HL Deb 06 July 1967 vol 284 cc865-9

8.12 p.m.

Read 3a (according to Order), with the Amendments.

Clause 2 [Unauthorised works on listed buildings and contravention of building preservation order]:

THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (LORD KENNET) moved, in the proviso to subsection (1) to leave out "two months" and insert "one month". The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a minor Amendment to Clause 2(1), the subsection which extends the period of notice which has to be given of proposals to demolish or alter listed buildings from two months to six months. This subsection will come into force immediately the Bill is passed, but the proviso exempts anyone who has already given notice two months or more before that date—that is, if the two months' notice he has to give at present has already expired. If his two months' notice has not expired when the Bill becomes law, then he must wait the full six months, and will commit an offence if he does not do so.

This might operate harshly in the period immediately after the Bill becomes law; that is, in the case of a person whose two months' notice expires the next day and who would then expect to be free to go ahead with his proposal. I am informed that the general practice in fixing the date of operation of Statutes is to secure that where particular provisions of an Act would have an immediate impact on the public the Act should, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary—which there are not in this case—contain a provision for postponement sufficient to secure that copies of the Act become available before the Act or any section having this effect comes into operation. Where such compelling reasons exist, special printing arrangements are made to ensure that copies of the Act are available to the public as soon as it comes into force. It therefore seems right that Clause 2(1) should allow a short period of grace for people who have already given notice, and the simplest way of doing this is to alter the "two months" in the proviso to "one month". The Amendment does exactly this. My Lords, I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 22, leave out ("two months") and insert ("one month").—(Lord Kennet.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3 [Acts causing or likely to result in damage to listed buildings]:


My Lords, this is a purely drafting Amendment, which brings the wording of this clause into line with wording used earlier on. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 23, leave out ("so") and insert ("or permits it").—(Lord Kennet.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

8.15 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. I think it would be wrong to let this moment pass without thanking all those noble Lords who have contributed towards this discussion. It is a sign of the interest this House takes in these matters of amenity that no fewer than 17 noble Lords spoke in our Second Reading debate on this Bill. The Bill came to us from another place after it had been thoroughly worked over there; and because of that, and because of the assistance which the Government gave—not least of all, the assistance of the Parliamentary draftsmen—to the Bill, there has perhaps not been a great deal that we have been able to do to it here by way of improvement. Nevertheless, I think it leaves us in better shape than as it came to us.

Clause 1 has been materially improved as a result of the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Strang, to subsection (5). The new subsection (6) means that appropriate publicity will be given to local planning applications affecting a conservation area. In Clause 2 we have increased, as I am sure we are right to do, the fines payable for contraventions of building preservation orders. Apart from that, I think we have tidied up the Bill quite significantly in a number of places.

I of course regret that we have not been able to incorporate in the Bill all the suggestions made by noble Lords. There are two in particular that I should like just to touch on. I wish we had been able to meet my noble friend Lord Molson, and to devise a formula which would have meant that unskilful surgery to trees, fatally impairing their character, was brought within the scope of this Bill. But, with the best will in the world, this was not possible. Again, I had very considerable sympathy with an Amendment about the neglect of listed buildings, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, who contributed very materially to the discussions on this Bill. I think that both the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and I were doubtful whether a suitable provision covering this complicated point could be devised in time; and so it has proved. Nevertheless, the point which the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, and a number of noble Lords, drew to our attention—namely, that fine old buildings can be destroyed just as quickly or fatally by wilful neglect as by wilful damage—is a valid one and should be looked at. After what Lord Kennet said, I very much hope that the Government will be able to catch this point fairly soon in coming legislation.

My Lords, I would not claim that this Bill is more than just a step along the road, but it does quite a lot to strengthen our rather fragile position in this amenity field. But, of course, it is only a step. There are many matters which need to be further borne in mind. There are the points I have just touched on. Speaking personally, I should like to see close examination given to the exemptions which statutory undertakers at present enjoy. Speaking very personally indeed—and on a point on which I am sure I should not carry all my noble friends with me—I should like to see some attention given to the wide exemptions which agricultural buildings enjoy. But these are all matters that can be looked at in due course.

Of course, legislation is only one side of this coin. The other side is that this Bill places a very considerable further responsibility on the shoulders of the local authorities. I hope they will discharge their responsibilities. In this connection, the Channon Act has been a little disappointing. But here, perhaps, is an area in which individuals and local amenity societies can come into their own. In its way the Bill does something to further what I hold to be a very desirable process: that is, the closer involvement of people on the spot in the local planning processes.

My Lords, there is only one further point on which I should like to touch, and that is this. It is the field of Government action. I feel that in this field the Government can themselves set a good example by the care with which they maintain their own listed buildings, by encouraging others—for example, the Armed Forces—to clear up more of the mess which they sometimes leave behind, and, not least, in the field of finance. Almost every noble Lord who has spoken on this Bill has pointed out that every clause in it, whether it be Part I, Part II or Part III, is, if the duties are discharged properly, likely to lay a further financial burden on the shoulders of our local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Hailes, made the point that if the Historic Buildings Councils were to do all that this Bill enables them to do in helping to enhance the conservation areas, they would need further financial support if they were not to do it at the expense of their other work. I hope the Government are fully seized of this most difficult aspect of the matter.

I conclude by thanking those noble Lords who have contributed to our discussions and who have welcomed this Bill. I am particularly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and indeed to the Government, for the help and advice which they have given to the sponsors of this Bill, both here and in another place. Finally, I should like to acknowledge my debt to the father of this Bill, Mr. Duncan Sandys, and that admirable creation of his, the Civic Trust. It has been a privilege—and I do not say that lightly—to have had charge of their progeny in this House.


My Lords, I should not like to let the opportunity pass without joining the noble Earl in the thanks that he has given to everybody who has contributed towards this Bill. I agree with him that it has been much improved by Amendments and discussion in this House. I also agree with him in his regret that we were not able to formulate a statutory definition of the character of a tree, which would have enabled us to accept a certain Amendment. I also echo his hope that we shall shortly be able to introduce provisions preventing the wilful neglect of listed buildings.

To deal with this Bill has been one of the pleasantest tasks which has fallen to my lot during the short time I have been in this particular job. Seldom can there have been such full co-operation between the Government and a Back-Bencher of the Opposition Party who, during the passage of this Bill through that House, assumed an important Party role on the Opposition Benches. I should also like to say what a pleasure it has been for the Government to be able to agree for once with Mr. Duncan Sandys and to work with him. How much wiser he is on home affairs than on foreign affairs!

The Bill opens a new era in the protection of listed buildings and the promotion of civic amenities. It was a Private Member's Bill which instituted a new principle—namely that of the conservation area—to which informed opinion has been tending for some years past. The matter will not rest there. There will shortly be Government proposals to carry it further into the next and logically consequent phase.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons.