§ 3.13 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.—(Earl Jellicoe.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:
§ Preservation of character of areas of special architectural or historic interest
(6) The local planning authority for the purposes of this section shall, in Greater London, be the Greater London Council and also—
§ LORD STRANG
moved, in subsection (5), to leave out "regard shall be had" and insert "special attention shall be paid". The noble Lord said: This is a simple little Amendment but it is one which, if it were agreed to, would improve the Bill in one of its basic clauses. The Amendment is designed to give effect to a suggestion which I made in the debate on Second Reading.
Let us see what Clause 1 of the Bill says. Subsection (1) places upon local planning authorities the important duty of determining and designating certain areas of special architectural or historic interest. Those areas, which are called Conservation Areas, are defined as being areas… the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance …That duty is so important that under subsection (2) the Minister is given power to issue directions to local planning authorities in regard to the exercise by them of that duty—directions with which, I may say, local authorities will be obliged to comply. The importance of that duty is still further emphasised by the fact that this is the only place in the Bill where any such power of direction by the Minister is provided.
Let us now pass to subsection (5). In that subsection we find an instruction to local planning authorities—and, indeed, 1177 maybe to others—as to the manner in which they are to exercise their powers under existing historic buildings and planning Acts when dealing with the Conservation Areas which are designated under subsection (1). But, reading subsection (5), one is surprised to find how vague and loose is the instruction in this matter given, for example, to local planning authorities for the execution of the important duty laid on them by subsection (1). All that subsection (5) says is:… regard shall be had to the desirability of preserving or enhancing its character or appearance …—that is, of a Conservation Area. Surely in a matter as important as this—a matter which is the basic purpose of this Part of the Bill—that instruction should be more specific and less lukewarm. Surely the special duty of local planning authorities under subsection (1) should be given some measure of higher priority than the bare words of this subsection would imply.
Could we not go further than merely saying, as the present wording has it, thatregard shall be had to the desirability of preserving or enhancing …"?Could we not at least say, instead, thatspecial attention shall be paid to the desirability of preserving or enhancing …"?These words, it seems to me, would be more in keeping with the beneficent purposes of this excellent Bill than the words which at present appear in subsection (5).
It was suggested in Committee in another place that the Bill might go even further than my Amendment proposes, and that it might in fact place a definite responsibility upon local planning authorities to preserve or enhance. Indeed, there would be a precedent for this. That precedent could be found in, among other places, the National Parks Act, where both the National Parks Commission and local authorities have a statutory responsibility as regards preservation and enhancement in National Parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. This, of course, would be better, though it is fair to say that the sponsor of the Bill in another place thought that it would be going too far. In a Private Member's Bill one has to be properly modest, and I think the Amendment which I am now moving goes as far as we can go as a 1178 matter of practical politics. I beg to move.
Page 2, line 12, leave out ("regard shall be had") and insert ("special attention shall be paid").—(Lord Strang.)
The noble Lord, Lord Strang, speaks with great authority on these amenity matters. I found myself in considerable sympathy with what he said at Second Reading on this point, and I now find myself in entire agreement with what he has said in moving his Amendment. I think it materially improves the wording of the Bill, and I shall be very glad to accept it.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (LORD KENNET)
This Amendment is entirely welcome to the Government, and I am glad to be able to advise the Committee to accept it.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
EARL JELLICOE moved to insert after subsection (5):
( ) Where an application for planning permission for any development of land is made to a local planning authority and either the development would, in the opinion of the authority, affect the character or appearance of a Conservation Area or the development is of a kind specified by the Minister for the purposes of this subsection and in respect of land in or adjacent to a Conservation Area, then—
§ The noble Earl said: The object of this rather lengthy Amendment is simple and, I hope, clear. It is to make certain that adequate publicity shall be given locally by local advertisement to any 1179 development proposals which might affect the character or the look of a Conservation Area. It also makes certain, in so far as legislation can make anything certain, that the local planning authority concerned should take due account of any representation which they may receive either from private individuals or from local amenity bodies. I think the Amendment is right in itself; it is right that such people should have the chance to represent when a proposal affecting a Conservation Area is under discussion and that it should be fairly easy for them to know that such a proposal has been tabled. It is also right that we should in this way involve more local people in the local planning process.
