New Clause. — (Injury to Ancient Monuments by Their Owners.)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd July 1953.

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Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East 12:00 am, 22nd July 1953

I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) has said. One of our difficulties in dealing with this Bill is the extreme rapidity with which we have had to discuss it since it had a Second Reading less than three weeks ago. It is unfortunate for all of us that it was introduced so late in the Session, and if we had had a longer time in which to study it we should have been able to suggest a number of further improvements on the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Farnham.

A number of Amendments have already been made as a result of the rather short but highly intensive Committee stage which we had upstairs, and I want to thank the Solicitor-General, because I think he has done his best in the relatively short time that has passed since this point arose in the Standing Committee last Thursday until this new Clause was put on the Order Paper yesterday or the day before. I think the new Clause is in peculiarly cumbersome language, but that may be inevitable, and, without wishing to be patronising in any way, I thought it gave effect to the specific points which were discussed in our debate upstairs.

Further reflection has led me to think, as it did the hon. Member for Farnham, that if time permitted it would be desirable to carry the matter still further, because, as the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) said, this is a crucial part of the Bill. It is upon this new Clause and its related provisions in the Act of 1931 that everything ultimately depends for the preservation of these ancient monuments, and I would have hoped that there would be an opportunity, perhaps in another place, to strengthen the new Clause further.

The words "injuring or defacing" do not seem apt to deal with the kind of offence which arises when an ancient monument is allowed to fall into disrepair, and I should have thought that it might be possible to add, after the words "injuring or defacing." words such as "or allowing it to fall into disrepair." I merely throw that out as a suggestion for the Minister and his legal advisers to consider.

I wish to make one other observation. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) was really very far astray when he made some remarks about Clause 4. We are dealing in this Bill not only with ancient monuments but also with historic houses. In connection with both historic houses and ancient monuments it will be observed from Clause 13, which is referred to in the new Clause, that unhappily circumstances will sometimes arise in which either a historic house is to be demolished or an ancient monument is to disappear as a result of modern conditions of one kind or another.

I hope that when unhappily that event occurs—we shall preserve what historic houses we can: there will be some that will be lost—and the Minister has to give a licence for the demolition of a house or to permit the owner to alter an ancient monument, he will take care to insist in every case that adequate photographic and other records are taken before the licence is issued. I hope that we shall be given an assurance that the Minister thinks he has adequate powers in that respect or, if not, that he will take some opportunity of asking for power to do so.