Skip to main content

New Clause—(Control Of Architectural Treatment Of Building During Interim Period)

Volume 389: debated on Tuesday 25 May 1943

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

An interim development authority during the period of interim development may, as respects any particular building or part of a building, or any group of buildings within their district, or as respects any particular area within their district, specify the general form, design and external appearance, including size and height, to which that building or part or group of buildings shall conform, or to which buildings in that area shall individually or collectively conform, as the case may be, and in granting any interim development application the authority may impose such conditions as they think fit to secure such general form, design and external appearance.— [Mr. Silkin]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may think of the merits or demerits of this particular new Clause, it has not the objection he put forward to the previous new Clause. It really does deal with development in accordance with the definition of the principal Act. The new Clause has two purposes. One is to apply control of architectural treatment of buildings during the interim period. At the present time there is no control over architectural treatment of buildings in the interim period. Under Section 12 of the principal Act schemes may include provisions for regulating the design and external appearance of buildings, subject to a right of appeal. But unless those provisions are included in the scheme, there is no power under development procedure to deal with the design and external appearance. This Clause seeks to introduce into the interim development period this amount of control. If you are really going to build a city of beautiful buildings, you have to see that the control is applied during the time the buildings go up. The vast majority of new buildings will go up under interim development procedure, and unless you have power to see that design and architectural treatment are concerned, you will find that you are too late when the scheme comes into operation and you hate been given the power to deal with these things under the scheme.

Secondly, in any case—and this is the more important—the existing control which can be imported into the scheme is inadequate for the purpose of enabling adequate architectural treatment to be secured. What is wanted is the power to enable areas to be adequately architecturally treated. For instance, many London squares have been completely spoilt because it has not been possible to secure comprehensive architectural treatment of them. Local authorities have been compelled to deal with each application on its merits, and it has not been found possible under the existing law to lay down comprehensive architectural treatment for the whole of a square. One has only to go to squares in London where new building has taken place to see the effect of the absence of such powers. This applies to squires; it may also apply to whole streets. I hope it may apply to rebuilding in the precincts of this House. Abingdon Street and Millbank lend themselves to some form of comprehensive architectural treatment, and I submit that even if existing powers were imported into the scheme, it would not be possible to ensure that the whole of Abingdon Street and the portion of Millbank that we would like to deal with, could be dealt with comprehensively. I hope the Minister will see his way to accept this Clause or words which will convey its effect, in order to give local authorities this power, particularly during the interim period.

I have complete sympathy with the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) in his desire for far greater architectural control and the exercise of that control by local authorities, but I am surprised at the extent to which he says our powers are, at present, limited. In the case of a London square, for example, if the planning authority concerned—the London County Council—had decided on what it thought should be the general Scheme of architectural control of rebuilding any building in that area, and had refused an application to put up a building which did not comply with their ideas, and the matter had come up before the Minister on appeal, it is quite wrong to think that the Minister would not consider the merits of the authority's scheme. It is the duty of the interim development authority to deal with what they think will be the provisions of the scheme when dealing with interim development applications. I quite agree that some deplorable things have been allowed to happen but I cannot believe that that is inevitable under the Bill as it stands. As I told the hon. Member on the Second Reading, the opinion of my Department and its advisers is that local authorities powers and our powers are not limited to this extent. The Minister's powers are at present limited entirely by the fact that his jurisdiction is confined to those cases which come before us on appeal, and nothing could come before us on appeal unless an interim development authority had rejected an application for the development of land.

May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary a question? Supposing a local authority refused to allow a building to be erected in St. James' Square because it is considered to be too high, would his Ministry support their refusal?

Obviously I cannot say what our decision would be in any individual case; it would be highly improper for me to do so, but if an interim development authority had refused an application on that ground the matter would come before us on appeal and I cannot conceive any Minister not thinking the local authority's reason for their refusal on architectural grounds relevant to his decision on appeal. From Section 12 (1) (c) of the principal Act and Section 19 (1) (c) it seems to me quite clear that an interim development authority with proper care for urban amenities including architecture has powers far less limited than would appear from the speech of the hon. Member for Peckham. I cannot accept his Amendment in its present form but I will repeat the undertaking I gave on the Second Reading. No one is more anxious than I to secure decent architecture in our cities. I know that the Hon. Member and the authority of which he is a member have skilful architectural advice. The Minister will certainly examine any representations made showing where the present Act is in need of amendment and I think this is a matter on which we shall undoubtedly desire to obtain the assistance of the Royal Fine Art Commission. I do not agree That under the existing law there is no power to control buildings put up in the interim period.