§ I would make two further points in explaining this Amendment. Normally, it would be for the local planning authority to decide whether a particular development proposal should be advertised in this way. I should have thought that this was right. But, as your Lordships will see from the wording of the Amendment, the Minister would also have the power to specify the type of development which should be subject to these rather special provisions. The other point is that the proposed development need not necessarily fall within the actual Conservation Area. The Amendment embraces any development affecting the character or appearance of such an area. It would thus catch a tall building or a gas-holder if that tall building or gas-holder, as it were, leaned up against or impinged upon the Conservation Area but was not designed to be actually within it.
§ I should like to take this opportunity, early in the Committee stage, of saying that this particular Amendment has its origin within Lord Kennet's Ministry and has flowed from the pen of Parliamentary draftsmen. In moving it, I would take the opportunity once again of expressing on behalf of the sponsors of the Bill our appreciation of the help that the Government have given to it in speeding it at least this far on its way, and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, personally, his colleagues and, not least, his officials for the help they have given me between the Second Reading stage and now. I beg to move.1180
§ Amendment moved—
§ Page 2, line 25, at end insert the said subsection.—(Earl Jellicoe.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 3.23 p.m.
moved, in subsection (6), to leave out "and the Temples" and insert "of London". The noble Earl said: This Amendment could, I suppose, be held to be a minor one as it covers a fairly minor, though important area of our country, but I shall not be so rash as to suggest that it is all that minor an Amendment, seeing that it affects in some measure the sovereignty of the Temples, the wishes of the Benchers. Also, to some degree, I am moving it as a result of friendly but firm representations which I have received from my noble friend Lord Silsoe—who has said that he is sorry to be unable to be here this afternoon.
It was represented to me before the Second Reading of the Bill that the wording of this part of it could be held to imply that the City of London might in some way have certain planning authority over the Temples. I do not think that that was necessarily intended. In any event, as your Lordships will see, this Amendment provides that for the purposes of designation in Clause 1(1) of the Bill the authority responsible for planning purposes within the area of the Temples would be the Greater London Council. I beg to move.
Page 2, line 29, leave out ("and the Temples") and insert ("of London").— (Earl Jellicoe.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 2 [Unauthorised works on listed buildings and contravention of building preservation orders]:
This Amendment, if agreed to, means that the maximum fine which may be imposed on summary conviction for the contravention of a building preservation order or for the illicit demolition or alteration of a listed building shall be increased from £100 to £250. It is true that £100 is the maximum fine laid down in the 1962 Planning Act, but it seems right that we should allow for 1181 some increase to take account of past or future falls in the value of our money—falls to which we have become only too accustomed. Moreover, raising the ceiling would mean that the fine for (if I could put it this way) "topping" or "lopping" a listed building would be the same as that for topping or lopping a listed tree. To me, at least, this seems right. I beg to move.
Page 3, line 25, leave out ("one hundred") and insert ("two hundred and fifty").— (Earl Jellicoe.)
§ LORD KENNET
I should like to take this opportunity to complete the exchange of courtesies initiated by the noble Earl. He mentioned that an earlier Amendment had been born in my Ministry and adopted by him as sponsor of the Bill in this place. This Amendment was born in the minds of the sponsors. I am happy to accept it on behalf of the Government and to advise the Committee to do the same.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 2, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD RAGLAN
I suggested on Second Reading that the fact that a building had been listed should be entered on the deeds so that there should be as little excuse as possible for an owner not knowing that fact. I did not like lines 11 to 15 on page 3 of the Bill where ignorance of the building's being listed is allowed as an excuse. I tried to work out an Amendment, but I found what I should have known already; namely, that only an owner may make entries on deeds. Looking at it from his point of view, first of all some busybody comes along and lists his building, and then he is told that he must write a letter to his solicitor enclosing 13s. 4d. I thought that this was rather hard on him.
