HL Deb 26 June 1962 vol 241 cc927-33

8.23 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I am afraid that when we consider this Bill we shall have none of the fireworks which we have had so far to-day. Nevertheless, if your Lordships pass this Bill it will, I think, fill a gap in the historic buildings legislation. I can promise your Lordships that at this late hour I will be quite brief. If any noble Lord would like to read about this Bill at much greater length he can consult Hansard of another place for February 9, and can read several excellent, but excessively long, speeches on the subject, their verbosity being justified, I believe, not so much by the subject matter under consideration as by the desire of the speakers concerned that the subsequent business on the Order Paper should not be reached. We do not have such rules in our House, so there is no fear that, due to my verbosity, the noble Lord opposite will not be able to put his Question and receive some sort of reply from my noble friend.


Some sort of reply!


Before coming to the actual provisions of this Bill, I think I should give a little of the historical background to the ancient monuments and historic buildings legislation. The first Act in this line of country was the Ancient Monuments Protection Act, 1882, under which the Ministry of Works were given power to acquire certain ancient monuments which were specified in the Schedules, to punish people who defaced them, to appoint inspectors to look after them, to become guardians of monuments, and to maintain them. This Act gave no power of any sort to local authorities.

The present power of local authorities to take an interest in ancient monuments dates from the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act, 1913, and the Ancient Monuments Act, 1931. Under Section 11 of the 1913 Act certain local authorities have the power to make grants and to contribute to the upkeep of ancient monuments. In practice, although the 1931 Act defines "monument" as any non-ecclesiastical building, structure or other work, whether above or below the ground, and an ancient monument as a monument or group of monuments of which the preservation is, in the opinion of the Commissioners"— who were the predecessors of the Ministry of Works— a matter of public interest by reason of the historic, architectural, traditional, artistic or archæological interests attaching thereto, the preservation powers have been applied to remains and ruins rather than to dwellings which are inhabited by people or used for any purposes.

There is considerable doubt as to whether the interpretation of an ancient monument in the 1931 Act will in fact hold water; and, even if it does, the whole procedure for a local authority's giving a grant to a house that is actually inhabited, other than by a caretaker, is cumbersome and has so far been little used, if at all. The reason why it is cumbersome is that, before they can act, they have to consult a body called the Ancient Monuments Board which at the moment is virtually non-existent, and, I gather, has been so for many years. This Act also suffers from the snag that it permitted only county and borough councils to give grants to historic buildings; it did not allow other local authorities to do so.

Parallel with this we must consider the Town and Country Planning Acts, which of course culminated in the Act of 1947. One of the main features of this Act was to require the Minister to list buildings which were of historic or architectural interest. These buildings are now on one of two lists—either the statutory list, in regard to which, before an owner can do any major alterations to the building, he must give the local authority concerned two months' notice; or the supplementary list, which has no legal significance at all and is purely a guide to the local authorities and the owners concerned. Out of the 1,474 local authorities in England and Wales, up to March 31 of this year 1,010 had produced full statutory lists based on surveys, and 246 of them had produced incomplete statutory lists based on works of reference only. This left some 210 to produce any list at all. All the areas that had produced full statutory lists had also produced a supplementary list. So far there are 81,586 buildings on the statutory list and 88,660 on the supplementary list. Therefore, I think it is reasonable to assume that eventually there will be about 100,000 buildings on each list.

With this Act must be coupled the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act, 1953, which was brought in as the result of the Gowers Report. This set up the Historic Buildings Councils for England and Wales and for Scotland. The Council for England has only some £400,000 to spend each year. The one for Wales, and the one for Scotland, have about £75,000 each. Of course, this is entirely inadequate to give grants to all the buildings on the statutory list, let alone on the supplementary list, which need them. It is therefore thought desirable that local authorities should be able to help where the Historic Buildings Council does not feel in a position, owing to lack of funds, to do so.

Perhaps I can now sum up the position as it is at the moment. With the exception of a small number of county councils and county boroughs who have taken special powers in local Acts (for example, Gloucester County Borough took special powers in 1958, and Buckinghamshire County Council in 1961), a county council or county borough in England or Wales could theoretically give a grant to an historic house provided they got the permission of a virtually non-existent body, the Ancient Monuments Board, and provided that they took the view that "ancient monuments" covered buildings actually occupied and used. Urban and district councils could not do anything towards giving grants for historic buildings as they have never been included in any of this legislation. The Historic Buildings Council have powers to give grants to buildings of outstanding interest, but, owing to shortage of money, they interpret "outstanding" very narrowly, quite rightly, and therefore cannot give grants to buildings which are in their opinion deserving of grants but not sufficiently deserving as to qualify for some of the £400,000 available. This they make perfectly clear in their reports each year. In practice also they tend not to give grants to groups of buildings which, although in themselves of no great interest, as a group are of exquisite beauty and value.

