§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Order of the Day read for the adjourned debate on the Motion of Lord Methuen, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the demolition of historic houses.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
My Lords, before embarking upon, the matter under discussion, it might be as well if I were to remind your Lordships that this debate is an adjourned debate from that which took place on May 14. There is no doubt that the lack of liaison between the two Houses placed noble Lords in a very awkward and uncomfortable position, 751 and more especially the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, who initiated this debate. I feel sure that no discourtesy was intended from another place, but it certainly was a little unfortunate, to say the least of it.
Coming to the matter under discussion, I should like at once to pay my own humble tribute to the Labour Government, the last Administration, who undoubtedly foresaw the potential loss of valuable assets to the country if no action were taken in this matter. They were led by a far-sighted Chancellor of the Exchequer, the late Sir Stafford Cripps, who, courageously supported by his colleagues in the Cabinet and by his Party, set up a Committee which brought out this admirable document known as the Gowers Report. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, I feel that this is a masterpiece which should serve as a model for future Reports on prospective legislation. We must also be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, for raising this subject. He dealt with this matter in great detail, but both he and the Report approached this subject mainly from the point of view of preserving these units as national assets of great historical and cultural value.
These houses, with their contents and surroundings, are unique and almost unknown in any other country. They are examples of the work of some of the finest craftsmen that the world has ever known, and they represent the culture of many generations. As one witness to the Committee said,They constitute a national asset whose loss would be irreplaceable.Furthermore, the Pilgrim Trust made the excellent point of the importance of preserving these houses as living entities. They said, if I may quote, quite shortly, four or five lines on page 30 of the Report:These houses are and always have been the homes of their owners, constructed for family life and gathering through the generations the charm and spirit associated with that peculiarly English word 'home'. They are not merely beautiful structures, but possess an indefinable atmosphere as the centres of a highly civilised home life. To convert them into mere 'show places' or to institutionalise them as museums, Government offices, hospitals, or schools, would deprive them of their intrinsic character and rob them of their 'soul'.That is a beautiful piece of English. The Committee endorsed this point of view, 752 and I myself—most deferentially I say it—feel that the importance of this cannot be over-emphasised.
However, there is another very important reason, to my mind, why they should be preserved—and this brings me to the main point which I wish to try to place in front of your Lordships' House this evening. I propose to approach this matter from rather a different angle. It is that these houses are not just assets of great historical and cultural value but are also "centrepieces" of a way of life. Please mark that phrase. It was one which was used by Her Gracious Majesty the Queen in her broadcast to her people on the evening of her Coronation—"a way of life." These centrepieces have a definite rôle to play in the rural economy, as a hub around which the rest of the community revolves. It is not just the Chatsworths, the Holkhams, the Hatfields, marvellous though they are, but it is also the gems of small manor houses throughout the countryside and the castles in the north. They also are "centrepieces" of a way of life.
In a rural district, as many of your Lordships know only too well, leadership is essential in order to bind the people together. Largely owing to the burden of taxation, these centrepieces are fast disappearing and, what is worse, there are now fewer and fewer recognised leaders being left to function as such in their natural surroundings, for whom the local population feel a love and respect and to whom they can turn as of old in times of doubt and need. I may be wrong, but I feel very strongly that there was something of great value in the old régime which is worthy of preservation, and in some cases, if it is possible, resuscitation. In many of the houses which we are discussing dwelt families who had been brought up for generations in the traditions of service to the community, and who regarded themselves, in most cases, only as trustees of the places in which they lived and of the people who lived around that place.
In the part of the country in which I live, and from where I come, there is, I believe, a very high mode of democracy. Some people prefer to call it "benevolent paternalism." Call it what you will, a man is judged entirely by how he fulfils his place in life. A good postman is regarded as a more valuable member of 753 the community than, if I may use the Scottish term, a "bad laird." In fact, the occupant of any position is regarded as a trustee of his office or job, and he is judged by his performance in that office, he it a high one or a low one. I go further. I believe that he is grudged nothing which will enable him to carry out his duties satisfactorily, be it Rolls Royce or bicycle. To those of us who live in the country all the year round, winter and summer, it is becoming only too painfully obvious that the loss of these homes is contributing greatly to the collapse of the rural economy of which I spoke just now. This will shortly, in my humble opinion, inevitably have upon agriculture as a whole a deleterious effect which we can ill afford in these difficult times.
There is an urgent need for effective measures to be taken if the deterioration of these assets is to be prevented. The sands of time are running out. It is now or never. The National Trust are doing a noble work for which we are all deeply grateful, but it must be remembered that when this body takes over a house or a garden that subject must be endowed. Occasionally some rich benefactor, such as the Pilgrim Trust, does this, or sometimes it is the owner, if he is well enough off. But these are exceptions, and therefore the rôle of the National Trust is necessarily limited. Other useful suggestions have been made, as, for example, those made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who referred to the possible use of interest earnings from the Land Fund, amounting to about £2 million per annum. I understand that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has a very good answer to that. The noble Lord, Lord Silk in, suggested that some of these could be ploughed back towards helping to implement the recommendations of the Report.
Another suggestion was made by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, yet, even so, it is hard to see how Her Majesty's Government will be able to avoid having to make substantial tax concessions or grant if the need is to be met. It is non-sense to say that we cannot afford it. As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, pointed out, if we can afford what he termed—and he is well qualified to know—"astronomical expenditure" upon the 754 exploitation of nuclear energy, surely we can afford to spend what would appear to be in comparison a very modest sum in giving effect to the findings of the Gowers Report. The Government must face this position realistically. It is, after all, merely a matter of the correct evaluation of assets.
When in the United States two or three years ago I was given a definition of "economy" by one whom I believe to be a very sound economist. He gave it as follows:Economy is not a drawing in, but is a full utilisation of every asset.This question of preserving our country houses, I feel, is a problem for correct evaluation. I implore Her Majesty's Government, once having decided that these assets are worth saving, not to be penny wise and pound foolish. It is like the general in the battle who squanders his reserves. It is no good frittering away your resources by putting them in piecemeal. If grants or concessions of taxation are to be made, they must be sufficient to ensure the achievement of that purpose. It is true that Her Majesty's Government already contemplate making some grants, but these, most of us feel, after having had time to consider the matter, will be totally inadequate to meet the problem—and, in fact, the Minister of Works in another place has already admitted this. But at the same time, we all appreciate that, from the political point of view, such measures may not be easy to put through at this juncture.
It is right to admit, however, that it is not only a matter of money. There is also the question of finding and attracting once again the necessary domestic help to maintain these houses. Everyone knows of the difficulty of obtaining this assistance in these days. I gather that the two main reasons underlying this difficulty are, first, lack of amenities and, secondly, the feeling that it is somewhat of an unworthy profession, and a dying one at that. But if the recommendations of the Report are implemented, not only should it be possible for owners to provide better amenities but also domestic service could and might be regarded, given proper publicity, as a profession which is making a valuable contribution to the community and which once more has some future.
755 Another great difficulty seems to lie in the fact that the Gowers Report, excellent though it is in every way, will not, I fear, reach the man in the street. But I believe that if, with the help of the Press, the full facts of the case are put before the people, and the position as to what is happening clearly explained, few will grudge the expenditure of public funds in order to save one of our national heritages. In fifty years' time it will be too late; and I believe that this Administration will be sorely blamed, whether they accept blame or not. In conclusion, my Lords, how the whole problem is to be dealt with will need very careful consideration, possibly by further Committees. But with the right brains at the head, and with the help of the National Trust, which has already done so much, and above all—and I want to emphasise this—with wise and proper and comprehensive publicity, I am convinced that it can be done. But there must be no delay.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, at the opening of this debate in May the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack made an announcement of a money grant by the Government. I was sorry that that announcement was not of such a nature as to render the debate completely superfluous; but it was not. It is always ungrateful to look a gift-horse in the mouth, but the money grant offered was totally inadequate for the purpose which the mover of this debate has in mind: it was simply a four-foot plank to bridge asix-foot gap. It does not mean even first aid. The best that one can say of it is that to a certain extent it admits the principle that the Government should assist in this matter of historic houses. We must press and continue to press until they do assist in a manner which really deals with the problem. By way of contrast to the insignificant grant, the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, in moving his Motion, spoke of death duties averaging £184 million a year over three years. That enormous sum of money is spent as income by the Government—and spent, I am afraid, in very extravagant and wasteful ways. How much better it would be if a considerable proportion of 756 that enormous sum were to be spent on rescuing our historic houses from decay!
It seems to me very reprehensible that there has been no action so far upon the Gowers Report. I well understand Lord Waverley's personal interest in this matter; and undoubtedly the lady in question deserves great credit, not only for the contents of the Report but for the literary skill and style with which it is compiled. But while the Government have been vacillating about that Report sixteen historic houses have been pulled down and a hundred more are threatened. These are the fruits of three years' delay. It seems as though the Government hope that, if only they are given enough time, by the time they come to deal with the Gowers Report the problem will have solved itself. The one step which I think the Government should most certainly take without delay is to clear up the overlapping which is created by the fact that two Ministries have responsibilities in this particular matter. The resulting anomalies inevitably create delay. If the Government are really in earnest in this matter they will make this an opportunity of clearing up the situation by getting these matters into the hands of one Department, and one Department only.
