Orders of the Day — Morley Hall

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13 June 1973.

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11.40 p.m.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallieu):

Order. Will hon. Members leaving the House please do so as quickly and as quietly as possible.

Photo of Mr Alfred Broughton Mr Alfred Broughton , Batley and Morley

After the House has been considering the building of a large new airport at the cost of some thousands of millions of pounds, I now turn attention to a problem which by comparison is much smaller. Nevertheless, I make no apology for raising this matter because it is one that is causing considerable concern to my constituents in Morley. It relates to the future of Morley Hall.

First, I must say a word or two about the history of this piece of property. Morley Hall is probably the oldest surviving building in a town where old buildings are extremely scarce. It was built nearly 300 years ago, in 1683 to be precise, by a Thomas Dawson. He and some of his descendants were pioneers of the Industrial Revolution. They took a prominent part in turning Morley into an industrial town and thereby were responsible to some extent for the conversion of England into a rich and prosperous industrial country.

After the Dawsons, the house was occupied in turn by several other famous Morley families. I shall not weary the House with an account of them. Sufficient be it to say that they have added to the interest of the place. It is not a large and imposing house. I would describe it as a modest building standing in pleasant grounds near the centre of the town, but I am sure it will be readily understood that Morley Hall is of considerable historical interest.

So important was this place to Morley that, in order to preserve this small treasure, Sir Charles Scarth bought it in 1917 and gave it to the town, on the understanding that it was to be used for the benefit of Morley people. At that time Morley was in need of a maternity home, and it was decided that this building should be used to meet that need. Thus Morley Hall came to be used as Morley's maternity home. To what better use could it have possibly been put for the benefit of Morley people? Throughout more than half a century thousands of Morley people have been born there, the mothers and babies receiving efficient and tender care in that building.

In 1948, when the National Health Service came into operation, the then Ministry of Health took over the management of this maternity home. The local people raised no objection and asked for no compensation, because Morley Hall continued to be used to the best advantage for the benefit of Morley people.

With the advance of medical science, however, the time came when the Department of Health regarded the premises as out of date for modern obstetrics. A large new maternity hospital has been built in a nearby town and Morley Hall closed its doors as a maternity home a few months ago.

When it became known that the Department of Health had no further use for the hall the local people began discussing other possible uses for it. Since it was given to them in 1917 by Sir Charles Scarth they have regarded it as theirs. Many people have suggested that it should be used as a cultural centre. I know that Morley Historical Society and Morley Civic Society would like to be able to use it.

Whatever its further use, it is important that control now passes from the Department into the capable hands of the local council. For that reason the town clerk communicated with the Department. He received an astonishing reply. It said that Morley Council could have Morley Hall provided that it was bought from the Department at its present-day value as assessed by the district valuer. To say that Morley people found the reply disappointing is barely correct. It was infuriating.

The members of the town council and all the people of Morley are unanimous in their opinion that the Department's policy is wrong. Morley Hall was given to them. It is theirs and they want it handed back to them.

The town clerk corresponded further with Department officials. That was all to no avail. I was then asked to support Morley's plea. I wrote to the Minister and received a reply from the Under-Secretary of State who is here to reply. I thank him for the courtesy of his reply but I cannot thank him for the contents of his letter. After putting forward arguments which I do not accept he concluded by saying: While the council's view is understandable, I am afraid that, if they wish to reacquire this property, a sale by the Department can only be negotiated on the basis of current market value as assessed by the district valuer. I was amazed. I could not believe it to be true that Morley people were expected to buy at present-day inflated prices the property which had been given to them in 1917.

I wrote again to the Department and requested that Morley Council's scheme be considered by the Secretary of Slate. The right hon. Gentleman's reply was similar. In his final paragraph he wrote: I understand the feelings of the council having regard to the particular circumstances of this case, but I am afraid that these are not considerations which would enable the hall to be treated exceptionally under the rules applicable to the disposal of Government land. I was extremely displeased with that unsatisfactory answer. It may be asked "What do others think of the demand that is being made by the Department?

