Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Bill

Part of Ways and Means – in the House of Commons on 25th May 1943.

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Photo of Mr Henry Strauss Mr Henry Strauss , Norwich

I think the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. J. Dugdale) has initiated a most useful discussion, particularly as many of the things that have been said in the course of it are also germane to Amendments which will come later. Nearly every Member who has spoken has expressed the hope that the Government will accept the spirit behind this Amendment. That, I have no hesitation in saying, we are doing. Perhaps I may incur slightly less suspicion in making that statement than a Minister sometimes incurs, because I have served on the Executive Committee of the National Trust and of the Georgian Group for a very much longer period than I have been a Minister in this House. I hope my own sympathy with this cause will not be suspect. Many Members have indicated that the problem is not so simple as might at first sight appear. I am not suggesting for a moment that the hon. Member who moved the Amendment thought it was a simple problem.

Doubt has been expressed in certain quarters on the question whether the local authority itself is the most suitable body to prepare a list of this kind. There are, as the Committee will be aware, such organisations as the National Buildings Record, and other outside organisations that are concerning themselves very much with this question. However, I think there is more in the desire of the mover of the Amendment than that, and more that deserves our respect. I agree in part with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for 1lford (Mr. Hutchinson) that there is always the risk in compiling a list of things of merit that some people will assume that things not included in the list have no merit. Nevertheless, I think it is the duty of the planning authority to concern itself with ascertaining what are the buildings of architectural and historical merit in its area. I do not think it right that we should put this Amendment—or another to the same effect, because this has certain technical defects—into the Statute, because there are many things which it is the duty of the local authority to do in making a survey. We shall certainly impress upon them the importance of this subject—and, indeed, on that subject the opinion of this Committee has been unanimous—but if we selected one particular duty of an authority in making a survey, and put that into the Statute, that might cast doubt on the question whether certain other things which we say are their duty are really so important as we say they are. I would much rather leave it to be a matter for administrative action than put it into the Statute in this form. Indeed, if we found it necessary to make a regulation making the preparation of a schedule obligatory, we have sufficient power under the principal Act to make such a regulation.

One hon. Member mentioned the Ancient Monuments Acts, and in dealing with this whole problem—and I agree that further control to achieve the object which we all have at heart will be necessary-careful collaboration with those responsible for the administration of the Ancient Monuments Acts will be necessary. The Ancient Monuments Acts do not completely cover the field. That was one of the reasons for the enactment of Section 17 of the Town and Country Planning Act; 1932, to secure the preservation of these buildings. I think further action is necessary, but I do not believe that the Amendment is the way to achieve our purpose.

The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) drew attention very rightly to what is the essence of the problem, that a person can pull down a fine building without any permission, and he went on to say that owners frequently did this on financial grounds. That may be true. I am afraid it is also true that local autho rities sometimes do these demolitions because they wrongly think them to be improvements, and when we are mentioning the one case we should not be blind to the other. I think that that covers the points raised by various Members in the Debate. I would suggest to my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment—and I should have to criticise it on technical grounds—that he has achieved his object by moving it and obtaining the unanimous opinion of this Committee in favour of 'the idea that lies behind it, a unanimous opinion which my right hon. Friend and I very much welcome. I would ask him whether in these circumstances he now sees fit to withdraw the Amendment.