It is especially hard when you remember that listing a building may reduce its value because of the difficulty an owner may find in getting alterations accepted. That is adding injury to insult. The owner of a listed building becomes no longer the full owner but has, in some respects, to share his house with the nation. This is something which should be looked into and thought over. If we are going to preserve historically-interest 1182 ing houses then someone needs to be freer with the grants than he can be at the moment.
There is another side to this question which I shall come to on my Amendment to Clause 3. Someone may be able to buy a listed building more cheaply than if it were not listed, and he may then let it fall down until it is past mending. I suppose he could then use ignorance as an excuse. Meanwhile, I should like to put this point to my noble friend. Under this clause, in this Part of the Bill, ignorance is an excuse. But that is not so with regard to the cutting down of trees under Part II. If it is right for the one, I should have thought it ought to be right for the other. Can he tell me the reason for the difference, or whether it is just an oversight?
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ LORD KENNET
I have a great deal of sympathy with the general remarks of my noble friend Lord Raglan. We should have liked to go further in many directions in respect of this Bill, but for various reasons we decided to advise the sponsors that they should not do so. I do not know whether the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, may have something to say about this particular point, but the Government considered this let-out and the discrepancy between the existence of a let-out in the case of an existing building and the absence of a let-out in the case of a tree with a preservation order on it.
I would point out that the let-out is rather rigidly drafted. You have positively to prove that you did not know and could not have known, which might be a very difficult thing to prove, for, to begin with, no owner of a listed building on which a building preservation order had been put during his ownership could possibly claim that he did not know about it, because he would have received notice of it. Moreover, anyone who purchases a listed building on which there is a building preservation order would be extremely rash if he did not bother to consult the Land Register, not only for that reason but for many others; and if he did he would find notice there of the order. There are other classes of lessees who might come in one or two removes from the freeholder or the owner in terms of the Bill, and with the best will in the world might simply not know 1183 that a building preservation order existed. It seems infinitely unlikely that there would be such people, but we should risk doing an injustice if we did not cater for those suffering from sheer ignorance by ill-chance, if there is such a category of rare bird.
In the case of a tree you are either the owner or you are not. Leases are not exchanged on trees. There are not sub-lessees for trees, so it seemed to us that there was no need for a let-out in respect of trees. I do not know whether that explanation will prove sufficiently comprehensible and extensive for my noble friend.
§ LORD RAGLAN
I will have a look at what my noble friend has said, and I am obliged to him for his explanation.
§ Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 3 [Acts causing or likely to result in damage to listed buildings]:
§ 3.33 p.m.
LORD RAGLAN moved to add to the clause:
( ) Where it appears to a local planning authority that such a building in their area as is described in subsection (1) of this section suffers damage or is in danger of destruction as a result of the neglect of the owner or, if the owner is not the occupier, the occupier, they shall serve on the owner or occupier as the case may be a notice requiring him to furnish them with a statement in writing of his intention to, or the reasons why he should not, repair the damage or prevent the destruction of the said building.
( ) If within twenty-eight days after service of the notice on him under the last foregoing subsection the owner or occupier—
( ) An owner who fails to take steps to repair the damage or prevent the destruction within seven days of the service on him of the second notice under the last foregoing subsection shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds.
§ The noble Lord said: The object of this Amendment is to try to cover the case 1184 of wilful neglect. If someone is living in a listed building it is not likely that he will allow it to fall down about him on purpose. It is when the house changes hands that the danger comes. As I said earlier, a property can have its value reduced by being listed, and this is where the unprincipled speculator can move in. He can buy property which may be in a strategically valuable part of the town, and he can let it fall down until it would cost so much to put it right that the Historic Buildings Council would have no practical alternative but to allow him to pull it down. He could then replace the building with several new and expensive houses. I am aware that there are some limitations to this Amendment—some have already been pointed out to me privately—but I hope that the Government and the noble Earl will accept the idea behind it and work it into the legislation somewhere. After all, the whole point of listing a building is to try to preserve it, and I think it most important that, somehow or other, we should try to prevent the sort of thing I have described from happening.
