An interim reply was sent on 12th September, 1963. The district valuer was already trying to help the trustees to find an alternative site and he has, at our request, continued his efforts and been keeping in touch with their agents, as my right hon. Friend explained to the hon. Member in his letter of 3rd January.
Is not this deplorable? The Minister has admitted that the firm wrote to him on 7th August, 1963, and an interim reply acknowledging this, and stating that the Minister would give a full reply as soon as possible, was sent over a month later, since when nothing has been heard from the Minister in reply to that letter. Surely the Minister should at least send an apology to the firm and provide it with the reply which he promised on 12th September, 1963? So far as I know, the firm has received no reply from the Minister.
To a certain extent I can understand the hon. Gentleman's anger. In fact, no letter was sent, because the district valuer was in personal touch with the trustees throughout all this time. My right hon. Friend did not want to send a negative reply, which he would have had to send, while there was still hope that an alternative site might be found. If it will help the hon. Gentleman, I am quite prepared to send a letter to the trustees along the lines of the letter which my right hon. Friend sent to him.
I understand the Minister claims that he has no statutory responsibility in such cases, but is not there a very strong moral responsibility on the Government? They have the power to destroy a church in the interests of road development and they seek to discharge their responsibility by offering money to rebuild the church when there is no site. Is not there a moral responsibility on the Ministry to do something more positive to assist this church to get a site for a new building?
It was because we recognised what the hon. Gentleman refers to as a moral responsibility that we asked the district valuer to help. My right hon. Friend has no power to acquire land specifically for those people who are displaced. All we can do is use our good offices; we cannot do more.
In view of the completely unsatisfactory nature of the replies to this Question and the previous Question, I wish to give notice that I intend to raise this matter on the Adjournment.