HL Deb 30 July 1953 vol 183 cc1173-88

3.41 p.m.

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


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do resolve itself into Committee on this Bill. Before the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, puts the Question, I should like to make some brief observations. In the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, and the noble Lord, Lard Methuen, raised one matter which I promised to look into. It concerned the preparation of photographs and measured drawings of historic buildings which had to be demolished. The noble Lords suggested that it might be wise if the Government took powers to make the preparation of such records a condition of agreement to demolish. The automatic imposition of such a duty would reduce the value of a building, and might mean the loss of money to an owner who had been striving to maintain it, but who, through no fault of his own, was forced to give it up. We are, however, willing to give an assurance that will ensure that adequate records are prepared before any important building is demolished. The Ministry of Housing has powers of entry under Section 103 of the Town and Country Planning Act for survey purposes, and they are satisfied that they could use these powers to enable proper records to be made before demolition, even if the owner did not give his consent. I hope that answers the question of the two noble Lords.

The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, raised another complicated question—namely, as to the use of settled funds for endowment of the National Trust. Under Section 3 of the National Trust Act, 1939, the National Trust are permitted, in certain circumstances, to accept a building, and also an endowment out of settled funds if these go with the building. But if the settled funds do not go with the building, or if somebody wishes to make endowments towards the upkeep of a building out of settled funds which are separate from the building itself, these projects would not be covered by the National Trust Act. It seems likely that these cases would arise only rarely, but I have been advised that if the National Trust want such a provision as this it should be properly made in a Bill amending the National Trust Act. If such a provision were included in a Public Bill, it would, in fact, turn it into a Hybrid Bill.

There were two other brief points. The noble Lord, Lord Methuen, asked that, when a grant was made for an historic house, the Minister should either supervise or have the work done to his satisfaction. The answer is: Yes, certainly, either one or the other. Secondly, he asked whether, if a house which had a preservation order served on it had some very fine paneling, the owner of that house would be able to dispose of the paneling. The answer to that is that the building preservation order could be made to prevent its removal from the old and historic house.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for these answers.


My Lords, I now beg to move that the House do resolve itself into Committee on the Bill.

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair]

Clause 1:

Historic Buildings Council for England

1.—(1) There shall be established a Council, to be called "the Historic Buildings Council of England", for the purpose of advising the Minister of Works (hereafter in this Act referred to as "the Minister") on the exercise, in relation to England, of his powers under this Part of this Act.

(2) The said Council shall consist of a chairman appointed by the Minister and such number of other members so appointed as the Minister may from time to time determine, and the chairman and other members of the Council shall hold and vacate office in accordance with the terms of their appointments.

LORD SILKIN had given notice of several Amendments relating to the appointment of the Historic Buildings Council, the first being to add to subsection (1): and of advising the Minister of Housing and Local Government on the exercise, in relation to England, of his powers under sections twenty-nine and thirty of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the first Amendment standing in my name. The Committee will be relieved to hear that this formidable list of Amendments appearing in my name really resolves itself into three (I hope) short points, and that if the first Amendment falls, or is not accepted by the Government, then a great many of the others will fall by the wayside.

I must confess that I rather hope the Government will not accept any of these Amendments, although I am moving them, because I fear that if any of them is accepted it will mean this Bill going back to another place, and there will be no time to get it passed before the Recess. Much as I should like to see the Bill improved, I feel that a bird in hand is better than one in October, and I would prefer that the Bill be passed and receive the Royal Assent to-morrow in its unimproved form. Nevertheless, I feel it is desirable to have a short discussion on the principles set out in these Amendments, and it is for that purpose that I have put them down. I feel that I should make one other confession. These are not my Amendments. They are Amendments which have been prepared by a group known as the Georgian Group, who naturally feel sincerely about these matters and feel strongly that they ought to be discussed in your Lordships' House. I believe that they even went so far as to say that they would rather take the chance of the Bill being postponed until October. I myself am not prepared to take that chance, but I think it right that the Amendments should be discussed.