The subject of our debate came very much into my mind only last week, when I was in Ely Cathedral and saw there the ravages of the death-watch beetle. But in that cathedral the problem is being tackled, and tackled very energetically. When I saw and heard about it, I thought of the photographs which have been on exhibition in the Library of your Lordships'House—a truly depressing record, and on top of that the melancholy catalogue given by Lord Methuen. One might well think that the Eastern Counties have been invaded by the Goths. These ravages go unnoticed, but think what it will mean for the future when they have reached full fruition. The noble Lord, Lord Methuen, gave instances of vandalism which have been laid at the door of Corporations. With great respect to the men who compose these bodies, one must say that they are not men who should be judges in what are, after all, matters of taste. You might as well entrust Sévres porcelain to the tender mercies of Lyons waitresses. It is monstrous to let these untrained men have 757 powers. Those powers should be removed from their hands and put into the hands of people who are competent to deal with these matters.
Our country houses, as has been repeatedly said in this debate, are incomparable in the world; and it is shockingly to our discredit that we neglect them, and allow such a house as Beaupre Hall, for instance, to go to ruin rather than spend £25,000. Of course the Government ought to spend amounts like that to preserve such a building. They ought to spend £25,000 on the maintenance and repair of such a building as that. But what happens—and it seems most illogical—is that a preservation order is made. But although there is a preservation order, the house may be allowed to rot and fall down. The preservation order does not mean that any preserving is to be done. Surely, if the Government consider that a house deserves preservation they should go on and preserve it. It seems a mockery to issue a preservation order and then do literally nothing to preserve the structure.
As things are, we see works of great architectural genius falling down, collections scattered, gardens often laid out by the greatest landscape gardeners becoming a wilderness, woodlands becoming derelict. In some of these respects I am sorry to say that the War Office have been a shocking offender, or were a shocking offender during the war. Really, some of their exploits justified the old epithet about "a brutal and licentious soldiery. "The War Office could have stopped this during the war, in spite of their anxieties and preoccupations, because they had only to let it be known that sanctions would be taken against the officer responsible for the area in which such things happened, and it would have stopped overnight. But, as it is, we saw such a building as Rolls Park requisitioned by the Army. When the Army marched out, then began the interminable argument about damage. Meanwhile, the roof over the staircase fell in and dry rot appeared; there was damp everywhere; the floors became dangerous; the garden became a shambles and to-day it is used as a caravan site. That is one instance of what followed on the requisition of such beautiful structures as Rolls Park by the Army.
758 All over tile country, wherever one goes, one can find some example of history and beauty in ruins. No fewer than 160 great houses have been demolished in thirty years. The crash has come to them quickly; the crash has come to them in fifty years, after many of them had been lived in from mediæval times. Death duties, of course, have done the mischief, a mischief not stopping at the houses alone but often extending to the agriculture of the neighbourhood. Thinking of that, I should very much like to hear what is the answer to what seems to me a very sensible and fair suggestion, that equivalent duties should be charged on the sale of an estate and not upon the death of its owner, so that in that way the country house and the estate surrounding it would remain a valuable agricultural and social centre to the neighbourhood.
Something has been said about the collections in these houses. The contents of them are all too often being sold piecemeal in a desperate effort to stave off the inevitable end. I am told that that is quite all right because such things find their way to the museums for the enjoyment of all. In my experience, very few of the "all" visit museums. In any case, a setting for a great picture, for fine furniture or for beautiful porcelain is not a museum: it is a home. A museum is not the perfect setting for such things. And which of us has not suffered the agonies of fatigue in trapesing round galleries and museums? There are few things more fatiguing and I think there are few worse settings for such objects of art as those of which I am speaking than a museum. In that connection, I notice what was said in the previous day's debate by the noble Earl, Lord Wemyss and March, about the contents of houses being accepted in lieu of money for death duties. I have to confess I have never been very clear about that. Who does the valuing in such a case? That is one thing I do not know. Is a picture likely to be valued at less or at more than it would fetch if it were put up at Christie's? In any case, however these things are arranged, the picture leaves the house and so, whether the contents are accepted in lieu of money for death duties or not, the break-up of the collection is not averted.
759 I feel that this matter will never be logically handled until it is recognised that a house of the type we have in mind in this debate is, as a whole, a work of art. What is the story of such a house? A man decided to let one of the foremost architects of the day build a house for him. After the house was built, son after son made the Grand Tour. Each of those sons had a different taste. One cared for pictures, another cared for statuary, a third for books and another for porcelain. Each in turn collected something and brought it home to enrich the house. But the house never ceased to be a home. That, I think, is where there is a great distinction between the beautiful houses of this country and some of the great imposing and impressive edifices that one visits abroad. Those seem to be rather cold and formal, rather show places, whereas with us the great house has always been a home. You go into the magnificent entrance hall and you see that dishes for the dogs' dinner are on the floor; there is a Sheraton table with a litter of crops and hats lying on it. There is a smoking room with superb panelling, and probably you find a hideous pipe rack nailed on it alongside the squire's armchair. The result is in itself not only a total work of art but a home as well, such as all foreigners who see it agree is something unique.
I think these country houses and our poetry are really the two great contributions that this country has made to art, although I am bound to say that the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, tried to convince us the other day that we had made a third great contribution to art in our system of taxation, which he held out to our peculiar admiration—a system of taxation which is at the root of the mischief of which we are talking to-day. I feel that is where we have to begin: with the realisation that these houses are in themselves works of art. You do not let a Rembrandt deteriorate through damp, and you would punish a man who went into a museum, took a truncheon out of his pocket and began to demolish priceless porcelain; but our country and historic houses, which are beautiful works of art, apparently may rot and moulder. Really, what is the offence that these country houses and the people who own them have committed? What, collec- 760 tively, have they done to merit such a fate as we see befalling them to-day?
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in the first day's debate made what seemed a most well-informed, broad-minder and fair-minded speech on this subject. It was at times, I thought, a little lugubrious and slightly contradictory. I do not think there would be any real difficulty, as the noble Lord seemed to fear, in deciding what we ought to preserve. There are men in this country who are perfectly competent to form a committee to decide that point. Of course, there will never be perfect agreement upon such a point, but you could reach a perfectly good and satisfactory agreement about what should be preserved. In that direction, I think that "listing" already serves a certain preliminary and useful purpose.
Again, with reference to what the noble Lord has said, for the many reasons which he gave it is quite true that not all the houses could be lived in after preservation; but many could be lived in. In any case, let people live in them for as long as they can. Do not strain too much for perfection in that matter. Do not make the best the enemy of the good. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, drew a contrast between subsidising the owners of some of these houses and subsidising food production. "Man does not live by bread alone," and, in any case, in my opinion this country can perfectly well afford to pay both forms of subsidy. I do not want to put it too highly, but I thought that the noble Lord slightly mis-stated the case when he said that we cannot tell the public that they are being taxed to enable well-off people to live in these large mansions. He also spoke of a "selected and favoured class of persons. "That is straying into a field that I do not very much care about myself; it savours a little of class prejudice. I do not think we want to bring that into this debate. In any case, the plea being made to-day is to help these particular people to some small extent to preserve what is a national asset. It is not handing them money in order to help them in the perfectly selfish enjoyment of their houses. Help is asked for to preserve a national asset. After all, if we face it, what has been done by the National Trust and what is envisaged by the Gowers 761 Report really represents a form of semi-nationalisation. So this is not entirely a case of asking for help to be used by the owners for purely selfish purposes.
§ LORD SILKIN
Perhaps I may just explain that I do not think I put the case quite in that way. I really put it in the way that that is how it would be seen by large numbers of people.
§ LORD WINSTER
Well, I think it would be seen by people very much in the light in which it was put to them. If the matter were carefully and properly explained, people would perhaps not see it in that light. But, my Lords, if you think—and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin made this abundantly clear, as I shall show in a minute—that these houses should be preserved, then you have either got to help the owners to preserve them or the State must do it. I cannot see a third alternative other than to say outright that you are prepared to let them go. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who has put the matter in a most fair light—I am going to quote some of the passages from his speech. He spoke of these houses as "a great heritage" and said, that it would be "deplorable if we lost" them. He said that "something must be done," that "it can only be done out of public money"; and, dealing with the point which the noble Lord has just made, he said that we should "face up to inconsistencies and criticisms."
In all those things I, as I am sure practically every speaker in this debate would, most fully agree. I think that in all those respects his speech was most fair-minded and helpful. He wound up with what seemed to me an extremely sensible suggestion—one of the best suggestions which I have seen put forward—namely, that the £2 million a year interest on the Land Fund should be devoted to these purposes. That is a most interesting alternative to the financial proposals contained in the Gowers Report, and is perhaps rather bolder.
I hope this is not irrelevant, but in conclusion I should like to stress the admiration which I am sure all your Lordships will feel for the work of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, for what is done by the Pilgrim Trust, and for what is being done by the Churches Preservation Trust. All those, bodies are helping us to maintain the beauty of the 762 buildings of this country. They are pointing the way the Government should go. If successive Governments do not go that way they will run the risk of being classified with some of the historic vandals of history, such as the men who burned the Libraries of Alexandria. I hope that now the Minister of Works has finished his arduous and most successful labours involved by the Coronation he will have the time, which of course he has not had up to date, to look at this matter of historic houses. I am sure the right course of action is, first, to put the matter entirely into the hands of one Department, with one Minister responsible for it; then to get the houses classified by a competent body so that we know exactly what it is that we have got to preserve, and then to proceed to look at the cost and to go to the very limit of what the country can afford to preserve this priceless heritage.