§ Amendment moved—
§ Page 3, line 44, at end insert the said subsections.—(Lord Raglan.)
§ LORD HAILES
I wish to say a few words in support of the spirit of this Amendment, though not perhaps exactly on the same lines as those on which he spoke. This is an Amendment in response to an exploratory invitation from the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. In the Historic Buildings Council's Annual Report of 1965 we referred to two defects in the law of which we had become particularly aware. A provision has been made in this Bill regarding the first, which we all hope will prove effective, and which, to put it shortly, refers to the illicit and often sudden destruction of a building of historic or architectural importance.
The second defect is the one to which I think this Amendment refers. Perhaps I may quote from the Report:A no less serious threat to an historic building is simple neglect. In this case there is no power to issue a preservation order and consequently no power of compulsory purchase, with the result that the owner can allow the building to deteriorate until demolition becomes inevitable. While we fully recognise the difficulties which owners experience, and share in the general reluctance to add to the number 1185 of restrictions, we feel that the existing compulsory powers, even if exercised only on the rarest occasions, should be extended to cover the most serious cases of neglect.I think it would be a mistake, and harmful, to give the impression that deliberate neglect is very widespread. There is, after all, a growing conscience and interest, both public and private, about our historic architectural inheritance; but I can think of instances which have come to the notice of the Historic Buildings Council relating to buildings of first-class importance, where there has been wilful neglect. The cases may range from what I might call a muddled, dog-in-the-manger attitude, to deliberate neglect, with only one end in view. Of course, it does not matter which it is, the result is the same—a demolition order, and the end of the road.
I think I am right in saying that at present, or in any provisions of this Bill, there is no real answer to this problem. I know that there are provisions in the Bill to deal with the owner who helps a building to decay by removing a tile, and so on; but this does not cover the case of an owner who simply watches the beetles breed and the dry rot producing bigger and better "mushrooms", or whatever they are technically called. I know, also, that there are powers for a local authority to take over a neglected building. But the taking over of some great house by a local authority raises many problems. Nor can the Historic Buildings Council do anything if their offer of a grant is refused, and the owner refuses to co-operate.
I know that this is a very difficult matter. It may be, for instance, that an owner has taken over a house from a previous owner who has been responsible for the neglect, and there are also difficulties from the point of view of the local authorities. I dare say it is not possible to deal with this problem in a proper form within the scope of an Amendment; but even though I think that I am pushing an open door I hope that this most important loophole can be closed, if not by means of an Amendment, then in some other way.
§ LORD MOLSON
I should like to add my voice to those noble Lords who have urged on the Government that this is an opportunity to try to do something about a very serious problem. It is, of course, 1186 immensely difficult. In respect of some buildings of outstanding artistic or historical importance nothing is being done. I can think of a case in Wales, where the owner of a house of outstanding historical importance absolutely refused, for no very easily understood reason, to accept a grant in order to preserve his house.
This problem goes all the way down the scale. It goes down far below the level which my noble friend Lord Hailes has been considering. It goes down to a large number of houses, sometimes only class 2 houses. I come across some of them in my capacity as a member of the Executive Council of the Georgian Society. I know of some charming buildings, which no one can say are of a class that would justify a grant being paid from public funds, but which I believe should be kept in good order and for which some use should be found.
Obviously, it is a matter of the greatest difficulty to find some provision which will not impose an unduly heavy burden upon the large number of owners of these charming old houses which could not be described as being of outstanding importance. It is difficult, and in many cases it would be wrong, for Parliament to seek to impose a heavy financial responsibility on them. But I wonder whether between now and Report stage the Government would look at this Amendment and try to work out something which would be flexible and would deal with the more serious cases, without imposing an undue burden in those cases where it was not appropriate. I doubt whether this is a matter which ought to be left to a local planning authority. I feel that anything in the way of compulsion of this kind should be limited to buildings of such importance that there would have to be some chance of a grant being made by the Historic Buildings Council. I think it would be very dangerous if powers were given to local authorities to impose financial burdens on owners of houses, if the local authorities themselves were not prepared to make any kind of financial contribution to help.
