County of Ayr especially, but also to sweep away whole villages and bring them into the nearest housing scheme of some burgh or town nearby. There have been three occasions recently in Ayrshire where three villages were scheduled under demolition orders and the people in those villages were to be rehoused in the nearest housing scheme. The tendency is to denude the countryside of all its charming old villages, and to bring the inhabitants of those villages to the nearest towns, thus swelling the populations of those towns. That seems to me to be a very deplorable tendency, and I am glad to say that in two of the cases to which I have referred, owing to petitions by the inhabitants, the schemes were turned down and the houses were re-erected in the villages. I am merely pointing out the tendency of modern local government.

But there are also in Ayrshire as well as in other parts of the country many old houses which come under the ban of the authorities and are swept away, and police stations and other buildings put in their place. My own County of Ayr, as your Lordships know, is the birthplace of the Scottish bard, Burns. It is the Mecca of Scotsmen from all parts of the world. They come there in their thousands every year, and it seems to me rather short-sighted on the part of county authorities, not only in Ayr but in other counties, to do away with these charming old houses which have so much attraction for those thousands who spend their money in the country. I think it is a great pity that something is not done by the Government to stop the demolition of these old places in the country which constitute one of its greatest charms. These old houses are the charm of the Scottish countryside just as in England they are the charm of your country. I hope the noble Lord who replies will give us some hope that something will be done.


My Lords, I desire to support this Motion. In doing so I approach it from a different angle from that which has been adopted by previous speakers; but I agree that the time has come when this subject should receive the serious attention of the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, spoke, if I understood him correctly, of having a list of houses. I think that is the true line of approach to this subject, and I would start with this proposal, that before any building can be preserved it should be classified as worth preserving and, contrariwise, that a building which is not so classified is not likely to be preserved.

The business of making representations or recommendations for the preservation of all kinds of structures is in the hands of the Historical Monuments Commissions, whose Reports are themselves historical monuments of well-informed, accurate and most sympathetic scholarship. But the Commissions are themselves limited by their terms of reference to houses in existence at any particular period. For example, in the case of Scotland anything later than the Act of Union of 1707 lies outside its purview. I believe that anything later than 1700 lies outside the purview of the Commission for England, but I believe—I am not quite sure about this—that in Wales there is no limit. This means that domestic architecture, which is the peculiar glory of our country, is to a large extent excluded from the survey of the Commission. I suggest an amendment to the Commission's terms of reference as the absolutely indispensable condition of any effective action for the preservation of all buildings which ought to be preserved. There should be no time limit whatever. If a new bridge, for example, opened only the other day, strikes the Commissioners as a work of exceptional merit, they should have power to schedule that bridge.

I cannot too strongly emphasise the point that the whole prospect of saving our gems of domestic architecture depends upon the Commission. To get up a local petition when a charming old house has been purchased by a company which proposes to pull it down and erect a super-cinema is to put the cart before the horse. The first thing to do is to schedule the charming old house and make it impossible for it to be destroyed without official approval. That official approval will be granted in far too many cases goes without saying, judging from pact experience. I myself feel no great confidence in any authority, national or local. How can I, when I live under a Government which has destroyed Regent Street and a County Council which has destroyed Waterloo Bridge? It is, I fear, impossible to guard against the Philistinism of public opinion. The only thing we can do is to make it reasonably certain that such scholarly and cultured opinion as exists shall be heard. The, time limit imposed on the Historical Monuments Commission makes it absolutely certain that such opinion shall not be heard. In my view the time limit should be removed and the terms of reference extended to give them power to deal with all classes of buildings that ought to be preserved.

A building can indeed be preserved as an ancient monument even if it is not scheduled as worthy of preservation by the Historical Monuments Commission. It can be either acquired or protected by the Commissioners of Works or by a local authority. There is thus a loophole. Parliament, however, in its wisdom has been careful to stop it in a large measure in the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act, 1913. That Act defies the powers of both the central and local authorities and is at special pains in Sections 8 and 12 to except from their application any structure which is occupied as a dwelling house by any person other than a person employed as a caretaker thereof or his family. This exception has met with a great deal of disapproval. The Ancient Monuments Advisory Committee, for example, have disapproved of it. In their Report issued in 1921 they state that: …the British distinction between monuments in use and those no longer used is not recognised [on the Continent] and we are of opinion that on logical and practical grounds the advantage is with the Continental conception. I venture, therefore, to submit that Sections 8 and 12 of the Act of 1913 should be repealed or greatly modified.

