HL Deb 15 May 1968 vol 292 cc325-78

2.39 p.m.

LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU rose to call attention to the difficulties of maintaining Britain's Historic Houses and Castles, and to the importance to the balance of payments of doing so; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to-day to call attention to the difficulties of maintaining Britain's historic houses and castles, and to the importance to the balance of payments in so doing. As is the custom of this House I must, of course, start by declaring an interest, because I have had my house opened to the public for over 15 years. Indeed, it might be thought to-day that many Peers may have to declare an interest.

Naturally, when one debates such a subject in a House like this one approaches it with some diffidence. Reading the popular Press, to whom the stately homes are always grateful for their continuing interest, one would think that the majority of Peers with houses open to the public are continually engaged in a sort of battle for public favour, waged as fervently as our ancestors staged jousting in the Middle Ages. Indeed, this might have been a day when those mythical backwoodsmen might have descended, having deserted their souvenir stalls, to plead a special case. In fact, they have not done so, which probably shows that there is a very much wider interest than just that. I hope it is not that they are just shy, because we know that certain Peers with houses open to the public certainly cannot be called that. I hope it is not true, as one distinguished Member of your Lordships' House has said, that it is almost incestuous on the part of the House of Lords to discuss such a subject.

I did a little research before approaching this subject, and what are the facts? How many houses are owned by the Members of the House of Lords? Out of the 883 houses and castles open to the public, the largest single owner is, of course, Her Majesty's Government, through the Ministry of Public Building and Works, with 242 properties open to the public. The private owners come second and, in the usage of this House, they are all commoners. Indeed, they include two distinguished Members of another place, one of whom sits On the Opposition Benches and the other on the Government side, who can hardly be called on the Right Wing of that particular Party. The third largest owner is the National Trust, with 160 properties. Fourth come the religious orders and associations with 105, and fifth—and at long last we come to them—there are the Members of the House of Lords, who own only 71 out of these 883 properties, or under 10 per cent. County councils and charities own 65, and Royal Residences, 7. So now perhaps we can all relax a bit and carry on discussions knowing that we are not discussing something that is only of self-interest but something which is of interest to the whole country.

Let us look back to 1949, when Lord Bath opened Longleat for the first time. From that moment historic houses became a very major part of our tourist industry. Considering the plight of the majority of houses twenty years ago, very few people could have foretold with any certainty that many houses would have survived twenty years later. But indeed they have, and they are now attracting 18 million visitors a year. People might have been slightly more optimistic in those days if they had studied historical precedent, because when Lord Bath started in 1949 he was only restarting a movement which has its roots in the 18th century. For many hundreds of years the British public have always been anxious to see how the other half live, and the habit of visiting country houses and mansions was very much a part of 18th century life. Indeed, they were sometimes visited before they were even finished, as in the case of Blenheim. The owners in those days tolerantly let visitors in, and indeed there was a recognised "Grand Tour"—maybe a substitute for those who could not afford the traditional one to Italy.

Chatsworth was open two days a week and attracted 80,000 visitors, even 100 years ago. Woburn was open on Mondays only, which was something which would not suit its present tenant. Holkham Hall was open every day except Sunday for noblemen and foreigners, and on Tuesdays only for other people". Wilton produced a splendid 150-page guide book, but it must have beef the servants in those days, rather that the masters, who benefited most. The Duke of Devonshire's gardeners earned extra tips for turning on the fountains at Chatsworth. The most endearing character was the butler of the Duke of Manchester, who used to take visitors down to the cellar of the mansion when the tour was finished and give them a free glass of the Duke's fourteen-year-old vintage beer. We have not much evidence of what the owners thought except a cri de Coeur from Lord Lyttelton in 1778 who said: Coaches full of travellers of all denominations and troups of holiday neighbours, are hourly chasing me from my apartment or strolling about the environs keeping me prisoner in it. The lord of the place can never call it his during the finest part of the year. Certainly a more prophetic statement from somebody 200 years ago could hardly be imagined when applied to some owners nowadays.

It was the coming of the motor car and things like bank holidays at the end of the 19th century which caused many owners to cry "Enough is enough" and the park gates were slammed shut. But after the Second World War in the last twenty years it has been the same motor car and the same bank holidays and the increase of leisure time which have saved many historic houses from becoming ruins. It was a part of our traditional evolution that these houses became open. But let us face facts. Owners had very little alternative. The choice was either to open up or to sell up, or perhaps to go and live abroad.

The owning of historic houses to-day is a joint effort among three main parties: the Ministry of Public Building and Works, the National Trust and private owners. The Ministry control 700 properties, but they feel justified in charging at only 242. They attract 10 million visitors a year. I am sure that everybody would like to congratulate the Ministry of Works on the very high standard of display in their various properties and also for their new-style guide books, which are certainly a great improvement. However, I should like the Ministry to adopt a slightly more realistic attitude towards souvenirs. These are surely part of everybody's day out, and I am certain that if bulk buying methods were used the profits could be considerable and the money could be used to publicise smaller properties which are not so well known. Properties like the Tower of London can always look after themselves, but it is the smaller properties which need a boost. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will encourage the Ministry to take part in all the joint activities of us owners in order jointly to publicise our historic properties, especially overseas.

May I now turn to the National Trust? There have been recent criticisms of the Trust, but there is little doubt in my mind, and I am sure your Lordships would agree, that the Trust fulfils a vital role. Since 1895, when the Trust was formed, it has received £10 million in cash, and acquired or been donated £100 million worth of land, making it the country's third largest landowner. It has nearly 200 houses of architectural or historic importance in its care and together with the National Trust for Scotland attracts 3 million visitors a year. Many of the original owners live in the houses. This has led to certain conditions being imposed at the time of the gift, and has led to frustration on the part of people through lack of accessibility to some houses. There is also in some cases a total lack of facilities which the tourist would normally expect, like free car parks, good restaurants and toilets.

But I detect a slow but sure change in policy, although the Chairman of the Trust recently said: The Trust's job is not to involve itself in the entertainment business. Preservation is our job, and that must never be forgotten. Fair enough; but with 3 million visitors I do not think the Trust could deny that it is in the tourist business, and it must pull its weight with all the other bodies which are preserving Britain's historic houses in giving the basic facilities which every tourst would expect. Nevertheless, without the Trust a number of important houses might have fallen into a state of ruin, and the countryside would have been despoiled by indiscriminate exploitation.

I turn to by far the largest group, the private owners. Of these there are 300 and their properties attract over 5 million visitors every year. No owner relishes the idea of throwing his doors open to the public, for this entails a considerable sacrifice in privacy and a considerable sacrifice in a financial way as well; moreover, a great deal of hard work is entailed. But I am sure that I speak on behalf of all owners when I say that all these sacrifices are well worth while if we succeed in preserving our historic houses as homes. British houses may not be as grand as the French chateaux, the Italian palazzi or the German schloss; but, unlike those rather mausoleum-like buildings in Continental Europe, our houses still have the aura coming from the devoted care of owners whose families have cherished the properties for centuries, where you can still smell the aroma of oak wood in the hall and hear the sound of children's voices on the stairs.

There is still much more for us private owners to do. We must become more professional in our attitude to publicity, in management and so on. But in the last twenty years there has been a great amount of effort and a great deal of progress has been made. The visiting public will, quite rightly, be demanding up-to-date facilities and other attractions which make the day out for the whole family. One can scoff at model railways and lion parks, but if that is the means to the end of preserving the historic estate and thus saving the taxpayer from further burden it is really worth while.

In spite of twenty years' effort, however, historic houses are to-day facing a crisis not so much from deathwatch beetle, but from a fear of death and the ever-increasing repair bills and the burden of taxation. Consisting as they do of one-third of this great national asset, historic houses are extremely badly off when compared to the properties of the Ministry of Public Building and Works and the National Trust. They could be called second-class houses, because there is so much discrimination against them in various taxation methods that the position is hardly fair. Nobody is suggesting that we should create a privileged class. All we want is a fair deal compared with other properties open to the public.

Let us examine, for instance, the death duty question, from which, of course, other properties are exempt. For years successive Governments have exempted chattels of historic importance. No exemption, however, has ever been given to the actual house and to the grounds. It is hardly necessary for me to say that if you move the chattels from the house, half the interest of the house has gone. It is high time that this rule was altered. I realise, of course, that certain proper- ties have been accepted in lieu of death duties, but I should like to urge the principle that the house and grounds of an historic house open to the public should be exempt, along with the chattels. One could get the ironic position of an owner removing all the contents and leaving the house empty to fall down.

Preparation for death is a constant worry for owners. Much careful thought and planning has to go into it, and any methods used are adopted at considerable sacrifice during the lifetime of the owner, in order to enable him to pass the property intact on his death. I do not wish to introduce a subject which is possibly more suitable to the Countryside Bill, but there is no doubt in my mind—although possibly not everyone will agree with me—that the preservation of the countryside as a whole depends more on the prevention of the breaking-up of large estates than on any other single factor. Too often one has seen the depressing results when a large estate is broken up and ceases to be under one owner.

Our task is going to be far more difficult with the proposed changes in the Finance Bill. Already one well-known house may have to be sold, due to the fact that the period of five years has been changed to seven years. Retrospective legislation is always unsatisfactory, but in the case of historic houses it could be disastrous. I am sure your Lordships will agree that it would be a very unsatisfactory state of affairs if all historic houses open to the public in this country were under the State, the Ministry of Public Building and Works, or even, indeed, the National Trust. One of the great attractions of these houses is that they are still lived in as homes. One important point to make about the National Trust is that when one hands something to the National Trust one has to endow it. It is not a question of just giving it.

I turn now to taxation in general. Only yesterday the Minister of State at the Treasury generously received a deputation representing the Historic Houses Committee of the British Travel Association. The delegates came from both large and small houses and from both political Parties. A paper was presented, pointing out the problems of taxation as they affect historic houses, and since there were many points gone into at that meeting I do not want to go into much detail this afternoon.

On grants, the members of the Committee and everybody concerned were most happy to welcome the announcement by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, of an increase in the amount of money to be devoted to the Historic Buildings Council. But the point remains that, as an investment in such an important part of our national heritage, this sum is still completely inadequate. This is obviously not a good time to ask for money. There is no question of asking for money this year. These houses have, after all, stood for about 300 years and I am sure they can wait a little longer.

