HL Deb 08 March 1951 vol 170 cc990-1028

4.40 p.m.

LORD METHUEN rose to call attention to the Report of the Committee on Houses of Outstanding Historic or Architectural Interest: and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have not tabled this Motion with any desire to embarrass or trouble any of the Ministers concerned. I want to give the Government an opportunity of telling us where we stand over the Report of Sir Ernest Gowers' Committee on Houses of Outstanding Historic or Architectural Interest. I have read the reply given to a question asked recently in another place, and I sincerely hope that the noble Lord who will reply at the end of the debate will be able somewhat, if only slightly, to amplify that answer. The Gowers Report is, in itself, a historic memorandum, as I think we shall all admit, and it contains an inescapable warning. I do not think I need repeat that warning, as noble Lords have no doubt read it. The Report itself had a good Press from, I think I am right in saying, papers and periodicals representing all shades of political opinion. It is non-controversial. Your Lordships will remember that the Committee was asked to report on the best way of preserving these historical houses, and rot whether they should be preserved or not. It was taken for granted by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer that at least a high proportion of them should be preserved. The Report recognises that these monuments are part of our historic patrimony, part of our national wealth and, incidentally, have a considerable earning power from the tourist trade. I should imagine that very few people wish to see them fall into decay. One has only to notice the popularity of some of them which have been opened to the public since 1945 for any doubts on that score to be dispelled.

It is nine months or more since this Report was published. Many of us who have this matter seriously at heart feel that in spite of the present financial stringencies some statement is due from the Government. My question, therefore, takes the form: Can His Majesty's Government now say whether it is their intention to implement some or any part of the recommendations contained in this Report? When I brought the broad aspects of the matter to your Lordships' attention as long ago as 1945, I emphasised the fact that the law made no provision whatever for the maintenance of historic houses which were occupied other than by a caretaker. As your Lordships know, the Minister of Works cannot take over an inhabited building, except, of course, as a gift, which in present circumstances would no doubt be a source of economy to the owner. Now, however, as soon as local authorities realise the benefits that can be derived from the conversion and rehabilitation of existing houses, including those of architectural interest, thanks to the 1949 Housing Act, this criticism is less valid than it was.

In this case I would say that a difficult problem was tackled in the right way from the economic point of view, and as soon as local authorities wake up to the possibilities of the Act I think the result will be of enormous benefit for the preservation of, in particular, smaller town houses of historic or architectural interest. Unfortunately, though quite naturally, this Act does not apply to the large historic country house, which is the principal theme of the Gowers Committee's investigations. No individual can hope to maintain out of income these vast structures, together with their amenities, unless he is lucky enough to discover a new use for his house—runs it as a sort of fun fair, or dismantles the interior decorations, disperses its valuable contents and lets or sells it, if he can, to one of the Ministries, as a school or some institution. Your Lordships will perhaps remember what the Gowers Committee said on that matter. These houses, as your Lordships know, are full of the finest craftsmanship that this country has produced.

I should like to remind the House of a historic fact. Soon after the French Revolution there was a great deal of destruction, and the then Government said; "Why this destruction? All these beautiful things you are destroying belong to the people and should be preserved." Curiously enough, in spite of all the destruction there was a considerable amount of preservation, and the real destruction in France did not come until after the return of the King in 1816. That is a most interesting fact. Then came the Guizot Administration in 1932. when there took place a great increase of interest in French history. The present French administration for preserving these monuments actually dates from that period. The first scheduled monuments date from 1840. To me that is a most interesting piece of history. I feel that we have to apply it more and more to our own times and realise that the owners are very much the trustees of our great possessions. I think it is the wish of the majority of them to see the public share those possessions and become interested in them. I will come to that point later.

A valuable suggestion was made in the Report on the possibility of extending the maintenance claim. This would seem to be a reasonable proposition in cases where the owner admits the public, particularly in these days of increased education and interest in the fine arts. Hamstrung as owners are by restricted rents and a hangover of repairs from the war period, with constantly rising costs, that leaves little margin for maintenance. We all put aside a certain amount of money out of the maintenance claim that was allowed during the war, but none of us finds that it goes far enough. In a great many cases these historic structures do not stand any chance of surviving unless they can be maintained free of some of the burdens of taxation. That fact is surely borne out by the number that must have been demolished since 1945, and those threatened with demolition. Typical of many must be the instance of Harleyford Manor, Marlow, which has just come to my notice. The owner, unable to stand present taxation any longer, sold the house, furniture, books periodicals, et cetera—and I think we all know what "et cetera" means in this case. The house, which is now occupied by gravel and sand merchants, stands in one of the finest settings on the Thames. It is one of many fine houses which are becoming derelict, and we all know of numbers that have been demolished.

In this connection I wish to ask His Majesty's Government whether we could be given the approximate number of historic country houses of first and second grade that have been demolished since 1945, and the number under sentence—some may be under sentence which we do not know about. I gave rather late notice of this question, but perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply could give a Written Answer in due course, if he is unable to answer to-day. It is important that the country should be made aware of what is now happening with regard to these houses, which, as I have said, form the main theme of the Gowers Report, and by far the the larger number of which, I believe, have not up to the present been listed under the 1944 and 1947 Town and Country Planning Acts and, therefore, are in no way protected. Some societies, no doubt, have some of this information, but I imagine that one of the Ministries concerned is fully aware of what is happening, and I am sure that the Government would in this matter like to take the country into their confidence.

The cost of upkeep of some of these large historic houses—such as Wilton or Chatsworth. to name but two which contain treasures of great national importance—with their amenities, their gardens and so on, is much greater than is usually admitted, even by those in well-informed circles. No one will expect any of our public gardens, museums or art galleries to be kept up out of the gate money. To start with, usually no charge is made. Admission to Kew Gardens costs one penny; the National Gallery is free, and the Victoria and Albert Museum is free. In fact, most museums and art galleries are free, the whole of the charge coming out of the public purse, apart from income derived from endowments.

Therefore, if we wish to retain the best of these country houses, together with their contents and amenities, we can hardly expect anything but considerable losses in keeping these houses open to the public. I refer rather to houses which would come under Case I, of Schedule D of the Income Tax Act, 1918, than to those under Case VI of Schedule D. Case I includes houses which are, as the Act puts it, "run for profit." Of course, they are not run for profit, but that is the way they are described. The particular part of the house concerned must not be occupied by the owner, and he is allowed to set against it certain expenses. Case VI refers to houses which are almost entirely occupied, though parts of which are shown occasionally to the public, and for which the owner is allowed certain extra costs for maintenance. The two classes are separate, and yet I expect that there are plenty of houses which are just between the two.

There is one further point that I should like to raise, of which I have given notice, and which also arises out of the Report. Do His Majesty's Government intend shortly to publish the names of buildings which have been listed under the 1944 and 1947 Town and Country Planning Acts? I believe that the lists for several counties have been completed, and for all the large towns. If so, could these lists be printed in an easily accessible and cheap form which the public could buy at bookstalls? I have in mind those valuable French lists, published by the Beaux Arts, which give in alphabetical order for each Department the town or village and the name of each scheduled monument. In these lists every monument of importance is included. I admit that they do not go anything like so far as our own lists which contain, I should imagine, nearly every Georgian house of merit. But then, of course, the French have not a Georgian Group. I defy any foreigner coming to this country to find his way about its ancient and not so ancient monuments without having first carefully prepared his subject from guide books, books on travel, and periodicals of learned Societies. Even so, it is an even chance that he would miss a good deal. But with these lists prepared by the Ministry of Local Government and Planning, the overseas tourist and archaeologist would find this country heaven.