It is a fair presumption that when there is legislation to protect ancient and beautiful buildings, and when certain buildings are specifically excluded from its scope, those buildings are earmarked for destruction. I know it is said that all these matters are dealt with, or can be dealt with, under the Town and Country Planning Act and the Housing Acts. But this is not enough. The business of town and country planning committees is to do what little they can to check the badness of new building, and this job will take up so much of their time that there will be nothing left over for the consideration of the goodness of old building. We must not consider the provisions of an Act of Parliament in vacuo. We have to ask ourselves how those provisions actually operate. What is going on now is the reversal of the great movement which a hundred years ago packed our population tightly around the sources of power. Modern methods of power distribution and of transport have released the old tension and our people are spreading themselves over the countryside. The habitable area around the centres has been enormously increased and the business of planning committees is to try to control the flood of new houses while it is spreading.

Suppose that an old farmhouse, which should be preserved, lies in the way of the flood, the planning committee—concerned, as they properly are, with the provision of service roads and the maintenance of a decent minimum of houses to the acre—will not lift a finger to spare it. Suppose, on the contrary, that the building is safe from demolition unless special powers are secured to destroy it, then the planning committee, taking the line of least resistance, will discover that it constitutes an admirable nodal point for their plan and can be made to serve an excellent public function. The present is always arrogant and insists that its own needs shall not be obstructed, and, when urged to think of the future, retorts that the future can take care of itself. The answer to this sort of argument is, I take it, that a country as tenacious of its traditions as ours has no right to asume that the future will not share its feelings. We say now that the nineteenth century spoilt our towns. Let us at least make sonic effort to see to it that our descendants do not say that the twentieth century spoilt our countryside.


My Lords, I think that those of us who hail from Scotland are in deep debt to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, for bringing this subject before the House. Scotland is a small country with a comparatively small population and there is consequently not so much wealth as there is in the southern part of the Kingdom. That is really why the situation in Scotland is a great deal worse than it is in England, although I feel that, if things are allowed to drift as they are now drifting, those in England will experience the same trouble and difficulty as we are now experiencing in Scotland. There is no question, either, that the activity of the housing legislation has aggravated this question of old buildings. On the other hand, we cannot help but admire the public-spirited action of those who, like the noble Marquess who spoke after Lord Hamilton, give of their time and treasure to the maintenance of that which is worthy to be kept. I am sure that the noble Marquess would like to see much more kept than he individually is able to keep.

It seems to me that the best way in which to remedy the situation is for His Majesty's Government to give extended powers, both under the Ancient Monuments Act and also to the Office of Works, to do more than they are allowed to do, and also for the Treasury to be generous to those two Departments. As I understand the position, the Ancient Monuments Department cannot touch any building which is actually inhabited. The building has to go to rack and ruin, or the roof has to be off, or something like that, before the Department can schedule it under the Act of 1913. I happen to be the owner of one of those scheduled ancient monuments, and I cannot speak too highly of the splendid work which the Department has done in keeping old monuments and restoring them to almost perfect condition—as ruins. The case that I have in mind has been treated splendidly, and the only curious thing about it was that three years after the Ancient Monuments Act was passed in 1913, when nobody was allowed to do any building at all under the Ministry of Munitions Orders, I received notice "to forthwith repair the said monument." But they do not act in that way now, and there is many an ancient monument in Scotland which still has a roof on and ought to be preserved. If the Government could see their way to extending the powers of the Ancient Monuments Act, a great deal could be done at any rate in the way of scheduling the buildings, even though the Department did not forthwith repair them if there were no money available.

The great trouble to-day is that these ancient houses or valuable historic houses cannot be scheduled and are therefore at the mercy of the local authority, who have no money for such a purpose. I cannot say too much in praise of the splendid work which the Office of Works have done within their powers, but there again, they require extended powers and extended grants to enable them to carry out that section of their work with which we are intimately concerned this afternoon. Of course it may be said that we in Scotland do not show enough interest in these matters. It is very easy to talk about things and to show your interest in talk, but if you have not the means wherewith to carry your talk into action it does not exactly manifest the same interest as if you had, and you cannot do things if you have not the wherewithal to do them. The means which some of us used to have for this sort of work have now absolutely disappeared owing to the demands of the Department of Health and the local authorities under the Housing Acts. More especially is that the case for those of us who live in the country and have town conditions imposed upon rural areas which are quite impossible to carry out. That is one of the reasons why those old houses in the country are liable to go into disrepair and eventually to fall down because there is no money left with which to keep them in order.