With that unusual introduction, let me turn to the first Amendment. The Committee will appreciate that the Bill provides for the setting up of three Historic Buildings Councils, one for England, one for Wales and one for Scotland. The object of those Councils is to advise the Minister of Works on the performance of his functions under the Bill. Those functions will be, broadly, to make grants, either capital or maintenance, for buildings of historic interest and architectural beauty. There is in existence, under the Town and Country Planning Act, a Committee which has the duty of advising the Minister of Housing and Local Government on preservation orders, and of preparing lists of buildings which should be included as historic buildings and made the subject of preservation orders. The purpose of this Amendment is to try to combine the functions of the Historic Buildings Council and the functions of the Committee under the Town and Country Planning Act, which are regarded as somewhat analogous.

I mention in particular Sections 29 and 30 of the Town and Country Planning Act. Section 29 (3), which is the relevant subsection, provides for the confirmation of preservation orders which have been made by local authorities. It reads: A building preservation order shall not take effect"— that is, the order made by the local authority for the preservation of a historic building"— until it is confirmed by the Minister, and the Minister may confirm any such Order either without modification or subject to such modifications as he considers expedient. The Amendment would place upon the Minister of Housing and Local Government the obligation to seek the advice of the Historic Buildings Council before be exercised his duties under Section 29 (3). Section 30 of the Town and Country Planning Act is the section which requires lists of historic buildings to be prepared, and a Committee set up by the Minister of Housing and Local Government is engaged in preparing these lists. It is thought that the work of this Committee is analogous to the work which will have to be done by the Historic Buildings Council under this Bill, and that there is no reason for the continued existence of two separate bodies. The purpose of this Amendment is to set up one Committee which will have the purpose both of preparing the lists and of carrying out the functions under this Bill, and which will, in addition, advise the Minister of Housing and Local Government on the making of preservations orders. I think this would be a simplification, but I should be glad if the noble Earl could tell us whether or not this could be done administratively, without an Amendment to the Bill. As I have said, I am not encouraging the noble Earl to accept this Amendment. It may well be that it cannot be done administratively, and I should be satisfied if the noble Earl would give me an assurance either that this will be done administratively or, at any rate, that it will be seriously considered.

There is one difficulty which I see in this; namely, that the Committee making a list of historic buildings is of necessity a temporary body. Once they have made their list the Committee would automatically go out of action; there would be nothing more for them to do. Furthermore, under Section 30 (5) of the Town Aid Country Planning Act the persons who are qualified to form the Committee to make the lists are set out. They are …such persons or bodies of persons as appear to him"— that is the Minister— appropriate as having special knowledge of or interest in buildings of architectural and historic interest. Therefore, what you have is a Committee of specialists preparing a list, and the Historic Buildings Councils which are to be set up under this Bill. I should welcome the noble Earl's view on whether it would be appropriate, or whether it is in the mind of the Minister for the purposes of the Historic Buildings Council, to have a Committee of experts, or a Committee of men and women who can take a broad view of an application for a grant—possibly with some general building experience, with an understanding of estimates and repairs, and so on—and who are able to form a judgment upon whether an application for a grant should be made. In other words, they would be people who, while not necessarily experts, would be able to weigh up the opinion of experts and form a sound judgment of their own. If that is the view of the Minister, then it would hardly be consistent that the Committee of technical people who are preparing the lists should be the same body as the people who are going to form the Historic Buildings Council.

That is one of the difficulties that I foresee in this Amendment, which is asking that they should consist of the same people. In other words, I am raising this Amendment for the purpose of a discussion, rather than for t he purpose of pressing it to a Division or insisting upon its acceptance. My own view is that it would not be easy to combine the functions under Sections 29 and 30 of the Town and Country Planning Act with the functions which are required to be carried out by the Historic Buildings Council under this Bill. I do not think it would be easy for the same body of people to do the job. It may. however, be possible w combine them in some form and to have one Committee, comprising people of expert qualities, as laid down in Section 29 of the Town and Country Planning Act, and the kind of people that I have in mind, and I believe the Minister has in mind, for the purpose of carrying out the functions under this Bill. At any rate, I should welcome the views of the noble Earl on this matter, and for that purpose beg to move this Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 12, at end insert the said words—(Lord Silkin.)