It occurs to me that this might be a case where the Minister should take responsibility for the matter and apply the same kind of standard all over the country, limiting it in his discretion to outstanding cases of importance. I put that 1187 forward as the best constructive suggestion I can make. I am only too well aware of the difficulties that are involved in the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Raglan. But everybody who has had experience of preservation realises that there is this appalling problem. At present the owner can only be forbidden from doing anything positive in the way of destruction. But there are an immense number of houses and buildings of all kinds which are rapidly falling into decay and when they reach a certain stage it then becomes impossible for the local authority to refuse permission to demolish. The noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary, in an interesting speech a short time ago, said that we were losing an historic building "every day of the year". This Amendment, even if it is not acceptable in its present form, offers an opportunity which the Government should take in order to deal with this special problem to which the noble Lord himself has drawn public attention.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and your Lordshops will agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, and not accept this Amendment in its present form. I do not suppose that anyone would disagree with the spirit of it, but carried out in the way in which it is proposed to put it into the Bill it could inflict great financial hardship on people who could not possibly afford the charge. Like myself many noble Lords have had the unpleasant experience of finding extensive outbreaks of dry rot suddenly appearing where its existence could not have been suspected. All too often, investigation shows that if the building in question is to be put right, the amount to be spent on it will run into thousands of pounds, and in some cases tens of thousands of pounds. If an owner has inherited a house or property on which he has had to pay heavy death duties, it will be virtually impossible for him to carry on if he is told that the roof beams of his house are in a bad state and that they will have to be entirely renewed. Surely, it would be wrong to insist that an owner shall undertake this responsibility.
As to the question of a grant, if a grant were proposed which would fully or almost fully cover the repairs, then I think 1188 an owner would be both morally and legally wrong to refuse such a grant. But if in addition to the grant he is to be forced to spend many thousands of pounds which he does not have, at least in the form of ready cash, I think it is totally unfair. I suggest that something should be considered between now and Report stage which would make it possible for the local authority or for the Ministry of Works to take over any such building if it is in serious danger and if the owner is genuinely unable to carry out the necessary repairs. If that were done, it would meet this admittedly serious situation; but I do not think that the Amendment in its present form is one which should be accepted.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
I should like to support the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, and the noble Lord, Lord Molson, in what they have said. I should not like your Lordships definitely to accept this Amendment. As the two noble Lords have said, it may be unfair to some owners of historic houses who are anxious to keep them in repair but are financially unable to do so. It is rather absurd, when one works this matter out logically. The State has ruined the owners of many historic houses, and if this Amendment were accepted the State would then be in a position to say to them, "We have taken all your money by taxation. We are now going to fine you heavily for not repairing your house."
§ LORD RAGLAN
The Amendment, which did not flow from the pen of a Parliamentary draftsman, says:…there is good reason why he should not repair the damage…".I think that having no money is a good reason.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
It is up to the local authority here, and they vary greatly. I have come across some very odd ones. I am completely with the noble Lord's Amendment in spirit. It would close a great many loopholes. But if an owner is offered a quarter grant he may genuinely not be able to find the other three-quarters and may refuse the grant. I presume that he would have to undergo some kind of means test. I should like to say that if this Amendment was passed it would 1189 be unfair to quite a few owners. Therefore, I hope your Lordships will not pass the Amendment, but I quite understand the worthy motives of the noble Lord in moving it.
§ 3.50 p.m.
I should like to say, first of all, that I agree very much with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, said in moving this Amendment. I think that my four noble friends who have spoken are also in large measure in agreement that here is a definite loophole in our present legislation governing listed buildings. I am sure we are all agreed that under the law as it stands, or under the law as it will be reinforced by this measure, if it becomes law, local authorities have considerable powers to prevent the deliberate destruction of fine old buildings by positive action. But we have not at the present moment any adequate powers to prevent their destruction by negative action; that is, by wilful neglect. I recognise that this is a serious loophole. Such cases of wilful neglect have occurred, and doubtless are occurring. I was only too vividly aware of this during the time when I was in the Ministry which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, at present occupies, when more than one case was brought to my notice. This can, over a period of time, represent a quite serious attrition of our heritage of fine and distinguished old buildings.