The Yorkshire Evening Post on 6th April 1973 said: Morley Council may have to pay thousands of pounds to regain Morley Hall, the oldest house in the borough. But the hall should be theirs anyway, so I am told. The hall was built in 1683, was given to Morley by Sir Charles Scarth in 1917. From that time it was used as the local maternity hospital, and many of Morley's sons and daughters were born there. In 1948 at the inception of the NHS the Ministry of Health took the hall, and paid nothing for it. Eventually a new maternity unit and group training school opened at Staincliffe, Desbury, rendering the Morley unit obsolete. Now Morley Corporation is offered it back again by Whitehall, but at the District Valuer's price. Morley wants to make the hall a cultural centre, a splendid idea for a town which is not overendowed in this respect. They say the Whitehall move is legally right but morally wrong. But if this is legally right, then Morley's MP, Sir Alfred Broughton, wants to nip down the House of Common's corridor and ask advice on how to get this particular law changed. I shall not ask for a change in law because, as I shall explain, that is unnecessary. I concede at once that when the National Health Service took over management of the maternity service at Morley Hall Section 6 of the National Health Service Act 1946 made it necessary for the ownership of the premises to be transferred to and vested in the Ministry of Health. But the Act does not say that if the premises are no longer needed by the Minister and are returned to the local authority from whence taken the Minister must demand a price of current market value.

It will be of considerable interest to know that when the National Health Service came into operation in 1948 the Ministry of Health took over not only Morley Hall but also Grange Hospital, Churwell, and Bruntcliffe Isolation Hospital, both of which are in Morley. When in the early 1950s these two hospitals became surplus to the requirements of the National Health Service, did the Minister demand payment at current market value? No, he did not. Morley Council was offered these two properties at a price of £1 each. Clearly, there was no law which demanded current market value to be paid.

I have waded through the outpourings of correspondence relating to this problem. I find that the policy which the Minister describes as "the established procedure" and which he has insisted on following is set out in some detail in Ministry of Housing and Local Govern Circular 57/66. I have a copy of that in my hand. First, this circular is no more than a letter sent by a Government Department to clerks of local authorities in England and Wales advocating a policy for dealing with surplus land, including buildings. It has not been laid before Parliament and does not carry with it the weight of law. This circular expresses the hope that there will be a spirit of co-operation in working a policy whereby property surplus to Government requirements will be offered to the local authority in whose area the property is situated, and local authorities will offer reciprocal opportunities to Government Departments. It is stated that the price will be a matter for negotiation and that local authorities will not be expected to pay more than the district valuer is prepared to certify.

I believe that this policy is probably a good one in 99 cases out of 100. I would not question it if the building had been built or bought by the Department. But not one penny was paid for Morley Hall, and now the Minister wants to cash in on present-day exorbitant prices. Nor am I impressed with the Minister's argument that he should be recompensed for maintaining the building while it has been in his ownership.

I think I have said enough to show that the Minister's decision is morally wrong and legally unnecessary. Lest the Minister should still have doubts about local feeling, I shall conclude by quoting from local newspapers. I quote first from a leading article in the Morley Observer of 17th May: We learned this week that Sir Keith Joseph has decided not to give back Morley Hall to the Council. This is an outrageous ruling, whether or not, as Sir Keith implies, property acquired under the 1946 Act was free of any existing trust. The Act merely legalised the robbery. For robbery it is. The Hall was a gift to the town. When it was taken over under the Act, no compensation was paid for it. Having admitted these facts Sir Keith goes on to excuse his present parsimony on the grounds that the Health Service has spent, on maintaining the building, money which, in other purely hypothetical circumstances, might have come from the local authority. This is the sort of tortuous evasion that only an absent Minister is capable of making on the advice of civil servants even more distant from the realities oflife to justify actions for which he can have little real taste. Quit the airy realms of high policy, Sir Keith, and listen to the people speaking. 'Morley Hall belongs to Morley,' they are saying. 'You pinched it without paying a penny. Now you want 115 to grease the Government's palm for the privilege of getting it back? You must be joking!' The fact is that, as Minister of a Government not averse to ladling out talk of 'moral obligations' Sir Keith is NOT joking. We find that very hard indeed to stomach. I quote also from the Morley Advertiser of last Friday: Local people will be delighted to know that a preservation order has been made in respect of Morley Hall, preventing any alterations being made to the structure of the building. This news was conveyed to members of the Morley Civic Society on Tuesday night by Mr. George Atkinson, president of the local History Society, and one who has fought to keep the Hall as it is and restore it to its rightful owners, the Morley Corporation. The Chairman of the Civic Society echoes the thoughts of everyone when he says that the preservation order is a step in the right direction. I implore the Minister to change his mind. I hope he will rise and announce that Morley Hall will be given back to Morley people. If he cannot do that I trust that in view of what I have said he will say that he will report back to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and that the case will be looked at again.