I would not in any way quarrel with the explanation that the noble Lord has made on the Amendment which he has moved, for he says quite correctly that its object is to provide that the Historic Buildings Council for England and Wales should replace the Minister of Housing's Advisory Council on buildings of special architectural or historical interest, which is, as the noble Lord knows, more commonly described as the Holford Committee. That Committee is primarily æsthetic and it deals with a large range of houses. As the noble Lord quite rightly said, the work of the Historic Buildings Council will be primarily financial, and they are likely to be dealing with only a small number of cases. If we joined these two bodies together it would have this effect: that in future the Historic Buildings Council for England and Wales would be appointed jointly by the Minister of Works and by the Minister of Housing. They would then advise the Minister of Works upon matters which would arise under Part I of the Bill, and the Minister of Housing on matters dealing with historic buildings which arise under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947.

As the noble Lord will know full well, proposals similar to this were made during the Committee stage in another place. A proposal was put forward to amalgamate the Holford Committee and the Historic Buildings Councils, but the idea was ultimately withdrawn in favour of a further proposal to amalgamate all the powers into the hands of the Minister of Works. My right honourable friend pointed out that, in his opinion, a single body advising two separate Ministers was an unfortunate half-way house, but he nevertheless promised to consult with the Minister of Housing about the transfer of his powers. The noble Lord who moved the Amendment asked me whether, if a decision is made, it can be carried out administratively, whether there will have to be an Amendment of the Bill or whether it can be done by an Order in Council. I think it would be advisable to wait until the discussions of the two Ministers have taken place and the results have been announced before I endeavoured to guess as to which might be the most appropriate method, if it were so decided to amalgamate these two bodies.

The Historic Buildings Councils will be composed of a variety of people who are not necessarily experts in any one particular line, but they will certainly be in a position to advise my right honourable friend whether grants should be made for the upkeep of a house of historic interest. I would not say more to-day as these conversations are taking place between the two Ministers, but I have no doubt that, on the completion of their inquiry, one or other of my right honourable friends will take an opportunity of letting another place or, indeed, this House, know what has been decided about the future of these two Committees. In view of what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw his Amendment.

4.3 p.m.


As the noble Earl rightly says, a number of proposals were made in another place, and the one that I am moving was one of them. There was the other proposal to transfer the relevant powers of the Minister of Housing to the Minister of Works. In fact, this particular proposal was never discussed at all in another place. The Minister described it as "a half-way house," and the whole of the discussion took place on the proposal to transfer functions. I therefore thought it was right to put down this Amendment in order that we might get the views of the Minister. From what the noble Earl has said, may I take it that the Minister has definitely rejected this method of dealing with the matter and of having a single Committee which will be answerable to both Ministers, and that the only matter which is being considered is the question of the transfer of functions?


Yes, I think that is correct.


I have very little confidence in the transfer of functions; I do not think that will "come off." The question I want to ask before withdrawing this Amendment is whether, if he finds, as I believe he will, that it is not practical politics to transfer the functions because of the immense repercussions that would be involved, he will consider the possibility of simplifying the machinery, which I think he can do administratively, either by way of having one Committee or possibly by way of having one Committee and a sub-committee? I think it can be done like that. If he can give me an assurance that that will be considered, I shall be prepared to withdraw my Amendment.


Yes, I can certainly give the noble Lord that assurance. I can go further and say that I am certain that my right honourable friend the Minister of Works is only too anxious to find some method whereby the machinery can be simplified.