The Parliamentary Secretary says he accepts what is sought to be achieved by this Clause but believes that it can be achieved under this law. Is that his position?

I am quite clear that if an interim development authority have formed a scheme in their own minds for the architectural treatment of a Square they can, in the interim development period, use their powers to refuse an application, and that matter can be considered by the Minister, whose duty it will be to consider what the appellant and the authority say on the matter. The appellant may say that the authority's architectural scheme is a bad one. The interim development authority can use arguments based on their proposed architectural treatment.

The Committee is in considerable doubt as to the result of the statement which has just been made on behalf of the Minister. The Parliamentary Secretary has told us of the pledge he gave during the. Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill. Here are the terms of the pledge which he gave to the House on that occasion:

"I can assure him that the possible strengthening of the law, if it needs strengthening, to meet the point to which he gave expression, will certainly be considered by my right hon. Friend."-[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1943; col. 582, Vol. 389.]
Will he say definitely whether he considers that the law needs to be strengthened, or whether he thinks it is adequate and sufficient at the present time? That is the issue which faces us. It is not sufficient to try and evade the point by saying there are certain details in the new Clause which may be the subject of differences of interpretation. We want to get to the substance of this question. Are there sufficient powers now to secure that in the interim development period buildings which are unsuitable and undesirable shall not be erected? If the local authority, for example, refuses an application for interim development, upon the ground that it considers a certain street or square or other place ought to be laid out upon a uniformity of design, elevation and so on, is that the kind of argument which the Minister is going to consider a satisfactory argument, supposing it is put forward honestly and for good reasons? What we want to know is Whether these are considerations upon which the Minister will act if there is an appeal under the existing law.

I certainly do not wish to go back on any pledge I have given. On the contrary, it stands. Nor am I trying to evade any issue.

I want to implement it and I want the hon. Gentlemen opposite to help me to implement it. I thought that in as plain language as I could use extempore on the last occasion I invited that co-operation. I thought the hon. Member was wrong in his view of the limitations of the existing law, but I knew he had given thought to the matter and I thought that at some time he would bring before me the sort of matters he had in mind which we could examine further to see if there is any deficiency in the existing law. The hon. Member may be convinced but he has not convinced me by his speech in support of the proposed new Clause. I do not think a case for this Clause has been made out. I do not agree that the particular difficulties mentioned cannot be dealt with under the law as it stands, but it is possible that there are difficulties and I hope that the hon. Gentleman with his advisers will get into touch with my right hon. Friend and myself so that if not in this Bill then in another Bill we may be able to remedy any defects in the law. If one looks at this Clause many difficulties occur to one straight away. Obviously there would have to be some right of appeal against the imposition of the architecture proposed to be specified. There are a number of matters which would make this Clause in its present form impossible. But having said that I would add that I am in complete sympathy with the object sought. I think it can be largely secured under the existing law, but if hon. Members will consult with us as to what strengthening of the law is needed we will give it our closest consideration.

The Attorney-General is here and perhaps he will appreciate even more fully the point I want to make. As I understand the argument it is that the Minister will have the power on the application of the local authority to give effect to what the local authority intend at a subsequent stage to put into its scheme. I should be very much surprised if the Attorney-General holds that a local authority is entitled to anticipate its scheme by giving effect to it on the interim development stage.

I do not know how it can do anything else. It has to exercise discretion during the interim period, and that must be exercised in the light of its ultimate intention as to the permanent development of the area. I understood my hon. Friend to say, and-I thought it must be right, that in any case where a local authority had thought out the architectural development, say, of a square, it not only could but would have to take into account, in considering development in the interim period, whether that development work would fit in with the ultimate scheme. If it turned down the interim scheme on the ground that it did not then, although, as my hon. Friend says no Minister can pledge himself what he will decide about a particular building in St. James' Square, for instance, I should have thought it impossible to suggest that he would not regard the architectural aspect of the matter as a most vital and relevant consideration in deciding whether he should uphold the refusal.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.