In Scotland the position is somewhat different, as under Section 339 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947, local authorities are given powers which are more generally available and less cumbersome than the powers under the Ancient Monument Acts. For this reason this Bill does not apply to Scotland. But I regret to say that Scotland has been rather neglectful in this regard, and I think there are only three examples where local authorities have actually given grants to historic buildings in their area. These are Stirling Town, which has given £5,000 for the toll booth: Falkirk, which has given £3,000 for the restoration of the town's steeple; and Lanarkshire County Council, which has given £1,750 for David Livingstone's house. Other than those, these powers do not appear to have been used in Scotland, and I am hoping that, although this Bill does not apply there, it may remind some of the local authorities that they have these powers and can use them.

I should like very briefly to consider the clauses of the Bill. Clause 1 (1) enables local authorities to give grants or loans to the owners of historic buildings which are in their area or in their immediate vicinity. Under paragraph (a) of that clause they can give them to any building that is on the statutory list without consulting the Minister of Housing and Local Government, but under paragraph (b) of the same clause if they wish to give a grant to a building that is not on the statutory list, they must consult the Minister of Housing and Local Government. They are also allowed to give a grant towards the upkeep and maintenance of the garden to which a grant-aided house is attached. Clause 1 (2) defines the terms upon which local authorities can make loans. These terms are drawn as widely as possible and allow them to make loans which are interest-free, and to waive repayment of the loans if they feel so inclined. Clause 1 (3) gives the local authority power to insist on the house being open to the public if they give a grant, but not if they give a loan. Clause 1 (4) defines "building" as in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and "local authorities" down to district councils, but excludes the London County Council and the City of London—not because they are such Philistines that it was thought not worth while to include them, but because they already have the powers in Section 15 of the City of London (Various Powers) Act, 1954, and in Section 156 of the London Government Act, 1939.

Clause 2 enables the local authority to recover any grant (either in total or in part) if the owner of the house sells the house at a profit within three years of receiving the grant. This was put in because it was considered undesirable that owners of houses should benefit from public money and make a capital profit. Clause 3 is purely financial, and is the usual provision for any increase in the rate deficiency grants, which are expected to be so small as be virtually nonexistent and so are of no great concern.

My Lords, I do not expect this Bill to have the effect of immediately restoring to their former glory all the 100,000- odd statutory scheduled buildings in this country, but I think that it will provide a useful means for some of them to be preserved in a state which will be both a credit and an advantage to the country. I also think that it may have the effect of making local authorities take a greater interest than they have heretofore in many of the very fine buildings and structures which are situated in their area. My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Duke of Atholl.)

8.35 p.m.


My Lords, I do not feel that I need detain you long, as the case for this Bill has been extremely ably deployed by my noble friend. Twelve years ago, when dealing with houses of historic or architectural interest in this country, the Gowers Committee stated in their Report—and I quote: These houses represent an association of beauty, or art, and of nature—the achievement often of centuries of effort—which is irreplaceable, and has seldom, if ever been equalled in the history of civilisation. Fortunately, many such houses have been saved as a result of the Historic Buildings Act, 1953, but there is a limit to the expenditure of Government funds, as anyone conversant with the Reports of the Historic Buildings Council knows very well. Consequently, as my noble friend has pointed out, many buildings of merit—indeed, the bulk of those listed under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947—fail to qualify for assistance under the 1953 Act.

In their latest Report the Historic Buildings Council note that they have managed so far to keep within their annual ration of £400,000. But—and I quote the words of the latest Report: This has only been possible by refusing the claims of a number of buildings which we should truly have liked to help. Such buildings may not rank with the Blenheims, but they may, in their own modest way, be very fine and add much to the beauty and dignity of our national landscape—as indeed do their gardens, which I am glad to note have in fact been brought within the scope of this Bill. It is, perhaps, all the more important that the local value of such buildings should be even more fully recognised to-day, and local interest in them increasingly stimulated, when development of one sort or another—often vary desirable in itself—could mar the character of many of our towns and villages.

Be that as it may, there is surely a part for local authorities to play in supplementing the assistance given from central funds. Some of them, it is true, already do so under the provisions of the Ancient Monuments Acts or of local Acts, but this Bill, as my noble friend has explained, will be valuable in conferring a clear and simple power on all local authorities in England and Wales. I am sure, too, that there is every advantage in leaving some real measure of initiative in this matter to local authorities, and that noble Lords will, therefore, particularly welcome the provision in the Bill that, where a building is listed, a local authority should be empowered to offer assistance without an affirmative wink from Whitehall's all-seeing eye. I think this Bill was generally welcomed on both sides in another place. In that place it had a youthful and skilful pilot. If I were that Bill myself, I would deem myself lucky to have found in your Lordships' House another such pilot.


My Lords, I should just like to thank my noble friend very much for the kind reception he has given to this Bill, and hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.