In view of that, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


I am not rising to move any Amendment, even for the purpose of getting it rejected, but I want to ask one question as this Bill has not been considered very deeply in detail. The Bill gives the Minister considerable powers. They are rather vaguely expressed and a good deal depends on how they are administered. I wonder whether my noble friend could indicate what is going to be the position of the Historic Buildings Councils in relation to owners. Will it be possible for owners to communicate directly with these Councils and for the Councils to correspond directly with owners, or shall we be told that an official edict will prevent any communication except with the Secretary at the Ministry of Works? Personally, I hope that there will be the freest contact between owners and Councils. I concede that it might result in correspondence which would be lengthy and, indeed, tedious, but I believe that a great deal will be gained if the Councils have direct experience, and if they know directly what the owners' problems are and do not have to rely entirely on the views of other experts.


I should like to draw attention to subsection (6) of this clause and to express the hope that the Minister will take a wide view of the report which this subsection requires. It is the clause under which the Councils have to prepare a report in respect of the matters on which they have advised the Minister during the year. I felt inclined to put down an Amendment also, but my proposal was such a reasonable one that I thought the Government might well accept it. Like the noble Lord, Lord Silkin I am most anxious that we should have this Bill at once, bur I think that, with a certain amount of administrative elasticity, if the noble Earl would bring the matter to the attention of the Minister, what I want to achieve may in fact be achieved. What I should like is for this report to be widely drawn and, so far as possible, present every year to the nation a conspectus of the situation in respect of these historic buildings. I think everybody agrees that the work of the Gowers Committee has been of the highest value and certainly has disturbed the nation as a whole. In that way, I think it has brought enough pressure to bear on the Government to lead to the introduction of this Bill. It would be extraordinarily valuable if the Historic Buildings Councils could, during the course of their work, take a general view of the situation in respect of these historic buildings up and down the country. Such a report would be of very great value.

During my speech on Second Reading the other day, I drew attention to the condition of two of our most important buildings which are, in fact, in the custody of the Government—namely, Hampton Court and Kensington Palace. I have reason to believe that the state of both these buildings is deplorable, and that among knowledgeable people in the country there is a great deal of disquiet about their condition, and, indeed, about the condition of other buildings of little less importance. I think it would be most valuable, if these Historic Buildings Councils are to be composed of really knowledgeable people, that they should be instructed by the Minister to take a very wide view of the whole of the transfer of these buildings, which are of such inestimable importance to the country, and should be encouraged to prepare a report which presents a wider view than that which they are required to give under the terms of this Bill.


My noble friend Lord Gage asked me whether the relationship between the Historic Buildings Councils for England, Wales and Scotland, would be cordial as regards owners. I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the relationship between the two must be very close at all times, and I have no doubt at all that in the course of a very short time these Historic Buildings Councils will find out the views of the owners of historic buildings. The obvious way for an owner to try to obtain assistance through this Bill is for him to get into direct touch with the Historic Buildings Councils. He can, if he so desires, write direct to the Minister, but undoubtedly the Minister would submit his application to the Historic Buildings Council. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, suggested that the report of each council which has got to be submitted annually to Parliament should be drawn in the widest possible terms, because the report would be of great interest to a large number of people. I am quite certain that my right honourable friend would not dissent from the views which the noble Lord has expressed, and I will certainly convey to him the suggestion which the noble Lord made: that the reports should be drawn as widely as possible, in keeping with the powers of the Council under the Act.


I am very grateful to the noble Earl for his undertaking.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Grants for preservation of historic buildings]:

4.12 p.m.

LORD METHUEN moved, after subsection (3) to insert: (4) Any repairs towards the cost of which the Minister makes a grant shall be carried out in a manner approved by the Minister and, if he shall think fit, under the supervision of such person or persons as he shall appoint.

The noble Lord said: I was rather surprised that as a matter of routine some such subsection as I suggest in my Amendment has not been inserted into the Bill. I think that every continental nation has some scheme for preserving its monuments, and where money has been granted by the State, there is provision that the Minister concerned must have a direct say in how it is spent. That may be through his personal supervision or through the work being done by his own Department, or being done to his satisfaction by the owner of the house or building. I do not want to press this Amendment, as I understand that the Minister will assume these powers. But, if I may say so, it is rather unwise for the Minister to assume universal power and for us to take it for granted that this will be done. I think it is in the public interest that such a power should be specifically mentioned in the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 37, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Methuen.)