NEW CLAUSE. —(Orders for preservation of buildings under principal Act.)

If it appears to the Minister upon the representations of any persons or otherwise that an order under Sub-section (1) of Section seventeen of the principal Act (which provides for the preservation of certain buildings ought to be made by any of the local authorities mentioned therein, but no such order has been made, the Minister may himself make such an order, and such order shall be deemed to have been made by the council of the county borough or county district within whose district the building to which such order relates is situate, and shall have effect accordingly.—[Mr. Hutchinson.]

Brought up, and read First time.

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This Clause deals with the important subject of the preservation of buildings of special architectural and historical interest. The Committee spent some time earlier to-day in the discussion of this subject. I think that it can fairly be said that that discussion showed that the Committee were of the opinion that the existing provision for the preservation of buildings of this nature had proved insufficient. The provisions of the principal Act are contained in Section 17, which provides that a local authority may make an Order for the preservation of buildings of special architectural' or historical interest. It, however, appears that this power has not proved effective to preserve buildings of this nature to the extent which the Committee, or I think the public, desires that such buildings should be preserved. So far as my researches into the use which has been made of the powers under the Section have gone, that appears to be borne out by the fact that only a very small number of Orders have apparently been made. During the whole period from 1938 to 1941 there were only 14 such Orders. During 1938, which is the last single year for which the Ministry of Health published information, only eight were made, and during the subsequence period from 1939 to 1941 only a further six were made. So that in four years the local authorities have only seen fit to exorcise this special power to preserve buildings of this nature in 14 different instances. It is fair to say that during the earlier period, before 1938, for which I regret that I have not the figures, a number of Orders of this sort may have been made. But still I think the discussion this morning, and the discussion which takes place not infrequently in the public Press on this subject, show that the public are by no means satisfied that the existing powers to preserve these interesting buildings are providing a sufficient safeguard.

There are probably three principal reasons why the local authorities have apparently refrained from exercising these powers. In the first place, there is a certain reluctance on the part of local authorities to constitute themselves arbiters in matters of this nature. I do not at all share the criticisms which many hon. Members have made of the action of local authorities in exercising their planning powers, and I am not by any means suggesting that their reluctance has been due to any failure to appreciate the importance of the subject or the widespread public demand that powers of this sort should be fully exercised. I think it is really due to a certain reluctance which they not unnaturally feel in deciding what particular buildings fall within this special class.

Another reason is, perhaps, that the definition in the principal Act of the class of buildings to which their powers relate has not in certain ways proved satisfactory. These buildings are defined as buildings "of special architectural and historic interest." A local authority may sometimes be faced with rather a perplexing problem when it has to decide whether a particular building has special architectural or historic interest. I hope to move an Amendment to the Schedule to this Bill which aims at altering this definition. The last, and perhaps the most important reason why local authorities have re frained hitherto from exercising these powers is that, if they make use of them, they may expose themselves to claims for compensation. There again I hope to move an Amendment to the Schedule of this Bill which deals with that matter.

This new Clause proposes to deal with these difficulties in this way. One of the defects of Section 17 appears to be that, unless the local authority decide to make an Order for the preservation of a particular building, no one can compel them to do so. Nobody can make the Order for them: If they decide not to use their powers, that is the end of the matter both so far as the persons who may be interested in the building are concerned and so far as the Minister is concerned. The new Clause proposes to give the' Minister power to make an Order under Section 17 of the principal.Act in a case where it appears to him—

Do I understand that the hon. and learned Member is discussing the second new Clause in his name? I have not allowed him to discuss the two together.

I am discussing the first new Clause, but I respectfully submit that I must to some extent also refer to Section 17 of the principal Act.

The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned that there was a second new Clause in his name, but I want to make it clear that we are not discussing that new Clause.

