HL Deb 21 November 1945 vol 137 cc1061-88

2.55 p.m.

LORD METHUEN had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government, whether they will take steps to ensure that the Ministry of Works be given increased powers to preserve buildings of historical and artistic interest of any period, whether inhabited or otherwise; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it was, with some hesitation that I entered the Motion which is in my name, for I knew only too well how many noble Lords there were here who were far better qualified to speak on this subject than I could ever hope to be. When I returned home at the end of June, demobilized, after a very interesting spell in France with the British Liberation Army, working with the Beaux Arts architects in connexion with their own damaged historical monuments, and having seen at first hand how their service worked, I felt the urgency for us to take a more active and sure course than we have in the past to ensure the preservation of those historical monuments which our generation has had the good fortune to inherit. Wherefore the Motion which is before your Lordships: Your Lordships are naturally acquainted with the legislation which has been enacted since 1882, when the first ancient Monuments Protective Act was passed. Since then there have been an Ancient Monuments Act which was passed in 1913 and an Amending Act in 1931, which quoted the 1913 Act as the principal one. The effect of this legislation has been to give the Ministry of Works—on the advice of their Ancient Monuments Board—power to buy or to become guardians of, or to advise on, ancient monuments or to maintain them from money provided by the Treasury. An ancient monument is defined as a building or structure of public interest by reason of its historical, architectural, traditional, artistic or archælogical interest. The Ministry have also restricted powers over the sites and amenities of ancient monuments of which they are guardians.

If the Minister, on the advice of 'the Ancient Monuments Board, wishes to schedule an ancient monument, a scheduling notice is served on the owner, who is then, except in cases of urgent necessity, forbidden to alter or to demolish any part of the monument until the expiration of three months after he has given notice of his intention to do so. On receipt of such notice, the Minister may issue a preservation order forbidding such alteration or demolition. This order is immediately binding, and if no objection is advanced it remains in force indefinitely; but in the event of an objection within three months of the publication of the order it remains effective for twenty-one months and 'may be made permanently binding by Parliament. The Minister may veto by a preservation scheme, which is not the same thing as a preservation order, the impairing of the amenities of a scheduled monument.

In practice, I imagine, the Minister may not always deem it expedient to issue a preservation order in the case of a scheduled building which the owner may wish to put into a state of habitable repair. The case of Leybourne Castle can be quoted as a building formerly scheduled, which automatically came off the list on its being rebuilt and used for private residence without the Minister making the necessary preservation order. That was in 1930 or 1931. If it is not being too indiscreet, it would be interesting to know how the owner and the architect got away with that and why the Minister did not make a preservation order. The scheduling of historic monuments is in this country, therefore, a compulsory rather than a permissive affair, as it is in France; but the Ministry have not the power, except by compulsory purchase, or unless it is confirmed by Parliament, indefinitely to prevent additions or alteration to a scheduled monument, and once additions or alterations are made which render it inhabited, it ceases to be scheduled. There are provisions as to compensation in cases where the owner is affected, and there is an interesting section in the Ancient Monuments Act of 1931 whereby if a local authority has by its town planning scheme preserved the amenities of an ancient monument, the Ministry may wholly or partly defray the expenses incurred by the local authority. It would be interesting to know in how many cases this has happened. Local authorities are also empowered to become owners or guardians of ancient monuments with the Minister's approval as regards their management and control.

Three things stand out in the legislation dealing with ancient monuments. The first is the omission of Church property. Buildings used for ecclesiastical purposes are protected both as to their present structure, and as to the suitability of any proposed new work, by the diocesan advisory committees which were set up soon after the passing of the 1913 Ancient Monuments Act, and actually appointed under the Faculty Jurisdiction Measure, 1938. Secondly, while there is no statutory limiting factor in the matter of date or age of the monument, in practice monuments dating from prehistoric, earliest historic and medieval times are in the vast majority, with serious omissions in the matter of official protection, mainly because in the third category inhabited houses are off limits.

It is very comforting to know that our Wiltshire barrows and tumuli are in such good hands and have an assured future; and who, speeding on his way to Bath, does not derive great satisfaction as he passes Silbury Down, that great landmark on the Great West Road. Personally, I derive much greater satisfaction from the knowledge that we have an old-established service, consisting of men of great repute who are in every way qualified to carry on this good work of preservation and to carry it further, step by step, if they are assisted by a normal increase of staff and a little more generous relaxation of the purse-strings of the Treasury, so that eventually this country can feel confident that the maintenance of its heritage of historic monuments, ancient and not so old, inhabited and uninhabited, is assured. And assuredly no country has a greater wealth of these structures than we have.

The maintenance of the fabric of redundant churches of archaeological interest presents, I know, certain difficulties in cases where the diocese cannot or will not maintain them. The Church authorities, somewhat naturally, feel that their first duty is to build churches in places where a new population has come into being, and to maintain those which are fully in use. If this is a real difficulty—and I believe that it is—and cannot be overcome in present circumstances, and it may mean the ultimate demolition of the building or its complete neglect, could not the law be altered to allow the Ministry of Works to take it over? We have a recent precedent, for the State, without actually paying war damage, has made a substantial contribution towards the repair of such war damage in respect of the fabric of certain churches. So much for the Ancient Monuments Acts. It is becoming evident that the Ministry of Works should be given powers to ensure that scheduled buildings themselves are in fact maintained, for cases are not unknown where such buildings have been allowed to deteriorate to such an extent that they no longer come within the schedule.