I should also like to ask whether His Majesty's Government can see their way to implementing the rest of the surveys already made by its investigators. All this work, and all these lists, must have cost a good deal, and a small additional expenditure would ensure the fulfilment of His Majesty's Government's intentions in this excellent and most valuable work. I believe that the work of listing is not yet complete. I suggest that His Majesty's Government should not wait for absolute completion, but should publish what is finished—I hope by counties, as the French do. Some noble Lords may consider that this is not an entirely opportune moment to bring forward this Motion. My own feeling, however, is that when we are budgeting for all our commitments it is as well to take into consideration a matter of this kind, which although apparently small in itself, is nevertheless of great national importance and urgency. That is a matter upon which I think we shall all agree. I am sure that the country would welcome some assurance from the Government that the Gowers Report on Historic Houses is receiving careful attention, and is not being shelved; and that in due course we may see the appointment of the statutory body recommended in the Report, the Historic Buildings Council.

My Lords, I am a painter by profession, and perhaps we painters see things from somewhat different angles from those who conduct our affairs in commerce, administration and so on, and who, by the very nature of their calling, are apt to dwell—as we dwelt yesterday in this House—on the more mundane and material side of life. Environment is such an important factor in the upbringing of any generation that I for one rejoice to see the new interest which is being taken in the arts, and I am proud to think that my own home can serve a useful purpose in this direction. I hope that, where possible and practicable, this kind of use will be extended to houses of historic interest. The nation will be immeasurably the gainer if this is done. I think I am right in saying that many, if not the majority of, owners of these country houses, regard themselves rather as trustees for the public. They are making great sacrifices to keep their houses in commission, in the hope that despite the financial difficulties of the times—which are bound to ensue with this military build-up—His Majesty's Government will see the force of making it possible to keep at least the best of these structures, with their historic contents and all their fine craftsmanship, which belongs to the people and was made by the people, alive against the day when those who come after us, with possibly a greatly increased interest and understanding of the arts, will look back with gratitude on this common endeavour and wise statesmanship. I beg to move for Papers.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that I owe your Lordships an apology, because I know that I have inflicted myself upon you far too often these last few days. But this is a matter in which I take deep personal interest, as President of the Georgian Group, and I feel that I ought to say a few sentences at any rate in support of the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, and also to press the Government, with him, for some answer to the questions which he has asked. I suppose that in doing so I ought to disclose a personal interest, because I happen to be the owner of a house which is at present scheduled as a national monument and, I believe, is likely to be listed by the new body which is to be set up under the Gowers Report —should that be approved by the Government and Parliament.

I will try to be as objective as I can. It seems to me that the main question which the Government have to decide is in essence a simple one: Do they want these houses preserved, or do they not? It is really as simple as that. If they do not want them preserved, if they think that they are out-of-date, if they think that the times are too difficult, then the position will be a very easy one, if in some ways rather sad. The houses will fall down or be pulled down, and the contents will be dissipated, some throughout parts of this country and some, no doubt, in the United States. On the other hand, the Government may take a different view, as many people do in this country. They may think that these houses are a national asset which are worth preserving—even merely from the hard-boiled financial angle; for I believe that there are treasures in this country equal to anything to be seen in France or Italy. If the Government take that view, or if they think the houses are a vital part of our national history, they will have to do something about it; they can not merely take refuge in sympathetic phrases. They will have to take definite action because, there is no doubt about it—and the Gowers Report shows it only too clearly—the burden on the owners of these houses is becoming one which it is no longer possible for them to bear unaided.

I know that there are people who feel a certain difficulty about giving help to one particular section of the community which is denied to others, just because they happen to live in a large and beautiful house which others do not. I appreciate the force of that view. On the other hand, I think that the people who hold that view should remember that the owners of these houses are shouldering a burden at the present time from which others are immune. Owing to the cost of the upkeep of these ancient dwellings, they are in a far worse position than a man who has the same income and, say, a small flat in St. James's Street. The owner of the historic house is taxed at the same rate, but the weight of expenditure that falls upon him is infinitely greater. Clearly, any assistance that might be given by the community must be limited to the protection of the house as a national monument. I do not think any owner, however grasping, would expect that it should be an addition to his personal income; and it is quite clear that in return for any assistance he might receive he ought to be required to open the house to the public. If the income which came from that exceeded the cost, he ought to pay the full rate of taxation on any surplus—and, indeed, that is already the position. 1 should have thought that on that basis, taking the broad view, the measure of assistance which is recommended by the Gowers Committee would be a good investment for the country.

It is sometimes suggested that these houses ought to be used, in the changed times in which we live, to accommodate public institutions, schools, and so on. No doubt, that will be the destiny of a great many of these houses, and I think we shall all be glad if they are put to such useful purposes. But we ought to face the fad that by no means all of these houses are suitable for such purposes. They may be inappropriate in one way or another; and as the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, has already pointed out, the alterations required to make them suitable might be so extensive as completely to alter the character of the place.

Then there is another alternative. I have heard it said that these houses might be taken over by the State and used as museums. There seem to me to be two disadvantages about this proposal. One is that such a scheme would be far more expensive to the country than for the country to give limited assistance to the owners. The second is this. I feel bound to tell your Lordships, from personal experience I have had—my own house being open to the public during the summer months—that a museum owned by the State would rot please the public at all. They would not like it. I have had ample evidence that what the public like is not a museum but a house that is really lived in—and if possible lived in by the people who have always lived there. There is much to toe said for this view. I am sure that it makes a house very much more interesting if it is actually lived in.

Not long ago I went to see two houses in the southern part of England, one of which had been already handed over to the public and was being used as a museum. It was a very fine structure and well maintained; it was full of works of art, good furniture, pictures and so forth which had been lent to the house by generous benefactors. The other house was quite the opposite; it was extremely ''down at heel"; the owner was living alone in it: he had no staff. In one of the main rooms there was a bath placed in the centre of the floor to catch the rain that was coming through the roof. But there is no doubt at all which of these two houses was the more attractive. The first one was completely dead; the second, though it was shabby, was alive, and was still a home—and that is what everybody likes to see. People do not expect or like everything to toe perfect.

I remember hearing the story of a foreigner—a rather civilised, even sophisticated, foreigner—who bad done up his house in what he called the gout anglais, which consisted of two very bad bits of furniture to every good one. And that, of course, is the British taste: not exquisite, not precious, certainly not exotic, but cosy and comfortable. What the British people like is a home, whether big or small, and a home which has grown to be a home over a period of many years. This quality of homeliness is something that cannot be faked by the State or anybody else; and it is the supreme quality of the English or Scottish country house. Unless that homeliness is preserved, the house will lose all its character and charm.

That, I submit, is a fact which the Government and everyone else must face. I am not going to make an appeal ad misericordiam as a member of the depressed class of country house-owners. Most of these owners are quite prepared to go on, as long as they can in present times, without any further assistance. But there are many cases where beautiful houses with a long history, and contents which are intensely interesting as part of that history, cannot hope to continue in present circumstances. Every year that passes, more and more of these houses disappear and their contents are scattered; and once they are gone they can never be recreated. The Gowers Committee have made a bold and imaginative attempt to save at any rate some of these houses, and whatever the fate of their Report, we owe a very real debt of gratitude to Sir Ernest Gowers himself and to the other members of the Committee for the time and care they have given to this problem. I would urge the Government to give the most serious thought to this Report, and to what Lord Methuen has said this afternoon. Let them at any rate give the country some decision one way or the other, so that the owners and the country may know where they stand.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, I feel somewhat diffident about raising my voice this afternoon. This question is one which conies very near to the hearts of many of us—and here I must declare a personal interest. The preservation of these houses is a matter of increasing concern to a greater and greater, and more awakened, public opinion. Moreover, their preservation is a matter of the most pressing urgency. I have heard it said that even the writers of the Gowers Report itself are not fully aware of how urgent this problem is. I myself, as Chairman of the National Trust for Scotland, try to go round that country, whenever I get the chance, with a seeing eye. I can assure your Lordships that the general dilapidation of old buildings, both small and great, is alarming, and also is obviously increasing, especially during such a winter as we are now having. I also believe that this problem is more urgent in Scotland than it is in England, because in our country we have many fewer examples of interesting architecture. Those that we have, therefore, are relatively more important, in addition to which many of them are particularly precious to us because they have something which we feel others have not, something peculiarly Scottish.