§ 4.27 p.m.
My Lords, there is always a special interest attaching to speeches from the noble Lord who has just sat down because it is difficult to predict in advance what line he will take on any subject. But on this occasion I feel sure that all of us on this side of the House will be grateful for his speech. He referred to the statement made by the Lord Chancellor at the beginning of the earlier stage of this debate, and I also should like to refer to it, because it seems of considerable interest, not only for what it did say but for what it did not say. One cannot help wondering whether it is the Government's answer to the Cowers Report.
As an owner myself, I should perhaps declare an interest in this matter, although I have never yet received any Government assistance, and, to be quite candid, I very much doubt whether I shall receive any financial assistance under the proposed new Bill. It seems to me that under the Bill the money is to be reserved for the National Trust and the Ministry of Works. If I am mistaken, and I do get some assistance, it will all come as a pleasant surprise. Nevertheless, I would remind the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, that we owners have been kept in suspense for some considerable time on this matter of the Gowers Report, and if he can add anything to-day to the statement that has been made, particularly when we have to remember that another winter's damage is coming along, 763 I am sure we shall all be very grateful. The noble Lord, Lord Methuen, and other noble Lords have said that they do not regard the amount of money that the Government contemplate devoting to this purpose as anything like sufficient to prevent houses from falling down. That may be true; nevertheless, I think that the Government, without paying out money, or even giving rebates in taxation, can take certain action which would make it very much easier than it is at present for owners to solve their own problems. I should like to suggest one or two of these solutions, in the presumption that they might be considered in connection with the proposed Bill.
Before coming, to that, perhaps I may, without wearying your Lordships, describe some of my experiences. I am the owner of two houses, both of which might be called historic and of architectural interest. One is my family home, and that I am hoping to maintain by turning it into a show house. In that field I am an entirely new boy, whereas many of your Lordships have had a long experience in it. All I would say is that it seems to me a rather speculative undertaking. I should like to say a little more about the other house, partly because it has already excited the attention of my noble friend Lord Methuen, and a photograph of it is included in the series of photographs in the Library, where it is, I think, described as a "Tudor relic of great importance. "I also want to cite the case of this house because I feel that it is typical of the sort of houses which are now creating a really serious problem. The house is named Fawsley House. It is of fair size, and its architecture ranges from the pre-Tudor to the Victorian. It has certain features which are remarked on in various architectural works. When I inherited it in 1938, it had been empty for twenty years, and its contents had been sold. Then came the war, and I suppose that this house had what was a very rare distinction, because it was somewhat improved by Army occupation. They did some repairs, and they fitted it out with some rudimentary services. When the war ended, I was again confronted with the problem of maintenance and of finding some use for the place. I tried every Government Department, local authority, voluntary and statutory organisation. I could find 764 no one interested in the house, chiefly, I think, because of the large capital cost of conversion that would have been involved. I then turned to consider commercial purposes. I went into multifarious schemes, but none of the ideas came to much, so I decided to demolish the greater part of the place, only to find that the expense of the demolition would have been more than I could afford. So I then decided to allow the place to fall down.
So far, I feel, my story is the story of a number of other owners—that is to say, they have tried desperately hard to find some use for their houses, and have failed; and they have then found the expense of keeping the roof on more than they could manage. In this case, a new idea was suggested to me: that I should put the premises to an industrial use. I joined forces with the local saw-miller. We started in a small way, but our venture has prospered. Machinery is now installed all over the house. The net result is that this house is still standing, with all its architectural features unimpaired, and it is an embellishment to the countryside, instead of the festering ruin which it would undoubtedly have become by this time, had it not been put to this industrial use. My experience with this house, and with another, which does not belong to me but with which I have been connected, leads me to regret that the Gowers Committee did not even consider the possibility of an industrial user of some of these old and historic houses. It may be that they were too horrified at the bare idea to commit it to paper. Of course, it would be horrifying if these houses could be used for other purposes; but for houses which are, so to speak, on their last legs, industrial use seems to offer great possibilities. In the first place, an industrial company usually has some money to devote to construction and reconstruction, and the amount of money necessary to convert a house of that description to industry, as compared with the amount of money necessary to save it for human habitation, is quite infinitesimal.
At one point in his speech, Lord Methuen asked me, as President of the National Federation of Housing Associations, whether I knew of any cases where large country houses had been 765 developed for the purpose of housing the aged. Of course, I do. I know of a number of houses that have been converted for that purpose. But all but two, I think, are large Victorian villas, on the outskirts of towns. It would be quite impossible to use most of the houses illustrated in the Library for the purpose of housing the aged, partly because the cost of conversion would be too high and partly because their situation is too remote to suit old people. But for industry the large size of rooms is an advantage; the services and furnishings are extremely simple, and the isolation does not seem to be a. bar, as labour, within certain limitations, seems to-day to be very mobile. Last, but not least, the workers—certainly in my industrialised house—seem rather to enjoy their novel surroundings. For these reasons, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not entirely turn down either the industrial solution or any other living use. I personally believe that in these cases a living use is almost synonymous with a paying use. If a house can be put to a paying use, the negative controls exercised under the Town and Country Planning Act make some sense, which otherwise they do not.
And now one or two words about what I believe the Government could do to assist in making these houses paying propositions. In the first place, despite the present Government's efforts to reduce controls, it is still very difficult to do anything without getting someone's permission to do it. In the case of Fawsley, we had to get permission to form a company, then planning permission to change user; then we had to negotiate the question of the development charge. We had to get a licence to use materials, and, of course, we had to get a felling licence for the timber. We had pretty good luck, but it struck me that too much depended on the general attitude of the various Ministries, and too much on the personal views of the inspectors they sent down in connection with these licences. For instance, the Board of Trade, to whom we had to apply for a building licence, were not in the least interested in old houses. They were interested in export and rearmament. They flatly refused to issue a licence, and that would have been disastrous to us but for the fact that the general 766 licensing position soon afterwards became relaxed.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Winster, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will make the new Historic Houses Commission a centre to which owners of these houses can go for assistance. I hope the Government will make it possible for owners to apply to the Commission for their support in dealing with all Departments. If an owner has a novel idea for the preservation of old houses, I think he should be able to go to the Commission, explain it to them and ask for their endorsement. That endorsement being obtained, I think the various Government Departments should take account of it. I think the Commission might also collect and pass on useful information. We seem to know a great deal about houses falling down, but very little about houses that have been maintained and the methods used to save them. There may he some brilliant ideas going about, but unless one hears of them privately it is impossible to find out about them: there is no centre to which the owner can apply.
Further, I think the Commission might advise not only the Government but also owners on these thorny questions of taxation. Lord Silkin, I think, said—and I accept his phrase, which he communicated to Lord Winster—that it was not acceptable to his Party that owners should be subsidised out of taxes and enabled to live up to what might be considered—perhaps erroneously—an extravagant standard. With great respect, he seemed to me to be over-simplifying the issue. The noble Lord is a lawyer, and he knows much better than I do the vast output of effort now being devoted by his colleagues in the legal profession to advising clients how to arrange their affairs in such a manner as to attract the minimum of taxation. In fact, when the legal profession have finished with a Finance Act—if they ever do finish with it—it is not easy to tell what is public money and what is not.
This particular activity seems to have engaged the attention of the legal profession ever since the thirteenth century. As to its ethical aspect, I suppose that depends on one's political outlook. If you think that private enterprise is a sort of financial racket, I suppose you believe that owners of property and of these houses should so arrange their 767 affairs as to attract the maximum taxation. If, on the other hand, you believe—as the Gowers Committee seem to believe, and certainly I believe—that the existing owners have the greatest sentimental urge to preserve their houses, you also, I suppose, believe that preserving them through the agency of the owners demands less expenditure of public money than any other way. You will therefore view with greater sympathy the efforts of the legal profession so to arrange their clients' affairs as to attract the minimum of taxation, and I cannot see anything unethical in suggesting that this new Advisory Committee should pass on to owners any information about such devices, of course within the law, if by so doing they do not break any of the unwritten rules of the legal profession.
Further, I think this Committee might well suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer small and technical changes in the law, which I do not suppose would upset anybody very much. For example, under the Finance Act of 1945, and carried on by a Labour Government, there was a provision which enabled owners to recover tax on capital expenditure, on both agricultural and industrial buildings. But the benefits attaching to the recovery of this tax on industrial buildings are not nearly so great as the benefits on agricultural buildings. It seems possible that some change could be made here without a great upset, because it might be of material assistance to owners who desired to use their houses for industry. The one direction in which I can see no headway under existing conditions, even with all the help owners can expect from their lawyers, is in the matter of death duties. Unless the National Trust are to be subsidised to a considerable extent to enable them to take over a very large number of houses, any scheme for use by private enterprise must in time fail, unless in this respect the law is somewhat altered, because, although it is possible to put these houses on a profitable basis, the sort of profits they can make will never be sufficient to attract new capital. I confess that it is difficult to see why, if it is right to exempt chattels, the contents of these houses, from death duties, it is politically impossible to exempt the houses in which 768 these chattels are found, and possibly, also, some of the funds necessary for their maintainence.