Perhaps I ought to make it plain that the purpose of the new Clause I am,moving now is to give the Minister power to make an Order under Section 17 of the principal Act if the local authority fails to make such an Order. I suggest that this new Clause will provide a solution of the difficulties which we were discussing earlier to-day. The Minister is in a better position in any particular case to decide whether the buildings which it is desired to preserve fall within the scope of Clause 17. He has the advice of the Royal Fine Arts Commission. He may also have the advice of the Commissioners of Works', and he has the advice of his own achitectural staff. This Clause proposes that the Minister may act upon representations of any persons or otherwise. Earlier to-day something was said about similar' words which appeared in another Amendment which I moved. The purpose of this expression is to make clear that the Minister may act upon the representations of any persons who desired to make representations to him and to make equally clear that he may also act if no representations at all are made' to him. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Dr. Thomas) put it to me earlier that this was a somewhat clumsy expression. But unless some such words are introduced, it will be said that the Minister has no power to receive representations about these buildings at all.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. J. Dugdale) has on the Order Paper a Clause which covers very nearly the same ground as the Clause before us, and if he wishes to move his new Clause formally that is a matter for his decision, but it would probably be for the convenience of the Committee as a whole to discuss the two Clauses together if he will agree.

The hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) has just told us that there were 28 Orders under Section 17 in four years.

There were 14 Orders. There were six Orders during 1938 and eight Orders have been made since.

At any rate, my mathematics not being up to that very rapid addition, I will say that the number is exceedingly small. He has stated also that the principal reason is the question of compensation. The new Clause which I wish to move demands a straightforward repeal of Section 18. As hon. Members are aware, Section 17 says:

"The council…may at any time make an order with respect to any building of special architectural or historic interest within that area,"
and that without their consent the building shall not be demolished. But Section 18 says:
"Any person whose property is injuriously affected by the coming into operation…of an Order under Section seventeen of this Act…shall be…entitled to recover as compensation from the responsible authority…the amount by which the property is decreased in value."
The net result of Section 18 has been that Section 17 has virtually remained a deadletter. I have had some experience, as other Members have had, particularly the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), of serving on the Town Planning Committee of the London County Council, and during that time, with the very best will in the world to preserve anything that was thought worth preserving in London, we were unable to preserve anything whatever because we could not bring into operation Section 17 without rendering ourselves liable for payments of compensation under Section 18 and getting into endless complications as a result. It is the same with other local authorities. I have tried to discover whether there is any method at all under the Town Planning Act of preserving any building without giving compensation to the owners. I think I am correct in saying that even Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral are not sacrosanct, that they could be destroyed, were such a thing possible, if the owners demanded compensation and said that they would destroy them unless they got it. I am not suggesting that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners are going to do this, but I do suggest that many buildings, perhaps not as important as those I have mentioned, have in fact been destroyed in recent years. As an example I would mention Regent Street. If Regent Street could be destroyed have we any hope that St. James' Square, or Fitzroy Square, or any other of the better squares in London, have a chance of remaining intact in the coming years? We have seen also the destruction of houses such as Devonshire House and Chesterfield House, and what is to prevent the destruction of a building such as Chelsea Hospital, because there is nothing—and I cannot repeat this too often—that can prevent an owner from destroying his building unless he is given compensation.

The hon. Member says "Quite right." Supposing I live in a house that is of architectural merit and supposing I do not want to destroy it at all. If an Order is made that I cannot destroy it I can demand compensation for not doing a thing I had no intention of doing. Anybody else throughout the country can do exactly the same thing. I think it is a thoroughly unsatisfactory state of affairs. There are a number of us who, some years ago, took exception to the action of the Nazis in Germany in burning their books. I would submit that it is just as bad to destroy our very great architectural monuments as it is to burn our books.

I agree with that, but a man does not insist on destroying buildings. If he,gets an offer for a building and you say he shall not destroy it, the man is quite justified in saying, "You must compensate me." I cannot see any wrong in that.

That sounds very reasonable. Yet on occasions it will do great harm. Personally, I think it is very unfortunate that it should be so. We may take the line, of course, that these things do not matter, that it really does not matter very much what happens to any of these buildings. If so, let us say so quite definitely. We may say that it is a waste of tithe. Then let us say so plainly, not only to ourselves but to the Americans. Let us say quite firmly to the Americans that we do not think it is of great importance to preserve these buildings and that Iv do not very much mind if they do fall by the wayside.

