HL Deb 03 July 1962 vol 241 cc1172-6

3.6 p.m.

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

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Power of local authority to contribute to preservation of historic buildings]:

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved, in subsection (4), in the definition of "local authority" to leave out "or county district" and insert "county district or parish". The noble Viscount said: This Bill seems to me to be entirely admirable, apart from one small defect; that is, that among the list of the local authorities which are enabled by the Bill to contribute towards the upkeep of historic buildings there is not included the large number of parish councils in the British Isles. The buildings which the Bill intends to preserve, or in the preservation of which it will help, are not only houses as such but also, by the definition in the Bill itself, any other structures or erections. Consequently, this would include a large number of smaller but, I think, in this context, equally important buildings and other things of that nature, particularly in villages throughout this country. There are things like lychgates, stocks and pounds, and there are windmills, tithe barns, market squares and so on. These are all very important parts of our heritage in their small way, and the danger must lie in the fact that the county district councils, which are at the moment the lowest tier of authority which can make contributions under this Bill, will perhaps have, as they see it, rather more important things to preserve in their areas and upon which all their available funds will go.

The parish councils are, of course, the smaller authorities, and they are particularly interested in the little things of historic interest in their areas. It is by no means an original idea that they should have power to look after these matters. Before 1933, if they had a building of such a nature in their possession they could contribute to its upkeep and its repair; and they could still do so later, if the building came into their possession before 1933. Equally, under the National Trust Act, 1937, a parish council may make contributions to National Trust buildings in its area. It therefore seems to me that it would be a mistake to mar what is otherwise an excellent Bill by forgetting, as I am afraid will be the case, the smaller and more local objects of interest, such as those which I have mentioned.

I hope that my noble friend the Duke of Atholl will feel that he can now, at this stage, allow parish councils to come within the scope of the Bill. After all, many of them are by no means inconsiderable bodies: they have funds at their disposal; they take the greatest possible interest in affairs in their area; and they want to contribute to and to help to look after these things. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships may think that they should be included and should be given the power to do the things that can, under the Bill at the moment, be done only by the higher and rather larger authorities. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 22, leave out ("or county district") and insert ("county district or parish").—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)


I welcome my noble friend's Amendment. With his unfailing skill he has succeeded in finding about the only point that was not exhaustively discussed on the Committee stage of the Bill in another place, and I congratulate him for this. Nevertheless, I hope I shall be able to persuade him to withdraw his Amendment, or, failing that, to persuade your Lordships to reject it. I think there are three reasons for doing so. The first is that this Bill already gives two tiers of local government the power to make grants, and it would only complicate matters, I think, for a third tier to be given this power, in that if you want a grant or a loan for some building you own you can go either to the district council or the county council. If neither of them is willing to give you a grant, the chances are that your building is not worth preserving or is not worth preserving with the use of public money, although if you are prepared to preserve it with your own money the situation is completely different.

Secondly, while there are some quite large parish councils, in the vast majority of cases to allow them to contribute to buildings of this sort, even to something like a parish pub, would probably put an impossible burden on the rates for the parishioners concerned, and would, I think, tend to make them much less keen to preserve and be appreciative of the historic buildings they have in their midst. The third reason why I would ask my noble friend to withdraw his Amendment is that parish councils, on the whole, do not have the same expert advice which larger councils, like county councils and district councils, have. While if a building is not on the statutory list they would have to ask my noble friend for permission to give a grant, they would not have the expert advice to see that the grant was well spent and that the job was done in a workmanlike and efficient way. Therefore, I would ask your Lordships to reject this Amendment if my noble friend divides us.


I thank the noble Duke for his explanation. I think, if I may repay the compliment, that he has rehearsed a few new arguments from those which were advanced in another place. I do not think he would wish us to infer from anything he said that parish councils in most cases would not, on the whole, be quite capable of deciding whether or not they ought to use their powers under this Bill. But it may well be that they are not quite so fully advised as some of the higher authorities. I wonder whether he could in any way tell your Lordships how much degree of consultation there will be between the county and district councils and the parish councils upon the choice of buildings which may possibly obtain grants under this Bill. I think if he were able to hold out some hopes in that respect, it might be easier for the parish councils to accept their exclusion from this Bill.


I should of course hope that there would be a great deal of consultation between the various councils concerned. I should like to point out to my noble friend that, if a parish council consider they have a building in their midst which is worthy of a grant or a loan, as the Bill now stands it is up to that parish council, or it could be up to that parish council, to go to the district council or the county council and say they think it is a building worth preserving, and ask whether the district or county council would please consider it. If they both then refuse, I am afraid that it puts the parish council in rather a difficult situation; but no doubt such is the great power of public duty that they could wake up their parishioners and get them to make the district council or the county council give a grant for something that the parish council consider would be beneficial to their area. I hope that this will convince my noble friend that consultations should be possible between the various local authorities concerned and the parish councils, which, of course, are not included in the Bill at the moment.


I must say that instinctively I have some sympathy with the parish councils, probably perforce because they are the smallest of the local governing authorities. But I must say that I think the noble Duke in charge of the Bill has made the case that, on grounds of resources, finance and technical advice, it would be difficult to make a parish council a principal authority for the execution of the clause. But may I put this to the noble Duke? There is one argument which can be adduced against their becoming an executive authority under the Act, but it might be useful if the parish councils had some right to be consulted by, or, at any rate, to make representations to, the district council, which consultations or representations the district council or the county council should be required to take into account. That would seem to me a reasonable proposition, so that the voice of the parish council could be heard, and the higher authorities would be required to take this view into account. May I suggest to the noble Duke that it would be a fair compromise between him and the noble Viscount who has moved the Amendment if, at Third Reading stage, he were to consider an Amendment whereby the district council and the county council—or one or the other, as the case may be—were required to take into account the views expressed by the parish council in the matter?


I thank the noble Lord opposite for, on the whole, supporting me in my rejection of this Amendment. I will, of course, willingly do what he requests and see whether, before Third Reading stage, we can produce some Amendment which would meet the case. Therefore, I will promise my noble friend that I will not to-day move that the Report be received.


With that undertaking by my noble friend, I think I ought to withdraw my Amendment, and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining Clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.