In conclusion, if Parliament desires to see these houses preserved, the cheapest and most efficient way of doing it is through the agency of the owners. I believe that a good deal can be done in this direction without any spectacular demand on public money. If, for some complicated social reason, Parliament desires to drive owners out of their houses, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who is always an honest arguer, that a number of these houses must become ruins, either artistic or otherwise.
§ 4.45 p.m.
My Lords, I also should like to pay a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, for bringing this subject before your Lordships' House, and to your Lordships' interest in allowing the debate to continue for a second day after the Recess. It is most important that Lord Methuen has given us an opportunity to discuss the Gowers Report, which seems to have been so far in the background of late. With deference to what the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, had to say, surely the Gowers Report is the one Report which the average man or woman in the street really knows by name. I think there is not a single person who has a bad word for that Report, and if one mentions it as the Gowers Report people know exactly what one is talking about—except, of course, in the Printed Paper Office, where it is but one of thirty-two Reports which that distinguished Chairman has produced.
I must admit I have an interest in this subject, not only being the owner of a mansion house, so-called, but also opening it to the public. I make no bones about it. I open it partly because I think it is a duty, in view of the rising public interest in large country houses, and partly to obtain the benefit of the considerable taxation allowances given for running one's house as a business. I think all noble Lords who have spoken so far have been critical of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his £250,000 grant—whenever that may come. But, surely, this is at least a step in the right direction. He has acknowledged the need. I have no doubt that noble Lords consider it far too small. Possibly at a future date he may see some way of enlarging 769 that amount and so carrying Out the proposals which the Gowers Report has stated so fully.
The problem that must confront the Chancellor of the Exchequer is that he is spending public money for the advantage of private persons. But I beg to assure him that I am satisfied that that would not be unpopular in the country to-day, and many noble Lords will agree with me. In this new Elizabethan age undoubtedly there is a tremendous new interest in the historical past of this country. I think the Report says that exactly the same phenomenon happened after the French Revolution and some of the greatest measures to preserve the French historical objets ďart were passed immediately after the Revolution. In this new Elizabethan era could not Her Majesty's Government see fit to make some great effort to preserve our country houses? I think it would be right and proper to say that the Elizabethan houses are probably those of most interest to the general public and tourists at large. These are the most difficult to maintain and the most likely to finish up first in the terrible state which the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, showed us the other day.
Suppose the time comes when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is able to release another 6d. from income-tax: could he not consider releasing only 5d. and with the extra penny in hand create a suitable fund which he could parcel out, with the assistance of the Committee set out under the Gowers Report, to help not only these houses but especially the cathedrals and university buildings, many of which are in an equally difficult and hopeless state of repair? I am certain the general public—the electorate, for that matter—would be behind him in doing so. In fact, is it too much to hope that after this debate Members of another place will see fit to air this whole topic even on the political platform? I am certain they will find a sympathetic audience, to whatever Party they belong.
We have this £250,000 to be spent. May I put forward this suggestion to the Minister and his advisers?—that they should consider spending this money to preserve one house during the financial year, in order that that one house will not be- 770 come a total ruin, as the photographs produced by Lord Methuen have shown is happening. If this small sum is spent piecemeal it will mean only a few more years of preservation and then the Government will have to be asked for more money, which presumably will not be available. Surely, one house well preserved would be more in keeping with the ideals of the Gowers Report and most beneficial to the Government and, the public, whose money is being spent
I suppose some justification is needed for the measure of help which we ask to be given to country houses. I should like to put before your Lordships some of the facts of the tourist trade, which is becoming a great industry, greater than ever before. I have with me the Annual Report for the year 1951—that is, the year ended March, 1952, the Festival of Britain year. It is issued by the British Travel and Holidays Association, which is under the presidency of the noble and learned Viscount, Earl Jowitt. Festival year, of course, was a bumper year for travel, as the Tourist Association admit. Yet, to their surprise, the year 1952 proved every bit as good; and this year, with the Coronation, no doubt will be even better. This Report shows that during Festival year the tourist trade earned for this country £26.35 million in dollars—that is, £6 million in dollars more than the next greatest dollar export, which is Scotch whisky. Again, apparently the tourist trade is the seventh largest export which we give to the world, amounting as it does to £103 million—that is, including the dollar part. On the other hand, I find that, for one reason or another, there is no mention of insurance in this booklet; and I am told that insurance is by far our largest dollar-earning export. However, we earn a great many dollars from the tourist trade. Furthermore, these dollars cost us nothing, except a trifling Government grant to the British Travel and Holidays Association. Unfortunately, I have no figures to prove what part the country houses play in this tourist trade, but I am assured by the Tourist Association that it is very great.
It so happened that we tried to form a trade union, as it were, of house openers to the public, and under the chairmanship of Sir Harold Wernher we had a splendid meeting in a fine West End 771 hotel. The meeting went very well until right at the end we were told that it would cost us £25 each for membership, whereupon the meeting broke up. Hence there are no figures to show what part country houses play in the tourist trade. However, the Tourist Association tell me that approximately one in every five overseas visitors who call at their fine offices in St. James's Street inquires about country houses. They have working there, answering questions about houses, three charming young ladies, who are employed full time during the season. Further, the fact that houses are being opened to the public is spreading the tourists and visitors throughout the country, instead of their "doing England," as they call it, by starting in London, going to Windsor and then straight up to Scotland. In addition, it will bring the visitor back to this country the following year.
The Association see fit to mention in their Report "Britain's Historic Homes," and I should like to read to your Lordships a short paragraph under this heading. It says:There is great and growing interest among overseas visitors in the ancient and historic homes of Britain, which are being opened to the public in increasing numbers. Recognising the value of these homes as a tourist attraction the Association has done everything possible to publicise them abroad, and arrangements have been made for the production of a comprehensive illustrated list twice yearly giving visitors appropriate information.It is plain that country houses, both those that are and those that are not open to the public, are of definite interest to the overseas visitor, who makes such a great contribution to our dollar and export drive.
The subject of the income tax reliefs which have been asked for has been more than covered already in this debate, but perhaps I may add my own comment. Surely, the people of the country, the electorate, believe every bit as much now that the country house, its fabric and its contents are as much a national capital asset as the breeding of racehorses and pedigree cattle, or the replacing of machinery in industrial plant. I believe that the public are more than ready to allow such income tax advantages. The greatest assistance, of course, would be to the small country house or town house 772 owner, who, for one reason or another, has no chance of making a business success of a venture such as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Gage. But unless action is taken now, in, say, ten years' time, or possibly in twenty years' time, looking rather further ahead, there will be nothing left for the overseas visitor to see other than municipal housing units and Government offices, of which one can see too many everywhere. Any noble Lord who has had dealings with these foreign visitors knows only too well that they are not interested in municipal housing units or Government offices, of which they have just as good examples in their own country.
Yes. My last plea in connection with preferential treatment for these country houses is that we should remember the noble part that they played during the war. Country houses were used as secret headquarters and their grounds as tank parks, camps and hospitals. They have honourably held and guarded those secrets right the way through. Many of us still have these valuable War Department investments right on the doorstep, and no doubt they must remain there for a considerable time to come. But I do beg that when that great day of derequisitioning comes, the Minister concerned will do everything possible to give generous and, above all, speedy compensation to the people who have these War Department installations on their premises. In the meantime, could he make some endeavour towards giving some priority to their being kept in a state of repair, especially where they are ruining an otherwise beautiful property?
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD LAWSON
My Lords, my first duty is to thank the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, for his courtesy in allowing me to take the place that was originally assigned to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, who unfortunately could not stay for the debate. I cannot speak with authority as to the architectural qualities of these great houses, but I was pleased to read in the Gowers Report a description of some of them and also descriptions of what is happening to some 773 of them. I cannot speak about the matter as one who knows the houses from within, but I have been inside some of them. Long before the Gowers Report was issued, I thought that it would be a tragedy for this country if the greater part of these houses were allowed to fall into decay or to be destroyed. As a matter of fact, I understand that some of these houses were bought in order that certain people could get at the timber. I should think that the noble Earl who is the chairman of the Forestry Commission could say with authority that some of the timber which was destroyed ought to have existed for many years before it came to maturity.
In a great industrial area of somewhat rural character, we have seen how some of these great houses can be used for communal and social purposes. In my own county we have taken over several for educational purposes; and had it not been for these houses in a great industrial area like ours I do not know what would have happened, or how the council would have been able to build on the scale which was necessary to meet the needs of the county educational authorities. To-morrow, within a few miles of my own home, one of these places will be declared open as a residential college for further educational purposes. In this democratic age, if there is one thing which is necessary it is that there should be such places for the education of the adult worker. Governments need not necessarily accept all that is in the Gowers Report, or all the proposals. But, as a worker's representative for many years, I am astonished that no Governments, whether my own or any other Government, has taken action upon this matter. Of course, many of these houses could not be used for any particular purpose, except as residences; they could not be used for the kind of social purpose of which I am speaking. We, as miners, took time by the forelock and bought one of these houses, which is now being used for remedial work for men who have suffered in the mining industry. One has only to see the very fine work that is being done there to give thanks that we, have such places to fall back on for social and communal purposes.