Subsection (3) of Clause 4 already gives the Minister of Works power to impose conditions when making a grant. If the noble Lord will turn to that subsection he will see that A grant under this section may be made subject to conditions imposed by the Minister for the purpose of securing public access to the whole or part of the property to which the grant relates, or for other purposes, as the Minister may think fit. In point of fact, therefore, the Minister would specify the methods to be adopted in every case, and would subject each grant to conditions of control and inspection. If I accepted this Amendment—I sincerely trust the noble Lord will see his way to withdraw it after my explanation—it would make it mandatory upon the Minister to stipulate exactly how the work on any variety of ancient building was to be done. That would, in my view, be unfortunate, and my right honourable friend would rather the matter was left flexible so that he can subject every grant which he makes to adequate conditions and control. I can certainly, and most readily do, give the noble Lord an assurance in those terms. Of course, the noble Lord will remember that under the first three clauses of the Bill the Historic Buildings Councils are to be consulted about the grants and, indeed, about conditions. I hope that, with that explanation, the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw this Amendment.


I thank the noble Earl for his explanation. My point was simply that abroad it is a matter of routine to specify what I have suggested, and I am sorry that it is not laid down in the Bill. However, I ask permission to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clauses 5 to 17 agreed to.

4.19 p.m.

LORD SILKIN moved, after Clause 17, to insert the following new clause:

Amendment of s. 12 of the Ancient Monuments Act, 1913

" . Subsection (1) of section twelve of the Ancient Monuments Act, 1913, shall be amended by the insertion of the words 'properly to be described as ancient' after the words 'such monument' and again after the words 'such other monument' and by the insertion at the end thereof of the words 'and may likewise at any time amend any list prepared or published under this section'."

The noble Lord said: On the Second Reading of the Bill I drew attention to the fact that there was not in existence a satisfactory definition of an ancient monument. I indicated the respects in which I thought the existing situation was unsatisfactory and anomalous. There was no clear distinction between ancient monuments and historic buildings. We have managed to get on very well in the past without an exact definition of an ancient monument, but while we are dealing with ancient monuments in this Bill it seemed to me that it would be a good thing if we could get a clearer definition of the term. At the moment, it really boils down to a building or structure which the Minister says is an ancient building; and there are many examples of historic buildings which could come into the definition of ancient monument, and vice versa. I have tried to produce a definition of "ancient monument," which no doubt the noble Earl will regard as wholly unsatisfactory. If he does think so, I will withdraw it, but I should like his view as to this question of a defini- tion, because a good many people attach importance to it.

There is one practical point to which I referred last time and to which the noble Earl was not able to reply to then—it arises on Amendment No. 16. If we could get a clear definition of "ancient monument," it might well be that the body of people who are at present engaged in listing ancient monuments could also be engaged in listing historic buildings. The two functions are very similar, and it seemed to me there was a possibility of dovetailing the two functions with their respective organisations. That is really the purpose of Amendment 16, which I may be out of order in referring to at this stage, though it really covers the same subject matter. So I should be grateful if the noble Earl could tell me whether he agrees that the existing definition is unsatisfactory. Whilst I do not ask that the Amendment be accepted if it is considered unsatisfactory, I should like the noble Earl to tell me what it is he proposes to do about it and whether it is possible, by administrative measures, to dovetail the work of the Ancient Monuments Board and the Committee dealing with the listing of historic buildings. I think both are likely to go on their way for many years to come, though the listing of historic buildings must come to an end one day. But it is a slow business, and if the two bodies could be merged into one, so much the better, because there would be some saving in expense and trouble. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 17, insert the said new clause—(Lord silkin.)