I should like to plead with the Government to extend the powers of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act to the built-up areas. I cannot quite see why that Act, with its system of grants, could not be extended to the towns. That would be of enormous help to preserving small cottages which are worth maintaining, if there were a grant for putting them into proper order, but at present there is no grant for putting them in order and it is only the grant that enables an owner to do it in the country. Surely the same thing ought to apply to the small houses or cottages in built-up areas. In this matter I would claim the interest of noble Lords who are interested south of the Border, because if this state of things is allowed to continue, without a doubt they will find themselves faced with the same situation as that with which we in Scotland are faced. It is therefore to the interest of all your Lordships, and, in fact, of all the citizens in our country who have any interest in the past and who wish to preserve what is good, that they should take an active interest in this matter before it is too late.


My Lords, the situation to-clay is very serious and the noble Lords who have addressed the House have not in the least exaggerated the position. Old houses with distinctive character are being swept away, not by the hundred only but almost by the thousand, and with these houses we are losing our Scottish history. The noble Marquess, Lord Bute, did not in the least exaggerate the position when he said that a process of devastation is going on. My noble friend near me described how in the West whole villages are scheduled for destruction. Where a house cannot be reconditioned and made into a wholesome, sanitary building, it has got to go, but seine of the destruction which is going on now is not only needless but it is wasteful as well, because a great number of these houses are perfectly capable of being repaired and put into a thoroughly good condition. As things stand, however, the Housing Acts place a premium on demolition. I do not know whether Lord Hamilton of Dalzell, whose speech I am sorry to say I did not hear, quoted the letter from the Town Clerk of Edinburgh.


Yes, I did.


In that letter, a very striking letter, the Town Clerk complained about this very point, and he added that if there is a beautiful facade no grant would be made if the feature were incorporated in the reconstructed building. The building would therefore be lost. That is not only wrong but fantastic. I recently noticed when visiting Paris that the whole frontage of a house in the historic square called the Place Vendome is being retained while the fabric behind is being reconstructed. The French value the place as an artistic entity, but if we did such a thing in Scotland the Treasury would say: "Oh, if you use a stone of the old building, no money from us." It is a most wasteful and extravagant procedure, because Lord Glasgow was very right when he referred to the commercial value of these buildings. He ought to know, because he says he represents the Mecca of Scotsmen. I should not contest that description beyond saying that there is an East as well as a West of Scotland, and we know that in Scotland there are people able sufficiently to appreciate the commercial value of a beautiful town or beautiful street. It is inconceivable that public opinion would allow shopkeepers in Edinburgh or St. Andrews, or anywhere else, to erect over their shops what are called fascias, several feet high, which advertise boots, or perfumes or other commodities.

Now these old buildings which are so easily condemned can in many cases be repaired and made into perfectly substantial dwelling houses. The repair of an old building through reconditioning is an art in itself, an art which was revived by Sir Robert Lorimer, and is now being carried on in Scotland by students of his scientific treatment. But may I say this, that reconditioning of old buildings requires a particular training, and it is the habit of the medical officer of health or the local surveyor to condemn a building as being unfit for reconditioning. With all due deference to those gentlemen they have not been trained as architects, and unless you have been trained in the art of architecture and the science of building it is no good pronouncing an opinion upon whether walls can be reconditioned or not. Moreover, these gentlemen are much too occupied on other things to give their attention to this problem, on the technical side of which immense progress is being made. In England whole villages have been reconditioned and made into thoroughly satisfactory dwelling houses. Incidentally, the new houses are not always in themselves ideal either. These old houses, with stone walls two feet thick, are cool in summer and cosy in the winter, whereas many of the modern houses with which I am acquainted are very rickety affairs, and I suspect that in twenty years or twenty-five years are condemned to pretty rapid decay. Another condition which I hope the Treasury Bench will take note of is this, that when an old house in Scotland is condemned you are very often condemning a building which is a freehold building, owned by the occupier, or where a small feu duty of a shilling or sixpence a year is being paid. If they are turned out and the family are put into a new house they will have to pay a very largely increased rent. It too often happens that in those circumstances the rent is paid, but nutrition suffers. Upon the whole, I suspect that good nutrition is more important than the correct ratio of window to floor area.