I know that many of these houses are beautiful. My life has been spent in an industrial area, and I think I speak for 774 most of my own kind. I had a vivid experience when I left the more crowded part of the mining area to go to West Durham, and saw, almost with a shock, how one of the great landlords there had used even the soil of the mines to plant trees; and a great part of the area is now beautiful with trees. To come into that area, where the land looks lovely because it is well covered with trees, was something of a shock to me, coming from a greater and more crowded industrial area. I have said a few things in a rambling way, speaking as one who has spent his life as an industrial worker. But whether the Government agree with, the whole of the Report or only a part of it (I care not which Government it is which acts, so long as action is taken), it is certain that many of these houses can be used for social and communal purposes, for hospital work, remedial work and educational work. If the opportunity to save these beautiful places, which can be made very useful, passes by, nobody in this country will be more sorry than the average industrial worker who, in some cases, has had to spend his life within sight of these places but is, not always very familiar with them. I hope the Government will do something very soon.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, the subject under debate has been extremely well covered last time and to-day, but there are one or two points which I should like to make, quite briefly, before the end of the debate. I have just returned from a lone lecture tour in America, lecturing upon the very subject of the historic homes of Great Britain. I cannot see how one can over-emphasise the enormous interest which is being shown in America towards these houses. There is one very important point to, remember; that is, that most of these great houses were built before 1776, and Americans, quite rightly, claim them as a part of their historical heritage. Here is a great common bond in our history which can do much to consolidate closer Anglo-American relations. These houses contribute towards Anglo-American relations and assist not only in education of our people but in teaching people from abroad the English way of life.
775 As the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, so wisely said, these houses contribute a great deal towards our dollar earnings from the tourist trade. I wish, however, that I could agree with him so much about the efforts of the British Travel Association in publicising these houses abroad. I am afraid that I have to say, from personal experience, that these houses are badly publicised in America: they are absolutely starved of all publicity material. It seems a great shame that in this year of 1953 there does not exist a single film on the stately homes of England which can be shown abroad, or even in this country, showing our people what their great heritage is. People from other countries come to England, and to London, but there is no common sign which denotes the presence off the main road of a stately home. Many of these great houses can be passed by within two or three hundred yards, simply because the visitor is not told of their existence just off the main road. For some time attention has been paid to this matter by the Automobile Association, and it has been brought by them to the attention of the Minister of Transport. I hope that the Government, through the Minister of Transport, will give this matter their urgent attention.
I know there has been a great deal of good-natured teasing from the Press on the subject of how many of us have opened our houses to the public. But it has to be borne in mind that these great mansions were built originally through the enterprise of our ancestors. They were, in fact, glorious monuments or marks of achievement, left behind by many great men who in the past have helped to guide the destinies of our Islands. Therefore, it seems right that we, their descendants, should show the same spirit of enterprise in preserving our houses as our ancestors did in building them.
Many of us have had to make great sacrifices in opening our houses to the public. I suppose that most of us would prefer to be walking round our own gardens rather than having hundreds of other people doing so; and we should prefer to be living in the houses ourselves. However, that is not an entirely new problem, and I would remind your Lordships that many of these houses have 776 been open to the public since 1800. But we feel a deep sense of responsibility that these works of art should be shown to the public. Now that we have made these sacrifices over the last generation, we feel how bitter the criticism would have been if our ancestors over the last two centuries had allowed these houses to fall into decay.
Therefore, I say to the Government, "Take courage." There is no question of losing votes over support for measures to preserve these great houses. In an ordinary year the tourist trade, which is so important, has in many ways very little to offer tourists coming from abroad. In France the chateaux have a much greater international reputation than the historical houses of Great Britain. Many people who come here, visit London to see Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard, and then go on to Paris; but I am afraid that the Guardsmen cannot be regarded permanently as rivals to the Folies Bergères. Therefore, I ask Her Majesty's Government to do all they can in the way of propaganda to make these houses known, not only in America but throughout the world.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ LORD BROCKET
My Lords, I am sure that we are all obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, for initiating this debate. It has ranged over a very wide field. I think it is right to say that nobody has taken more interest in this subject than has Lord Methuen. He and I sit from time to time on the same Committee of the National Trust, and I know that we are both appalled by the enormous list of houses which are in danger either of falling down by themselves or of being demolished, or of suffering some similar fate. I think it is true to say that the National Trust are not in a financial position to take on all the houses which are offered to them or which they might wish to take on. The Trust is not, of course, an institution which is subsidised by the Government. When a house is taken over by the National Trust the owner very often has to make available an endowment to help to keep up the house.
This debate has shown that the matter is not in any way a Party one. I was pleased to hear the speeches from both sides in favour of trying to preserve what is best in our national heritage of country houses. The noble Earl, Lord 777 Bathurst, spoke of some of the noble uses to which these houses were put during the war. If I may speak personally for a moment, I owned two country houses, in one of which, during the war, £17,500,000 was collected by the Red Cross in small amounts of 1d. a week and upwards; and in the other, 8,488 babies were born. I do not know whether the noble Lord would call these noble uses, but they certainly contributed very much to the war effort and will, I hope, contribute to the peace effort also.
The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, mentioned houses which are useful for educational purposes and which are being used for educational purposes. And there are also many that are being used for other purposes. We have heard the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, talking about a house being used as a wood mill. I am not sure whether that would he regarded as an attractive use, but it is certainly better than letting the house fall down.
The fact is, of course, that these houses which are scattered up and down the country would be impossible to live in as residences, the reason being that people cannot bear the large burden of taxation. I have heard it said that there is one of the recommendations of the Gowers Report which should be put into practice—that is, that a house with a certain area of land should not be subject to death duty. I have been fighting for this for twenty years. Some people think that this form of relief would apply to a large class of persons and that it would not be right so to relieve that particular class of person. I do not agree with that, because the people who own these houses are often regarded, both by themselves and by the nation at large, as trustees for the architectural and other beauties of these houses. If some specific form of relief were given, on the lines suggested in the Gowers Report, I do not think it would be regarded generally as a form of favouritism to a certain class of people, or that it would be looked upon as a relief for certain interests. There is no doubt at all that the recommendations put forward in the last Finance Bill, which is before another place at the present time, only scratch the surface of the problem. Five hundred thousand pounds spread over five years is only a fleabite, compared with the main problem. I think that the Government should take their courage in both hands and go 778 further towards implementing the Gowers Report. The Gowers Committee, in the course of preparing their Report, interviewed many people—incidentally, I myself had the honour to give evidence. The Report was produced after a great deal of consideration. The Committee did not look at the question from any Party political point of view, or from the point of view of any one class. They eventually produced their very able Report, and I only wish that either this or some future Government would take their courage in both hands and implement the Report.
There are various uses to which these houses can be put if they do not remain as private residences. We have heard of educational uses and industrial uses; we have heard of these houses becoming lunatic asylums or prisons without bars; but we have to face the fact that there, are not enough lunatics or schools to fill them all, and also that taxation continues to take away the capital from agricultural estates, and that therefore more and more of these houses will fall into decay. It is no good blinking the fact that the country house, whether it be large or small, is doomed unless some strong action is taken to save it. The first charge on the ordinary country house with an agricultural estate is certainly that of death duties. I should once more like to make a plea for the proposition that agricultural land should not be charged with death duties until it is sold, in the same way that pictures of historic or artistic interest do not have death duties levied on them until they are sold—that is now the rule. I believe that that would make a very great difference.
There are various other reasons why houses are not occupied. We all know the difficulty of getting domestic help in large houses. That, I am afraid, is a sign of the times: there are not the number of people available who either wish to go in to work in large houses or are willing to live in isolated or out-of-the-way places. But, in addition to that factor, there is the cost of heating. It is very expensive indeed to heat large houses. Whereas before the war you could get coke or anthracite at reasonable prices, both are now very expensive. Even if you convert your house to oil heating, that also is very expensive; and unless you keep your house 779 reasonably warm it becomes damp, the pictures are harmed and, of course, it is impossible to live in.
Again, on the question of the maintenance claim, those of your Lordships who own houses or agricultural properties will know what is meant by the "excess maintenance claim." That, I think, should be extended to include more upkeep of the house itself. A further point is that a beautiful house is of no interest to sightseers, or to anyone else, if the garden surrounding the house is completely derelict. Many houses have very large gardens, and you cannot put the wages spent on the upkeep of those large gardens into your "garden loss claim" for running your kitchen garden as a business, because they would not be allowed. I think an allowance should be made against either Schedule A or what is called "other income" for the upkeep of the garden surrounding a house.
There is another matter which your Lordships may be surprised that I mention, and that is the question of farm rents. You may not think this has very much to do with houses, but in fact it has, particularly houses on agricultural estates. I believe it to be the fact that the average rent of farms at present all over the country is 3d. an acre more than it was in 1870. The pound is worth a good deal less than it was in 1870—not that I personally remember what it was worth at that time: it is worth, perhaps, one-fifth or one-sixth of what it was in 1870. At the same time, the cost of repair to farm buildings, fences, gates and everything else, is between three and four times what it was even in 1938. I think the question of farm rents should be tackled very seriously, because it often happens that an estate has to be sold and the house demolished owing to the fact that the owner cannot afford to continue to own it. Could not farm rents generally be increased in proportion to present day values? In fact, it is true to say that in agriculture the land owner is the one who has the worst of the bargain. The farm worker, quite rightly, has had his wages raised—the present minimum is £5 13s. 0d. a week, compared with 32s., or thereabouts, before the war. The farmer has his prices raised, while the land owner, very often, still has his rents 780 at about the same level as they were before the war. As I said just now, I am told by a certain statistician that rents are only 3d. an acre more than they were in 1870.