If I may now turn to another side of the picture—there are three Ministries concerned in this, so if I take up a little time over it I hope that your Lordships will excuse me—fifty years ago the National Trust came into existence, primarily to ensure the preservation of places of historic interest and natural beauty. In recent years—in 1937 and 1939—the National Trust was given Parliamentary powers, initiated in this House, to acquire by gift or otherwise country houses of national interest, preferably as inhabited and going concerns. Already some of the large as well as some of the more modest country houses and manor houses have come within the Trust's jurisdiction, either in the form of gifts or with restrictive covenants. In the former case, the owner almost always has to endow the house before making it over to the Trust, the endowment taking the form of land or stock producing sufficient revenue for its upkeep. The National Trust is not in a position to accept gifts of large country houses which are not endowed, and there is no alternative body or society or Government Department to which al owner can look for a solution, if he is unable to endow it himself and desires to ensure that the fabric and contents, which are often of outstanding interest, will be safe for the future. There is little doubt that there are a good many houses the contents of which are worth preserving, say as country museums, to which the public has in all likelihood been in the habit of paying visits on show clays, usually once or twice a week, and which the National Trust may never have a chance to acquire.

I am not here primarily concerned with the large country house. Recently legislation has been enacted to allow the National Trust to acquire the best of them and that matter is proceeding slowly but surely. Further, the Trust and other bodies are seeking ways and means of finding a new use for such mansions, for it is pretty clear that though they have served their purpose usefully enough in the past—I think that we should be generous enough to admit that fact—they must for the most part be put to a new use if they are to survive. Taxation today does not, generally speaking, allow of their occupation. Only in to-day of issue of The Times do we learn that Bayfordbury House, dating from 1759, has been acquired for the John Innes Horticultural Institution. That newspaper adds that though the house is to pass, like many others, in these times of social change, out of the hands of the family which has lived in it for so long, it will be in the keeping of an institution which is likely to appreciate it and which will put it to the service of knowledge from which rural England as a whole must benefit.

Some of these mansions may be turned into schools, mental homes and so on. That may be a solution in some cases, particularly where the interiors are no longer interesting, and perhaps never have been; but if we have a fine period house, with its contents intact, with period furnishings and furniture and its objects of art—a. veritable museum, and there are plenty of them still—we should, in my humble opinion, be failing in our duty to the next generation and to those who follow after if we did not do whatever we could to preserve such national assets. I do not look on them purely as private assets at all. They are public assets just as much as they are private property. This, I think, is the attitude of the National Trust and I hope the outlook of every right-minded person.

As I came into the House to-day I was handed a letter from the noble Earl, Lord Leicester, which ends by saying: "If it is of any help, you have my permission to make use of this in any way you think fit" If your Lordship's will allow me to do so, I should like to read the letter to you. Those of you who know Holkham Hall will appreciate what the noble Earl says: I understand that you are going to plead for the owners of historic houses in the House of Lords on Wednesday. May I very briefly state my own case? Here is a house containing, I believe, the finest private library in the world with volumes of outstanding and historical national interest. Not only that, but there are pictures, prints, furniture, etc., which ought to be cared for and preserved for the nation. This collection is rapidly deteriorating for want of proper, attention; and such is my anxiety for the contents of this house that I would willingly hand it over to the nation to-morrow, but am prevented from so doing by the law of entail" —

on which in the National Trust we found serious difficulty— and am quite powerless. Surely this is a plea and a cry from the wilderness that might be considered. If only one could be given a little help and means whereby we could at least ensure that the elements were kept out and the contents kept free from damp, it would be something. At present I am unable to secure a permit even to repair the roof. We all know the difficulties of housing owing to the shortage of materials, labour and so on, but nevertheless I thought that that letter was worth reading.

Let us now pass to the most recent legislation of all—namely, the Town and Country Planning Act of last year, which, as regards building on land acquired by local authorities, amends and amplifies the Act of 1932. By this legislation local authorities have been given power to make an order—subject to the Minister's approval—that any building of any special architectural or historic interest affected under an adopted planning scheme could not be demolished without their consent. This is the well-known Section 17 preservation order of the 1932 Act. But, under Section 18 of this Act the owner may claim compensation; and this has apparently so deterred local authorities that I believe that there have been no more than twenty-four cases of preservation orders being served by them. In the Town and Country Planning Act of 1944 certain valuable sections relating to the retention of houses of period interest were inserted. In fact, here for practically the first time is enunciated the principle that the national heritage of historical buildings should be preserved. Under the terms of this Act a Committee has, as we know, just been set up under the Chairmanship of Sir Eric MacClagan to compile lists of buildings of special architectural or historical interest. Local authorities are given power to make a preservation order in respect of a "listed" building and buy the building outright and the necessary land that goes with it, by agreement or by compulsion if the house is neglected.

It is early days to say what effect the 1944 Act will have, and it will be a little time before the schedules of "listed" buildings are made available. But the principle of protecting period buildings of all kinds is laid down in this Act, and a method of setting about the work is outlined, the burden of doing so being plated on local authorities. Local authorities, however, seem to me to have their hands pretty well full already with the urgent and purely practical issues of housing and planning. I should hardly think that they should be expected to find the money or the expert direction required. The small number of protective orders rather points to this conclusion. While the question of protecting these structures is important, the difficulty of maintaining them cannot be exaggerated, and that is, I believe, the real crux of the matter. It is in this matter of maintenance that I think the Ministry of Works should be given additional powers and be authorized to consider the lists referred to and schedule all those monuments which come up to a certain standard of excellence or interest, whether those buildings are habited or not, irrespective of their age or period. Parliament might then consider meeting the owners of such buildings half way in the matter of maintenance, provided that the public was given access on certain days of the week, and provided that the owner agreed to do no repairs, additions or alterations except with the sanction of the Minister. That is, quite irrespective of the level of taxation. This 1944 Act is a most valuable step in the right direction, but further legislation seems to me to be indicated in order to implement its intentions. It must be borne in mind that local authorities may themselves propose to demolish listed buildings under an approved planning scheme, or by demolition orders. Does the Minister offer safeguards against this?