Every noble Lord who has addressed the House has emphasised one or other aspect of the same argument, that old Scotland is vanishing before our eyes, and I am very glad that Lord Amulree referred to the small domestic architecture in Scotland. Not to the grand buildings. We have very few of them in Scotland. It is not sufficiently recognised that the greatness of Scotland has been due largely to urban growth, and it was in these small townships that much of the greatness of our country was bred and born. It is of importance that these smaller dwelling houses should be maintained. I suppose everybody recognises how great and urgent are the difficulties with which local authorities are faced, but Scotland as a whole is not yet fully alive to the danger of the situation. Here and there one section or another is doing its best— the Ancient Monuments Board, the Historical Commission—but it is no good relying upon them. I am a member of the English Commission. I have been Chairman of it for twenty years, I believe, but it is going to be 110 years before we get round England, and unless the personnel of the Ancient Monuments Board and the Historical Commission are trebled or quadrupled it is no good expecting them to make any adequate schedule of the buildings that we want to preserve. I may mention the National Trust. In seven years they have made a great impression in Scotland. If I may I will mention one particular burgh, the Royal Burgh of Stirling, which a few years ago rather unexpectedly took drastic action to preserve one very valuable and interesting section of frontage.

Broadly speaking, the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, is quite right in saying that we are drifting in the matter. Very much greater activity is needed. I think the noble Marquess, Lord Bute, was perhaps a little severe on the Office of Works when he said that they seemed to limit their efforts to re-pointing and looking after the gardens. Their powers are very limited indeed, but I do not hesitate to say that the best advocates and supporters of an active policy for the preservation of ancient monuments and buildings, whether secular or religious, in Scotland, are to be found in the Office of Works, the office of which Department is at Westminster. Their control and conservation of old buildings is a great example to us, and for their skill and for their initiative I cannot speak too high praise. But they cannot intervene in regard to small dwellings. It is outwith their reference, outwith their Act of Parliament. They have no right to do it—they cannot do it—and I dare say in some ways it is just as well that they should be kept above the area of controversy in which they would be submerged were they empowered to say: "You may do this" or "You may not do that" to a building in which a family is residing.

I hope that the debate which your Lordships have had to-day, in which we are united in deploring the existing dangers, will have its repercussions on the Treasury Bench and will have its echo in Scotland. For we who speak to-day are speaking with the knowledge that all over Scotland the state of things of to-day is causing a most profound anxiety, because Scotland itself is killing its old honoured traditions, and doing it itself. I appeal to the Government very earnestly to make an active and, if possible, an immediate investigation into this subject and later on to inform the House of the purport of their inquiries in order that, if necessary, the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, may refer to the matter again.


My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships' House cannot fail to have been impressed by the very powerful plea which has been made both by the noble Lord who introduced this Motion and by all the other noble Lords from Scotland who have followed him. I would like to begin by saying that the Government are in complete sympathy with the general aims expressed in this Motion. The Government recognise that it is most desirable that there should be no wanton destruction of buildings of historic and architectural interest in Scotland, and accordingly they welcome the activities of such bodies as the National Trust for Scotland, the Association for the Preservation of Rural Scotland, and others in trying to preserve interesting specimens of Scottish architecture. I should like to pay a special tribute to the public spirit which has been shown by the noble Marquess, Lord Bute, in purchasing and reconditioning, at his own expense, buildings which would otherwise have been destroyed, for which purpose, I understand, he has employed an architect who is an expert on that question.

It is perhaps desirable in the first place to clear up one or two apparent misunderstandings of the Housing Acts. The demolition of unfit houses is not an innovation of the Housing Act of 1935, the chef purpose of which was to deal with overcrowding. It is true that during the last four or five years the Government's campaign to end the slums has led to an increasing number of demolitions, but the power to demolish unfit houses has been on the Statute Book since 1890. My second point is that it is not essential for a local authority to demolish an unfit house in order to earn Exchequer grant for re-housing its occupants. It is always open to a local authority to accept from the owner an undertaking that the house will not be used for human habitation until the local authority cancel the undertaking, which presumably would be done; and even where a demolition order has been made the owner may, with the approval of the Department, reconstruct the house instead of pulling it down.