I do not intend to delay your Lordships much longer, but I should like to emphasise once again that it is a great pity, from the point of view of the national interest, when these houses become unoccupied and derelict. Previously, the owners did a great deal of unpaid work in the countryside. Now that they all have to go and live and work in London, or live and work in local towns, they cannot do that unpaid work. The great work which the owners of those houses have done in the past is recognised by all Parties, and if the houses cease to be the homes, then the owners go away and their work is no longer available. But it is quite impossible, in my opinion, for the Government or the National Trust, or even local authorities, to tackle this problem themselves. It is a question of individual enterprise, to use the political term. There are so many houses which are unsuitable for these public uses that it comes down to this: the basis of the whole ruination of these houses is taxation and the lack of income to keep them up. Before sitting down, I wish to make a plea that this Government or some future Government will be courageous enough to carry out as many as possible of the recommendations in the Gowers Report, and particularly to look at the subject of death duties and income taxation.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ LORD BRAYE
My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships, as I know that the subject has already been fully covered. I should like merely to put forward one suggestion, which I believe has not so far been put forward, with regard to historic houses. The noble Lord who has just sat down spoke of the possibility of granting some relief in the future from death duties on the land on which these houses stand. If any relief comes, I am sure your Lordships will agree that anybody who hears of relief will immediately apply for it. May I suggest that in each county some voluntary committee, working under the local government of the county—that is to say, the 781 county council—should decide in each case which houses in the county are of real historic interest and which are not; and which are suitable for being open to the public and which are not? That is all I want to say, and I thank your Lordships for listening.
§ 5.29 p.m.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD SIMONDS)
My Lords, it falls to my lot to reply to this debate on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. It has been a rather sad and depressing debate, both to-day and on the last occasion. There have been many phrases such as "beauty is in decay" and "history is crumbling into dust." It has been a depressing debate, and I fear that I shall not add to its gaiety. I made my contribution at the opening of the first day's debate, when I was able to announce to the House that in another place a Question and Answer had been made from which it appeared that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to promise a Bill, which would of course have to meet with the approval of both Houses, under which a sum of £250,000 a year would be provided for the maintenance of so-called historic houses; and, further, that he proposed that a sum of £500,000 should be made available in live years for the purchase of such houses. Here may I say, parenthetically, that we all speak of "historic houses." That is a shorthand expression for houses of historical or architectural interest, because many of the particular houses which have been referred to in this debate are, it may be, of transcendant architectural beauty and interest but could not be described as of any historic interest. Therefore we speak of historic houses in that sense.
The proposal which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to put forward was greeted with some measure of sympathy, but it has been described as "utterly inadequate," "a pitiful sum"; and we are said to be "penny wise and pound foolish," and so on. My Lords, I venture to say that, considering the state of the nation's finances when the Chancellor of the Exchequer took over the great burden of his responsibility, it is a most remarkable achievement, for which everybody in your Lordships' House should express gratitude, that he has been able in this summer of 1953, to announce that he is willing to find such a sum. Nobody knows what the future will provide—it 782 may be that he, or, if there be a Socialist Government, a Socialist Chancellor of the Exchequer, will be able to find a larger sum—but, I repeat, I thought that it was a remarkable achievement, and one which does infinite credit to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he was able to propose that such a sum should be made available.
My Lords, that is the contribution which I was able to make at the opening of the debate on the first day. Let me say, in answer to the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, who suggested that there was some lack of liaison between the two Houses, that it was really purely fortuitous. By the indulgence of the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, his Motion, which should have come before the House some weeks earlier, was postponed to make way for other matters; and so far as I know, it was pure chance that a Question was put down in another place and was answered on the day to which Lord Methuen's Motion had been postponed. The noble Earl has been good enough to say that he is sure that neither I nor, of course, the Leader of the House was guilty of any intentional discourtesy. Of course, that was so. There was nothing discourteous or sinister and, if I may say so, I do not think that Lord Methuen's brilliant speech suffered in any way from the fact that at the last moment he had to make certain adjustments.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Lord is good enough to say that it helped him quite a lot. It all comes down to a question of taxation—a matter which, of course, is not primarily one for this House. But to those who challenge what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done, one must put this question: Do you want increased taxation? I do not think anybody on either side of the House wants increased taxation. If you do not want increased taxation, do you want the existing revenue to be diverted from its present purpose; and if so, from what purpose? Do you suggest that the expenditure on defence should be reduced in order to meet this expenditure? Do you suggest that subsidies on food should be reduced? Do you suggest that the health services should be reduced in order to meet this expenditure? Yet, my Lords, it is only by increasing taxation 783 or taking money from other purposes that more money can be found for this purpose.
May I interrupt the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor? The National Land Fund has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am obliged to the noble Lord. I am coming to that.
Before I come to the National Land Fund, however, there was the ingenious suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that there should be a special form of taxation imposed upon those who build new houses, to support old houses. Well, my Lords, that, as I say, is very ingenious, but it is rather difficult to see why a particular burden should be placed upon those who build new houses rather than on any other member of the community. I do not know whether the noble Lord, seeing some houses that are being built, thought that the punishment should "fit the crime," or something of that sort. But apart from that, there really is no reason why a new burden of taxation should be imposed upon a particular section of the community because they choose to build a house instead of renting one. However, that ingenious suggestion will, of course, be considered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Now perhaps it would be convenient if I said something about the National Land Fund, which has been mentioned. There has been so much misapprehension about this matter, notwithstanding that it is dealt with fully in the Gowers Report, that perhaps, without occupying too much of your Lordships' time, I might just refer you to the relevant paragraphs in the Gowers Report. For the moment I have lost the reference but, stating it as shortly as I can, the upshot of it is that the National Land Fund was established, as we know, under the Finance Act of 1946. It is called "The National Land Fund," and it involves a sum of £50 million, which, of course, will earn interest, I suppose, because of the way in which it was invested, at something over £2½ million a year. But the mere act of creating that Fund did not put any extra money into the Government's pocket. It was 784 not like the Road Fund or the National Insurance Fund, which had been collected by a particular means for a particular purpose. It was not a Fund established out of monies provided for a particular purpose by the public. The whole £50 million simply came out of the Consolidated Fund. It is not in any sense real money at all; it is simply a collection of Government securities. To spend it, or the interest upon it, is, from the Budgetary point of view, just the same as spending any other part of the revenues of the country.
Was it not money derived from the sale of surplus war material, put aside purposely for that matter by Mr. Dalton?
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not recollect whether that was so, but for whatever purpose it may have been set aside, the result now is, that, from the Budgetary point of view, it is just the same whether you spend £2 million and call it the National Land Fund or spend it out of the ordinary revenue of the country. When you are considering the national finances, the whole point is whether you have got the money available. If you spend £2 million or more out of the National Land Fund you have to raise a further £2 million by taxation to meet your other expenditure. That is the position of the National Land Fund. As I say, if you want more money than the Chancellor of the Exchequer is able to provide, it must be found either by taxation or by reducing expenditure for other purposes.
My Lords, the debate has ranged very widely over a number of topics and about a few of them I must say a few words, although the substance of the matter is what I have already said. I should not like the House to take too depressing a view of the situation. It is true—and we all know it—that many beautiful houses have fallen into decay, and some of them have been demolished. But I would ask your Lordships to see things in their right proportion. In 1939, as I am informed, a list of the 400 best houses was compiled by the National Trust and the Ministry of Works. Of those 400 houses, since the war only four or five have gone. Two of them, Weald Hall and Cole shill, were largely burnt down.
785 I think there is some measure of exaggeration here. Let me give your Lordships one or two examples. I am reluctant to mention houses by name, lest I shall be thought to say anything derogatory about them and perhaps hurt the feelings of their owners, but I would mention just one or two. I hear, for instance, of Fawley Court as a house which is a superb example of Wren architecture. One's mind goes to the mellow beauty of Kensington Palace; but if you look at Fawley Court you find that it has been wholly refaced with bright red brick, and it is by no means a thing of beauty which, with an impartial mind, you would say was worth preserving. At any rate, you would shed no tears if you heard that it was falling into decay. Another house, which I will not name, is said to be a superb example of Tudor architecture. Well, it is an example of nineteenth century Tudor architecture and not, I think, a very good one at that. And there are many other houses of the demolition of which you hear, about which it really is not necessary to shed a tear. Of course it is a fact that any house which is falling into decay is a pathetic and pitiful sight. But that is true, perhaps, of human beings, too. It is a pathetic sight when handsome men and lovely women fall into decay. As I have said, there is a measure of exaggeration about this story.