This suggested practice follows on the lines of what France does in respect of her scheduled historical monuments, commonly known as "Monuments Classés." Those of us who served in France as Monuments Officers were impressed by the simplicity of the organization and its administration. It was in no small measure thanks to the nature of this service and to the very friendly relations that existed between the French and our. selves that the work was made so pleasant. The work of protection of historical monuments in France dates back to a little over 100 years ago, and came about very largely due to the efforts of such men as Merimée and Viollet-le-Duc, who pointed out to their country the rich heritage of fine buildings, particularly medieval ones, that was being neglected. As a re1sult there came into being diocesan committees and the Historical Monuments Department of the Beaux Arts.

These structures were placed into two categories—namely, the Scheduled Monuments or "Monuments Classés" and the inscribed monument or "Monument inscrit sur l'Inventaire Supplémentaire." The former category includes practically all first-class monuments, the French Government contributing 50 per cent. towards the cost of structural repairs. The owners are subject to certain restrictions; proposed alterations or additions must have the approval of the Beaux Arts and repair work is either undertaken by the Department or has to be under its supervision. The owner has to give the public reasonable access. In some cases only the facades and roofs of houses may be scheduled as the interiors. may have little of public interest. In the second category of listed and protected monuments—the Monuments inscrits—fall all those buildings, etc., of national interest but usually of secondary value. The exceptions are some chateaux of first importance which the owner for one reason or another has not wished to have scheduled as a "Monument classé" but is content to leave it on the Supplementary List. Balleroy is an example. In this class the owner gets no financial benefit but a certain kudos and he is free to take his building out of the list. The French scheme is a permissive one and must be a considerable charge on the Exchequer. And since 1905, when Church property was confiscated by the State, the Government have had the added cost of maintenance of this property on their hands.

While this State subsidy is of value and ensures a fairly uniform system of upkeep at least in theory—for we all know of the state of neglect of many manor houses, etc., in France that has been going on for many years—there are other maintenance charges in the case of occupied scheduled monuments in which the Department is not concerned. Costs of heating, lighting, cleaning, internal decoration, etc., have to be met, and to assist owners in, this matter a society in France and another in Belgium known as the Demeures Historiques came into being and had already done much good work prior to the outbreak of war in organizing a tourist trade that not only brought a small income to the owner (and a tax to the Government) but also (perhaps more important), by the excellence of the service the Society provided, in the way of arranging bus routes, providing competent guides. and so forth, induced thousands of French men and women annually to visit those magnificent historical monuments for which France is famous, whether it is in the Isle de France, in the Midi or, what is more familiar to the Englishman, in Touraine. It was gratifying to visit many of these places after the liberation and to learn that these societies were going as strong as ever, and looking forward to functioning normally again. I think your Lordships will agree that the educational good these two societies have done in the past and intend to do in the future cannot be over-emphasized.

Some of your Lordships may well say, "Yes, we agree with much that you have said about the practice in France—presuming your facts are correct—hut should we not also take warning from such restorations as that of Rheims Cathedral, and the work of one of the great Architects you have quoted? For instance you may have seen Carcassone." My answer to that is that as long as the advice of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings is near at hand we shall never stray in that direction as the French, with all their knowledge and taste and craftsmanship have unfortunately at times done, and thereby lost some of the historical character and the imprint of contemporary craftsmen in some of their restorations.

I wish we could have something simpler and bolder in our methods of preservation in our own country. I have attempted to outline what the National Trust is doing in this matter and where the gaps are. There are also in our towns the preservation of whole streets and squares of "period" houses to consider where multiple ownership increases the difficulties of preservation. In cases where the interiors are not remarkable scheduling the facades and roofs may be the answer. It will probably be found that our new lists will divide themselves into three broad categories and that the desirability if not the urgency of maintaining those coming in the top category, mostly large buildings and costly to maintain, will be more than apparent. And the State will have in some way—not necessarily finaneial—to encourage owners of buildings in the other two categories to maintain them—possibly by free technical advice. Also I feel very strongly that as we spend large sums annually on education, with a view ultimately, I hope, of having universal education on an ever-widening cultural basis, we should not through ignorance or apathy allow those very witnesses of a former culture and of a history that we can be proud of to disappear.

While I have dealt largely with the more important monuments and their maintenance and have hardly touched at all on second-class monuments and on those numerous small period houses that characterize and are the charm of so many 17th and 18th century towns such as Abingdon, Bath, Lewes and many others, I should like to make a suggestion under the Housing Act of 1936, with a view partly of preventing the demolition of period houses of character that will probably in due course appear as "listed" buildings. I would like to propose that the conversion of old houses that have been "listed" under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1944 into working-class dwellings should qualify for the same subsidy as new dwellings. Not only would this be a logical way of helping to preserve what is beautiful; it would be a direct help to the present housing shortage. If such conversion were being held up by a rent restrictive tenant I suggest that legislation might be introduced to provide an expeditious method for transferring such tenant, without the formality of going to the court and on the certificate from the local authority that alternative accommodation is available.