Moreover, never has there been in Scotland such great accumulation of private wealth as we are led to believe there has been in many cases south of the Border, by which, presumably, some of the historic English houses are maintaining themselves to this day. We have never had that, and while we are waiting for something to happen time is pressing on; slates are falling off, and decay and dry rot are creeping into our houses. Now, for the very reason that this excellent Report of the Gowers Committee has been published, the matter has become even more serious. Many people who have previously found difficulty in making up their minds are finding it even more difficult to do so now, because they are waiting to see what the Government propose to do. This is even more true because this Report, as other noble Lords who have spoken have said, is in itself such an excellent one. It is well thought out, and beautifully produced, and the Chairman and members of the Committee, and their secretary, are greatly to be congratulated on having produced a real "best-seller." I understand from a member of the Committee that the money which the Government have so far received for selling the Report has already met the expenses incurred.

Speaking for the National Trust of Scotland, may I say that we hope that the recommendations of the Gowers Committee will be adopted without any reservation? That is what we hope; but at this particular juncture, especially just before the Budget, the last thing that the Trust wish to do is to embarrass the Government by pressing them for decisions on, and answers to, too many difficult questions, especially as the Government have been so helpful and co-operative. Never before have a Government been so helpful, and particularly the officials who represent them in Scotland—the Department of Health, the Ministry of Works, and others. With the means at their disposal, they could not have been better friends to the cause of preservation. The means at their disposal, as the Gowers Report has said, are not adequate, but with those means they have done the best they can.

But assuming that the Government will not be able to carry out the recommendations of the Report, or to establish a Historic Buildings Council immediately, I am wondering whether it is possible even now to slip something into the forthcoming Budget and give us one or two concessions which in certain directions would make all the difference in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Methuen, has already mentioned one. Could we not slightly amend the law to extend the maintenance claim, apart from the question of concessions? At present the maintenance claim is limited to the assessed value of the house. Could that limit in certain cases be removed? And certainly affecting Scotland only, could the collection of owners' rates be suspended, as the Report recommends, for one year, while the owners and the Government make up their minds? Thirdly—and this may be of great importance in the forthcoming difficult times —could these houses be protected from requisitioning by the Service Departments? At least some sort of certificate that the house in question was worthy of being treated in this drastic manner would be required. I suppose that the Ministry of Works could be directed to give such a certificate. The National Trust for Scotland would be glad to co-operate in doing this, though I am afraid that without money to pay for extra staff our resources are limited. May I also point out a defect that proved itself in the Housing Act of 1949? We find in Scotland—and I believe that it is the same in England—that when an improvement grant is to be made for a house of interest the local authority must not only take the initiative in getting the grant but must also foot the bill to an extent of at least 25 per cent. Even 25 per cent. is too much in many cases—where, for instance, a local authority is either hard up for funds, or is not sufficiently interested in the matter—and I am sorry to say that many of our authorities in Scot-land are covered by either one or both of these categories.

There is the question also of the acceptance by the Government of houses or lands under the National Land Fund scheme. A former Chancellor of the Exchequer, with great foresight and statesmanship, put money aside for that purpose. We are told in the Gowers Report that this National Land Fund had reached in 1948 the large sum of £51,000,000. with nearly £1,000,000 a year interest accruing. Among other objects for which this Fund was established was the securing of houses for the nation by handing them over to the National Trusts. We find in Scotland, however, that this provision has been entirely useless, while in England also it has been very little used, for the reason that, although the Fund can arrange for the house to be handed over, it cannot hand us a penny in money, and without a considerable endowment the Trust cannot accept such property, because it has to be reasonably certain of being able to maintain that property indefinitely. Would it be possible. I should like to ask—I do not press for an answer now— to extend the principle in two ways: first, could money (that is, cash) drawn from the same deceased estate as the actual building or land be allotted as an endowment fund for that building or land: and. by further extension, could the National Land Fund in general be allowed to allocate money as an endowment for such objects handed over to the Trusts?

Finally, may I say that if the Government are disposed to carry this Report into effect—I hope soon—and find, as they doubtless will, many departmental difficulties that go so far as to prevent them from doing so, could the Government consider trying it out in Scotland first? I think they will have comparatively few departmental difficulties on our side of the Border. As I have said, the matter is urgent, but nevertheless the problem is comparatively small, comparatively simple and manageable. It will, of course, cost the State less than anything on the same scale in England. We have in Scotland a most co-operative team of Government Departments and officials and our own National Trust. So far as I have heard, nobody in our country has any objection to the principles of the Report at all. I need hardly say that any experience which we are able to gain can only be of usefulness to England at a later stage.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I think I should explain that while I have an interest in this matter, in that I am privileged to own a house which could be considered to be of both historical and architectural interest, I do not think it can be called a "vested interest" because the fact is that this house was built at a moment when my forbears' principal source of income had been forcibly removed by State intervention. That source of income was the transfer of English cattle from the English side of the border to the Scottish. I have no doubt that there are many other noble Lords, owners of ancient houses, who now would be only too glad if their homes had been built in circumstances of similar financial stringency, because in a great number of cases the source of the trouble to-day is the excessive size of these houses.

I feel that we should congratulate warmly the members of the Committee who produced this Report, not only on the suggestions contained in it but on the remarkable fact that they achieved unanimity in their recommendations even on such a controversial matter as the best method of preserving these houses— namely, that they should remain in private ownership, and preferably in the hands of the present owners. We should congratulate them also on the fact that, so far as we are aware, there have been no public objections raised to the recommendations of this Report by any individual or public body. They are further to be congratulated on the lucidity of the Report and the very high standard of English in which it is written —I think it is a model on which many other Reports might well be based—and on the high standard of production and layout of the Report itself. We have been told that the Report has made a profit over the expenses of the Committee. I think it would be a very good idea that every Committee appointed by the Government should either share in the proceeds of the profit of their Report or, in the opposite case, should meet the deficit. I think then we should find Government Reports would become a great deal more interesting to read.

Other noble Lords have gone into the detail, and the detailed proposals are laid out in the Report and can be read by all of us to-day. All I want to do is to stress, as did the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, the great urgency for some action either on the lines of the proposals in the Report, or on other lines. It is always easy to think up reasons for putting off something that one does not want to do or finds it difficult to do, but I hope that that is not what the Government are going to do to-day. In the first place, I know that we are in the close season for the discussion of any fiscal propositions, and with the Budget so near we cannot expect anything much in the way of fiscal alterations. But there are other points covered by this Report, and I hope that at least something may be held out to us to-day. Another reason which may be adduced in favour of delay is that a Royal Commission has been appointed to go into the whole question of taxation. That Royal Commission is long overdue and very welcome, but it will be a long time before it produces any Report, and I cannot believe that in the meanwhile it is not possible to consider any alteration in the existing tax law.