On the question of priorities, I have selected two sums from Parliamentary Answers in another place. For instance, £900,000—double the money given to historic houses—is spent on keeping the Military Mission in Washington; and £4½, million a year is spent on military bands. The latter item could almost be called a part of our tourist attractions. Another comparison is that Ireland, a country certainly poorer than ourselves, with a population of 3 million, is spending over £4 million a year on tourism, while we in this country with a population of 50 million are spending just under £3 million.

Not only should the houses get a larger grant; the question of loans also arises. This is most important, because not only is one trying to conserve properties; one is also trying to make them attractive to tourists. I am certain that many extra amenities for tourists could be organised if repayable loans were given. The point remains that every year several houses that are of historic interest reach the point of no return and are pulled down. The Historic Buildings Council do an excellent job under very difficult conditions, but at the moment they do not have enough money and therefore have to apply a means test. I think that is wrong in principle. Either a house deserves a grant or it does not, and just because one house is possibly more successful than another house it should not automatically be ruled out. Help should be given to those who help themselves. On the question of grants, I know that some houses open only because they have to, and it is unfortunate that certain owners almost discourage any visitors by making their opening times so awkward. It is right that they also should play the game. I am sure your Lordships will listen with interest later on when the noble Lord, Lord Hailes, who is Chairman of the Historic Buildings Council, speaks. But the point remains that grants are no good if they are wiped out by further taxation.

There is one tax which is, of course, on everybody's lips nowadays, that is, the S.E.T. That is certainly a tax which in many cases has been the straw which breaks the camel's back. There was a lot said about that tax in the debate on tourism in another place on Monday night. But if there was ever an industry which has earned exemption, it is in deed the tourist industry. It is unfortunate, since the tourist industry must rely on giving good service, that service is the very thing which has been taxed. Therefore, in asking for relief from the S.E.T. for museums and historic houses, I am asking for relief for the whole tourist industry. As I have already said, the other day I was told by an owner that the whole of the money which he was going to spend on repairing part of his house this year has to go on S.E.T., so the repairs just will not be done. It is quite useless giving extra grants if everything is just taken away in extra tax.

I think I have said enough to prove that the historic house is a very major feature in the menu or the bill of fare which is offered to our overseas tourists. If pageantry is the soup, and London is possibly the main course, then historic houses are certainly a very varied and excellent sweet trolley. But, as in every perfect meal, one course must complement the other and, although the number of tourists coming to this country increases every year, one not so good feature is the fact that the time spent here by each tourist is not going up. I feel that historic houses can act as wonderful magnets throughout the country, to draw people out of London and spend more time in this country. As your Lordships know—and these figures cannot be quoted too often—tourism in this country is the second largest dollar earner, with £100 million worth of dollars a year, and is the fourth largest overseas earner. The British Travel Association estimate that the historic houses are earning over £500,000 a year from overseas tourists, and when we come on to the 1970s with probably 5 million tourists a year, they will have an increasingly vital part to play. I hope that in future the part that can he played by historic houses will get even greater recognition from the Government.

A couple of years ago the British Travel Association set up a special Committee for Historic Houses, on which there are representatives from the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland. I am sorry that the Ministry of Public Building and Works are allowed to be on that Committee only as an observer, and I hope that they may be able to join in officially so that all of our efforts can be better co-ordinated. Indeed, the Government might consider giving to that Committee, through the B.T.A., a special grant which can be spent on overseas promotion on behalf of all historic buildings in this country. I have in mind that British Overseas Fairs and British Weeks abroad are ideal opportunities for items from historic houses to be put on display, for visits by owners, lectures to travel agents, film shows, and so on. I am sure that if a more concerted effort were made here it would help all concerned. There have been two achievements by the Committee recently. At long last we are making some progress on a joint ticket; and after 15 years, at long last, the Ministry of Transport have agreed that private houses may have a sign on the road, whereas before, unlike the Ministry of Public Building and Works and the National Trust, they were not allowed to.

My Lords, we are moving into an age of increasing leisure, and Great Britain is very well placed to benefit from the jumbo-jet age. To neglect our national heritage, or indeed to sell parts of it to America, is both short-sighted and self-destructive. Britain's historic houses may have been built in an age of expansion and possibly for the enjoyment of only a few, but now it is right and proper that they should he shared by the many for their further enlightenment, education and pleasure. At the same time we can play a vital part in helping to redress our balance of payments by earning overseas currency. We are not asking to be singled out to receive anything which we do not think we have earned, but we feel that we have earned a right to further help. We fervently hope that our actions and sacrifices to preserve a part of our national heritage will earn the gratitude of all future generations. I beg to move for Papers.

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord for raising this matter this afternoon. He has said many constructive things, which the Government will study at leisure, and take into account and consider. I think the debate should not confine itself solely to great historic houses and castles. The law in this country knows only one claws, that of houses of historic or architectural interest; and this is a very large class—100,000 in number, ranging from the grandest and finest of all our country houses down to the nice little Georgian house in the High Street or the early Victorian terrace. All of these, once they are listed, should be considered part of the country's architectural and historical heritage and a potential object of pilgrimage by overseas visitors and inland visitors alike, and should be and are, therefore, eligible for Government or local authority grant for upkeek.

It is not so long since this House passed the Civic Amenities Act., which gave expression to this approach to the matter by requiring local authorities to designate for the first time conservation areas in towns. My Lords, 21 such areas have now been designated. The first was at Stamford; and I should like 0 congratulate the Borough of Stamford on being the first off the ground with one of those. Since then, 20 others have designated their areas, and in this autumn we await the publication of the reports of four consultants hired jointly by the Government and the local authorities concerned to inquire into the best Ray of preserving the four historic towns of York, Bath, Chichester and Chester. Of course, what they report will be applicable not only to those towns but also to other historic towns in general which they will not have examined. These reports should give an opportunity for a considerable leap forward in techniques in keeping our old towns, and especially our cathedral cities, worth visiting.

It might be right to touch here on one or two provisions which will be in the Town and Country Planning Bill, coming to your Lordships shortly, and which affect this matter. Hitherto, the owner of a listed building, to use the statutory jargon, or, in human terms, an historic house, has been able to demolish it in law or to alter it out of all recognition simply by informing the local authority of his intention to do so and then sitting back and waiting to see whether anybody objected. If nobody objected within a set time, he got the green light and could go ahead. The Town and Country Planning Bill will change this, so that the owner will have to seek express consent from the planning authority to do it in the first place. This will be, in effect, equivalent to an automatic preservation order on all the 100,000 buildings on the statutory list. After this Bill becomes law, we shall be losing fewer of them.

I think the House will remember two or three scandalous cases of developers who got hold of fine old houses in towns, or near towns, and, although they did not actually knock them down, which would have been illegal—they did not even go so far as to take a tile off the roof to let the rain in, because the local authority would have gone in and put it back again if they had—what they did was to sit back and deliberately let the buildings decay, despite the existence of a preservation order. Then, at the end of three or four years they could say to the local authority, "You see, your preservation order is not much good; there is nothing left to preserve, so I propose to knock it down", in which case the local authority had nothing to say, because it is impossible to preserve a bit of open air where the building has already fallen. The Town and Country Planning Bill will change this also.

Hitherto, the local authority in a case like this has had the remedy of compulsory purchase, but this could be exercised only if the authority was prepared to pay the full development value, which in the case of an old building in a busy commercial area could be very high. It could of course be so high as to deter the local authority from making a B.P.O. in the first place, for fear that the owner would claim that it rendered the building incapable of reasonably beneficial use and thus compel the authority to buy it from him, again paying the full development value. The new Bill will change this, so that if a local authority claims, and if need be sustains its claim in court, that the owner has deliberately allowed the listed building to decay for the purpose of obtaining permission to develop it, then the authority can purchase it without paying any development value in the compensation. I think myself that when this comes into force we shall see a much more forward preservation policy on the part of local authorities. They will no longer be deterred by the fear of having to pay vast compensation for development value, and they will be able to refuse consent to the demolition of our historic towns rather much more readily than they have been in the past.

All these statutory provisions—and, indeed, the grants themselves—rest on the foundation stone of the whole system, which is the statutory list of these buildings. It may be of interest to the House to know that in 1965, of the 1,308 local authority areas in the country, 993 had their statutory lists complete and at the end of last year the number had risen to 1,260. There are only about 40 left, and by the end of this year the job will be virtually complete. The investigators of my Ministry who do this job are now starting on the second time round to review the old lists which are out of date, so we are within sight of a position where we shall never lose an historic building without knowing it, because if it is not on the list you do not know whether it is in danger, and if you do not know whether it is in danger you cannot even consider whether it ought to have a grant.

Quite recently, I have arranged for the Ministry of Housing to set up an Historic Buildings Bureau. This will be, in effect, a free service, not doing the job of house agents, but informing the owners of historic houses and would-be purchasers of historic houses of the existence of such-and-such a house on the market; putting people in touch with each other. House agents will continue to do their normal job, but if any listed house has been on the market for two months without finding a purchaser, the owner of that house can come to the new Historic Buildings Bureau at the Ministry of Housing and tell them about it, and the Bureau will then try to put him in touch with a likely purchaser. Vice versa, anybody who wants to buy an historic house can do the same thing straight away. I hope that this service will become more widely known; and I repeat that it is free.

On the great financial question, to which the noble Lord referred, whatever the economic climate in a country, whatever the economic storms through which one is passing, whatever the major measures that must be taken to cut back expenditure and to adjust exchange rates, whatever fiscal burdens must be imposed, the Government are clear that it would be imprudent not to keep a very sharp eye open for wasting assets. If there is something which, of its nature, decays and loses value and which can, of its nature, have its life prolonged by moderate expenditure early in order to avoid larger expenditure later, the Government have to look out for that. And that is precisely what the Government have done with the historic houses by the increase of 20 per cent.—which we were able to secure in spite of the prevailing economic climate—in the grants payable to the owners of historic houses. This, I think, was fully justified on the grounds of the tourist trade which the noble Lord touched upon. Why do people come to this country? They do not come for the sunshine, to bask on the beaches, to drink our famous wines or for good food—



Some certainly come for the food.