11.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Alison Mr Michael Alison , Barkston Ash

The hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Sir A. Broughton) has, as he said, written to me about Morley Hall and he is pressing the case on behalf of his constituents most eloquently and forcefully, as one would expect from him. I certainly make no complaint about the strong line he is taking. This debate will, I hope, enable me to deal with the general question of what happens to buildings taken over under the National Health Service Act 1946 when they are no longer needed for the service, as is the position here. It will help to put the relevant facts on the record because there is obviously a lot of strong feeling in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Morley Hall Maternity Hospital was one of the many hospitals formerly run by local authorities or by voluntary bodies which were transferred to the National Health Service in 1948. Section 6 of the National Health Service Act 1946 provided that these hospitals should be transferred to, and vest in, the Minister, now the Secretary of State, and that they should vest in him free of any trust existing immediately before the appointed day. No special exceptions were made in respect of hospitals which, like Morley Hall, had been donated by a local benefactor—Sir Charles Scarth in this case—or had been bought with moneys raised by local public subscription.

Hospital properties statutorily acquired in this way were transferred to the National Health Service without payment of compensation. It is, of course, the usual practice for reasons generally understood and accepted, that when central Government assumes responsibility for services hitherto administered by local government property held for the purpose of these services is transferred without payment. This took into account that from 1948 the National Health Service would take over the responsibility for the running and maintenance of the hospital, and for the provision of a free hospital service to all persons needing hospital treatment.

In taking over the hospitals with their liabilities and future costs of maintenance, the Government relieved the local authorities of a very heavy financial burden. This cannot be disputed. Large sums of money are concerned here, and it may be relevant to note that expenditure on the provision of hospital services which now falls on my right hon. Friend, excluding capital expenditure, was running at nearly £1,122 million in 1971–72.

Expenditure on capital building and land had to be faced to the extent of an increase from about £18,500,000 in 1949–50, at constant prices, to about £155 million in 1971–72 on a comparable price basis. This is the sort of scale of expenditure my right hon. Friend is faced with in discharging his obligations to finance the National Health Service.

In October 1972 a new £1 million maternity unit of 120 beds was opened at the Staincliffe General Hospital, about seven miles from Morley, to replace the maternity units at Crossley Maternity Home, Mirfield, Ravensleigh Annexe, Dewsbury, Moorlands Hall Maternity Home, Dewsbury, and Batley Maternity Home, and Morley Hall. This was in accordance with the regional hospital board's policy of providing improved maternity hospital facilities in the area. Morley Hall was a small general practitioner maternity unit and as such could not be expected to offer the full range of support services which are available at a modern purpose-built unit such as the one to be opened at the Staincliffe General Hospital.

It is worth emphasising the improvement in the services now available to the mothers in this area as a result of this outlay of £1 million. In the new unit beds are arranged in six, four and single bedded bays where mothers can rest in a high degree of privacy, yet under full supervision, in a bright cheerful atmosphere. Delivery and operating theatre suites, special care and isolation rooms and an ante-natal clinic are also provided. The unit contains 120 maternity beds, 18 more than provided collectively by the five smaller units to which I have already referred, and effectively meets the maternity needs of the area. Nobody is better able to judge the increase in standards than the hon. Gentleman, with his professional background.

In the light of the opening of the new unit at Staincliffe Hospital, my right hon. Friend, on the advice of the regional hospital board, agreed to the closure of Morley Hall, but only after full and detailed consultations with the local authorities and other interested bodies had revealed no objections to this course of action. The property was subsequently declared surplus to the requirements of the National Health Service, and arrangements were put in hand for its disposal. This is where we come to the dispute.

I appreciate that Morley Borough Council wishes to acquire—or re-acquire, to be more precise—Morley Hall now that it is no longer needed for hospital purposes and has in mind to use it as an arts centre. I agree that this is a very worthwhile purpose and one which will make good use of this historic building. But it is not, unfortunately, the kind of need for which we could recommend any concession on price. If Morley Borough Council should decide to go ahead with the acquisition of the hall, this would have to be at the current market value as assessed by the district valuer, and I hope the council will now feel able to accept this.

When Government land is declared surplus to requirements, Departments do not have a free hand to go ahead with disposal in such manner and on such terms as they may think fit, but are required to follow an agreed and established procedure. This procedure applies equally to surplus hospital land and buildings which are vested in the Secretary of State, and requires that the property is offered first to other Government Departments, then to the local authorities—that is, the county and district councils—and only if these authorities do not wish to acquire it is the property offered for sale on the open market.

Sales to local authorities are required to be at current market value as assessed by the district valuer, who advises Government Departments on matters affecting value in all property transactions. Only very exceptionally may a property be offered to a local authority at less than the current market value where a special case can be made for a sale at a concessionary price or for offering the property as a gift. The kind of case I have in mind here would be, for example, where a former hospital was needed by the local authority for a closely related and essential purpose such as a residential home for mentally handicapped people, or some similar and urgent purpose. But in such a case the rule about gifts would apply and appropriate action would have to be taken.