Then there is the argument upon which the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has touched, that we cannot discriminate financially in favour of any one group or class of person. With great respect, this is no new principle. For example, there are a vast number of people whose cost of housing is largely contributed to by the taxpayer in general. These people may not be possessed of the same material assets as those who own these houses, but neither do they carry the same onerous responsibilities. Surely it is only right that people who have in many cases made such an enormous contribution to the nation's purse, should be entitled to sufficient remission to enable them to discharge the responsibilities of the trusts which they hold. Finally, there is the argument—and a very cogent one —that at this time in particular we cannot afford the cost. We all know there is great need for economy at the present moment, but in hard times the first thing upon which we should economise is our luxury expenditure, and not upon the maintenance of our capital assets. Surely these houses must rank as capital assets. If we can afford a very large sum of money for a display not many hundreds of yards from this House, to enable people to converge on London this summer and view a Dome of Discovery and that other weird structure, now in the course of erection, which is I understand euphemistically styled "the Vertical Feature"; if we can afford over £500,000 for people to ride on roundabouts in Battersea Park, then surely we can afford some expenditure to enable these same people not merely to see these wonders for a few months this summer, but to see the houses of this country for years and generations to come.

As I said earlier, this matter is most urgent. There are many people who at this moment are holding on by the skin of their teeth. Some persons have come to me and said: "What is happening about the Gowers Report? It has given us new hope, but we cannot hold on much longer." The trouble to-day is not just the rate of taxation; it is the cumulative effect of successive, taxation and increasing taxation. The time has arrived when one untimely death in a family may jeopardise the whole future of one of the great homes of England. I know it is difficult in a short time to set up elaborate machinery to deal with this question, but I support the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Wemyss that we should make the greatest possible use of the National Trusts for England and for Scotland. These bodies have the experience, the contacts, and very friendly relations with all concerned; and they have clone a great deal of noble work so far. But they must have the means. Even if the Government do not feel they can accede to Lord Wemyss' suggestion of starting a pilot scheme for Scotland, which I think undoubtedly has much to commend it, I hope they will take some action before it is too late.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, the contents of the Report itself, and the speeches of other noble Lords, have really left very little for anyone to say. But I feel it desirable—and that is why I propose to detain your Lordships for a few moments— that somebody from these Benches should add his voice to others that have been raised today. I think it worth pointing out that the sympathy (whether or not it is to be made effective is of course another matter) of His Majesty's present Government on this question is clearly demonstrated by the very existence of the Report, which was in fact made to an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer in this present Government. That, therefore, gives us ground for hope. On the other hand, as the noble Lord who has just sat down has said, as the present time is one of financial stringency one is very much afraid that the Government may choose the easier way, and allow these really essential capital assets in our country to deteriorate yet further.

I speak with some little knowledge of this deterioration. I have the privilege to be a member of the Council of the National Buildings Record, as is the noble Lord, Lord Methuen; and he will know, as I do, that at every single meeting we inevitably have up on a board new photographs of some old house which is in danger of being demolished, or which is actually in the course of being demolished. This is a most urgent and pressing danger, and I should like to add my voice to those which have stressed its urgency. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, pointed out that of course it was not possible, that it was not desirable and would not be right, proper or just, that owners should be financed for their own living expenses. And the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, pointed out that, if people talk about privilege of class, there are privileged classes of one sort or another in the community to-day. That indeed is true. For example, the farmers have received very substantial assistance, and there are other examples. But wherever a class is granted special privilege that privilege is granted because in some way the community depends upon the work concerned.

I suggest to His Majesty's Government that the reason why there is a case, in justice and in wisdom, for this particular concession is that, in fact, this would be by far the cheapest way of keeping museums, and not only of keeping them but of keeping them without the museum atmosphere about which the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, spoke so eloquently. I would add another argument, if I may be allowed respectfully to do so, to those advanced by Lord Salisbury. Not only are museums—even the best of them, as we know—somewhat cold and arid places, but it is in the private house that one sees objects—be they pictures, furniture or objets d'art—in the setting for which they were made, and in which, therefore, they can be better appreciated than when seen in any gallery or museum.

I have some criticisms to make of certain minor points in the Report, but I shall not labour them. I think, for example, that the Committee passed rather too lightly over the burden of rates. This is a burden that presses very heavily on owners of large houses, which are rated on their size and not, as would seem to be reasonable, on their lettable value, which often is practically nil. I think there is a case in justice for reduction of rates. I should like also to criticise the suggestion that the National Buildings Record should be merged in the Historic Buildings Council. The National Buildings Record does a great deal of work which would be outside the sphere of the Historic Buildings Council. However, that is quite a minor matter.

May I touch on another point? It is suggested by the Committee—and I support the suggestion—that death duties should be excused to persons who own these houses, and who are prepared to maintain them and make them accessible to the public. But I would suggest—and this is a point which may attract the Treasury—that the operative word should not be "excused" but "suspended," and that if at a later period a house or its contents were to be sold, the death duties should be cumulative. I suggest that that would be just. It would clearly be unacceptable that a particular kind of property should be inherited by successive generations, and should then be allowed to be disposed of by someone, it may be of the third or fourth generation, for money which perhaps would not be there at all if successive duties had been paid. Do I make myself clear?




I am sorry. What I am trying to say is this. Suppose that a proportion of your assets is in the form of a house and land, which will not attract death duties on your death as it is a house which comes within this class. Your son does not pay death duties, nor does your grandson. But supposing your great-grandson decides that he would rather have the cash, and sells the property, I suggest that it would be only just that he should have to pay an amount covering the successive death duties that could have been collected each time the property was inherited, and not merely the death duties in respect of the last death. If only the one lot of death duties are collected, that means that there will have been created a privileged class. I regard this as an extremely important point—


May I make a suggestion? I think it might be that each of these houses should have an ascertained endowment, probably in the form of land, which would keep it going, and which would be subject to death duties later on if sold.


Frankly, that is not what I am suggesting. My point is that if the property is sold after a series of deaths, all the death duties which would have been collectable at each death should become payable when the property is finally sold. It seems to me that this would have the additional advantage of ensuring that attempts to sell these places would become steadily fewer, and the chance of keeping them would be considerably greater. In fact, in the end, I should say that there would be no chance of the places being sold, which is what we are aiming at.

I have little more to say, except that I wish to join my voice with those of other noble Lords who have urged the Government to take action in this matter. Before sitting down, I should also like to add one word to what Lord Wemyss said about National Trusts. One way of giving assistance to these Trusts would be by a slight alteration in the 1939 Act, under which owners of entailed properties are able to give them, if they are in the form of houses and land, to the Trust, though they cannot give settled funds with which to endow those properties. There are a large number of properties in this country— in fact this is probably true of the majority of these places—which do not support the houses upon them. If those houses do not have endowments the Trust cannot accept them, because they cannot accept a liability. It seems to me unreasonable that landed property should be subject to one rule but settled funds subject to another. There may be—I do not know; Lord Wemyss may know better—owners of some interesting and important houses which the Trust would be prepared to accept who would also be prepared to give with the houses some part of their settled fund, which they are now prevented from doing. I add my additional plea to those which have been made for immediate consideration of methods of increasing the usefulness of the Trusts. I also add my word of pressure on His Majesty's Government to regard this problem as urgent, and to do immediately everything they can to preserve this heritage of ours.

5.36 p.m.