My Lords, the noble Lord must take me out to a restaurant outside London—I limit this to the Provinces—to show me those tables full of Latin tourists gobbling up our food and saying that it is better than they get at home. I still stick to my view that they do not come for our food or our wines.

In 1967, £245 million of foreign currency was attracted to this country by tourism. The role of the historic houses—and towns especially—in this business it is impossible to assess exactly, but it is striking that in 1961, seven years ago, Bath, which is not a very big place—it has a population of only 81,000—estimated that its total revenue from tourism, domestic as well as foreign, was no less than £3 million in one year. That is the scale of wealth that we are talking about. It is obvious that high on the list of what people come for are precisely the historic houses and towns for which this increased expenditure is so justified. In my view it will continue to be justified for further expenditure at the moment that the general economic situation permits it.

The Civic Amenities Act gives, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, for the first time, the power to make not only grants but also loans for the repair of fine old buildings. The loans have to come within the same ceiling; but the point about this scheme is that the loans can be so handled as to constitute a revolving fund. When the loan money begins to come back in, it can be used again; so that, in effect, the ceiling of this grant (which at present stands at £550,000) will, without any increase, in effect be raised by the amount of loan repayments as soon as the system is operating. A start is about to be made in the granting of these loans under the guidance of the Chairman of the Historic Buildings Council, to whose intervention in this debate I look forward.

The Council will be working out the best way of doing it; but I am anxious that the country houses to which more visitors go every year should become, as the noble Lord who initiated this debate said, more and more self-supporting. Of course, there is a danger here. One must not stimulate so many visitors that the stairs wear out and the floors fall in or that the house is not seen because of the structures put up around it to accommodate the needs and desires of the persons who come to visit. But, up to that limit, it is important that as many people as possible should be attracted and should pay for admission and thus contribute to the maintenance of the historic and architectural fabric of the house.

My Lords, these houses are our past. The social functions which gave them their form are now, by general will, extinct; but another social function, that of aesthetic enjoyment and historical interest will fall increasing to their lot. We should look forward to the day when the eligibility of a given great house in the country for a Government loan for repair may be linked with its prospect of being turned into a paying concern. This takes great skill, and some Members of your Lordships' House have it, but that skill is already available—and can be shared—in certain organisations and, principally, in the British Travel Association which has been mentioned already. I hope that an increasing number of owners of great houses will, as many do to-day, take advantage of the advice and service which this Association can give.

We must devise a principle of partnership in this matter between public and private enterprise. The private owner could combine his private property, his house and his park, his private initiative and his sense of tradition and what is appropriate, with public skill from the British Travel Association (which is a governmental organisation) and public money in the form of an Historic Buildings' Council repair loan, in order to get the best social and economic use out of the asset which is his by law but which belongs to all of us by sentiment.

The noble Lord had good and interesting advice to give to my right honourable friend the Minister of Public Building and Works. I shall pass that on to him and shall draw his attention particularly to the idea of a publicity drive jointly by the Minister of Public Building and Works, as an owner, the private owner and the National Trust, this drive probably to be channelled through the relevant committee of the British Travel Association. I wish to conclude by echoing the kind words of the noble Lord about the National Trust, which is the most important private body operating in this field, and to say that I should like to defer observations on the tax question and estate duty question until the end of the debate after which, no doubt, we shall have heard the opinions of other noble Lords.

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, whether the difficulty of maintaining historic houses is very great, as it certainly is at this time, or whether it is much less great, as it used to be a long time ago, there has always been the consciousness that a house which has some special historic interest or great artistic loveliness ought to be enjoyed by as many people as may be practicable in addition to the family and friends of its owners. The phrase "show place" is not a modern phrase, although it sounds rather like one. I think it is an eighteenth century phrase—but certainly not later, because you will often find it used in eighteenth century letters referring to some house which had been built by some famous architect like Vanbrugh or Adam, with beautiful surrounding grounds and perhaps containing collections of pictures and furniture, all of which the owner wanted to be enjoyed by a large number of people and which was therefore open to the public at certain times.

You will also find in the diaries of foreign travellers visiting Britain in the 18th century that the owners of the great houses which they wanted to look at were always very glad to give them the opportunity to do so. At that time no charge was made to tourists, whether from home or abroad, who came to visit these houses. Now, in the mid-20th century, prevailing political fashion frowns on large incomes and our Budgets are deliberately designed to prevent anybody from having anything like enough money to keep up a great country house. Now, if a country house is easily accessible from the main roads and bus routes, if it is large enough to be well known the public are usually very anxious to visit it and they are willing, especially if appropriate entertainment and refreshment are provided, to pay charges which may cover, or at least help very largely to cover, the expenses of maintaining the house.

I think those owners who have organised their establishments so as to provide facilities for a large number of visitors, with as much entertainment as possible, have done a very good public service. They have given great enjoyment to very large numbers of people, both those who are connoisseurs of good architecture and those who are not. They have earned considerable contributions from abroad towards our balance of payments, and I think they ought to be commended for what they have done.

Of course, there are hundreds of other houses of the greatest beauty, both large and small, which are very far removed from bus routes and which are not easily accessible. They are visited by only a few people who are lovers of good architecture and prepared to take the trouble to go out of their way to do so. It would be quite impracticable for the owners of these houses to try to raise any appreciable amount towards their upkeep by making a charge for admitting the public. They would not get anybody to come in at all. If these houses are allowed to decay, by reason of dry rot and damp, and to fall down, we shall lose a very beautiful national possession. If they are taken over by some public authority they will lose their character as the family home for which they were designed, and they will lose the atmosphere which may be one of their particular charms.

My Lords, it was for those reasons that my noble friend Lord Eccles, when he was Minister of Public Building and Works in 1953, brought in and carried the Historic Buildings Act of that year which provided that grants of public money could be made to the National Trust, to local authorities, or to private owners, on the advice of the three Historic Buildings Councils which were set up under the Act for England, Scotland and Wales. I am particularly glad that my noble friend Lord Hailes is to speak in this debate. Not only is he now Chairman of the English Historic Buildings Council, but a few years after my noble friend Lord Eccles he held the office of Minister of Works in the Government of that time—1956 to 1957—and while he was in that office he took particular interest in the work of the Historic Buildings Councils and in the preservation of buildings of historic interest and beauty.

The amount of money provided under the Act is not defined, and never has been precisely defined, but it has to be approved by the Minister. It was at first intimated that the Ministry would expect about £450,000 a year to be spent in grants. This was not allocated between the three Councils they all acted in a gentlemanly manner and did not try to "hog" more than their share. I do not think there were ever any disputes between them as to which was getting too much or too little. The difficulty was that you had to plan expenditure of that kind a very long way in advance. You have to look at the house and decide whether it deserves a grant, and in respect of what improvement or repairs it particularly needs a grant. You have to get architects' plans and builders' estimates, which all takes a very long time, and you cannot decide how much money you are going to give until, it may be, 12 or 18 months after the application has been made. Under the practice of the Treasury, at the end of each financial year all the money allocated for the purpose which was not expended had to go back to the Treasury. It could not be carried forward to the next year, and that has often been an inconvenience.

In 1966 the responsibility for the Historic Buildings Council was transferred from the Ministry of Public Building and Works to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in England, for which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is speaking, and in Scotland to the Secretary of State. Whether that is a good change administratively I do not know, but I hope it may facilitate planning a long way ahead. In Scotland, I was Chairman of the Historic Buildings Council from 1953 to 1958, and I think that we gave relatively high importance to the smaller houses which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I think we may have been rather too strict with the large ones, in respect of grants given to great houses for which applications were received and which included house; like Glamis and Hopetoun. The grants given were very small and usually limited strictly to some particular object of expenditure.

The Scottish Buildings Council gave, and are still giving, relatively large sums, either to the National Trust or to some other body, for groups of small I houses —at Dunkeld, for instance. So far, the lovely small houses there have received over £10,000 in H.B.C. grants, and nearly as much has been provided at Dunblane. Culross, which is a particularly beautiful small Scottish village, has received £26,000 and Pittenweem over 12,000; and there have been a great number of others, including the old fishing villages on the Fife coast.

I think that one of the most interesting examples was Inveraray. There you have a great castle and a very lovely small village. The castle is organised for tourists and is a very popular attraction both to foreign visitors and visitors from other parts of Britain. Very good arrangements are made for entertainment and so on, and no application for a grant, so far as I know, has ever been made in respect of the castle. But an application was made for the village, which consists of a very large number of small houses. It was entirely rebuilt in the 18th century by the Duke of Argyll to the design of Robert Milne, a contemporary and pupil of Adam. It is one of the loveliest examples of very small town planning in Britain. The dwelling-houses were decaying, and it would have been impossible for any private individual to undertake their reconditioning; but the Ministry of Public Building and Works and the Department of Health got together.

I think that my noble friend Lord Hailes will remember this: he was the Minister of Public Building and Works who gave his approval to the grant, and my noble friend Lord Molson, who succeeded him, also approved a further extension of the grant. My noble friends when in another place succeeded each other as Minister of Works. The town of Inveraray has now been restored to its former loveliness by agreement between the Department of Health, which gave the reconditioning grant, and the Minister of Works, which sanctioned the Historic Buildings Council grant. It was placed in the ownership of the Town Council. I think that this is a great achievement, following from the Historic Buildings Act.

There is only one detail which I regret. This village was designed as a whole round a central church which had a very beautiful spire. During the war the spire was taken down and was accidentally used by some troops for making a road. Now the Historic Buildings Council is not allowed a grant to put on a church spire. I should have thought that if the township was regarded as a whole, it is an inhabited collective entity and the church should surely be regarded as something in the nature of a private chapel, as in the case of a private house. The spire has not yet been put back, though grants have been given to the town of Inveraray via the Scottish Historic Buildings Coun- cil amounting to no less than £53,000, which is a very substantial sum compared with those given to many other buildings. In my view it is a pity, when this lovely old town has been restored, that the central detail, the spire, which the architect Milne designed to hold it together, should be absent, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will examine this. Of course it will be a question for the Scottish Office, but they have no spokesman here to-day and presumably this matter is co-ordinated between them. I hope that the noble Lord will see whether public assistance could not be given to restoring the spire as it has been to restoring the rest of the town.


My Lords, may I say something about that now, if the noble Earl would welcome it?


I should be most grateful to the noble Lord.