This is a subject of some magnitude and is in some of its aspects closely linked with housing and planning; and I hope that the noble Lord who will reply to this debate will not accuse me of having brought the matter to his notice at an unfavourable moment. We must not allow the general nature of the question as to whether we are to retain as intact as possible our national heritage of historical monuments to be clouded by related issues of great urgency. It is the very urgency of the housing and reconstruction period in which we live that calls for vigilance and endeavour in the matter I have raised for his sympathetic consideration, lest irreparable damage may be the result of our neglect. Many monuments of interest have been of necessity neglected during the war; others have been blasted or damaged in some way or other by enemy action and still remain in their "blitzed" condition.

There seems to be no central authority to inquire into what is being done with such monuments by the responsible owner or guardian. Also in present circumstances I should be surprised to learn that there is not much leeway to make up in the matter of monuments being scheduled. I have a feeling that the simplification of our preservation methods will bring this question into orderly perspective and help to get rid of a certain amount of uncertainty which exists at present. I would say in conclusion that if this leads to a debate on the subject and those of your Lordships who are admitted experts will express their views freely and without reserve, some advantage may accrue to the common good. I beg to move for Papers.

3.26 p.m.


My Lords, I would like first, if I may, to thank the noble Lord opposite for the Motion he has put on the Order Paper and for the valuable and learned speech he has made on a subject which we all have very much at heart. Unlike the noble Lord, I have no famous country seat like the one mentioned; in fact I have no country seat at all, but that does not make me less anxious to preserve those country seats which still exist. I would like to divide the remarks I propose to address to your Lordships into two sections. The first concerns the powers which I should like to see taken by the Government, and the second the use of those powers which I should like to sec made. I do not expect my noble friend Lord Henderson to say he is going to do anything about it, because I am well aware that there are more important things to do at the present moment, but the subject is one which should be kept alive in your Lordships' House.

The noble Lord, Lord Methuen, suggests that the Ministry of Works would be the most suitable authority. With great respect, it has occurred to me—I may be quite wrong—that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning might be the Ministry which would be more useful in that respect, and I should like in the future to see an Amenities Division of that Ministry established which would take over the great responsibility of seeing that houses of architectural and historical importance are not destroyed. It is obvious, I think, that this Division would have to be supported by a Committee of experts. This Committee clearly would have to be made up to a certain extent of architects. I see the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, in his place, therefore I must be careful what I say about architects, but I think the noble Duke would probably agree with me that on this Committee you would want other men besides architects; you would require men of learning and of wide culture and, if such a man exists, one of unprejudiced views. That is the authority, obviously sketched in very vague terms, which I should like to see established at some future date.

Your Lordships might then well ask what powers one would give to this Amenities Division, as I call it, perhaps rather badly. I will sketch them very slightly. First, the Division's job would clearly be to prevent the destruction of buildings of outstanding importance. In my humble opinion, they should have the power not only of buying the building itself but also of buying the furniture in it. Many of your Lordships will know that an empty house is a skeleton. If you acquire a house and the furniture which often was built with it, or at least built to go with it, you buy a living body, and if the country should at any time acquire a house with the furniture I think the nation will have secured a very great possession. That, however, is often impossible. An empty house of outstanding value may be on the market, and it may be that the Government authority concerned, whether it is the National Trust or not, may decide that it should be bought. What are they, in that case, to do with it? The noble Lord opposite mentioned lunatic asylums. That, I think, is a very sad end to an historic house. They may turn it into a school. Many noble Lords will know Stowe. Perhaps some of you were educated there. I was not educated there but I have been over the school, and although it has not got the furniture which was built for it, I think it is far better that the building should still exist, empty of furniture but full of boys, rather than that it should not be kept at all. For the people who are educated in it, it must be a great background. It gives young people a great background to be educated amongst beautiful things. I am sure your Lordships will agree with that

I would mention another thing. His Majesty's Government are thinking of introducing, I am glad to say, county colleges, at which, I understand, young people of both sexes between the ages of fifteen and eighteen will be educated.

Here, surely, we have an opportunity for using some of our empty country houses which their owners can no longer support. Many of those houses, as you know, are in the centre of the countryside but also near towns. Surely this is an opportunity not to be missed in the future. They should be taken over, either as county colleges or recreational centres, with the object again of providing a beautiful, cultural and educative background for our young people in the future.

In conclusion, I would like to refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, said about historical buildings in France. I perhaps have rather a personal interest in the matter, because I have been able to compare the difference between English country houses open to the public and French country houses open to the public. About ten years ago I decided, with a friend of mine, to visit all the English country houses which were open to the public at fixed times and on fixed days in the year. I wrote to the owners of two or three hundred houses and received varying replies, some of great courtesy and some of less. From those replies I found out when their houses were open to the public, and on that basis I visited them and wrote a book about them. I have to tell your Lordships, however, that before the book was printed it was out of date, because the people had changed their minds, and although their houses had been open during one year on Thursdays, the next year it was on Tuesdays.