It may also be useful if I refer to what local authorities can do under their existing powers in the way of preservation. Assistance under the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts can be given for the reconstruction of houses occupied by agricultural workers and persons of a like economic condition and there must be many houses in small burghs and villages which would be eligible for assistance under the Acts. Where an owner is unable or unwilling to take advantage of the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts, the Housing Act of last year enabled the local authority to acquire and reconstruct the property themselves with the aid of the Exchequer grant. Further, local authorities have ample powers to acquire and reconstruct any houses which are used or can be used for housing the working classes, and for this purpose they may draw upon any surplus which they may have in the pool of Exchequer and rate contributions which the new Act provides for.

In addition the Housing Acts give the Department special powers to ensure that in their housing operations local authorities will have due regard to the desirability of preserving works of architectural, historic or artistic interest, and the Department are prepared to use these powers wherever the circumstances would justify them in doing so. I should also mention that the Housing Act of last year provided specially for the appointment by local authorities of local committees with representatives of architectural and other artistic interests to advise them on artistic questions connected with their housing work. I presume it was those committees and the uses for which they might be employed to which the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, referred in his interesting speech. The Government are confident that the appointment of committees of this kind will be most useful to local authorities, and in co-operation with local authorities they will see that the most is made of this power.

I now turn to the main suggestion which was put forward both this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, and in the course of a deputation from the National Trust of Scotland which visited the Scottish Office recently. That of course is the suggestion that the Government should, in one form or another, give a grant for the preservation of houses of architectural or historic interest. The Secretary of State and the First Commissioner have considered very carefully the more limited proposal that Exchequer grant should be given for the preservation of selected houses. At the present time when there are so many other claims on the Exchequer, it is difficult to hold out much hope of a Government grant, and naturally, before coming to a final decision, the Government desire to have some idea of the extent of the problem, the cost involved, and the probable support from local or voluntary sources. For this purpose they have suggested that the National Trust should endeavour to obtain the necessary information in consultation with the English National Trust. In the meantime, both the Department of Health and the Office of Works are doing what they can to secure that buildings worthy of preservation are not destroyed. By arrangement with the National Trust the Department of Health have been furnished with a list of buildings of historic or architectural interest in certain districts of Scotland and they have written to each local authority concerned drawing their attention to any buildings in their area and asking to be informed of any proposals for demolishing them.

It has also been arranged that, where necessary, officers of the Office of Works will inspect the buildings and advise the Department in connection with the exercise of their powers to preserve buildings of architectural, historic or artistic merit. A further and more comprehensive list is being prepared, I understand, by the noble Marquess, Lord Bute, and the Secretary of State will of course welcome any further information which will enable the Department to bring to the notice of local authorities any valuable buildings in their areas. I understand that the National Trust for Scotland propose to launch an appeal for funds to help them in the work of preservation. I know something of the excellent work which the Trust have already done and I wish to associate myself with the appeal to all Scotsmen to give some contribution to enable the efforts of the Trust to be continued and extended. In conclusion, I should like to emphasise the importance of local effort in this work of preservation. There must be few towns or villages in Scotland which have not some building of historic or artistic interest and I cannot think that either the local authorities or the local inhabitants as a whole are not willing to make some contribution to the preservation of the distinctive features of their district.

There are no papers which I can produce on this subject, and the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, is even more aware than I am of all the correspondence which has passed between the Scottish Office and the National Trust and other individuals in this matter. But I will give him and the other noble Lords who have spoken this undertaking, that I will personally make it my duty to report to the Secretary of State for Scotland the very strong tone that has prevailed in this debate and the completely unanimous feeling of your Lordships' House that something should be done in this case for Scotland.


My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord who has just spoken will be disappointed if I say I did not derive a great deal of comfort from his reply except from his last few words, for which I thank him. His speech as a whole was really rather barren of comfort. I cannot, for instance, be much comforted by the assurance that the law is such that a local authority need not be compelled to pull down an old house if it is not inhabited. Why should it, unless it is likely to fall on the head of some passer-by? I did find part of the noble Lord's statement somewhat at variance with the passage which I have quoted already today, and to which the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, has also referred, in the letter from the Town Clerk of Edinburgh. I will not trouble your Lordships with it again, but I would ask the noble Lord, when he reads the report of this discussion, to try and reconcile what he has said with what is contained in that letter. I thank the House for the support which my Motion has received, and with your Lordships' permission I would withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.