My Lords, churches still in use as places of worship are excluded from the whole structure of State aid by the will of the church authorities. As I told the House not too long ago, the Government would consider with an open mind any representations from the church side to change that. At the moment, however, those who want the spire at Inveraray restored will have to go to the Church about it. If the Church cannot find the money there will have to be an overall approach from the Church to the State about changing the division of responsibility.


My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord at once that the church cannot find the money. I hope, in view of what he has said, that they will immediately ask him whether a grant could not be made towards this, which would complete what I think has been a very successful work of restoration.

The subsidisation of art has been very different in Britain from what it has been on the Continent of Europe, mainly for historic reasons. The autocratic Governments which existed in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries used to spend a large proportion of the public revenue on art galleries, opera houses, museums and culture of every kind and when the old régimes were overthrown, in France in 1789 and in many other countries in 1848, the benefits of this expenditure were so plain to everybody that the new republican or constitutional régimes which succeeded the autocrats went on spending a large proportion of the public revenue on these things. But in Britain it has always been different. Until this century art was entirely dependent on private wealthy individuals for its subsidisation and it was utterly contrary to the tradition of the Treasury that any public money should be given at all. Now, in the 20th century, when taxation has destroyed private benevolence and when the State has had to step in, the Treasury is still governed in spirit by its old tradition and the grants have been very small indeed.

Foreigners who come over here from Europe cannot understand why we spend so little on old buildings, music and the other arts. They think that we are a niggardly race of Philistines who think of nothing but material comforts and not at all about the things of the soul. This Motion mentions in particular the balance of payments, which is a very relevant consideration indeed. I think that these historic buildings are important to our balance of payments because they earn a great deal towards it, but there are other reasons, and in my view higher reasons, why we should seek to preserve them. In my opinion the balance-of-payments crises occur only because the international monetary authorities at Bretton Woods and ever since have refused to adopt a sensible system of international credit money. However, we cannot go into that now. The point is that these buildings earn us a substantial amount of foreign currency.

I was against having this debate today. I did not think that it was a good time to have it, because it seemed to me that when the Government are trying to persuade private individuals of every kind to spend less and agree not to have their incomes increased, with I am afraid not very conspicuous success, and when private individuals retort that the Government are spending far too much and that their expenditure ought to be lessened, with I am afraid even less success, a debate in your Lordships' House from which it might appear that it was desirable to spend more money on historic castles might be psychologically ill-timed. However, since those who arrange our debates have arranged that we should discuss this subject to-day, I want to put only two observations on record, if I may. First, I think that what we do spend in the way of public grants, aids and loans on the preservation of historic buildings should be regarded on the same general principles as we regard what we spend on art galleries, museums, music and opera, the National Theatre and so on. The other observation is that money which has been so far spent on this purpose through the three Historic Buildings Councils has been a very good national investment.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, on several occasions in the past I have drawn your Lordships' attention to the importance and urgency of preserving our architectural heritage, and great progress has certainly been made since the passing of the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act, to which the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, has referred, but I do not think that this House has discuss ed previously the particular aspect of this problem that has been raised this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude for having raised the subject.

Those of us who are responsible for the care and maintenance of historic houses or castles, or, for that, matter, smaller dwellings such as manor houses, know only too well the difficulties in maintaining such buildings, very largely owing to the deterioration that has taken place during the two war periods and the fantastic cost of repairing in a style that has long gone out of use. To take an obvious case, where you have to repair, for instance, a farmhouse which is perhaps 200 or 300 years old, where the stone walling is filled with rubble, largely infested by rats over a period, instead of repairing it in concrete blocks, which is much cheaper, you have to repair it in rubble stone, which is extremely expensive—probably ten times the price. I take that example only to illustrate my point.

To some extent, the grants derived from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, as advised by the Historic Buildings Council, have met somas of the most pressing and worthwhile requirements. But the problem is also in the retention and care of the historic chapels of many of these houses, in which they may have housed for many years, and even centuries, the family heirlooms, which have contributed to some of the most famous collections of pictures, furniture and furnishings. It is to this aspect that I want to refer particularly this afternoon. It is one of enormous importance, and it has hardly been referred to so far in the debate.

One of the great problems is the employment of suitable staff to care for the contents of many of these mansions, which in a large number of cases have been open to the public for a good number of years, and even two or three centuries, and which are to-day in pretty well every case, together with their gardens, accessible to the public at what is usually more or less a nominal fee. In fact, both here and on the Continent, particularly in France, the visits to country houses of outstanding historic interest have, more or less since the war, become one of the great diversions for an enormous number of people. The amount spent on advertising and organising these trips must be enormous.

These houses vary, as we know, in what they have to show the public. Longleat, for instance, with its wonderful park, relies, I should imagine, largely on its alluring lions. Castle Howard, Woburn Abbey and other notable houses can show special attractions which draw an immense public. But the wear-and-tear must be considerable on such things as lawns, carpets and so on. It is rather a different matter when it comes to the special care of the historic chattels which many of our country houses contain. Collections of valuable old masters, suites of furniture by the great craftsmen of former days, the care of fine carpets left in place for the public to pass over, and the proper care of the decorations of the rooms housing these objects all require expert management and treatment.

It is not enough, for instance, for a picture to be cleaned and varnished. It has to be examined from time to time, for deterioration is constantly occurring, even with the materials used for restoration, which are themselves perishable. Fine furniture should be kept in order, and whoever is in charge should know how to detect furniture worm or beetle, moth and other things which have a destructive effect, and for which (I wish to emphasise this) museums and galleries have for the most part ample trained staff, which the private owner has not got and cannot afford. The owner, unless he himself is somewhat of an expert and enthusiast, will have to have a qualified curator and a trained staff under him. But how many of us can afford this? That is, I presume, the reason largely why the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, has introduced this subject which concerns the payment of the balance of payments. Personally, I have no idea what is the answer to this problem, but it is essential that steps should be taken by owners to prevent deterioration, so far as they can, and this can only be done, I am sure, by periodical expert examination by competent and qualified persons.

I should therefore like to suggest that Her Majesty's Government go into this very carefully, mindful of two aspects of it: first, that an immense interest is now being taken, both at home and overseas, by a public that looks upon these visits to historic houses as one of its chief sports, so to speak, and one which is an invaluable source of income to this country (balance of payments, as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, has said) and gives pleasure, mainly of an educational value, to a great number of people; and secondly, that it is highly desirable that chattels, such as pictures, furniture and furnishings that form part and parcel of the contents of many historic houses should be retained intact and in as good a condition as possible.

In the time of the late Lord Attlee's Government I remember that a clause was contemplated in a proposed Bill for the preservation of historic houses and their contents that certain chattels which were considered of national importance should, with the consent of the owner (following the French law), be taken into guardianship by the Minister without their being removed. We have had cases recently of the removal of valuable pictures and other things from famous houses, museums and art galleries, which are already blocked, and there is really no room for them. I think it is a great pity to take them away from the houses where they belong.

As regards expert staff for the care of historic chattels, I believe that a few years ago a school or organisation to train people for these jobs was initiated. I should like to know whether anything happened as a result of this action, as I have heard no more of it for some time. I am told that it was called The National Institute of House Workers; but no doubt the noble Lord will know this. Suitable and reliable caretakers can still no doubt be found, especially from those who have retired from the Forces, but the expert knowedge of experienced men and women to keep things in good order is a much more difficult matter and must depend on the active advice and assistance of public institutions, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Gallery and so on, for expert advice and supervision. I have recently had a good deal of experience of two of those institutions, which I have found very helpful—in fact, we could not have gone on without them.

As an addendum, I should like to say that I learned a lot about the care and reconstruction of historic houses from a recent visit to Russia, where their restoration work on some of the country palaces virtually destroyed by the Germans has been quite astonishing. The Palace of Pavlova is a very good instance. Also, they take good care to see that you, as a visitor, do not walk on maintained lawns, as is the case in Vienna; and when you visit country houses you are given special overshoes with soft soles so that you can avoid damaging and dirtying the parquet floors and the carpets. We should be far more strict in this country about things like this and should absolutely bar stiletto heels. I had a lady visitor last year who at first refused to take off her shoes, which had stiletto heels. After some argument, she did so, but unwillingly. A friend of mine, a bit of a wag, said: "I expect she did not want you to see the ladders in her stockings!" We still have one of the greatest heritages in the world, of fine things, the creation of ages, when a love of beautiful things brought great craftsmanship into existence.

As all noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon have emphasised, there is an immense public that wishes these things to be preserved as a great national heritage. We should do what we can not to disappoint them.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, raised the question of our financial position as a country and whether it was wise to initiate a debate of this kind at this particular moment. We have all heard almost more than enough about our financial position. We all realise the seriousness of it: that we have been living beyond our means for some years, and the only hope we have is to make our country a going concern again so that we can meet our creditors and once more hold up our heads to the world a.; being financially viable in every way. But I should have thought, contrary to what the noble Earl said, that we should consider not so much refraining from spending money on things like homes, as seeing what we can do to make money.

It has already been pointed out this afternoon that one of our greatest earners of foreign currency is the tourist industry. It is fabulous when you think that something like 4 million people are coming here as tourists; and it is fabulous to think of the amount of money that is spent, and the amount of money we hope will be spent in the coming years. And, as has been pointed out repeatedly this afternoon, one of the greatest attractions for the foreign tourist is the castles and historic homes in this country. I also should like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, for raising this issue this afternoon. It is very important, and we all know that he is a wonderful example of imaginative enterprise which has turned his motor museum into a world famous one. I have no doubt that that example will inspire many of the other owners of stately homes.

However, this question of the historic home, which I think is very important, is a difficult one, because time does not stand still. The death watch beetle or the decay which infects these homes will not hold its hand because we are in a financially difficult situation. Once these houses decay and fall down, they will cost twenty times the amount of money to repair, or else go into complete ruin. I, for one, would think it very sad indeed if these wonderful houses and castles which we own were allowed to deteriorate and collapse, which could well happen if they were not properly looked after.