My Lords, I think it is right that someone who is lucky enough in these days to live in a small house in comparative comfort should speak from these Benches upon this Motion. People like myself regard with sympathy and admiration other members of this House, some of whom have spoken to-day, who are struggling with the burden which the inheritance of these large historic mansions has imposed upon them. As the Gowers Report states, they are struggling gallantly against very unequal odds, and I think it is only right to say that most of those owners have for a great many years borne their load in silence and without complaining. This is a problem which is becoming steadily worse and worse, and it has existed for a very long time. I do not think some people realise how great the discomforts attaching to these large houses may be. Take only one matter—lack of heat. It is almost impossible in these days to provide proper heating facilities for large mansions.

May I now say a few words on this subject from the point of view of a travel agent, and in that role say something with regard to the interest which these houses hold for the general public and for tourists? In the first place, I should like to issue a warning. It is true that a few great houses in this country are being helped by the tourist traffic which they attract, but I think that in this matter we are, in a sense, nearing saturation point. If one want;, to organise tours to additional houses it is almost impossible nowadays to obtain new traffic licences. This will adversely affect houses that have been newly opened to the public. Although you can run a coach with a special pary, you cannot get regular patronage throughout the season unless you can run a scheduled tour to a particular house, say, every Thursday or twice a week.

The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, have both said that a house lived in is of far greater interest than an unoccupied house which is in the nature of a museum, and I heartily endorse their view. The latter is also more costly to the State. Of the two great houses in Southern England visited in what we call "The Stately Homes of England Tour," the house visited in the morning is run by the National Trust and is perhaps more imposing than the larger of the two, which is visited in the afternoon and which is owned by a noble Lord, who sits on these Benches. I assure you that the latter house creates far more interest. Probably the guide of the party has been a house-maid or a lady's maid in the house for many years. The fact that a walking stick or a hat hanging up in a corner actually belongs to the noble owner means a great deal to the tourist. May I make the suggestion that possibly a few extra walking sticks and property hats might add to the income, particularly if sold to the Americans as souvenirs?

I should like to say one thing about the use of these houses as hotels. On the whole it. is difficult to make a paying proposition of hotels situated, as these usually are, in rather isolated positions in their own grounds, and there is difficulty in staffing them. The fact that they are usually off the main roads makes it difficult to attract a sufficient number of people, even though the hotels are well run. In this connection I should like to pay a tribute to the Workers' Travel Association and that admirable man. Mr. Taylor, who runs it, for the work he has done in converting some of these houses and the trouble he has taken to improve public taste by using good furniture and arranging it to the best possible advantage when he has opened them as hotels and hostels. That is all I have to say, but. I thought it right that someone should put the tourist point of view to your Lordships.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, I must apologise to the House for intervening in this debate without having heard all the speeches. It is unfortunate that I had an appointment which I could not put off. I feel compelled to say a few words, because I have had some responsibility in the past in connection with this matter and in the appointment of the Gowers Committee, and I should not like to let this subject pass without making some contribution. We all agree that the houses and their contents which form the subject of the Gowers Report should be preserved. They are a priceless inheritance and, once gone, they can never be replaced. As the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, said, the purpose of setting up this Committee was to find means of achieving this result. It was never in question that it was desirable to achieve this result. Like other noble Lords, I should like to pay tribute to Sir Ernest Gowers for undertaking this task with his Committee, and for producing a most interesting and stimulating Report. He has made a valuable suggestion in recommending a piece of machinery which, if adopted, will have far-reaching effects.

As noble Lords are aware, at the present time the care of these buildings is entrusted to local authorities, to the Ministry of Works and to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning, and undoubtedly there is a great deal of con-fusion and overlapping. It is regarded by the authorities concerned as a not particularly important piece of work— at any rate, they all have far more important jobs to do, and I can say that if at any time any of these bodies were impelled to economise the care of these buildings would be one of the first things that would go. Other things will always be regarded as more important. The Ministry of Local Government and Planning have for the time being suspended the listing of buildings under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. There-fore, I think it is a most valuable suggestion that there should be a Historic Buildings Council, both for England and Wales and for Scotland, whose sole job should be to concern themselves with the preservation of outstanding buildings of historic and architectural interest. I should like to see such a body set up; it would naturally be enthusiastic, indeed fanatical, over its task. There are ways and means of keeping fanatical bodies in check, but it is a good thing that such bodies should start off deeply inspired and enthusiastic over their task. I should like to see many of the functions of the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Local Government and Planning and the local authorities transferred to this Historic Buildings Council.

When it comes to some of the other recommendations of the Gowers Committee, particularly those concerned with finance, I find myself in some difficulty. I realise that in many cases we cannot preserve these buildings except by public expenditure. Everyone who has the slightest acquaintance with the subject must recognise that it is beyond the means of almost every owner in this country to maintain these buildings as they should be maintained—or, indeed, in many cases to maintain them at all. On the other hand, the recommendations contained in the Report present certain psychological difficulties. It is going to be extremely difficult to get the country to understand the idea of subsidising people who are presumably well off in order to enable them to live in a style in which they could not otherwise afford to live. I hope that noble Lords will not underestimate this psychological difficulty. For the State to pay the rents, the cost of maintenance, staff and so on, is creating a difficult precedent, and one which will arouse considerable apprehension among large sections of the population.

I wish that some other means could be found of preserving these buildings of historic and architectural interest. I would prefer that they should be acquired by the State, and maintained, possibly in their present form, even as museums— although I recognise all that has been said about museums not being the most satisfactory use—as against subsidising their present owners. I do not believe, even if it were psychologically possible to subsidise, that that affords a permanent solution. The Gowers Report stresses the financial difficulty; but even if the owners of these large houses (and we are referring mainly to large country houses: town houses present a different type of problem) could overcome the financial difficulties, there are still others. As has been mentioned several times during the debate, there is the question of staff. These houses, as the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, said, are in remote places, and it is exceedingly difficult to find staff who will be content to live and work there. I know that some owners have a motor bus which they make available for their staff on their evenings out. But that is not a particularly satisfactory arrangement, because it compels the staff to return to the assembly point at a fixed time, which none of them likes.


May I ask the noble Lord whether he can quote to us an example of an owner whom he knows employing sufficient staff to fill a motor bus?


I did not say that the staff fill the bus; but they do have some vehicle of that type. But, even with that facility, there are other difficulties. In a number of cases there are long drives, which are lonely and rather terrifying at night. Staff will not go to work in a place of that kind. I have known this difficulty in a number of cases. Moreover, the accommodation for the staff is not entirely satisfactory—and the more historical the building the less satisfactory is that accommodation. The result is that, even if the finance were available, there would still be the problem of staff, on which the Gowers Report touches as a subsidiary factor, but not apparently as a main factor.

There is this further point. The large houses were originally intended as places of entertainment on a large scale. I am sure that noble Lords will agree with me, particularly after the debate we had yesterday, that entertainment in these days is a very difficult proposition. Consequently, there is a new way of life to-day, and even if you paid people to live in these large houses I imagine that very few would be willing to do so, especially if there were conditions attached that they would have to act as caretakers or showmen, or whatever their function would be. Even if the present generation were willing to live in these large museums, I doubt whether the next generation would be. I am sure that I am within the knowledge of most noble Lords here when I say that the next generation will certainly not be willing to live in these large houses, and make them their homes—indeed, they arc not homes. For these reasons I doubt whether the recommendation in the Report to subsidise these places affords a permanent solution of the problem. I hope, however, that the Government will give serious consideration to what can be done. There is an immense amount of agreement, and even enthusiasm, on this question. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, that a considerable number of most valuable assets of this country have disappeared in the past few years because of the difficulties of maintenance, and the legal difficulty of enforcing preservation. I agree that the present law is not adequate for the purpose, and something has got to be done. I feel, also, that the Treasury must be expected to find some money for this purpose as it cannot be done without money. But, as I say, I doubt whether the method suggested in this Report is the right solution.