I am therefore absolutely at one with the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, in thinking that this is a matter which should be tackled, and should be tackled soon. But I am in agreement also with the doubts expressed by some of my noble friends as to whether it should be tackled in precisely the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, suggests in his Amendment. I should like to mention three defects, as I see them, in the Amendment as it stands at present. The first is that it refers specifically to neglect by the present owner or the present occupier of a listed building. But that neglect may extend back a great deal further. It may result from the sins of omission of a grandfather or a great-grandfather, and whatever is said in the wording of the Bill, it is difficult to differentiate, and may be even more difficult to differentiate where it is the grandfather's or the grandson's neglect.
1190 The second possible defect is that I find myself in some difficulty in believing that this Amendment, if adopted, would lead to effective action and an effective remedy. There is, it is true, a provision for a penalty of £100; and I do not in any way underestimate the publicity aspect of the case. But the penalty itself might, as some of my friends have by implication pointed out, be a great deal less than the actual cost of repairs. Then there is the third question of these powers being vested in the local planning authority, and the fact that there would be no right of appeal against an unreasonable or unfair decision by a particular local planning authority. I think that the concept of wilful neglect is likely to open up difficult and debatable areas, and it is quite possible that in a particular case a local planning authority might well be wrong. I should have thought that, whatever else one does, one would need to have some safety net of appeal.
I hope the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, will not feel that these tentative criticisms of his Amendment which I have voiced are in any way niggling. I think this is a difficult area. if between now and the Report stage he and I, with the Government's help, and bearing in mind what has been said, could devise a way round these difficulties, I, for one, should be very willing to try. But I must confess that I am a little doubtful whether in the time available it will be possible for us to devise a really watertight provision for what is clearly an important matter, but also a difficult one.
I do not want to say more than a word or two of general observation upon what has been said already. I think it is important, when framing a Statute, not to drive people to desperation. There are a great many houses on which preservation orders exist and which are inhabited by people, so performing the function they were built to perform. I am thinking particularly of some of the small houses in the neighbourhood of Kew, which stand on the Green and were, I believe, the first houses in our history built for humble middle-class people who wanted to live a civilised life in really nice small dwelling-houses. There are many houses of that sort scattered about the country, and they derive their value from the fact that they 1191 are being used precisely as they were built to be used. The occupants are generally most amenable; they will always show people over the house, and in that way are serving a public function. They are paying heavy rates, and have a small income; they can just manage to live, as their parents before them did in the same way. If these people are driven to desperation, they will simply keep as quiet as possible and sink out of sight: the buildings will go to pieces, and you will not be able to stop it.
I should have thought that a fruitful place to look to solve this difficult problem would be the possibility of giving owners a rates "holiday" or the houses a kind of old-age pension. Most of these houses are old, and the allowance on rates for repairs is quite inadequate. I should have thought that it might be worth while considering whether it would be possible to arrange some kind of rates holiday or old-age pension provided that the owners undertake the restoration work as necessary.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
The noble Viscount has made a highly interesting suggestion in suggesting that houses should become eligible for an old-age pension. The trouble is that if we embark on an old-age pension policy for houses we may have to extend it to other kinds of property. I have a motor car which I feel is rapidly beginning to lose its usefulness. If the Government could promise that a car will receive an old-age pension, I am sure that this would be a modern reform that would be welcome to millions of people in this country to-day. No; I do not think we can give pensions to old houses.
The noble Lord is aware that if the car is old enough it does get an old-age pension.
