§ 2.38 p.m.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether a nation-wide effort can be made to put a stop to the steady, insidious destruction of historic buildings, which is now continuously taking place for commercial gain, by private, public-authority, and even Government or Crown owners.]
THF JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are already making great efforts, in co-operation with local authorities throughout the country and with the many national and local societies interested, to prevent the loss of historic buildings wherever this is practicable. As regards buildings in the ownership of private persons and public authorities, the system of listing under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, ensures that the possibility of preservation is first explored in every case where there is any question of demolition. The same result as regards buildings in Crown ownership is secured by interdepartmental consultation.
§ LORD BOSSOM
My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that Answer, I am afraid I have to say that I have been able to trace 82 buildings that have been destroyed in the last few years; and 22 more are now threatened. The Order of St. John alone have many buildings of great historic value all over 835 the country, and three of those have been destroyed and three more are threatened at the present time. But as to the real coverage of this situation—
§ LORD BOSSOM
Is my noble friend aware—though he said all such buildings were being listed, that of those in rural districts alone (and there are 475 rural districts of which only 362 have been surveyed) only 99 buildings had been listed up to July of this year? If the noble Earl could do anything to help in this matter it would be very much appreciated all over the country.
My Lords, I am not aware in detail of the figures which have been given, and my right honourable friend and I will certainly examine them. They hardly arise out of the Question, because, as I have said, Her Majesty's Government are taking all possible efforts to preserve these buildings; and I would draw the noble Lord's attention to the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act, 1953, under which grants for repair and maintenance can be given to these buildings. The noble Lord mentioned, as I thought he might, the Moor Hall Chapel, near Uxbridge, of the Order of Knights of St. John. That has lapsed into disuse and disrepair. There is no question of commercial gain here, however, because, private people not having found the money to preserve it, Uxbridge Council are proposing to turn the around into an open space.
§ LORD BOSSOM
My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that Answer may I send him some of the information that has come to my hands?
My Lords, is not some of the difficulty a question of user? I know of one historic building (in which, I ought to tell your Lordships, I have some kind of interest)—it is an eighteenth century house of considerable interest—which the local authority want to convert.
Is my noble friend aware that in this case they want to convert into public offices a place which was of interest as the home of a family— 836 a change which would entirely destroy its character? And is not the question of user often a very material part of the question of what is to be done when a historic place comes into the market?
My Lords, I have no doubt that the question of user is taken into consideration, but I am afraid that I do not know to what particular building the noble Lord is referring, for he gave me no notice of that.
§ LORD LAWSON
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether the Government are quite certain that the local authorities of the country know what steps have to be taken about this matter and that they have in their hands the information that has been given in the House this afternoon?
My Lords, one can never be quite certain about anything. But the Act of 1947 has been on the Statute Book for some time, and the system of scheduling buildings of historic interest has certainly been in the minds of the local authorities for many years. These schedules are being maintained, to my knowledge, in my own part of the country, at any rate.