I think we are particularly lucky in this country in our domestic architecture. Other countries have wonderful castles, palaces and villas, but not the sort of local domestic architecture which we find all about our countryside. This is unique, and I think that foreigners are beginning to realise in increasing numbers how worth while it is to visit these houses; and what has been stressed this afternoon, for some perhaps not so strange reason, is that they are much more intrigued to see a house being lived in and to see the life going on inside it, particularly when it is occupied by an old family who have been in possession for many years, than just to see the house as an empty museum. For that reason, I myself think it would be a great pity not to encourage the private owner who is running his house as a commercial enterprise to show it to the public and to the tourist, and we should help him in any reasonable way possible. It is economically sound to do so because we must have the currency and we must have the tourists, whether we like it or not, and this is obviously a great attraction that we can bring in.

If that is agreed, what can the Government do in addition to what they are doing to help the private owner? Obviously the grant is the basis of this, but I should like to suggest to Her Majesty's Government, and to the noble Lord who is to answer this debate, that the figure of half a million pounds is really very small indeed when one thinks of the amount of repairs and the amount of maintenance that is needed, and when one comes to think of the enormous sums of money involved in our tourist industry, and also the amount of pleasure and education and the advantage to the people of this country. That is particularly so when leisure is being made use of much more universally, and when the facilities for making use of it are becoming fewer and fewer. If only this grant of half a million pounds could be raised, multiplied a couple of times, it would possibly help the owners more than anything else.

I do not want to mention the question of income tax, allowances and so forth, because I am not an expert and it is a very involved question. But I am extremely surprised that the selective employment tax should not be refunded to owners of historic houses. I always understood that the object of the tax was to get foreign currency, that it was supposed to induce employers of labour who were in the so-called service industries, not the productive ones, to reduce their staff so that the redundant workers would go into productive employment and produce goods, either for export or else to replace imports. That was the whole idea of the selective employment tax. Here we have an industry, tourism, which is clearly earning large sums of foreign currency, and I cannot understand why the tax should be levied on the owners of these properties. I believe that all Members of the House would be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, if when he replies he could explain why the Government insist upon that.

My next point concerns more of a long-term problem, estate duties, which obviously are crippling all stately home owners. I should have thought that now we recognise the principle that objects of national interest can be exempt so long as they remain in the one ownership, if a house is being exploited commercially for the public and for tourists it is also right that it should be exempt. This is a long-term matter, and I hope that it will be considered at some time by the Treasury and the Inland Revenue.

There is one other factor that might help. I think that in many cases Her Majesty's Government have been very good about this matter, but in many cases they have not been very sympathetic, and I think that a more sympathetic attitude, a more understanding attitude, could be of great help. I will give your Lordships one example. There is a very beautiful 18th century house in a well-known cathedral close which is really superb. It is empty and needs about £45,000 to be spent on repairs. However, although a grant has been applied for, the answer has been that the amount of grant cannot be determined or given until the financial status of the new tenant is known. It seems to me obvious that no man in his senses would take on a tenancy without knowing whether he has to supply £100 or £45,000 before he goes into the house. It is cases of lack of imagination of this kind which I sometimes think make things very difficult.

There is one last point I should like to raise, because I think this might be the greatest possible threat, not only to the privately-owned homes but to all our castles and houses. That is the question of the sonic boom. We understand that these aircraft are eventually to be allowed to fly over this country. If this is so, in view of the tests we have heard about both in the United States and also in France, where I believe there has even been loss of life, I beg the Government to realise that there must be the most drastic regulations and rules, and that they must be effectively enforced, so that this noise can be created only well out to sea. Otherwise, not only shall we and our livestock suffer, but I think that many of these old houses will literally crumble into dust.

This question of historic houses is a problem which needs a great deal of sympathetic understanding, and I myself should like to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer appoint a committee to look into it thoroughly and to study it, particularly from the financial angle, which is most important, but also generally in regard to the benefit given. I should like them to consider how much they are worth both to the people of this country and in fact to all future generations.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, it is very good of other noble Lords to mention my name, but it is embarrassing to be heralded as a sort of pièce de résistance, which I am certainly not. In any case, now that so many other noble Lords have spoken a great deal of the ground has been covered. Therefore I shall endeavour to speak briefly. First, I wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Monatgu of Beaulieu, on putting down this Motion and on having made such a good and helpful speech. Of course all his points must be left to be answered by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet—indeed, I am thankful that that is the noble Lord's role, and not mine. Perhaps one of the most difficult questions, which of course is a matter of policy, is the so-called "means test".

I have been involved in the matters we are discussing to-day over quite a long period. First of all when I was Minister of Works, and I used to ask the first Chairman of the Historic Buildings Council for England, Sir Alan Lascelles, to come and see me from time to time, and now, through the changing scenes of life, I find myself in the position of being the second Chairman of the Historic Buildings Council for England, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, kindly asks me to go and see him from time to time.

I have stressed that it is the Historic Buildings Council for England, and I noticed the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, look up when I said that. I can speak only for England, and it is quite right that there should be Historic Buildings Councils for both Scotland and Wales. Being Scotch myself I know that would be quite impossible for the English Council to appreciate the Scottish problems. Also it would involve too much work, because I believe that the English Council has eight times more work to do than the Scottish and the Welsh Councils put together.

I wish to speak principally on Lie contribution of the Historic Buildings Council for England—and perhaps I may now drop the word "England" and it will be understood that I am referring to England without actually mentioning it. In the first place, I should like to look at the brighter side of things. There is no harm in counting one's blessings when one can, and I should like to say something from my own experience about the change of scene that has taken place since the Historic Buildings Council was set up in 1953—the first Government body to have power to make grants for buildings of outstanding historic or architectural importance. That is the clear definition.

The state of many historic houses, large and small, after the last war was desperate, owing to the general decay of the war years and the heavy back-log in maintenance, the disappearance of domestic help, high taxation and high costs. Some of those things are with us still, and it was not surprising that many owners of historic houses wondered whether it was worth while, or even possible, to carry on at all. After all, they have families, and we all know that if you put "things" too much above human affairs it sometimes ends in tragedy. Therefore the Council came in the nick of time, and gradually the atmosphere has changed. First, the policy of obtaining financial assistance checked, and then largely reversed, the tendency to break up and sell. Secondly, Governments, irrespective of Party, were prepared to recognise the whole range of historic houses, not only as a personal matter, with what are now slightly mythical overtones of privilege, but as national possessions worthy of being preserved.

I am sure that this has been of enormous encouragement, even if no grants have been asked for, or indeed, so far, needed. I am sure that this new approach—at least it was so fifteen years ago—is encouraging new owners. It is encouraging people who have made their way in business, and made money, to buy historic houses which, very often, are in a derelict state, and to spend large sums of their own money in restoring them and taking the best advice, to make them their homes. This is something which was quite unforeseeable and does not fulfil the rather gloomy prophecies made in the Gowers Report. That is all to the good. However, while Governments deserve thanks for giving grants where necessary, so also do those owners—and their wives—deserve thanks who by holding on in conditions which would stagger their predecessors of even 25 years ago are performing a truly national service.

Since 1953 the contribution in grants by Governments through the Historic Buildings Council has been about £5½ million, and when we consider that the average contribution of private owners is about 50 per cent. of the cost of repairs, one can appreciate the amount of private money that has also been involved in this operation. In fact it is nearly half. I am not referring, of course, to the National Trust, who are the biggest beneficiaries under the Historic Buildings grant and who nearly always get 100 per cent. grants. So this is a fine story of co-operation, to the advantage of both Government and owners. But for this co-operation, added to the contributions of the Pilgrim Trust and other trusts, and of many local authorities, and the support—even if only moral—of all the bodies, voluntary or otherwise, interested in preservation, it is not too much to say that the whole face of England with regard to its historic, domestic architectural heritage—and even allowing for the magnificent achievement of the National Trust—would have been tragically different to-day.

So far so good. But we are by no means home yet. Of course it is all mainly a question of finance. So far as the Historic Buildings Council for England is concerned, it has rubbed along since 1953 at the rate of £400,000 a year, rising to £450,000 in 1964, and now, this year, to £550,000. This addition of £100,000 in a time of economic anxiety is a cause for warm congratulation to Her Majesty's Government even if, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, knows only too well, with rising costs one has, like Alice and the Red Queen, to run very fast in order to stay in the same place.

I was glad to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said about the Government's attitude to their care for wasting assets, if we may refer to it so unpoetically. Personally I should like to see a little transfer of the vast sums spent on other arts, important as they are, over which Miss Lee presides; because it must be remembered that one can repeat an opera or a ballet but once an historic house has gone it can never be replaced. Be that as it may, the Historic Buildings Council has somehow been able to cope for fifteen years on this small annual allocation, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, in a former debate said was about the price of one bomber. It is the case, so far as I can see, that up to date no owner of a building of outstanding quality who has applied for help has been refused a grant. There is one case the noble Lord may mention which has cropped up, but until then I do not know of one; although of course there are some houses—though I think only a handful—not of the first rank but grant-worthy, as we call it, which it would have been nice to keep but which have had to go. So I do not want to give the impression that we are not very hard pressed.

For one thing the scope of the Historic Buildings Council has become very much wider. In the beginning it was generally a question of outstanding houses in isolation. But gradually—and this is all in tune with the gradual integration of the various aspects of preservation to which the present Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, are contributing so much—it is now a question of giving grants to a wide range of buildings representative of the whole English scene: town halls, moot halls, almhouses, houses in towns and villages, singly or in groups, or both, windmills, going down the scale, provided always that watchword "outstanding" is applicable.

Then there are on top of that the town schemes, by which the Historic Buildings Council recommends part of the cost of preserving the buildings in towns which still possess sufficient architectural distinction. There are nine already and there are more to come. These, and other contributions such as the Oxford Preservation Fund, which is now finished—though Cambridge is not—all have to be paid for, though in fact these do not come out of our ration. There are, however, continuing annual grants of various kinds, so that in fact one starts this year not with £550,000, but with £487,000. So it might seem that we are almost back to the "bomber" again. But the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is aware of all this, as he is of those matters of taxation, death duties and so on, and I am not going to say anything about that, because this is not a party political speech. I am simply going to say that it is no good giving with one hand and taking too much away with the other, particularly when the whole problem of historic houses is such a delicate and breakable mechanism.