Shortly after that I did the same thing in France with very different results. I went to the central organization in Paris, to which the noble Lord referred. I was provided with a list of French chateaux open to the public and was told exactly when they were open. The reason was a commercial one. English people who open their houses to the public can charge what they like provided they can get the public to come, but in France it is different, or it was different. Everybody who had a great house there could open it to the public and charge, I think, between five and ten francs, two-thirds of which went to the owner of the house and one-third to the Demeure Historique. The result was they could visit all the chateaux which were open to the public, knowing that they would be open to the public and knowing also what one had to pay. Therefore the little book I wrote before the war on that subject was, I think, as up-to-date as it possibly could be. I do suggest, with great respect to those of your Lordships who are the owners of famous houses in this country, that in the future you have a great opportunity of helping your own houses along if a central organization can be found. You would not only be helping yourselves but also the public, who, as the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, said, have a right to see these houses themselves. I beg to support this motion.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, in an afternoon which is positively supercharged with business, it may not be one's pleasure but it is certainly one's duty to be as brief as possible. I am able to be all the briefer on this occasion owing to the competent way in which the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, has covered the ground. In supporting this Motion, I will confine myself to a few very short and general observations on the legislation as it exists at present. The Georgian group, of which I have the honour to be Chairman, and which began by being a subsection of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings—and I would say in passing how much I regret that the noble Viscount, Lord Esher, is not able to be here this afternoon—has lately published a pamphlet on the Protection by law of national monuments and national buildings. I should like to say that as far as any distinction between those two is concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, has already given you a very valid explanation to which I should like to adhere. From this very competent report—of which, I may add, I am not the author—it is possible to glean the essential fact that, although much of the existing legislation is actually and potentially useful, it is not by any means as effective as it could be. What is necessary is that it should be transformed and rounded off into something much more complete than it is at present.

With regard to the public acquisition of national monuments and buildings, the Ancient Monuments Act of 1913, to which the noble Lord has already referred, gave the Ministry of Works or the appropriate local authority certain powers of purchase by agreement or acquisition by deed of gift or devise—that is, I think. the correct legal term—but the Ministry in question has up to April of this year only made one purchase and has acquired no more than about thirty national monuments or buildings. The number acquired by local authorities is extremely small. The number itself I have not been able accurately to ascertain. On the other hand, the number of buildings acquired by the National Trust is, as many of your Lordships know, considerable. But in cases where owners are not or cannot afford to be public spirited enough to be willing to take measures to secure the preservation of national monuments or buildings if this will result, as in many cases it may, in financial loss to themselves, preservation orders can be issued by the Ministry of Works. We find that up to date only four of those preservation orders are in force. Section 17 orders, under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932 as amended by Section 43 of the 1944 Act, seem to have their value nullified, so far as I can see, by the fact that local authorities may be asked to pay compensation to owners affected by such orders, and perhaps as a result of this there are only twenty-four orders of that kind.

With regard to the listing of national monuments and buildings by the Ministries of Works and Town and Country Planning which has been made incumbent on them by the Acts of 1913, 1932, and 1944, that, of course, is a measure of obvious value. I note in passing that the new Committee nominated by Mr. Silkin for this purpose shows a very impressive number of well known and authoritative names. But these provisions only call attention to the danger of demolition or alteration; they do not give final protection. With regard to repair, the Ministry of Works appears by now to be responsible for that of about 160 national monuments; but in the case of the repair of national buildings, the law as hitherto is completely silent.

Perhaps I may be allowed to conclude by summing up what is really the gist of what I wish to say this afternoon in the words of this report, and leave your Lordships to draw your own conclusions. The report says: Such, then, is the present state of the law in regard to the preservation of national monuments and buildings. In the case of the former, though in need of simplification and consolidation, the law is not inadequate; and within its limits it has been admirably administered by the Ministry of Works. In the case of national buildings, the position has, till lately, been far from satisfactory; and apart from Section 17 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, (which has be all but inoperative), the law has confined itself to pious exhortation and somewhat permissive powers. In particular, the need for making clue provision to cover the repair of national buildings has been almost entirely overlooked. It is too soon to say what will be the effect of the provisions of the 1944 Act; the listing of national buildings should invest them with a certain prestige, mace owners more concerned to keep them in good order and deter building speculators from acquiring them only to destroy them. The amendments to Section 17 of the Town and Country. Planning Act, 1932, are, too, to be welcomed; but the warmth of the welcome must be tempered by the thought of the little use Which has been made of the section itself. Of more general value is the provision which requires notice to be given before a national building is subjected to demolition or damaging alteration, but it has to be seen whether the notices are going to be followed by carefully considered action or by careless acquiescence. It is best, perhaps, to regard the law relating to the protection of national buildings as still in course of development and due for further additions before it is treated as a completed code. Meantime, the nation is in danger of losing its buildings.



My Lords, I feel we all should be greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, for raising this subject this afternoon. I only hope that the reply which the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, will give will be a rather better one than that anticipated by Lord Holden, who did not expect very much help from that reply. Perhaps I may follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, who has just spoken, and be brief. I will not. therefore, go into the question of churches or ancient monuments, which are if I may so call them, dead monuments, but I should like to go into the question of country houses, which are still alive.

We have heard Lord Methuen talk about lunatic asylums and school, and other noble Lords talk about country institutes. In my opinion, and in the opinion of many others, the charm of a country house, whether it be a home. I feel that when houses lose their original use and become asylums, schools, institutes, or now, maternity hospitals, they do rather lose their character. My house at Brocket in Hertfordshire is the only house in England where two Prime Ministers have died, Lord Melbourne and Lord Palmerston. During this war it has been playing a rather reverse role because between 4,000 and 5,000 babies have been born there. On the other hand, I rather feel that the babies, who leave there when they are three weeks old, may not for some years appreciate its architectural interest. Therefore I look forward to the day (which, as far as I can see, may be many years hence, if ever) when it becomes a home again.