Now I want to say something more about the machinery. First, there is a matter of which Lord Winster spoke and which Lord Methuen also mentioned in his opening speech. I refer to criticism concerning the overlapping of the two Ministries—the Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I believe that there is a complete misconception about that. First of all, Lord Winster, appeared to believe—I can hardly think it is true of Lord Methuen—that the Minister of Works was concerned with inhabited houses. We have been dealing in this House almost entirely with inhabited houses, and not with ancient monuments. The Ministry of Works has nothing to do with inhabited houses. There is no actual overlapping in practice, but, of course, there is an area where for the purpose of planning there may be some overlapping on paper. I can assure noble Lords that there is the closest liaison in these matters between the Ministry of Works and the 786 Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Of one thing I am sure, it is impossible to-day to do as the noble Lord, Lord Winster, suggested and take the whole problem away from the Minister of Housing and put it under the Minister of Works. Planning is a matter which is within the sphere of the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Over and over again it will happen that the question of the preservation of a beautiful building comes into the picture of planning, and it is therefore impossible that it should not be within the sphere of his control. But, as I say—and I say so having in mind what takes place in my own room when I prepare myself to assist your Lordships in these matters—I know how closely the two Departments work in liaison together.
The noble Lord, Lord Winster, and, at an earlier stage, Lord Methuen, said something about the work of the Departments, the Ministry of Housing, and the local authorities, in regard to machinery. The position is this. Under the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, it is the duty of the Ministry to list all houses which are of historical or architectural interest, and to notify the owners and the local authorities. Great progress has been made in that work. I cannot give your Lordships the exact figures because, of course, they will vary from day to day, but something like 1,150 out of 1,480 local authority areas have been thoroughly surveyed and the necessary lists sent to the local authorities. As the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, will know, that listing was originally clone under the advice of the late Sir Eric Maclagan and is now under equally eminent authority. The result of the listing is that the owner of a listed house cannot take any steps towards the demolition of the house without giving notice, and if notice is given then a building preservation order may be made. That has been subject to some criticism. A building preservation order is purely negative. It prevents the owner from demolishing or from making substantial alterations to the listed building without giving notice. It does not enable the authority to compel him to do anything, but it does enable the authority, in certain circumstances, to acquire.
However if, under a preservation order, an authority will not allow an owner to demolish—if that is what he 787 wants to do—he is in a position to demand compensation. Your Lordships will easily imagine that in these circumstances an authority will be slow to make an order which will render them liable for compensation, or perhaps leave on their hands a house for which they can find no economic use. I have used there an expression which is of vital importance in the consideration of this matter. If you could find an economic use for every one of these houses which the owners cannot maintain, the problem would be a simple one. As I think Lord Silkin pointed out, it is only in exceptional cases—to some of which Lord Lawson referred—that such houses can readily be converted to that end, but it is one of the benefits of listing and making a preservation order that time is given to look round and see whether some economic or social use cannot be made of the building. And that has been done in many cases.
I would say one thing more about what the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, said—and if I am sometimes critical of what he said, he will not think that I do not sympathise in the main with his theme. The noble Lord was wrong in suggesting that local authorities were under no obligation, if they were the owners of houses, to communicate with the Minister. That is not right. Local authorities are in the same position as other owners in regard to demolition of listed houses. It has happened on many occasions. It happened in the case of Renthurst, to which the noble Lord referred (I may have the name wrong) that there were communications, investigations and discussions to see whether it was not possible to save a house of this character. Although there may be some mistakes and errors of judgment—it would be strange if it were otherwise—yet it is the fact that listed houses cannot be demolished without adequate consideration by the proper authority and by the Minister. Now, you may say that that does not help much, if the Minister has not the money and cannot save the house; but this, at least, is true: that these houses are not destroyed without all the consideration and all the efforts that can be made to save them. It is true that not many building preservation orders have been made: something like 100 have been made by local authorities and a much smaller number 788 by the Minister. Again, I would give your Lordships one or two concrete examples of such orders being made. For instance, it has been found possible in the case of Dentish Court in Dorsetshire and Westwood Park in Worcestershire to save these houses, which might otherwise have been demolished, by converting them to other use.
This debate has ranged over a wide area and your Lordships will forgive me if, without much sequence, I go from one subject to another. I turn to Scotland for a moment, because there was an interesting discussion on the first day of this debate about the position in Scotland. In particular, it was said that in Scotland houses which might otherwise have been preserved have had their roofs taken off in order that they might be saved from rating. I hear a murmur of assent to that. That very question was raised in this House, I think by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, some two years ago and it was raised more recently in another place; but no concrete examples of that happening were brought to the notice of the Minister (either the Minister in the previous Government or in this), and we have heard of no examples of that being done in the last few years. My answer to what was said is this: a Committee has been set up and is now working under Lord Sorn, a distinguished Lord of Session, which has the duty of reviewing the whole of the present system of valuation and rating, and this very question of the rating or de-rating of houses according to whether they have their roofs on or off will be for their consideration and discussion.
The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, raised another topic. May I say with great respect to the noble Viscount what a remarkable effect the translation from the atmosphere of Downing Street to the salubrious air of the Port of London seems to have had upon him? He was able to talk with a light heart of a sum of £250,000 being wholly inadequate. I wondered how he would have regarded the matter when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. The noble Viscount was inclined to discount the argument that to treat owners of historic houses as a special class for taxation purposes was a bad thing, arguing from the analogy of the relaxation of taxation which had been 789 given in the case of agriculture and certain industrial research processes. I venture to think that he did not give sufficient weight to the fact that in such cases whole classes are given relief. In what is now proposed there is no question of a whole class being given relief, but only certain persons, who are chosen upon executive authority and by executive discretion; and the borderline between persons who would be on the list and who would not be on the list would be so difficult to determine that I venture to think there would be a grave sense of injustice if one were given taxation relief and another were not. That differentiates this altogether from the cases he puts forward as precedents in which relief has been given.
There is another aspect of this matter—I must apologise for the lack of sequence in my observations. The noble Lord, Lord Brocket, spoke of the doom of country houses, and it was clear that to him that doom was inevitable unless relief went a very long way. For instance, he said (and justly) how expensive it is to heat large country houses. Does he contemplate, could anybody contemplate, that to I know not how many owners of country houses relief should be given by way of the provision of free fuel? I cannot think that a proposition of that kind could be put forward to the people of this country, however much interested they are in the beauty of the countryside, whether of art or of nature, and receive any measure of assent.
§ LORD BROCKET
My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord excuse my interrupting on that point? I think I continued to say that it was because of the lack of income that people could not keep their houses. I was not asking for free fuel.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Lord has put his finger on the spot in saying something that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said before him in the earlier part of the debate. We have to recognise that in many respects our way of life has changed. Nobody can read the memoirs of the last century and consider the way in which the owners of these great houses lived, the staffs that were necessary to keep the houses in order and the fuel necessary to keep them warm, without 790 recognising that there has been a change in our way of living. I am far from saying that we are yet at that state in which our beautiful country houses ought to he regarded as symbols of a civilisation that has gone. We have not reached that stage and I hope that we never shall. But we have got to realise that many of the things which we valued in the past have now irrecoverably gone, and we have to do the best we can. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made what I consider to be a remarkable suggestion, in the circumstances, and when the matter comes before the other place in the Bill—about which I am not justified in saying any more than was said in another place, that it was hoped it would he introduced as soon as circumstances admitted—then we shall seethe reaction of the other House, of this House and of the country at large to the proposals which are made.
I was most interested and struck by the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst—a speech which, if I may say so as a much older man, I regarded as full of great promise. He suggested that in the country at large a proposal to impose taxation in order that the owners of great houses might be able to live there would be welcomed. The noble Earl sees with the eyes of the younger generation, and it may be that he is right. However, I very much doubt whether such a proposal, if it involved a substantial burden upon our revenue, would meet with the approbation which he suggests. I only hope that if and when the attempt is made he will prove right and I shall prove wrong.
I intend to deal with only one more topic of the many that have been raised in this debate, and that is the dull and dreary topic raised by the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, on the question of the General Development Order, an Order made under the Housing Act, and not made in the least with any idea of either facilitating or otherwise the work of the local authorities in respect of this matter. With great respect, I am unable to see how the making of a general Development Order releases any local authority or the owner of any house from the obligations which he is under if the house is a listed house. I shall be glad to see the noble Lord upon the matter, or to put him 791 into touch with the appropriate department, but I venture to think that with regard to that matter he is under some misapprehension.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
It is inevitable in a debate of this kind that a reply should be somewhat inconsequential. The main burden of what I have had to say is in the answer which was given in another place, with which I ventured to intervene on the first day of this debate. Upon other matters I have had to wander at random and to endeavour, however inadequately, to answer some of the many points which have been raised. However, there is one thing more I should like to say. I should like to join with the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, in saying that the Gowers Report is one of the most remarkable documents that I have ever read, couched in English of rare clarity and distinction, and a model of what such Reports should be.