Of course, everyone would like to see the day when at least a greater number of historic buildings are able, as one might say, to wash their own faces. I am for everything reasonable being done to bring that day nearer. Some of our great houses have always been open to the public, but now it is a "must", whenever a house receives a grant, that it should be open to allcomers, for a suitable fee on which we keep a check. This is only right, as it is public money which is being used to help. British people in their millions are now, as a result of this, beginning to realise and appreciate in a way that perhaps was not possible in former times the full splendour of their inheritance of domestic architecture, and they are beginning to feel more truly than in the past that they have a share in it all, which is good.

And perhaps it is also good in this way. We all know that public support is a very important thing for a Government, and I think that there will be growing public support to a tremendous degree for the preservation of our historic buildings, so that in time Governments will not have to feel too coy about giving extra money. You have to bring public opinion along with you in these matters. It is now coming along, and I hope that this will help Governments to give, more as time goes on.

There is also, of course, the great volume of foreign visitors. As the noble Lord and others have said, the British Travel Association have done much to help, but every means should be taken to increase this interest and information, both at home and abroad, about our domestic architecture, which is a worthy counterpart to our great cathedrals and churches, which have been admired and loved here and abroad for centuries.

I think I should perhaps finish with one note of caution about the presentation of historic houses. I think the noble Duke the Duke of Bedford is here. I went once to Woburn as a "rubberneck", and I much enjoyed that visit; and I thought, if I may respectfully say so, that the "extras", if I may call them that, were very discreetly and well run, and of course give happiness to thousands of people. And the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, has his motor cars, which are an asset.

But not every country house is suitable for the same treatment. For instance, I think that the National 'Trust are right in liking to keep the houses just as they were in their heyday, which includes the whole mise en scène round the house. I think so, because the tourists (I like to call them visitors) are a great deal better educated than they were once, and particularly the Americans. They read about these houses and the families that live in them, and when they come over they would like to see them exactly as they imagine them in historic times. But there is one other thing to say about this: that of course the number of houses that can be made into a great attraction is limited. I should say the great majority of houses dealt with by the Historic Buildings Council are, as I think the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said, remote, and not perhaps with attractions that are obvious to the man in the street—it may be a question of one Norman arch or something like that. But we have to try to keep everything that is of outstanding value.

This is a difficult subject, this question of presentation of houses. But, as I say, I think that everything, wit in reason, that is possible should be done to increase the flow of visitors particularly from abroad, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will say more about that when he replies.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Hailes, has just pointed out, it is extremely difficult to generalise about historic houses. You have those owners, like my noble friend Lord Montagu and the noble Duke the Duke of Bedford, the noble Marquess, Lord Bath, and others, who, with great capability, great ingenuity, have become experienced in mass entertainment. There are other houses, as the noble Lord, Lord Hailes, pointed out, which for various reasons, possibly size, possibly other reasons, are not suitable for mass entertainment but which, nevertheless, by reason, it may be, of their contents, or perhaps of other attractions, have an appeal to a much smaller number of possibly much more discriminating tourists, particularly foreign tourists.

I do not know whether I may presume to speak as the owner of such a house, but if I may I should like to say how grateful I have been to past Governments and to the present Government for the assistance that we have had hitherto, assistance by direct grant and assistance, too, in the matter of legislation and seeing that chattels of historic interest pay duty only when they are sold; they do not attract taxation while they are in a particular house. Of course I have minor complaints. We all complain about S.E.T., which hits the whole tourist industry. Then there is the time that is taken up in such matters as, for instance, the signposting of roads, which, as we have been told, has been going on for many years and even now is not yet finally settled. All these are perfectly valid criticisms, but they are not serious criticisms as to the future of the country houses themselves.

What I should like to emphasise is that the legislation that exists to-day has been largely responsible for allowing this particular form of tourist attraction to arise, as opposed to the attraction of a quite different type, that provided by museums and galleries. In fact, in my experience we have usually been advised to keep away as much as possible from the museum atmosphere, because the farther away you get from it the better the public are pleased. But I personally feel that, just as legislation has helped to build up this asset, so a change of legislation may have an equally devastating effect in bringing it down. One is always at the mercy of a few recondite, perhaps technical, words in a Finance Act, possibly due to an aggregation of chattels with other assets, which may have an absolutely devastating effect on the future.

I have reached the age when one is continually asked to assess how long one is going to live. The sort of thing that reminds one of this is the recent action of the Chancellor, which has been referred to, increasing from five to seven years the length of period affecting the payment of death duties. One knows what effect that will have on these country houses. It may well be that some estates will suffer from it and will have to be broken up and their chattels dispersed; and another country house will have gone. I do not suppose for a moment that the Chancellor considered the effect on country houses of that change. My appeal, which is the only one I am making to the noble Lord opposite, is that he should try to preserve the status quo by, so far as he can, using his influence, suggesting that where taxation proposals are likely to affect country houses the powers that be should consult with the British Travel Association. I say that because the effect of these things is often hard to foresee. I feel that it the noble Lord, whose heart I am sure is behind this movement to preserve our historic buildings—he has given ample proof of that—will give us his support, with some of his colleagues, that will be of great assistance. That really is the only point I wish to make.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, may I first congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, on the excellent manner in which he has laid before your Lordships' House his case, calling attention to the difficulties of maintaining Britain's Historic Houses and Castles, and to the importance to the balance of payments of doing so. At the outset, I should say that I do not have to declare any interest, which is precisely why I felt it was my duty to speak on the Motion set down by the noble Lord. It so happened that when my noble father died in December, 1940, the death duties payable on our family seat in Cornwall were such that it was quite obvious, after consultations with my relations, solicitors and accountants, that I should be unable to live there; and so, with great sorrow, we made the decision that we should have to sell. That is the reason, as I said a minute ago, that I do not have any interest to declare.

In addressing your Lordships to-day, I feel that I should like to try to help many Members of your Lordships' House and others who are struggling, year by year, to maintain the historic and stately homes and castles which they have inherited from their immediate ancestors and which are certainly one of the most prized heritages of England, Scotland and Wales. All of us, in these difficult days when we have to face high taxation, find that we are confronted with financial problems. It hits all of us, no matter what our job or profession may be. In the present circumstances we must all shoulder the burden, and Members of your Lordships' House have done, and will continue to do so.

In this connection, however, I am wondering whether Her Majesty's Government would consider a further measure of help to enable the owners of stately homes and castles to hand them on to their heirs intact. Noble Lords will remember that as long ago as December, 1948, the late Sir Stafford Cripps appointed a Committee to report on houses of outstanding historic and architectural interest. This Committee was formed—here I quote To consider and report on what general arrangements might be made by the Government for the preservation, maintenance and use of houses of outstanding historic or architectural interest which might otherwise not be preserved, including, where desirable, the preservation of a house and its contents as an entity. The Report, published by the Treasury in 1950, showed that the Committee had conducted an exhaustive research and had obtained evidence from some 52 bodies and also from some 57 private individuals. This was done with a view to helping the owners of these historic stately homes and castles to maintain their national heritages, and to enable them to bequeath them and to hand them on to their heirs or successors.

I do not want to take up your Lordships' valuable time by going into the further recommended legislation contained in this most worthy and informative Report, which mirrored some six centuries of our social history and domestic life—mediaeval, Tudor, Stuart and Georgian stately homes and castles which remain a living element in the social fabric of the nation, uniting visibly the present with national past history. They are jewels which should be preserved, and I would plead with Her Majesty's Government and any successive Government to give some Luther help to the owners of these prize heritages of the British Isles. I maintain that unless this Government or any successive Government legislates more leniently or abolishes death duties on these stately homes or castles, then none of their rightful owners will be able to hand them on to their heirs and successors, most certainly not further than the next generation.

As an illustration of what I mean, may I point out that the 1950 Report showed that taxation was primarily responsible for what I would term "an impending catastrophe" for the history of this nation. As long ago as 1950, the Report I have mentioned showed that it was not only that estate duty, first imposed in 1893 and ever since steeply increased, had led to the breaking up of many large estates and the reduction of others to a point where they were no longer able to support the mansion, but income tax and surtax, being calamitious in their effect. Again in 1950, it was found through the Report that at the then existing rates of these taxes no individual, however much his gross income, or whatever its source, could have had much more than £5,000 to spend, and that only 70 taxpayers in this country were left with a little more than £6,000 a year. That sum, my Lords, represented a gross income of about £100,000.

Noble Lords will forgive me, I hope, if I do not attempt to work out what income the many rightful owners of stately homes and castles are left with after paving surtax and supertax in these difficult days. The Inland Revenue Department could supply the figures, but your Lordships will appreciate that the financial position has worsened, to put it mildly, for all of us, and especially for those who are doing all they can to keep up these priceless heritages.

In referring finally to the 1950 Report, I should like to place on record the particulars of one case mentioned in the Report, which was that the owner of a stately home found himself with a rent roll of £140,000 a year, which was reduced to £3,500 a year by income tax, tithe, surtax, and the expenses of maintaining the agricultural estate from which it came. Out of this sum the owner had to maintain two historic houses, as well as himself and his family. In the instance which I have mentioned, the Report showed further that the owner of these two historic houses could maintain them only by drawing on capital at the rate of at least £8,000 a year.

Finally, may I repeat what I said earlier in my modest contribution to the Motion initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. In consequence of what I have said, I make an earnest plea to the Government to consider the abolition of death duties on the stately homes and castles and parkland that goes with them; stately homes and castles inherited and so lovingly preserved by their owners, who are not absentee landlords, but hard-working people who do a very great deal in the counties they dwell in, whether it be in England, Scotland or Wales.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, I have very much enjoyed listening to the extremely sincere speech of the noble Lord, Lord Vivian. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, initiating this debate, and, if he will allow me to say so, I think he made out with great skill a very moderate and very reasonable case, which I am sure must have impressed everybody who heard it. In fact, in some ways I thought he was rather hiding his light under a bushel, because one of the reasons for the great success in the opening of these historic houses to the public is the way in which it has been done. To put it at its lowest, if the owners were public relations officers, putting over the attractions of what they were offering to the public, at what I understand is a very reasonable admission fee, they would certainly have to include their own names as the persons responsible for those attractions. Indeed, I think that is a very important part of what they are offering. I was therefore glad to listen to the speech from my noble friend, Lord Kennet, who must in his speech, I think, have reassured the noble Lord that the Government have a very reasonable attitude to this subject. I am looking forward to what the noble Lord is going to say when he comes to wind up.