Perhaps I may just say a few words about the practical side of owners looking after and living in their country houses, whether they are large or small. Finance is really one of the main considerations. I do not intend in this House, where finance is a subject not allowed to be discussed very much, to raise this question at any length, but there are a few financial interests which I think I should mention. First of all, as regards income, I was very sorry to hear that my noble friend Lord Leicester is having difficulty in getting his roof at Holkham repaired. In a maintenance claim one is allowed to put repairs against the income of the estate, or even against the outside income of the owner, and therefore from the point of view of repairs the chief difficulty is to get the repairs done or to get a licence to do the repairs. Arising out of that, I should like to suggest, from the point of view of getting the repairs done, that the. Ministry of Works might provide advice to owners on what should be done, and secondly that, when the problem of providing smaller houses has been overcome by His Majesty's Government, in as short a time as possible, perhaps, the Ministry of Works could provide a gang of expert repair men to go round and repair living historic monuments as well as the dead historic monuments which are now in their hands.

In the case of my own house in Hampshire, about ten years ago the Office of Works (as it was then) kindly allowed me the advice of one of their best architects. The house was suffering a good deal from the death-watch beetle, and I was advised by an architect from the Office of Works who had had a good deal to do with the death-watch beetle repairs in the roof of Westminster Hall. He did the work 'very well, and I am greatly indebted to the then First Commissioner of Works for allowing this architect to help me, because I am sure he did so better than anyone whom I could have got hold of would have been able to do. I think that that might be extended.

To come back to finance, repairs and repairs to drives are already provided for in the maintenance claim, but a large house requires a great deal of heating to keep it in order, and that has to come out of one's private pocket, whether one opens the house to the public or not. The upkeep of the garden can be helped by the sale of vegetables, but a garden is an essential part of some of these lovely houses, and if there is an entirely derelict garden it is an appalling sight for people who come to see the house. I think, therefore, that some financial help might be given towards the garden. On the capital side, I do not wish to speak for long on the subject of Death Duties; but I should like to say that the contents of these houses are not subject to Death Duties until they are sold, if it is claimed that they are of historic or scientific interest, and I feel that perhaps the houses themselves might also come under that provision. The loss of revenue would be very small, and it Would be well worth while for that to be done. I feel sure that the owners of beautiful houses, though they may regard them primarily, perhaps, as their own homes, do regard them secondarily as national possessions. I feel sure that they regard themselves as trustees for the future, and I hope that, arising out of this debate, something may be done to preserve these beautiful homes in the condition in which and for the purpose for which they were built.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, I ask for your Lordships' indulgence on rising to make my first speech in this House. We have all listened with very great interest to the speeches delivered on the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, and I think that they illustrate once again the high quality of the debates on special subjects which take place from time to time in your Lordships' House. I should like, if I may, to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, as an accomplished artist and an enthusiastic lover of our ancient buildings. We are all grateful to him for raising this subject, which is not only of great interest to your Lordships but of great interest to all those who wish to conserve our national heritage. It is gratifying, in considering ways and means of protecting historic and beautiful houses, to know that we are at the same time devising ways and means to preserve and protect the work of great craftsmen who, although their names in many cases are unknown, rank, so far as their skill and their influence and their contribution are concerned, with some of the greatest and most accomplished artists of their time.

There were many questions raised in the speeches to which we have listened to which I am sure that I shall not be expected to give an answer this afternoon. I should at this stage, however, like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, that the restoration of Leybourne Castle was carried through by an expert, and I imagine, though I cannot say with certainty, that before proceedings were taken there was a consultation with the Ministry of Works, arid no doubt the Ministry gave their approval. In the event of the Castle 'becoming uninhabited it would, of course, pass back to the list of scheduled buildings.

I think that in view of the Motion which has been submitted, and of the speeches by which it has been supported, it would be only fair to give your Lordships quite briefly some idea of the work which is being done in the direction which is being pressed upon your Lordships' attention. Reference has been made to the powers exercisable by the Ministry of Works. These powers fall under three headings, the first of which is scheduling, to which reference has been made. The scheduling applies to all ancient structures except those that arc inhabited otherwise than by a caretaker, or are buildings still in use for ecclesiastical purposes. The aim of the Ministry is gradually to schedule the whole of the monuments in Great Britain which are worthy of preservation. This work has been held up during the war, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, suggested, there is leeway to make up; but it is hoped that this work will be resumed as speedily as possible and carried through as effectively as possible.

Before the war, over 5,000 monuments of all kinds had been scheduled, including prehistoric camps, stone circles, barrows, the remains of abbeys, castles, bridges and so on, and even relatively modern buildings such as the iron bridge at Ironbridge in Shropshire. The Ministry do not confine themselves, as so many people seem to imagine, to prehistoric earthworks, though earlier monuments naturally bulk largely in their lists simply because they happen to be more numerous. They include castles (as long as they are not inhabited), bridges of all periods, abbeys and great houses like Kirby Hall (actually in the Minister's guardianship), which dates from the sixteenth and he seventeenth centuries. The effect of scheduling is to make it incumbent upon an owner to give the Ministry notice before he alters or destroys any monument. That is a very effective power in favour of the preservation of ancient monuments. The second point is the preservation as owners or guardians and as contributors to costs. My noble friend Lord Methuen made reference to this in his speech. The effect of guardianship is that the Ministry are responsible for repair, maintenance, custody and general management, including the collection of entrance fees, of any monument (not being a dwelling-house or an ecclesiastical building in use) which the owners may offer and the Ministry may agree to take.

