HL Deb 01 March 1972 vol 328 cc1084-6

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, now that they have offered to spend £1 million restoring historic buildings for the Maltese Government, they will reinstate the £3 million annual public expenditure committed by the Labour Government to historic towns and buildings in England.]


My Lords, I am not aware of such a commitment by the previous Government. We, however, now intend to extend the scope of grants payable on the advice of the Historic Buildings Councils to cover expenditure on the conservation of outstanding historic areas; and for this purpose we propose in the next financial year to make a further increase in the Councils' allocation, in addition to the substantial increase last year.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to look at Hansard for May 1, 1970? He will find there the commitment of £1½ million of Exchequer expenditure and £1½ million local authority expenditure, which adds up to £3 million as in the terms of my Question. To turn to his Answer, can he tell us anything about the amount by which the money is to be increased next year? If I may ask two further supplementaries, will the increase in central Government expenditure be matched by any increase in local authority expenditure? Lastly, he said that the money was to be spent only on certain areas. Can he tell us how these areas will be defined, and by whom?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that distinction between central Government and local authority expenditure. I am glad to accept it. One and a half million pounds of central Government expenditure is the figure to which the previous Government were committed. In answer to his other questions, our proposal is to increase the present figure of £1 million by a further £500,000—that is a further half-million pounds. This will be an additional allocation, and we recognise that it may need to be increased as applications for the grant build up.

Referring to the noble Lord's further supplementary questions, we are relying on the Historic Buildings Councils to administer this grant flexibly, and the exact proportions of central Government finance, private finance and local authority finance may well be varied in each particular case. It will be for them to decide which outstanding historic areas within conservation areas should receive this grant and also which particular schemes should receive the grant. The schemes can be put forward either by local authorities or owners or by amenity societies.


My Lords, are we to understand that the £1 million referred to in the Question of my noble friend which was promised to Malta to restore historic buildings, et cetera, remains, irrespective of the wider settlement which is now under review?


No, my Lords.


My Lords, leaving aside Malta, is the noble Lord aware (how could he possibly not be aware?) that the announcement he has just made is an important one to all those interested in the preservation of historic towns and buildings? The small print will be read by them with great care but with, at least, an unjaundiced eye.


I am grateful to the noble Lord.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord how much of this allocation of money for historic buildings will be made available to Scotland where the need for the restoration and maintenance of historic churches is very great?


My Lords, Lord Kennet's Question and my Answer referred to England; but my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales concur in our proposals and will be making appropriate arrangements for Scotland and Wales.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware whether it is possible to set aside money for this "prehistoric" Government?