I know that Morley Borough Council feels very strongly that the hall should be transferred to it, as the former owner, on nominal terms, and that it seems to it unfair to have to pay the current market value. But it is really only by looking at Morley Hall as a case on its own and disregarding its place in the totality of land held for hospital purposes that one has a feeling of unfairness. I hope that through this debate here today the council will be better able to view the matter in this wider context and to accept that transfer on other than current market value terms is really out of the question. It will be in the same position as others which have contributed to, or been served by, some hospital building financed by public subscription, or given to the National Health Service in some cases after the NHS had been established. Many hospitals large and small throughout the country, especially the former voluntary hospitals, including the teaching hospitals derived from gifts, benefactions or subscriptions. No one would dispute that these are now part of the assets of the NHS.

For a while a building serves the original purpose, but there may come a time when it is no longer needed and then its last service to the NHS is its value as a capital asset, realisation of which provides funds for further improvements to the NHS. It is not possible to treat NHS assets in anything less than a uniform manner and we cannot afford not to make full use of them. Of course, it is fully accepted that the NHS pays current market value for all or any land taken over from a local authority in the normal course of business between Government and local authorities. We are grateful to local authorities generally for their assistance to the NHS by helping us to acquire sites needed for NHS development, but no doubt if they were not getting a fair price for the help they were giving it would not be so readily forthcoming.

In support of the council's claim for special consideration over price, reference has been made by the hon. Gentleman to two other properties, the former Bruntcliffe Isolation Hospital and the Grange Hospital, which were transferred to the council as former owner, on concessionary terms, in the early 1950s. The council has felt that these were "precedents" which might be extended to Morley Hall.

I should perhaps explain here that at the inception of the National Health Service in 1948, certain hospitals which were not needed for health service purposes were disclaimed and left with their existing owning authorities. Some other hospitals, mainly isolation hospitals, were statutorily acquired under the 1946 Act, but within a very short time were found not to be needed for hospital purposes.

The hon. Gentleman will recall the early post-war revolution of health needs and conditions, which resulted in many such hospitals—particularly some of the early tuberculosis hospitals—being irrelevant to the needs of the National Health Service. In these cases, the hospitals were offered back to their former owning authorities on nominal terms, provided they had an urgent and statutory use for them. The two hospitals referred to here were in this category. However, this special arrangement for the return of certain hospitals to former owning authorities remained in force for a period of only five years following the appointed day, and was terminated on 5th July 1953—almost 20 years ago. It was, of course, only intended as an interim arrangement to meet the particular set of circumstances which applied in the early days of the National Health Service. We could not agree that similar circumstances apply today in the case of hospital properties which, like Morley Hall, have been integrated into the health service and have been in service use and making substantial demands upon NHS resources by way of maintenance and administration for almost 25 years. In such cases, hospitals which have become redundant fall to be dealt with in accordance with the normal procedures for the disposal of surplus Government land which I have already outlined.

Should the Morley Borough Council decide to acquire the Hall at current market value, we shall ask the district valuer to enter into discussions with the council immediately, with a view to arranging a sale. As I said earlier, we understand that it is the council's intention to use the Hall as an arts centre, and this seems an excellent choice of use for a building which is listed as being of special architectural or historic interest, and will enable the people of Morley to continue to use and enjoy the building, whilst preserving an important part of their heritage for posterity. But we offer the property to the local authority without strings. It is for it to decide whether it has powers or funds to purchase, and after that the use to which it puts the property is its business.

I have touched earlier on the costs of running the hospital and specialist services. Yet, despite the large sums which are currently being spent on the service, it is common ground that potentially a great deal more needs to be spent before modernisation is complete, and there are many more improvements which we would wish to make, or planned development which we would like to bring forward, if more money were available. Obviously, however, in money matters we have to take our turn with other claims on public expenditure, and all Governments have accepted that modernisation of the NHS is a long-term commitment. It is here that the proceeds from the sale of surplus hospital land and buildings will be of help, to some degree, in being ploughed back into the hospital regions' building programmes to enable additional building schemes or "shelved" schemes to be brought forward in some cases.

In a Written Answer in the House on 15th March my right hon. Friend announced the introduction of new financial arrangements by which the proceeds of additional sales of hospital land would be made available to the hospital capital programme—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Wednesday evening, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at ten minutes past Twelve o'clock.