In this way the Ministry have become responsible for a number of the most important monuments in the country, including such famous places as Avebury, Stonehenge, Richborough Roman Fort, Porchester Castle, Pevensey Castle, the Abbeys at Rievaulx, Byland and Tintern, the Bishop's Palace at St. David's, Hemsley Castle, Walkworth Castle, Kirby Muxloe, Kirby Hall and Houghton House. In the treatment of these buildings, which aims at the preservation as distinct from restoration, the Ministry have evolved a technique which is, in the opinion of many experts, superior to that of any other country.

The third heading under the Ministry of Works powers relates to schemes for the preservation of the amenities of monuments. The Ministry have powers to make schemes on the lines of planning schemes for the preservation of ancient monuments, and they are, for example, protecting that part of the Roman Wall in Northumberland which runs along the ridge of Whinstone, where quarries are operating. The destruction of any more of the Roman Wall being prevented, and the operations of a quarry where the Wall has already been destroyed are being restricted. I cite that again as an example of the activities of the Ministry of Works.

Reference was made both by the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, and by other speakers to the later powers which have been provided in the Town and Country Planning Act of 1944. These powers tie up with the powers provided in the Act of 1932, and the object of these provisions is to afford protection from destruction, decay, alteration, or additions in the cases of buildings of any kind, except churches in use. The charm of our villages and towns consists in no small degree in the surviving buildings of various ages, styles and sizes, whether isolated or in groups or terraces. These are, for the most part, still in use for domestic or commercial purposes, though some of them may have been, and may still be, in danger by reason of street widening proposals, road schemes, the advent of multiple stores and so on. There are also farm-houses, small manor houses and great country houses as well as whole streets of fine architecture in our ancient cities and larger towns.

Under the Town and Country Planning Acts, the Minister of Planning is to cause lists to be compiled of buildings of special architectural or historic interest in every planning area, and I think I might say to the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, that though there are definite distinctions, especially as regards cost of maintenance, as between the French system and what is being done in this country, there is also a good deal that is similar. These lists, as has already been said, will be sent to the local authorities, and the owners and the occupiers are to be informed that the buildings are to be listed. If the owner of a listed building wishes to demolish or so alter or extend the building as to affect seriously its character, he must give the local authority two months' notice, and the local authority must send a copy of the notice to the Minister. If the local authority do not agree with what the owner proposes to do they have the power to stop him by making an order under Section 17 of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932, as amended by the Act of 1944, to which reference was made by the noble Lord, which practically places the building under the control of the local authority. The Act provides that the local authority must make compensation if it is proved that they have caused loss to the owner. In addition, where an order is in force and the local authority believe that reasonable steps to maintain the building will not be taken by the owner, they have power under the Act of 1944 to acquire it compulsorily.

Fear has been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, and by the noble Lord behind me, that local authorities may not be likely to issue preservation orders under Section 17 of the Act because these may involve the payment of compensation.


I suggested that they had only issued twenty-four.


Well, I am coming to that. The noble Lord, Lord Methuen, mentioned that preservation orders had been issued in twenty-four cases only. I think it must be remembered that many schemes were held up because of the advent of the war. There have been six years of war since then. I do not think that that can be regarded as a reliable guidance. Moreover, we must remember that the most recent Act was passed only at the end of 1944, and it is too soon yet to form any judgment, favourable or unfavourable, as to the use local authorities will make of the powers which have been invested in them. The Government prefer to watch the effect of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1944 before considering whether it is necessary to amend existing legislation. The first point, as I say, is the drawing up of the lists, and it is hoped that this procedure itself will arouse public interest and public pride and stimulate local opinion in the direction of using the powers that are placed at the disposal of the local authorities under the Act. In any case, noble Lords will know full well that there is a considerable amount of legislation already foreshadowed, and I think it is extremely unlikely that the Government would be able to find time for any further legislation of this character at this stage.

I should like to pay a tribute to the work of the National Trust, which has been mentioned by previous speakers. The National Trust has concerned itself in recent years with the problems of the preservation of historic country houses. Even before the war it became clear that the incidence of Income Tax and Super Tax, as well as Death Duties, was likely to make it very difficult, to say the least of it, for many owners of those houses to continue to live in them and to maintain them. It is perhaps not generally realized that there is a wealth of splendid buildings, ranging from the later Middle Ages to the earlier years of the nineteenth century, existing in this country. It is not merely a question of the buildings themselves which illustrate the development of our domestic architecture, but also of their unparalleled setting and the richness of their content. The National Trust, as your Lordships are aware, produced a scheme under which owners could make over ownership of their houses with an endowment, in return for which they could continue to live there, subject to an arrangement for the admission of the public on certain days. This scheme has worked very well, but is obvious that it can only cover a small number of the houses and only those where an endowment is forthcoming.

Reference again, has been made to those large houses which remain in private possession, and which are coming into the market because of the heavy cost of maintenance. It is hoped that suitable use will be found, as has already been suggested, for these country houses. Examples have been given of their use as hotels and sanatoria, as educational establishments, as rest homes and hotels, and reference has been made to the use of Stowe College. There is, I think, a considerable development taking place along these lines, and it is to be hoped that in this way these old country houses under new management, in the hands of new owners or new tenants, will receive that consideration and care which they so justly deserve.