I would conclude by making a rough guess as to what it would cost—and it can be only a rough guess. The Gowers Report suggests that there may be some- thing like 2,000 houses of historic and architectural interest. If these financial concessions are going to be of any value —again, my guess is no better than anybody else's—I would say that the least that would have to be contributed by the Treasury, in one form or another, for maintenance, rates, cleaning, heating and so on, would be of the order of £1,500 a year for each historical dwelling. That brings one to a figure of £3,000,000. I doubt very much whether the Treasury would be prepared in these days to find any sum of that order.


Perhaps I might interrupt the noble Lord. In the figure of 2,000, a number of smaller houses, such as manor houses, are included, which are not in jeopardy at the moment. Those which are in jeopardy are the large houses, which are completely unwieldy under modern conditions. The National Trust prepared a list of these houses to find out which were worth preserving, and they calculated that there were probably 200 or 300 of the large houses which were worth preserving. If you take 200 houses, each costing on an average £2,000 a year, it does not come to a very large amount, particularly if it is done through a remission of tax for the maintenance claim, which is a feasible and easy way of doing it.


If you take 200 houses, I agree that that is only one-tenth of 2,000.


Those are the ones in jeopardy.


It is difficult to understand on what principle you are to select 200 designated houses out of 2,000. Surely, you must treat them all alike. If they are all designated, you cannot treat them merely on the basis of whether the owner is prepared to spend his own capital or not. Once it is designated, it will presumably—and this is the recommendation—be available for financial assistance.


The noble Lord does not see my point. My point is that a great many of the designated houses are not in jeopardy at the moment. Those in jeopardy are the large houses, and they do need some assistance if they are to be preserved. I do not think many people would quibble about the first 200 or 300 of them. The smaller houses can be preserved, anyhow for the time being, out of private means; they could probably be let by the owners. I feel that we should draw a line between the various kinds of designated houses, as to those which are and those which are not possible of upkeep.


I think I understood the noble Lord perfectly, but I still say that I am dealing with this Report, and this Report recommends that every one of the designated houses should be available for financial assistance. There are some 2,000 of them, and I maintain that it is difficult to draw a line. I agree that some would qualify for much less assistance than others. I am putting the average at something like £2,000 a year. It may be that my figure is quite wrong either way, and I do not wish to be dogmatic about it. All I wish to indicate to noble Lords is that the amount of subsidy would be quite considerable, whichever way one calculates it, unless one takes merely 10 per cent. of the total of the number of designated houses. It would still be quite considerable. I use this point merely to emphasise the psychological difficulty which I believe would arise if suggestions of that kind were made. I will conclude by saying that, except in that regard, I have the greatest sympathy with the objects of the Report and with most of its recommendations, particularly the machinery ones. I sincerely hope that His Majesty's Government will find a solution for this most difficult problem.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships may not think that there is any further need for anyone to stress the urgency of this matter, but I should like, from rather considerable experience of dealing with this sort of problem acquired at the National Trust, of which I have had the privilege to be on the finance committee for quite a long time, to stress not only the urgency but the real financial difficulty of handling this problem. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is rather optimistic when he mentions the sum of £2,000 a year, because our experience, especially over the very recent months, has been that endowments which were given with historic houses and which appeared to be adequate and even generous are now proving to be altogether inadequate. While the Government are making up their minds—if they are going to take much longer to make up their minds—I would ask whether they could not provide some sort of temporary measure of protection for some of these houses, because when roofs once begin to go the cost rapidly rises and in a short time the whole fabric of the building may be damaged beyond repair. There is urgent need for making provision in quite a large number of cases, even if it is only a temporary measure, just for keeping the structure waterproof until some final decision is taken and some adequate scheme—whether on the lines of the Gowers Report or on some other lines— is worked out.

I speak not only as one who has had this experience at the English National Trust, but also on behalf of the great number of ordinary men and women in this country who derive enormous pleasure and enjoyment from visiting these houses. I do not think that that side of the matter has been sufficiently stressed this afternoon. In your Lordships' House there are, of course, many members who have the perhaps rather doubtful privilege of owning houses of this kind, and their difficulties have naturally been stressed. I am not one of those who has that doubtful privilege in any sense, but I have had the privilege, as a member of the National Trust, of visiting a number of the best of the houses which have been given to the National Trust over the last twenty or thirty years. I can testify to the value of that privilege—and I am testifying as only one of literally hundreds of thousands of my fellow countrymen and women who have during the last few years derived intense pleasure from visiting these places.

I was a little puzzled by a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, when he referred to the National Trust as running a sort of museum, because the National Trust policy is quite the opposite of that. We do not run these houses at all. With one or two exceptions—such as Ham House, which belongs to the National Trust but which is run as a museum, I think by the Victoria and Albert Museum—the National Trust houses are still lived in by the families who have made them, not only as bricks and mortar but as furnishings and homes. I can testify with the noble Marquess to the intense pleasure which the fact that these houses are homes gives to the people who visit them. Going round sometimes with small parties and sometimes as an ordinary member of the public with large parties, I have frequently heard exclamations which indicate the pleasure which people derive from them.


I was really stressing the difference between the attraction of a house which is lived in and a house which is not lived in. The house which is lived in is much more attractive. At some of the houses run by the National Trust you do not see anything of the owner or of his activities, whereas in another house you are actually going into the part where dinners still take place and which the families still use.


The noble Lord is quite right. In some of these houses it is not possible for the owner to live in the main house—in the very large houses with their slate rooms—and he has a flat or a few rooms in some other part of the house. But that is really for his own convenience and because he cannot manage to keep the state departments going and live in them. And there are other houses, such as Montacute House, where it is impossible, I suggest, that anybody should live. Every one of these houses presents a different problem which has to be solved in a different way. That is one of the important reasons why they should not be handed over—as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, rather suggested—to the State and run as museums. It would be impossible to give the individual treatment which these houses require, if they are run in that sort of way. Here and there, as in the case of Ham House, the museum treatment is probably the best or the only possible treatment; but in a large number of other cases, it is possible to work out a solution with the family so that the house can continue to be a home and people can see it in that way.

The amount of enthusiasm and interest which the presentation of one of these houses to the National Trust often arouses in a particular neighbourhood is really astonishing. I remember that when Lord Newton presented Lime House, just outside Stockport, to the National Trust, there was a great deal of difficulty about the management of the house because it is a large house. There were certain difficulties about the upkeep until the Stock-port Council stepped in and undertook to shoulder the responsibility. That arrangement was then made and the house was thrown open to the public towards the end of the year. Although there were only about six weeks of ordinary visiting time left, it attracted over 30,000 people, which shows the astonishing interest which people take when facilities of this sort are provided for them. Therefore, it is not just a question of providing interesting trips round England for foreign visitors, or of earning dollars—although obviously that is a very important side of it—but it is really a question of providing for the ordinary people of this country the facilities which they so much require.

May I say one final word from the point of view of the English National Trust although I am not authorised to speak for them in any way as the noble Lord opposite was for the National Trust of Scotland? The National Trust has, of course, as the Gowers Report agrees, much greater experience of dealing with this problem than has any other body. I can assure the noble Lord who speaks for the Government that if there is anything that the National Trust can do to assist in providing a solution to the problem we shall be only too willing to do it. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that the proposals of the Gowers Report on the financial side are rather unrealistic. It is difficult to go to the people of this country at the present time and suggest that a certain class shall have remissions of death duties and of other taxation in one way or another. Realising the importance of these buildings and the urgency of providing protection for them, I would myself be perfectly prepared to agree with that, but one can see that, from a political point of view, it. would be exceedingly difficult to put the idea into practice. But there must be other ways, simpler and more direct, of dealing with this problem, and I ask the Government to look at it from all sides as quickly as possible and to try, within the next months or even weeks, to find some solution which will preserve this magnificent heritage of our country from destruction, the threat of which is facing us at the present time.

