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 Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Northamptonshire South 12:00 am, 22nd July 1953

I can reply to the questions only by leave of the House. I should like to start by thanking the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) for his kind observations about the new Clause which has met, I am sorry to say, with more criticism than praise. I should like to make it clear that the omission of any provision to make it a criminal offence not to exercise reasonable care and the omission of any provision to make it a criminal offence to allow an ancient monument to fall into disrepair has been perfectly deliberate. It was carefully considered whether this Clause should go wider than it does, and it was decided that it should not for reasons which I will expound as briefly as I can.

First, I do not believe that we shall secure the proper preservation of ancient monuments merely by creating criminal offences in Acts of Parliament. What we want to do is to get people to appreciate the importance and the value of ancient monuments. I think that that can be better done than by creating extensive criminal offences.

Second, under the new Clause as drafted, and under Section 14 of the Act of 1913, in order to secure a conviction, it is necessary to establish some deliberate positive action which defaces or injures the ancient monument. It will not suffice, in my view, merely to establish that an ancient monument has been injured or defaced merely as a result of inaction or neglect. To constitute a criminal offence proof of some positive action will be required. I think that is desirable.

If it were made a criminal offence to fail to take reasonable care of an ancient monument it would be casting a tremendous obligation, varying in extent with the nature of the ancient monuments and the expense which would have to be incurred in keeping them in repair, upon people all over the country in different walks of life; and it would be making failure to spend their money on keeping an ancient monument in repair a criminal offence. That would be a bold proposal and, in my view, an unwarrantable extension of our criminal law.

The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) suggested that under Clause 4 it would be possible to spend money on ancient monuments. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, there is a distinction drawn in the Measure between historic buildings and prehistoric buildings and ancient monuments. The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) was correct in his observations.