It seems to me that other countries are spending much more money in publicising their historic buildings. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Hailes, speaking about the various means of assistance which are being given at the present time for the upkeep of historic buildings, but I wonder whether there is not much more that we could do, either through the Export Council or some other department—whatever is the proper body—to publicise these buildings overseas. Whether it is in New York, Montreal, or wherever you may be, you can pick up literature about a German Schloss, or an Italian palace, or a French chateau. I am sure that the noble Lord is right in saying that, for many people, when they come to this country, our historic buildings are among the first things that they want to see. Therefore, bearing in mind the all-important question which always rears its ugly head in these debates, the effect on the balance of payments, I wonder whether, in order to increase the dollars available and the dollar visitors to this mountry, there is not something more than we could do in the United States and in Canada, and perhaps in other countries, to give greater publicity to what this country has to offer in the way of historical buildings.

I thought it was extremely sad when I was told last week that the residence of the late David Lloyd George at Criccieth was going to be sold, and I was trying to make enquiries whether it was being purchased with a view to keeping it in perpetuity or whether it was just being taken over by another developer. It struck me that it was a very unfortunate thing that this place, full of beauty in North Wales, with all its associations with him, should have been lost, and I should like to ask my noble friend whether he has any information he can possibly give us about this matter.

There is one other point to which I would refer. Many of these fine houses, certainly in the West of England and probably elsewhere, have been taken over by large industrial companies, often for the purpose of their group headquarters and so on. These concerns have, in a sense, stepped into the position of the enlightened squire in keeping these buildings in a very good state of repair, and I am wondering whether, if they could make these buildings available, if they could open the gardens, the fountains and the buildings themselves to the public at proper times, the Government could give them some assistance, either by a tax concession or in some other way, to enable them to do this.

My Lords, this has been a short but interesting debate. I think that the Government should take the most active steps they can to enable full publicity to be given in America, Canada, and other countries, to what this country has to offer, because, as I think the noble Lord said when he introduced the Motion today, the tourist trade in this country can become a tremendous dollar earner. Judging by the encouraging terms of my noble friend's speech this afternoon, it would appear that the door is partially open for the Government to undertake this work.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, as a deputy chairman of the National Trust, 'I feel that I ought to say a few words on this interesting and important discussion on historic houses and buildings in this country. It is worth while contributing to the debate if only to thank the Minister and other noble Lords for the complimentary things which they have said about the work of the National Trust. As your Lordships know, over the last year or two the Trust has been rather under fire; it has not altogether escaped criticism, and therefore it has been gratifying that in your Lordships' House, at any rate, everything that has been said has been complimentary. I can assure your Lordships that the National Trust is sensitive to the criticism which has been made, and a very high-powered committee under Sir Henry Benson, whose ability in these matters is well known, has been working very hard looking into the whole situation.

The staff of the National Trust, which is now a very large one, is one of the most remarkable set of people that it is my privilege to work with, especially when one considers the complexity of the work on which they are engaged. They give themselves in a devoted and whole-hearted way to the work of the Trust and to making these vast properties available to the citizens of this country, and indeed to people from all over the world who come to visit our houses and properties. At the same time, I should like to express to the Ministry, and to the Commission in particular, our grateful thanks for the great help which they have given to the National Trust from the setting up of the Commission in the difficult work of maintaining these country houses.

There is nothing more expensive to keep up than a country house, unless possibly it is a cathedral or parish church. In his fascinating and informative speech, the noble Lord, Lord Hailes, gave a list of buildings which had been helped, but it was a list from which churches were conspicuously absent. After all, churches are buildings of outstanding aesthetic value and form a feature of our countryside. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, referred to a difficulty which had arisen in connection with one church in Scotland, but these difficulties arise all over the country and it is hoped that eventually more assistance will be forthcoming. I am not appealing on the basis that the Church of England is an established Church, but on the basis that our ancestors in the Middle Ages gave us some of the most beautiful buildings in the world in the form of our parish churches and our great cathedrals and abbeys.

Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to comment on some of the observations which have been made this afternoon. There is no need to underwrite wt at has been said about the tremendous value of our great country houses and ill the other buildings with which we are concerned this afternoon. I should say that the only country which is as rich Ls, and possibly even richer than, ourselves in this respect is France. I should say from visits to France that on the whole we have been making a better job of the matter. It is a difficult, complex and expensive job, and the French are possibly less well financially endowed to maintain their beautiful chateaux and country houses than we are. Certainly the Demeure Historique, which has done great work in France, has hardly had the advantages which have been conferred in this country on the National Trust. Although both France and England have a good deal to be ashamed of in that until recently they have allowed a wonderful architectural heritage to decay, undoubtedly, as the noble Lord, Lord Hailes, made clear in his speech, there has been a considerable improvement, certainly in this country and to some extent in France too in recent years.

I was interested in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, a speech which quite naturally was devoted largely to Scotland. He told us about the work of restoring a beautiful village in Scotland, which was most fascinating. I thought that he might have underlined the work of the National Trust of Scotland, which is an independent body and which has been making tremendous progress in recent years. It would have been interesting if he had told us something about what the National Trust of Scotland have been doing in their work, not so much in relation to the great historic houses, but in regard to the beautifully-built Scottish small towns, and even some of the large towns. The domestic architecture of Scotland is one of the great architectural features of the world.


My Lords, I think that I said—and if I did not I will say it now—that, except for Inveraray, the other small towns to which large grants were given were all the property of the National Trust, and it was owing to the initiative of the Trust that they were preserved.


My Lords, possibly I missed part of the noble Earl's speech. This has been an extremely interesting development, which it is hoped may be copied in this country and in other places; namely, to take over a section of a town with examples of beautiful domestic architecture of earlier times and to put it back in shape so that it is fit once more to live in in a comfortable and cultured way rather than as a slum. In other words, one puts it back into circulation and gets one's money back. This is an encouraging enterprise on which the National Trust of Scotland deserves the greatest praise and encouragement.

The noble Lord, Lord Methuen, made a very important point when he mentioned that the contents of these great houses are very often on the same level as the historic and aœsthetic character of the houses themselves. There is great pressure, particularly from the United States, on owners to disperse the contents; and the protection afforded by the law and the Administration in this country is very small. The difficulty is twofold. First, there is not the skilled care which is provided in the national museums, and even in some of the smaller museums which are becoming such a feature of English life. Museums and art galleries are springing up, well-equipped and well-looked after.

An interesting development in the postwar years has been the substantial increase in the output of curators. This has now become quite a profession, and there is great competition for the increasing number of jobs which are going in these provincial museums and art galleries. However, we still lack a link between them and the country houses. It would be most valuable if some consideration were given to this matter. It should be possible to work out a scheme by which the curators of local art galleries or museums take a responsibility for keeping an eye on some of the historic houses containing our national collections. I am sure that in that way a great deal could be done to preserve them. In a smallish country house, where the owner is perhaps having to spend a great deal of his time on keeping up his estate and becoming a farmer, he cannot really acquire the expertise which his ancestors had in looking after beautiful objects; and even if he has the expertise he cannot give the time. I think he needs a great deal of help. That was an important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, which will I hope be attended to.

In many of these houses there are very valuable fixtures. We are unique, for example, in our organs. Many country house owners of the eighteenth and late seventeenth centuries, when organ builders in this country were among the greatest in Europe, felt it was incumbent upon them to furnish their big rooms with an organ by Father Schmidt, Renatus Harris, or one of the other well known builders. But many of these organs have been damaged or rebuilt and are losing their historical character, or are being taken down and exported. They are given no protection of any kind, and I have often felt that it is about time something was done to prevent that small but very important section of our musical heritage from being destroyed or dispersed.

The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, made a number of important points, too. One of the most important, and certainly one which we at the National Trust can underwrite, is the value of preserving these great country houses and historic buildings as homes. There is no question at all—this is particularly true of the American visitor—that the visitor enjoys visiting a country house which is still a home very much more than one which is just a museum, and that is not to be wondered at.

I remember on my first visit to France immediately after the First World War—it was the first time I ever went abroad, because I was not fit to be fighting in the Army in France—visiting the Loire chateaux. Some of the chateaux in the Loire are historical monuments which belong to the French Government and are run as museums, and they are very beautiful and well looked after. Others are private property, like the famous Chateaux of Chenonceux which, at that time at any rate, was lived in by a wealthy Paris businessman and shown to the public. That was how I was able to see it. The difference between Chenonceux, with its beautiful collection of pictures and furniture, and Azay le Rideau round the corner, which was a museum, really struck one's imagination. Since that time I have appreciated the importance, and indeed the favour, of being able to visit these houses and seeing something of the stately life which for years was maintained, although it is now to a large extent a thing of the past. It is beautiful to visit one of the National Trust houses, 'which I often have the advantage of doing, and, as it were, going into the room of a friend and seeing Country Life on the table and the music set up on the piano. I am sure it is very valuable that this should be maintained as far as possible, because the visitors appreciate it enormously.

I thought the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, made an important point, which the noble Lord, Lord Hailes, underwrote, that although we are very grateful for the money which the Government have placed at the disposal of the Ministry of Public Building and Works and the Council—and I am quite sure that, small as it is, it has saved the day—it is nothing like the amount which has, very properly, been spent on Covent Garden Opera House (because our musical tradition is as fine as our architectural tradition) and I do not think it keeps up with the ever increasing costs. At the National Trust we find that when death watch beetle or dry rot or anything like that really gets a hold, we can be faced with a bill running into ten, twenty or thirty thousand pounds before we know where we are, and it is at that stage that the great help of the Historic Buildings Council has been of such great value to us. Therefore, I hope that if the Government can possibly see their way to do so, they will continue to increase the amount allocated because, invaluable as this money has been, I am quite sure that there is still so much to be done that much larger sums are Absolutely essential if this historic heritage is to be preserved.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, for having brought this subject to our attention. We are dealing with our slums, as anybody who cares to come up to some of our Northern towns can see for himself. We are bulldozing them down as hard and as fast as we can get at them. Dust is in the air and change is all about us. The people from the slums are going into decent properties and, so far as I can make out, most of them are equipping themselves with a motor car. They want to go somewhere at the week-ends or on their holidays, and they trek off into Derbyshire, Yorkshire or wherever it may be. More often than not they land up at a place which is beautiful, which has been well kept and is interesting. They can show their little bits of knowledge to their children and then come very happily back to their homes in the evening.