Let us say we do not even mind if this House is replaced by a building similar to the Woolworth building. Let us say that all these things are of no consequence and that we wish to preserve our rights as a free people to destroy buildings, because that is what -the law says at the present moment. If, in fact, that is our view, there is nothing more to be said, but, if we do care, I submit that we should take action now to prevent the speculative builder from destroying our fine buildings just as we have taken action to prevent our Fascist enemies from destroying other buildings with their bombing. I hope that we shall find after this war that we have some fine buildings still standing. So many have been destroyed of the very greatest importance that we should preserve those that may remain. I hope we shall not find that, as a result of inaction in this particular, the speculative builders and others who hope to make a quick profit out of our buildings do not destroy more buildings than have in fact been destroyed by the enemy's bombing.

I very much hope the Minister this time will not just express sympathy with the spirit of this new Clause and point out that he is unable to accept the wording or that this is not the proper place or time for it. Possibly the Minister is unwilling to take powers which might involve his imposing financial obligations on reluctant local authorities. But the remedy for that has already been pointed out. If either the Amendment in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) or the new Clause of the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. J. Dugdale) were adopted, I think that would dispose of that objection, but it is surely of great importance that there should be some appeal to the Minister where the local authority, either through negligence or through ignorance, or because of reluctance to incur financial obligations, fails to do its duty not merely to this generation, but to posterity, because this is a matter of the utmost importance.

A good owner of property feels he is not just owning it for himself and his family; if he has an historical building that has come to him, he rightly feels that he has a duty to the country and to generations to come in preserving it, and a local authority ought to feel the same with regard to those historical and beautiful buildings -in their areas. The best local authorities, I think, do that, but we know that there are some authorities which are negligent, or careless, or indifferent, and in those cases surely it is of the greatest value that there should be an opportunity of appeal to the Minister. He need not exercise the right this Clause confers upon him unless he is convinced it is in the public interest. He will certainly be very careful about exercising it, because no Minister likes to interfere with local authorities or to pass a measure over their heads, but if he is convinced that a beautiful, ancient historic building is in danger of destruction, and he knows that the local authorities are not using the power they have, surely he ought not to refuse the opportunity given to him by this new Clause to protect and preserve this building, not only for this generation, but for generations yet to come.

I do not intend to take up more than a moment, nor do I intend to discuss the new Clause moved by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson), but I hope the Minister will not accept the argument of the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. J. Dugdale). I know I should be out of Order to extend the scope of the Debate, but there is a great principle here involved.

On a point of Order. I have an Amendment on the Paper to a Schedule to this Bill which raises this question of payment of compensation in respect of this particular class of buildings. Are we in order in discussing the question of compensation on my Clause, may I ask? Might it not be more convenient to postpone the discussion until we come to that Amendment?

I am quite sure it would not be more convenient. The hon. and learned Gentleman himself got rather wide, as other Members possibly have done. Also it is not necessarily the case that the Amendment will be called.

I have no intention of extending it, but you did suggest, Mr. Williams, that we might discuss at the same time the proposed new Clauses. The only thing I want to say is that I cannot think of anybody who has sense of beauty not being interested in retaining historical buildings. I do not want to see vandalism going on. What I would say is that if we are keen on this, if we are keen in restricting the owner's rights, then it is perfectly just that he should be compensated for the loss of his freedom of action.

I respect the argument of my hon. Friend, but I do want him to realise the inevitable reactions of his argument. London is a mass of ancient buildings, is full of artistic monuments which are not only the pride of London people but are the common possession of the whole of the British Commonwealth. Nowadays you will see Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand officers and men wandering about, not only in the West End but North, South, East, and West, finding some of the buildings which they have learned about and seen pictures of for many years. London is really the symbol of the Commonwealth; and, from what I am informed, perhaps the only buildings of historical value in London that are safe from destruction are Crown property. There is no danger, for instance, of the Abbey or this building or any of the properties belonging to the City Corporation being destroyed. When they come to monuments belonging to private interests, it is now suggested by the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) that the owners should be able to hold up the State to ransom by threatening to destroy the buildings if they are not compensated.

That is the law at present; I am not asking for something new. The hon. Gentleman opposite wants to alter the law, and all I ask is that the owner's rights shall be safeguarded in that respect.