There are two other points that I want to touch upon. The first is ecclesiastical buildings. The noble Lord, Lord Methuen, knows that in France church property is the property of the State, and it is the State which is responsible for the preservation and maintenance of cathedrals, churches, and other ecclesiastical houses or buildings, whether in use or not. In this country, as we all know, ecclesiastical buildings in use are excluded from the Ancient Monuments Acts and from the Town and Country Planning Acts. The Church of England has always been, and still is, anxious to retain and to discharge its responsibility for the proper care and maintenance of its buildings. Indeed. the Church authorities set up diocesan advisory committees whose duty it was to give advice on ancient churches, and a Central Council for the care of churches, which is a central body for similar purposes. The cathedrals are outside the scope of these bodies. Here the responsibility rests with the Dean and the Chapter to make what arrangements may seem good to them. As regards a church no longer in use, it can be protected under the Ancient Monuments Act and the Ministry of Works would be prepared to consider in suitable cases accepting guardianship. But it is naturally hoped that the church authorities will feel that they have a special interest and a special responsibility for churches which have been in their possession for so long. In the special case of the damaged historic churches in the City of London, a fully representative Commission appointed by the most reverend Primate when he was Bishop of London, is 'preparing a report on the condition and the future of the buildings. I think from what I have said that it is perfectly clear that the church authorities are taking a very close interest in their responsibility for the care and maintenance of their churches.

I come finally to the question of inhabited houses, which were, in fact, the principal point of the noble Lord's appeal. It is true that the Ministry of Works are not able to become guardians of inhabited houses or to contribute directly to the cost of their maintenance. They have no powers to do so, but the Ministry are able to accept inhabited houses as a gift, with or without an endowment, or to buy them, provided that they can come to terms with the owners. This could, of course, only be done in exceptional cases, and clearly it would not be practicable for the State to become the owners of thousands of historic and interesting houses of all sizes with their original owners as tenants.


Will the noble Lord refer me to the section?


I have not got the actual reference with me, but I can assure the noble Lord that what I have said is correct. I was not quite clear in my mind as to the reference made by the noble Lord with regard to the contribution from the State by way of income. He made a suggestion of its being made a 50 per cent. contribution, regardless of the level of Income Tax.


Could I explain? It is simply this. An adjustment could be made on the maintenance claim. For instance, with the tax at 10s., you would get a 5o per cent. contribution from the State on your maintenance claim. That is what I meant. Supposing the tax fell to 7s. 6d. or 5s. in the pound, the adjustment would be made as if tax was still at 10s. in the pound on the total estate.


I follow the point made by the noble Lord but, as it will be realized, I can hardly be expected to give any answer to a suggestion of that sort. It is not a matter with which I can deal; it is really the responsibility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I may not have given, and indeed I am afraid I have not given, complete satisfaction to the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, but I do not believe that any Government would turn a blind eye to the need and importance of preserving historic, architectural and artistic memorials which have been handed down to us from past ages and remain with us to-day as eloquent reminders of the long evolution of our social, spiritual and cultural history. They form a splendid part of our rich national heritage of which we are all proud—indeed, never more proud than to-day, after the ordeals through which we have come. None of us would wish that they should be allowed to decay and vanish through indifference or neglect. I am sure that His Majesty's Government can always be relied upon to view with sympathy, understanding and approval the cause which the noble Lord has so much at heart and for which he has shown himself to-day to be so eloquent, persuasive and public-spirited an advocate.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I would like first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, on his maiden speech in this House and to say that I am sure we are all impressed by his attitude, which is certainly not inimical to my remarks, because, if I may say so, he has re-echoed much that I said. I think there is very little between us except, I suppose, that the question of expediency stands in the way. If I were in his position I might feel also that the moment was not altogether opportune. That is why I stress the fact that we should not allow other things, such as housing—and none know better than we do in this House how urgent that problem is—to blind us to the damage which is being done in the meantime to those things we value.

There are one or two things to which I would like to refer. Lord Brocket was good enough to suggest that I intended most large houses to be occupied by mental defectives. May I make it clear that I only meant those houses whose interiors were suitable for that purpose? Houses with nice interiors I think would be rather wasted if used in this way. I should like the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, in due course to refer to that part of the Ancient Monuments Act which has given me such a headache in my efforts to study it. I should like to know what part of it allows the Ministry of Works to take over inhabited buildings, either as gifts or in any other way.


I am sorry if I said it was in the Act. There is no special section in the Act, but the provision is implicit throughout the Ancient Monuments Act, and presumably, therefore, it can be implemented.


I have not read it in that way, nor have the lawyers who have advised me in this matter. If that is implied in the Act, I think it ought to be made doubly sure by some provision in due course. I did not read it in that way. There are three Departments concerned. I do not advise anybody else who has not the time to spare to take this matter up, because of the amount there is to study. I congratulate the noble Lord on having got busy on the Roman Wall. The last time I was there it was being used as a quarry. He has arrived a little late on the scene. Had it been twenty-five years ago, perhaps more might have been left of the Roman Wall to-day. That points to the fact that we must really get on with the matter.

Excellent as it is to have good intentions, we must have more than that. We must get on with the business first of scheduling and then, I would humbly suggest—and this is a matter which I think might suit every part of the House—of setting up a Departmental Committee which, with all its delays, is better than nothing at all; which so far is what we have been offered. Therefore I suggest that the noble Lord should consider the appointment of a Departmental Committee to go into the matter, which requires simplifying. In the meantime these lists would have been got out, and we should be in a happier position if we could say that in two or three years' time the Departmental Committee would make a report. I beg to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.