I once had a salutary experience. I was a guest of the Council of Europe when they had an open meeting at the Palais de Luxembourg in Paris. I well remember going through the courtyard on the first morning with a young miners' representative from Scotland on my right and two Germans on my left. The young man from Scotland said, "Did you come by car?". I said, "No", to which he replied, "Well, I did. I came down through the northern suburbs and I saw all the slums, and then I came here to all this magnificence. Look at the money that has gone into this; and look at the difference between the poverty in the North of Paris and here".

I shall never forget the German on my left saying, "Young man, this was built a couple of hundred years ago. It was built for £200,000, but to-day it would cost somewhere in the region of £10 million. It has given pleasure to millions of families. All Paris and his wife come to have a look with their children. They come from all over France and Germany, and immense pleasure has been derived from it." He went on, "Can you tell me of a single building or anything which is being built to-day which will be in the category of this building in another couple of hundred years? Is a bomber in that category? Because we are paying £5 million for a modern bomber". The young man said to me afterwards, "There is something in what he said. He is right. This is something which is being handed on. This is something we are having the advantage of seeing".

I think noble Lords are absolutely right in bringing a subject like this to the House, because it is quite true that they have shouldered the responsibility for many generations. They have held the fort, the ring, or whatever you like to call it, during the period of transition in our social set-up. We are now getting over the period when we point to some- body and say, "Look what a lot of money he has—he can afford to keep up that house, that house and that house ". We are getting out of that, because we are appreciating more the custodianship that has gone into this particular aspect of our lives. I think that it behoves a modern Government to shoulder their responsibilities, just as the owners of these places have accepted their responsibilities in the past, very often to the point of great poverty and anxiety.

There is another matter I want to mention before I sit down. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in (shall I say?) a most misguided or perhaps thoughtless moment, said that nobody came to this country for the weather or the food. They do, you know. I will tell your Lordships why—because I know. Last year, in Yorkshire, we had a festival—art and all that. We ran a series of festivals of food. We came through the period from the Romans to the English, including the Tudors and the Stuarts. The owner of a most magnificent country house, no other than the gentleman whom I like to call a friend, the Duke of Devonshire, came to us on the night we had our Victorian Festival, and I am sure that if he were here this afternoon he would say that, without any question, it was one of the most interesting and thought-provoking affairs, and it was also very satisfactory from the point of view of what you put in your stomach.

It may be that people who come for short periods to London, with its frippery, expecting to have to pay through the nose, put un with anything, because here is the shoddy as well as the interesting; but there is no doubt that you have to get out of London if you really want to appreciate some proper cooking. There are many areas throughout the country, either regional or countrywise, which have a lot to offer in terms of food to anybody. I do not suppose there is anybody in this House, unless it is the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who has visited more countries during the last two years than I have and who has had the opportunity to see what other people can do. I say what I have said without any fear of contradiction whatever, and when we run our next "Do" I will make it quite public so that my noble friend Lord Kennet can come and participate, and enjoy what I consider an example of really wonderful cooking which can compare with the best in the world.

There is no doubt that we want to stop this business of saying that nobody comes for the food. I am not really chiding my noble friend—he is a good lad. He works very hard, and he is a very good Minister. I am not really chiding him, but I was provoked by what he said when I thought about the cooks there are in our urban district of about 80,000—cooks who can "knock spots" off some of the best in the world.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, I wish the noble Lord and his urban district luck in beating the French and the Chinese at cooking. I doubt they will do it, but they may very well beat the French and the Chinese at finding techniques for maintaining and making accessible our historic and architectural heritage up there. In this, he may well turn out to be a world beater, but for the rest I wait with patient hopefulness for his invitation to go and visit his next festival, and we shall see.

This has, I think, been a useful debate. Too many points have been made for me to take up all of them, but some I will. The two main threads which have run through it have been, I think, about publicity and about tax. I shall return to them both, but first let me mention one or two smaller points. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, told the story of the tenant who wanted to come to an historic building and wanted to know how much grant he would get. I understand that my Ministry said to him, "That will depend on how much you are prepared to spend", and there was a sort of deadlock.


Not to me, personally.


To the tenant. I very much hope this is the sort of thing that does not happen, or at any rate not too often. But if the noble Earl cares to give me the details I will follow it up, because the obvious thing that ought to have happened in that case was for the prospective tenant to sit down with the Ministry and for them to tell each other the facts. Then a conclusion would have been reached which would have enabled the man to make up his mind whether or not to take the house.

On the question of the sonic boom and its effect on historic buildings, the present state of knowledge about this seems to suggest two things. The first is that sonic booms—and we have heard some tests on this, and have measured the results—do not have any bad effect on buildings which are structurally sound. This takes us some way forward, but not the whole way, because, of course, many historic and architecturally interesting buildings are not structurally sound. That is one of the characteristics of age. So one must ask oneself: what is a sonic boom comparable to in the degree of damage it is likely to do to an old building? The best answer we have been able to get so far is that it is comparable to a high wind. So if a building stands up to a gale—and all buildings have to stand up to gales once or twice a year—it will probably stand up to a, sonic boom.

We may say to ourselves, "That is all very well, but it may be that in the future there will be quite a lot of sonic booms, and we ought not to require fine old buildings to stand up to two or three gales every day", as it might be. The technique of measurement and the way to find out about this is still, as your Lordships may imagine, in its infancy, but the Ministry of Technology is including in its research programme on the effects of sonic booms curtain tests specifically designed to find out about their effect on listed buildings. This work is going forward, and its results will be among the factors which will determine the decision of the Government, when that is due, about where, when and under what conditions supersonic flying by civil aircraft over land is to be allowed.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may put this point to the Minister. I have been told that the German Government have decided that sonic booms must take place at sea. In this country the sea is a good deal nearer to the farthest point from the sea than is the case in Germany. If the Germans can do that, I should have thought we could.


My Lords, there are many factors which will have to be taken into consideration, but this is not the moment for doing so.

I am afraid that I do not know the story about Criccieth, but I can tell the House, if I remember aright, that the Secretary of State for Wales has put a building preservation order on Dylan Thomas's boathouse; so things are alive on that front.

Now the question of death duty. Several noble Lords have pointed out that no death duty is payable on chattels until they are sold, so they can continue in a family generation after generation until that family sells them. And I have been asked why this system should not apply to houses of an equally high standard. There is a little history here. This estate duty exemption for chattels was put on in an attempt to stem the "rush of Rubens" to America—to put this in shorthand—to make it easier for things such as, typically, pictures, but also others, to be kept in the country in the houses where they had always been. The same considerations do not apply to houses. The Ghost Goes West was a one-off story. London Bridge has not been in the possession of any one family for a very long time. I do not think anybody would have paid estate duty on it if it had stayed here.

The reason for having exemptions for chattels does not apply with the same force to houses. But houses are in danger of falling down, it may be said, and it is just as undesirable for the people of England to have a fine old house fall down as to lose a picture to America. But to this one must answer that somebody has lived, or lives, in a house and he gets a certain usage out of it, and to grant exemption for it would be exempting him from death duty on something which is of use to him. All these factors are difficult to relate.

There is also the question of how to judge. In the case of chattels, the criterion is that if the relevant National Collection would have it, if it is up to that standard, then it is all right to exempt. But how to judge about houses? There are about 100,000 statutory-listed houses, and I am sure that nobody would want to go so far as to exempt from death duty every owner of every half-timbered cottage in the countryside simply because it was 16th century and not 17th century, or because it was in a part of the country where there were not many others. It would be difficult to define equivalent canons of merit to those existing in the case of chattels.

The Government will note what has been said in this debate on this, just as the Minister of State at the Treasury noted the representations made on the same point yesterday by the British Travel Association—


My Lords, on the question of estate duty, could not a criterion be whether the houses are run on a commercial basis and are making a profit by being shown to the public?


My Lords, that would be one criterion; but it would introduce other complications. It proved difficult to include houses in this way when chattels exemption was introduced in 1951, and I think that many of the difficulties are still there. On the question of tax, I think the best that I can do is to say once again that the Government will note the points made in this House. I do not think the noble Lord will expect me to go any further.

My Lords, I turn now to the second main thread running through the debate, the question of publicity. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, mentioned the improvements that have come about in the joint or common season ticket, and I think that there have been others. But I strongly share the view expressed by many noble Lords, that more could be done about this and more could be done about it, at least abroad, on a joint basis. I think that one might hope for an expansion of this greater cooperation and a unified scheme to present to potential visitors to this country, in their own countries, the fact that this is a country which has a great wealth of the kind of buildings we are talking about; that, whoever they belong to, most of them are open most of the year, and visitors can see this one which belongs to the Minister of Works, another which belongs to the National Trust, another which belongs to a county borough and another which belongs to a Member of your Lordships' House and so on.

We should get all this into a booklet or poster, and I shall make it my business to get together with the Minister of Public Building and Works, the Historic Buildings Council, the National Trust and the representatives of the private owners—and all of this probably through the British Travel Association—to see what can he done so that a unitary approach to this can be made. I conclude by again thanking the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, for raising this interesting and well-worth-while debate.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, any anxiety that I may have had in raising this subject to-day has been taken away by the warm support it has received from all sides of the House. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, is happy that this debate has taken place. I must say that I agreed with him when he said that he felt help should be given to stately homes as it is to art. If we had the sort of sum that the Royal Opera House gets, one million pounds a year, I think we should be well satisfied, and when you compare the number of people who attend Covent Garden yearly with the 18 million visitors to historic houses I think we have a good claim—although, as an opera lover, I am not saying that to take away anything the Opera House is getting.

I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for the replies he has given to the various points that have been raised. I was glad to hear that he will make representations on the death duty question. One point I should like to make is that you cannot value a large, historic house in the conventional way, because not only does it cost money to live in but you cannot find anybody to buy or rent it. So it is difficult to value it for death duties.


My Lords. I did not say that I would be making representations about death duty— that would not be my function. I said that the Government would note what has been said.


I am obliged to the noble Lord. I will end by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I do not know what the future holds for stately homes. Perhaps future financial legislation will eventually mean that there will not be any people living in them. Meanwhile we can perhaps consider ourselves as trustees of priceless national assets and continue to play our part in preserving them; and any help will be gratefully received. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.