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, I should like—though from the number of speakers from Scotland this afternoon I fear that it may seem that Scotland has already started its invasion of this country—to mention one point that has not so far been touched on. The point I have in mind is the large part which these houses play—which, if anything, is larger in Scotland than in this country— in the life of the community. Until now, all the arguments have laid stress on the aesthetic and architectural side and the attraction to tourists. I did, it is true, find a ray of hope in the number of pleas from the opposite Benches that the Government should go on considering this very difficult problem—because we all realise it is difficult. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has put forward some very strong arguments on that aspect of the subject. But that it is a problem which must be further considered is becoming obvious to all.

It is perfectly true that the architectural and aesthetic aspects are very important. But these houses play a great part, as I have suggested, in the life of the rural community; and, for that reason alone, it is vital to keep them going if that is at all possible. It is be-cause of the distance that I say that these houses play an even larger part in the communal life in Scotland than they do in England. They have formed for generations, and are still forming, a kind of centrepiece in rural life. If the rural economy is dying out, it is to some extent because there is no centrepiece; and the local leaders are gradually dying out by reason of the fact that these homes are disappearing. These houses were not just places where a man wished merely to live in great style; they were the dwellings of men who took a great part in the life of the district, and looked after the people in that district and cared for them. They regarded their homes as trusts and their function as that of leaders. That is why I suggest that we must lay greater stress on this aspect of the subject—at any rate, as great a stress as that laid on the architectural and aesthetic side. Let us remember the value of these places as centrepieces— which is an essential element in the life of this country. If we smash our rural economy, we smash our national economy; if we preserve the one we shall preserve the other.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, this debate will be widely followed, and I should like to begin by thanking all noble Lords who have put forward suggestions, and in particular those who, on behalf of various organisations such as the National Trust, and others, have offered the Government any assistance in their power. This, frankly, is not an occasion when your Lordships are likely to expect a very informative reply from the Government; I do not think that any noble Lords will expect me to announce any change in the tax structure, or in the financial arrangements of this country; you would, indeed, regard me as certifiable if I showed any signs of such a departure from convention. I am not proposing even to embark upon an argument on the wider sociological aspects of this matter. One is bound to remember that one's lightest word may arouse expectations, and at this moment it would be very wrong to lead your Lordships up any particular garden path, favourable or unfavourable. I should like, both as a duty and as a pleasure, to pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, for the high quality of his speech, and for all the selfless devotion he has shown to this cause over such a long period. He has brought to bear on it great knowledge and æsthetic skill, and has shown great public spirit, which we all appreciate. Certainly, speaking for the Government, I can assure him that it is very highly appreciated indeed by them.

I will not attempt to run over all the speeches, excellent though they have been, but I should like to refer to two of them. First, I wish to thank the noble Earl, Lord Wemyss, for the generous and most welcome tribute he paid to the Government, and in particular to those Government servants whom he mentioned in the course of his very able speech. I had never understood the point of all the old jokes about Scotsmen until we heard Lord Wemyss this afternoon. Now I shall pick them up whether they are made by musichall comedians or by noble Lords in this House, or elsewhere. I only hope that the benefits which the noble Lord indicated will spread themselves widely over the rest of the world. My only difficulty —apart from the financial one—is that it would be hard to know whether the benefits would start near Edinburgh or near Glasgow, because that always seems to me to be the crucial issue in any practical Scottish affair. I should also like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, that I am glad to hear of his tourist plans. It seems to me that, with all the various vehicles which he appears to have at his disposal, he can say to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley: "You want the best seats; we have them."


The slogan of my deadly rival!


I am attempting an analogy which I hoped the noble Lord would find acceptable. I wonder whether he would consider making provision for a slightly wider circle. He might, for instance, consider organising parties of your Lordships to go on his tours of the stately homes of England—not perhaps all in one parcel: he could spread them over a little as an additional attraction. I leave that thought with the noble Lord.

I have spoken of the financial aspect of the matter. Noble Lords will realise that big decisions in this field, if they were of a positive character, would certainly involve finance; and on all these financial aspects my lips are effectively sealed this evening. But, before going into the matter in greater detail, may I emphasise that there is no truth in an impression which I believe has grown up—though no one in your Lordships' House has done anything to create it—that the Gowers Report and all that went with it were special interests of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, and that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer is not quite so keen as his predecessor. I can assure the House that, if that idea exists in any quarter, it is a quite mistaken one. I can assure noble Lords that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer is in no way less interested than was Sir Stafford Cripps. Therefore, there is no question of the Report having been shelved through change of office.

The Government's consideration of the Report is steadily proceeding. I can assure noble Lords that the reasons for what may be regarded as delay are not due to lack of interest but to other factors, which I may perhaps be allowed to enumerate briefly. In the first place, those members of the House who have followed this matter closely—and, no doubt, the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, in particular—will remember that the former Chancellor of the Exchequer took the view that the Government ought not to rush into action on the Report.


I agree.


He wanted if possible to choose a way of preserving these houses which, broadly, met the views of the whole country. That is the first reason why there has been no attempt to stampede this affair. Secondly, I would remind the House that a great number of Government Departments are involved—the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Local Government and Planning and the Department of Health for Scotland, all of which exercise certain functions in relation to historic buildings. And, of course, the Treasury are very interested indeed. The Board of Inland Revenue and the Board of Customs and Excise also come into the picture. Therefore, the inter-Departmental discussions have naturally been of a most complex character.

Thirdly, I would remind the House, though I am sure none of your Lordships needs any reminding on this point, that this is a time of increasing financial stringency. Therefore, while it was difficult before it becomes still more difficult now to weigh up precisely the claims of historic houses, and to decide what can be afforded in present circumstances and what, within our limited resources, is the best way of meeting the most urgent needs. Apart from all those points, I would emphasise, as other noble Lords have not failed to do, that the Budget is very close upon us. Therefore, I cannot possibly say anything of a more positive character on the financial side this evening. If noble Lords will forgive me, in order not to send the noble Lord away quite empty, may I give him a little information in reply to some of the subsidiary questions that he raised, though I readily concede that these are minor matters compared with some of the thoughts passing through your Lordships' minds?

The noble Lord, Lord Methuen, asked me one specific question this evening about the number of houses demolished since 1945, and the number threatened. The noble Lord was good enough to say that he had not been able to give me much notice of his question, and therefore I am sure he will realise that my answer is only provisional. The number demolished since 1945 is nineteen, and four are threatened. Those are provisional figures, but I should be surprised if they were found to be incorrect.


Are they firstgrade or second-grade, or both?


The noble Lord asked me for information about first and second grade. Government Departments are always right, and as they received that question and have given that answer, we must assume that the figures refer to both grades. However, if my statement is incorrect, I will inform the noble Lord in due course.


That is for Great Britain?


I should hope so.


So should I.


I should hope that those originally concerned did not make the cardinal error of omitting Scotland.


I hope not.


If they did so, they would no doubt impute the error in the first place to the noble Lord who did not mention Scotland in his original question. The question was put in general terms, and the answer is given on the same footing. We must assume that it includes Scotland. If any correction has to be made and the noble Lord will put down a Question in the House, I will supply the answer so as to include Scotland.