Before the noble and learned Lord finishes his speech I should like to ask one question which perhaps I should have asked before. He said that I had misunderstood the function of the local authorities in reporting a listed house to the appropriate Ministry. I did not say that they did not report it, but that when they did report it, it was too late. They should report it in the early planning stages when they know the listed house is threatened. The same applies to other Ministries.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am obliged to the noble Lord. I am sorry if in any respect I misunderstood what he said. It is difficult to generalise on this matter, but this I do know: that in one or more of the specific cases to which he referred there was ample time after communication for the Ministry to intervene if it could intervene usefully. I believe reference was made to either Bristol or Gloucester, or to both. In those cases there were long discussions between the local authority and the Ministry before anything was done. But, again, the question of money arose, and it was not found possible economically to do what the noble Lord would have done—namely, save the house.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
There are so many houses. Abingdon is a house about which there has been a great deal of exaggeration. The house at Abingdon is Fitzharris House, which is one of those houses which are just good houses. Nobody would say, I suppose, that it is a house of such architectural beauty that, if it is not found possible to use it economically, it should be preserved as a museum piece. Every effort has been made to find some use for Fitzharris House, but no use has been found for it. There it is. It is not worth preserving as a museum piece.
§ 6.8 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to noble Lords who have been so good as to take part in this debate, which I feel has been a memorable one. We have had frank opinions expressed from all parts of the House, and it is difficult to say which of the many speeches has been the most interesting. I liked the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that the aged houses should be supported by the young ones, though the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack has, possibly quite rightly, pointed out that it would entail an extra burden. Still, he has good hopes that the suggestion will go to another place for serious consideration. My contention about the Gowers Committee recommendations with regard to tax exemption has, in my view, been fully supported by what the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said, in spite of the fact that we are near the river and far removed from Downing Street. I should think that it might be possible to approach and solve this matter on a non-Party basis, without the fear of one Party taunting the other with having contracted a "most favoured nation" clause. We should be particularly grateful, in my opinion, to the noble Lord, Lord Silk in, for the clear and convincing way in which he spoke about using the National Land Fund for this very purpose.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
May I interrupt in order to say what I meant to say before? The reference to the National Land Fund is on page 60 of the Gowers Report, and as there has been some misunderstanding I hope that noble 793 Lords will occupy some part of their leisure by reading paragraphs 33, 34, 35, and 36 on that page.
I thank the noble and learned Lord for his reference, but I have not the time to read it just now. I was going partly by what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, and also by what Mr. Dalton said in 1946, when addressing the National Trust at its Annual General Meeting. I remember the occasion very well, because I had to propose a vote of thanks. As I remember—unfortunately it is not recorded—he said, "I have created this National Land Fund out of the sale of war material for the express purpose of helping societies like yourselves and various other societies. "Your Lordships will find the rest of his remarks very ably expressed in his Budget speech at that time. I did not mention it in my speech on the first occasion, because thought it better to come from some other part of the House, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, mentioned it.
I was very surprised by what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said about the Fund being treated just as any other part of the national funds. When it comes to voting the sums, which, naturally, we are all glad to hear are going to he voted for this purpose, I hope Her Majesty's Government will take seriously into consideration the work of the National Trust. Few would quibble at the Trust's receiving ample help from this source, particularly in cases where the gift of houses of outstanding architectural and historical interest would otherwise have to be refused because no endowment sum was forthcoming. As your Lordships know, and as the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, has already mentioned, the National Trust depend entirely on endowments by donors to maintain the fabrics; the Trust have no other income for the purpose and, of course, receive no Stale subsidy. I have been with the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, on the Historic Buildings Committee of the Trust since inception of 1936, and it has been a tremendous disappointment to us all to be forced to turn down very fine houses, simply because we are not satisfied that the sum offered would maintain them and the owner cannot offer more, or because the owner cannot offer us anything at all in the way of endowment.
794 I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that the great town houses and blocks of houses, mainly Georgian, are, just as important as any other structures; and it is these that give the most interesting of our provincial towns their unique character. I know of no towns abroad to match in their way such places as Bath, Regency Brighton, and Cheltenham, or New Town Edinburgh, as superb in their lay-out and design as they are in the richness of their architecture. It was for this reason that I mentioned the 1949 Housing Act and suggested where it might be amended in order to give these town houses the help they appear to need. I hope the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will be good enough, if he thinks it worthy of so doing, to pass on my suggestion. I instanced in particular Bath, because I know the conditions at first hand only too well, being a member of the Bath Preservation Trust and in close touch with the Council. In fact, I was partly briefed, I do not mind telling your Lordships, by the Town Clerk himself over that. I am sure that what applies to Bath would apply in equal measure to many other places.
In my opening remarks I mentioned the French system, and how they preserve their monuments. That has not been queried, although some noble Lord might have said. "Yes, but we are talking about our own historic houses. You mention the French. Do the French subsidise the owners of any of their historic châteaux?"The answer is that they do. I was interested to find out what proportion of châteaux and manor houses received a grant or were preserved by Government means in France. Being fairly familiar with Normandy, I looked up the lists of this region which, as your Lordships know, consists of five departments. In that region they have 406 places with scheduled buildings, and 487 places with buildings entered on the supplementary list. The latter receive no grant and the former do—they receive 50 per cent. grant for the upkeep of the fabric. In Normandy they have 34 inhabited châteaux and 24 manor houses scheduled, and 86 châteaux and 73 manor houses have been placed on the supplementary list, the Department of Calvados alone accounting for well over half this number. I think that disposes of any criticism which might have arisen over what the French do in the way of 795 subsidising owners of historic occupied houses.
Though we should make full use of whatever measures are likely to assist our historic structures, that does not alter the long-term policy of implementing what is probably the most urgent recommendation of the Gowers Committee—namely, that the present administrative division and tangle should be cleared up before anything else is done. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has referred to that at some length, and I should like to refer to it again, because I am entirely in disagreement with him over this—I will explain why in a moment. The Ministry of Works will have the spending of the money, but much of the essential knowledge and experience of this work exists at present with the investigators in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Unless these investigators are transferred to the Ministry of Works—the spending Department—there will be a serious risk that the money will go into a comparatively small number of large grants to a rather arbitrary short list of buildings. I feel strongly that far better value for money could be obtained by a discriminating combination of grants with other methods such as only a really strong comprehensive organisation could employ.
I might explain that, before that happened, a comprehensive plan would have to be brought in which gave the Ministry of Works power to schedule and maintain—or whichever you call it—inhabited buildings. The Ministry of Local Government have not the power to schedule—only the Ministry of Works have that power. By "other methods," to which I referred just now, I mean guidance to owners, in the first place in methods of maintenance, and so on; secondly, in bringing pressure to bear on local authorities to preserve the amenities of a historic house; thirdly, in finding other uses for houses, as I have already suggested; and, fourthly, in the use of building preservation orders in respect of inhabited houses. As your Lordships are aware, these cannot be used at all by She Ministry of Works, as they have no jurisdiction whatever over inhabited houses, and special legislation would have to be brought in for that. Of that I am quite aware. Fifthly, there must be edu- 796 cation of the public through the lists. It is desirable, as I have said before, that these lists should be completed as early as possible and published, but it would seem a mistake to have separate publications for two Ministries, especially as in some cases they would be dealing with the same structures. Sixthly, it is undesirable that there should be two bodies with almost certainly divergencies of opinion between them, with confusion as to what buildings should have priority for maintenance. Who will decide, for instance, which buildings merit the most urgent attention in the case of a financial grant? It means that you will have two sets of accounts for two Ministries, which seems to me rather short-sighted, and wasteful as well. I think everyone who has had practical experience of this problem of assessing the relative claims of historic structures agrees that this course, which has been recommended by the Gowers Committee, is the only right one and should be followed as the first step: that is, to transfer the investigators to the Ministry of Works and amend the law so that the Ministry of Works can schedule inhabited buildings.
In support of these views, may I refer to several letters published in The Times since the new year, from practical people who have more knowledge than most of this problem? The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack referred to one or two. One was from Lord Rosse, dated February 20. Lord Rosse, as your Lordships know, is chairman of the Georgian Group and has vast experience in this matter. He has been one of the leading lights of the National Trust. Then there was one from Sir William Holford, who was for some years technical adviser to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and succeeded the late Sir Eric Maclagan as chairman of the Listing Committee under the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. This letter was dated March 5. There was also one from Mr. Wagner, the Richmond Herald, who was for some time secretary-member of the same Advisory Committee. His letter was dated February 25. In all these letters (by eminent authorities, may I remind your Lordships) emphasis is laid on the absolute necessity for setting up a body with the staff, knowledge and authority to see this problem as a whole, so as to give expert advice and devise 797 remedies promptly within the limits of the resources available. At present this is lacking, as responsibility and experience are divided between two Ministries.
Emphasis is also laid on the urgency of completing the listing of buildings of architectural and historic importance as soon as possible, the point being made that even the recording and photographing of such buildings are not keeping pace with the demolitions. I was not very happy about the answer that the Lord Chancellor gave on this point. He mentioned a great number of local authority areas who have started; but the fact remains that we are behind schedule and that buildings are coming down before they have been listed. In fact we have no time, in the case of dilapidated buildings, to get them photographed. I therefore appeal to the Government to go back to the Gowers Committee recommendations before committing themselves to any proposals which leave out of account this all-important question of administration. Without this unification any Bill they bring in is bound to be lacking in the essential element for its success. In the meantime, until some such organisation as is envisaged is brought into being and got well under way, those of us who are responsible for historic houses and their historic contents should, I feel, do all we can to bridge the gap by trying if necessary to find alternative uses for these houses without the loss of their character. Would it not be fitting if the great country houses of this country, which have played such a distinguished part in the past, became centres of light and learning? I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.