§ LORD HOLFORD
Although I appreciate the purpose of the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, I must say that I prefer the wording of the original clause. The original clause says:doing an act which causes or is likely to result in damage to the building1192 whereas the Amendment talks about,a building … suffers damage or is in danger of destruction".It seems to me that the original clause is very much more to the point here. Let your Lordships be in no error about the deliberate damage done to buildings. I can quote one case, among many, which affected a grade one building. I went down to discuss the matter with the owner, and he was courtesy itself; but, as he pointed with evident appreciation to a large pane of glass which had been broken in the skylight, he told me exactly the kind of trees he would plant on the site when the house had been demolished. This is a rare case, but grade one buildings also are rare. I think that to put, as has been done in the original clause, slightly more direct and blunt words such as "causing such damage" is better than to fog the issue by saying that the damage might be due to causes like dry rot or any other kind of damage a building might suffer. This means, I think, that between now and Report stage, or perhaps in later legislation, the very important problem that has been touched on by other noble Lords, which is compulsory acquisition of buildings, must be tackled. But I should prefer to leave the clause as it is.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ LORD KENNET
I should like to take up one or two suggestions which have been thrown out in the most interesting discussion on the Amendment, before coming to the Amendment itself. Need I say that the Government share the view of my noble friend Lord Raglan and of the noble Earl, the sponsor of this Bill, that something ought to be done about this matter? I do not think that powers to enforce repair ought to be linked to the availability of grant, because the people who stand most in need of having something forced on them by local authorities are those whose prime intention it is to see the building fall down quickly. There are wicked owners in the terms of this matter who want a listed building on a valuable site to decay as quickly as possible, without going so far as to destroy it with their own hands. They should not be offered grants. They may be wealthy themselves; they may be corporate persons of great wealth. It would be enough if we could introduce these powers to enable local authorities to force 1193 them to repair without helping them by so much as a penny.
In other cases local authorities already have power to pay the money for upkeep of buildings which they regard as of historic or architectural interest. I do not think we need fear, in introducing such an Amendment, now or later, that we shall drive small people to desperation. This is not the purpose of any local authority known to me in this field, and is not likely to be the aim achieved by any local authority. The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, suggested a rate rebate for listed buildings to facilitate repairs. It may interest him to know that this is something we have had under rather active consideration. But it does not look like a very good idea, because it could be only of general application; and if one looks at the large number of listed buildings owned by the Big Five banks, and other organisations, which stand in no need of rate rebate, one sees that it would be a somewhat inflexible way of approaching the problem.
As for the "old-age pension" for listed buildings, the position is that they get it already. They get the grant—a kind of old-age pension—which is spent on adding lavatories and other amenities; it is, as it were, providing false teeth for the buildings they generally provide. They get patching grants to prop up the buildings for the last few years of their life, and if their continued existence appears worthy to be judged as a social priority they get an historic buildings grant, under the wise guidance of Lord Hailes. So the idea of the "old-age pension" for buildings is already well established.
As to the purpose of this Amendment, it has to come. As drafted, it has certain difficulties and provides for a rather complex procedure. The noble Earl has enumerated the difficulties already, and I will not go through them again. But I would ask my noble friend if he would at this moment withdraw the Amendment, on the understanding that the Government are studying provision for this very purpose. We have already gone some way with the legal and practical implications, and the Government intend, after consulting with the local authority associations, to introduce a provision of this sort at a convenient time. Whether that convenient time can be as soon as the Report stage of this Bill, I very much 1194 doubt. If it is not, I hope and believe that it will be possible to introduce it in the proposals for a new planning Bill which are now taking shape.
§ LORD RAGLAN
First of all, I should like respectfully to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Holford, who said he preferred the wording in the Bill as it is at the moment, that this Amendment is designed to cover what the Bill does not, I believe, cover. The Bill refers to doing something; this Amendment is meant to refer to somebody who does not do something. That is its purpose.
§ LORD HOLFORD
I thank the noble Lord for that explanation, but I still feel that what Clause 3(1) is doing is set out there, and that the other purpose should in fact come later.
§ LORD RAGLAN
I accept all that has been said, and there is much in the Amendment to be criticised. However, I am glad to find so much support among your Lordships for the spirit of the Amendment. Having heard what my noble friend Lord Kennet has just said, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
Perhaps it would be convenient now for my Statement to be made on South Arabia, and I therefore beg to move that the House be resumed.
§ Moved, That the House do now resume.—(Lord Shackleton.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and House resumed accordingly.