The House will tell me if I am detaining them too long on somewhat minor matters, but the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, drew attention to Paragraph 32 of the Gowers Report, which criticises first the slow progress of the survey and, secondly and more strongly, the still slower progress in getting the results of the survey issued as statutory lists. The present Minister of Local Government and Planning has been greatly concerned to accelerate the pace of listing, and a good deal of progress has been made in the eleven months since the Gowers Committee reported. At the time of their Report, only about 700 local authority areas had been surveyed, and by the end of February this year a total of 831 local authority areas had been surveyed, out of a total of 1,477 in England and Wales. I have some Scottish information coming later, if the noble Lord will wait for that.


That figure relates to England and Wales?


It is for England and Wales. May I interpolate that it is intended to survey all the areas? I think the noble Lord raised that point specifically. Then, following the surveys, 369 statutory lists have now been finally agreed, and a further 267 provisional lists have gone to the local authorities, for the return of which the Ministry are waiting. I will not take the House through all the stages of this rather elaborate procedure. The noble Lord is probably aware of it, and no doubt he knows that these provisional lists go out to the local authorities, and it is for them to supply the names and addresses. In some cases, also, the local authorities send back comments. All that takes a certain amount of time before the lists are finally agreed with the Ministry. Twelve thousand houses have now appeared in statutory lists, and 60,000 houses have been noted for listing. Twelve thousand houses have appeared in statutory lists and these lists, when agreed, are available to the general public at the offices of the local authorities. It is reckoned, in round figures, that 100,000 houses were originally involved. Of course, those 100,000 and 12,000 refer to grades one and two, and are therefore not to be compared with the 2,000 to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, made reference, and which are all in grade one. So much for the drawing up and agreeing of these lists.

Next there is the question of publication. As the House is aware, the Government agree that these lists should be published, but in fact no lists have yet been published. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, and the House will desire a word of explanation as to why that is so. To put it bluntly, the reason for the delay in publication is purely a question of priority. The first object of listing buildings—I will say a word about publication later—is to notify owners and occupiers of these buildings that they must not demolish or materially alter them without giving the local authority two months' notice of their intention. The second object is to inform the local authority which buildings in their area are considered to be of sufficient architectural or historic importance to be under this protection. I would point out that this enables the local authority to consider whether a building preservation order during this period of two months' notice should be issued. It also enables the local authority to notify the Ministry of Local Government and Planning so that, if the local authority do not themselves wish to take preservation action, the Minister can make such an order if he so desires.


May I suggest to the noble Lord that it would be more practicable and effective if these building preservation orders were made before and not after the listing?


HOW are we to decide which houses should be preserved until we have carried through this rather elaborate procedure of investigation? Perhaps the noble Lord will make his points in a moment, when he comes to reply. I am informing him simply of what is the procedure and explaining the object of the procedure. Some may think it is elaborate, and others may think that if one is to do the job properly it should be done fully and carefully. The point I desire to bring home to the noble Lord, as I am not sure whether he has it in his mind, is that no publication of the kind that he has referred to is required to make the protection of the Act fully effective. This delay does not in any way result in the collapse of any of the houses, because when the lists are drawn up any necessary steps can be taken without this further action of publication. However, the process is a heavy one and, as I mentioned, is expected to produce about 100,000 listed buildings. The work cannot possibly be completed for some time, but we are anxious to push on with it as fast as possible.

I hope the noble Lord and other members of the House will appreciate that it is all a question of priority. It is agreed by the Government that the publication of these lists is justified, both as a measure of convenience to people interested and also as a way of stimulating interest in the legacy of fine buildings in this country. That is perfectly right, and we are in favour of publication. But while so much of the country remains uncovered by the listing process, the limited amount of manpower available cannot be taken from the listing task to the task of publication. That is the essential point. We have only a limited amount of man-power, and if we took people off the listing task and put them on to the work of publication we should get on much more slowly with the listing, and the danger to the houses would be that much increased. When we talk of publication we do not mean publishing the bare lists; we mean, of course, adding descriptive matter, which in its turn involves a high degree of editorial and literary skill. So there is a good deal of work to be done after the listing is completed before publication can proceed.

I would only say that, now that we have progressed a good deal further with the listing process, the Department are in a position to begin issuing published lists; we have reached the stage where some publication is beginning to be possible. We hope, therefore, that a start on publication will be made before long. The Ministry are already discussing with the Stationery Office the technical details of publishing lists, and with the help of the Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Eric McLagan a programme for the first lists to be published has been worked out. This work will be expedited as much as possible.

Not to cheat some of our Scottish friends who have waited until this late hour, I will give some information in regard to Scotland. Approximately 3,000 buildings have been provisionally listed in Scotland, under a similar, though not, I think, in all ways exactly identical, procedure. Mathematicians present can reckon whether the figures give a better proportion for Scotland than for England and Wales. The number agreed in Britain is 12,000, which is only four times the Scots figure. So it looks as if the Scots have got on a good deal faster than the English and the Welsh in proportion to the population, which is what I think the noble Lords, Lord Wemyss, Lord Polwarlh, and Lord Airlie would expect. I can, of course, go further into the details of these processes, but I hope the House will be glad to receive such information as I have been able to give them. Of course, in your Lordships' minds there are graver issues which have been brought out, forcefully and fairly, in the debate. I wish that I could say something on those matters tonight, but your Lordships will understand that it is impossible. I will end, therefore, by repeating my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, for the way in which he has raised this matter, and will tender a further tribute on behalf of the Government to the Gowers Committee and, in particular, to their distinguished Chairman.

6.36 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord who has wound up this debate, and to congratulate him on the skill with which he has avoided the obvious pitfalls which I laid. I quite expected him to tell us that his lips were sealed in regard to anything which might affect the Budget. That was not my object in bringing for ward this Motion. I make no excuse at all for bringing this Motion to the notice of your Lordships. It has been an extremely interesting debate, and I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lords who have contributed in their various ways to it. I think it is a good thing to have their contributions on record at this moment. There was always a danger, which perhaps we did not care to admit, of this matter going by default. We have had a very interesting discussion. We have talked all round the table, so to speak, and I think we have had as great an assurance as we could have expected from the noble Lord who has just replied.

The noble Lord has mentioned the various difficulties. I agree that a matter of this kind should not be rushed; but do not let us forget that there is urgency, and if some temporary solution could be found to "keep the weather out," so to speak, it would be all to the good. I realise that several Government Departments are involved. In 1944 the new Department was brought into being. At that time I was in France, but I was told that a Bill was brought forward which gave the one chance of doing something. I think perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will bear me out on that point. Surely there is a way out. By now we have a number of extremely skilled people in both Departments who, between them, and given the chance, are quite capable of preserving this country's monuments. Admittedly, there is financial stringency.

I still urge that there should be some publication as the listing of each county is completed, and even as the listing of each town is completed. That would be better than waiting indefinitely for the whole work to be completed. We may have to wait a very long time, and I think it is of definite value to the community to have lists which they can handle themselves. I believe that at present one has to go to the Guildhall, and ask to see the lists. Very often, that is not convenient. If we could have the lists published at 6d. a time, or some such cheap publication by a county or town, it would be of great benefit in every way. It would help to create greater interest in these houses of historic interest, and it would cause people to observe what they pass every day of their lives and do not notice— the beautiful structures which we have in this country. We get so used to them that we never see them. If there were a list, I think these buildings would be noticed by the public. I have nothing more to add, except to thank the noble Lord for what he has said. He has given us a little more hope than I, at least, expected, and I am extremely grateful to him. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.