HL Deb 12 April 1988 vol 495 cc974-5

2.47 p.m.

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the recently reported statement of the Earl of Caithness that "buildings should not be listed if the public does not like them" represents their policy.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, my right honourable friend's policy on listing is as set out in Section 54 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 and in DoE Circular 8/87. I made no such remark.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, may the House take it that the noble Earl will share with me the wish that the Sunday Telegraph should give as much prominence to the Answer he has just given the House as it did to his alleged remark a few weeks ago?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am sure that we all wish the press to report us accurately.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, does my noble friend realise that many people are grateful to the Secretary of State for exercising economy of listing in the buildings put up in the 20 years from the beginning of the war? With regard to the alleged remark of my noble friend, is it not true to say that in architectural matters the public judgment is very often better than that of the experts, and if it had been listened to more often we should have had rather better architecture today than we have?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am very happy to agree with my noble friend.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, will the Minister accept that many of us regret that he has repudiated the statement which he was alleged to have made by the Sunday Telegraph, as it is not very often that Ministers make statements in simple English without any prevarication?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as a final decision had not been made by the time the report appeared in the Sunday Telegraph, it was not surprising that I did not make the statement.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that right through history styles of architecture have had their popularity and their unpopularity, and then perhaps their popularity again? Does he agree that if one eliminates all the unpopular ones at the time when they are unpopular, there is no chance of their returning to popularity because there are no buildings left?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very valid point.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is not the right criterion for listing buildings that which was placed upon the tomb of a certain Mr. Longbottom: vita brevis, ars longa?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am sure that my noble and learned friend is right.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, is not listing supposed to indicate that the piece of architecture concerned was distinguished in its period? If so, would it not be a good idea for the noble Earl now to put down a marker to the effect that the mock classical buildings, which we have all seen with absolute horror are proposed for the Thames frontage at Canary Wharf, should never be listed in the future and indeed should never be built at all?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the listing criterion is architectural or historic interest.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, can the Minister say who is responsible for finally deciding what is a listed building? Can I have an assurance that whatever happens the Marsham Street building will never be listed?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is ultimately responsible for listing. I believe that the DoE building was not completed until the late 1960s or early 1970s and we have not got round to that stage of listing. However, I am sure that in due course the Secretary of State will bear in mind the noble Lord's views.