I hope it will be convenient to the Committee if I follow the noble Lord in dealing with this and the next Amendment together. As he said, they are closely related. I have been at some pains to find out the existing definition of "monument" and "ancient monument," and so far as I have understood them they are very wide. They have left a considerable latitude to the Ancient Monuments Board and, indeed, to the Minister. As the noble Lord pointed out, we have got on very well so far, and the Act has been in operation for some forty years.


Has the noble Lord not found that since the passing of the 1947 Act there is some confusion as to what is an historic building and what is an ancient monument?


I was coming to that very point. A "monument," in the definition of the Acts, has always been taken to include any man-made structure, with the exception of churches which are in use. An "ancient monument" has always been taken to mean any structure of some historical or archæological interest, the preservation of which is in the public interest.


May I suggest that the term "historic monument" covers the whole lot, and that it is of universal application, except in this country.


I would disagree with the noble Lord. One is a monument and another is an ancient monument. If the noble Lord followed my explanation, what I was endeavouring to convey was this: these definitions do not exclude buildings which are occupied as dwelling-houses. The Minister of Works has power to list ancient monuments, to make preservation orders, to accept guardianship or to make grants which specifically exclude inhabited dwelling-houses. I have been advised by those who have many years of experience in this matter that the existing scheme has worked reasonably well, and they are not aware that there is any sound reason at the present time for a change. The raw material of the list of ancient monuments and of the lists published by the Ministry of Housing under Section 30 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, does, in fact, overlap, but it is not possible for the same structure to be protected under both, since the Town and Country Planning Act excludes ancient monuments from the scope of its lists. But by administrative action in the Ministry, the fields of the two lists have, in point of fact, been kept separate. In my view it would be unwise at the present time, for the reasons I have already given, to insert this Amendment here. As I have said, we know that a certain amount of overlapping does occur, but administratively we have been able to sort the two out.

May I come now to the other point which the noble Lord made on the next Amendment, which seeks to amalgamate the Ancient Monuments Board and the Historic Buildings Council. Here I am in a difficulty. I believe that amalgamation would be very unfortunate, and I should differ entirely from the noble Lord if he tried to amalgamate the two—and for this reason. The individual who is going to deal with ancient monuments is someone who, presumably, is well acquainted with earth works, ruins, bridges, and, indeed, with any building which is not in daily use. But the individuals who will be invited to serve on the Historic Buildings Council will be people who may have to deal with Georgian and other period architecture, but who certainly will not be fully qualified to deal with ancient monuments. I should have thought there was a valid difference between these two. The close liaison between the Board and the Council will, nevertheless, be maintained, inasmuch as both Board and Council will be dealt with by the same administrative branch of the Ministry of Works, and will be served by the same professional advisers in the Ministry.


As I have said, I have no desire whatever to press these Amendments. I think the noble Earl's explanation on the first Amendment is not unreasonable, and I am prepared to accept it. On the second Amendment I should be grateful if he would give an undertaking to look into this question. I am not at all satisfied that the qualifications required for listing ancient monuments are so very different from those required for listing buildings of architectural and historic interest. I want an amalgamation of members of the Ancient Monuments Board and the people who prepare lists of historic buildings. If the noble Earl would just look at the qualifications that are required—


The noble Lord is referring to the Holford Committee.


Yes. Professor Holford is a great friend of mine, if I may say so. I should think that he is perfectly capable of playing a part in the work of listing ancient monuments. I should certainly be prepared to entrust any ancient monument to him and feel assured that he would recognise it. I should be grateful if the noble Earl would give us an assurance that he will look at that matter and see whether these two groups of people can be amalgamated, of course, with their attendant administrative organisation. If we can get one Board to do the same job it would be a substantial saving. If the noble Earl can give me that assurance I shall be grateful, and I shall be prepared to withdraw the Amendment.


I can assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend is only too anxious to introduce any machinery which will simplify the machinery at present in use. I will convey to him the views expressed by the noble Lord, and will ask him to give them careful consideration.


On that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Remaining clauses and Schedule agreed to. Bill reported without amendment.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of July 28), Bill read 3ª, and passed.