Yes, but if a building is of historical value and is private property, all that the owner has to do is to threaten its destruction if he is not assured of compensation. Let us take the case of Queen Anne's Gate, one of the finest streets in London and of great historical interest. It may be Crown property—I do not know—but if it happens to be private property, obviously it might be a commercial proposition to turn it into a big private hotel or block of flats. If' it is scheduled as an ancient monument, the' owner might well threaten to pull it down, if in that way he could obtain compensation. My hon. Friend opposite has had practical experience of this sort of thing at work. I understand from him that as soon as property is scheduled an attempt is made to hold- the community up to ransom—I do not like to use the word "blackmail," as that would be unfair. Take the case of the Inns of Court. Part of the Inns of Court has been destroyed; but other parts, thank God, have escaped the bombs. If the shrewd lawyers who are the trustees of that property were to be told that if they threatened to pull those buildings down the local authority would have to compensate them for their self-denial in keeping them up, it would be a very serious position. We have, fortunately, two very learned Members present. The Minister in charge of the Bill is a distinguished lawyer, and he has the Attorney-General on his left and a former Attorney-General on his right. We should like some guidance from them. London is full of beautiful and historical associations. It would be a tragedy if in years to come we should approach the problem of this development on purely commercial lines.

I find this Clause proposed by my hon. Friend extremely attractive as a rather uncomfortable tenant of a Bill whose purpose it is to control new buildings and new development. That is what the Bill sets out to do, and here is a Clause not to control new building and development but to preserve old buildings. Though both may be very good objects, new developments and the preservation of old buildings, they make very awkward bed-fellows. I would not like to accept the new. Clause without seeing clearly what it all means. It is rather significant that the discussion which started with the aesthetic qualities of old buildings and the desire for their preservation should have finished on the sordid topic of money, but the two things are unmistakably intertwined. The hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. J. Dugdale), who shares the same object and desires the preservation of these old buildings, has proposed a clear-cut proposition, which is to deny compensation at all for these buildings if subject to a preservation Order. That is a very great deal to inject in a Bill for controlling new development, and I would ask for a little time to consider if it could be fitted in or what we should do about it. Let me put up one of my difficulties. It raises not only the money question but the whole question of the default power of the Minister over local authorities who are not carrying out what they should do. That is a comprehensive question. I should like to consider it as part of transitional legislation dealing with that matter and not hang it on to an important but subsidiary question involving ancient buildings. If one could deal with the matter in a comprehensive way, it would be far better.

Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking to bring in another Bill of this kind within the next few months or the present Session?

I cannot give a timetable. There is a great deal to be done at the present time, but it will be necessary to introduce new legislation to recast the planning system, and all sorts of questions will have to come up for consideration.

I do not ask my right hon. Friend to give me any undertaking about the matter, but will he give the Committee an assurance that when these new powers are considered, special consideration will be given to this important question of the preservation of ancient buildings?

I will certainly give that assurance. When we get our new powers we shall review the whole question of historic and ancient buildings, and I believe that we shall make a better job of it than by proceeding with this Clause as it is now. The cost of this is vital. I cannot accept the suggestion put forward by the hon. Member for West Bromwich that you should exclude compensation. If I took powers to force local authorities not to take certain action with regard to particular buildings, there might be strong claims against me for an Exchequer contribution to pay for it. The object has my entire approval and sympathy, but I think it can be dealt with better and more comprehensively later and I ask my hon. and learned Friend to accept my assurance.

The Minister's statement illustrates, not for the first time, that this Bill is but a miserable little mouse in spite of the quantitative support it has had from the legal profession throughout. I hope that what my right hon. Friend has said in rather general terms will be translated into a concrete pledge that he is going to deal with this important question in one of the numerous Bills which, as a result of this Bill being brought in, the Government have discovered for the first time it will be necessary to bring forward in the future. One of the most urgent things the Department should have dealt with when it was first formed was the question of the preservation of ancient buildings. I hope it will be dealt with by the Department at an early date.

Does the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dug-dale) wish to withdraw his new Clause?

In view of the fact that the Minister has said,that he would consider the matter seriously and will introduce something which will help towards the object I have in view, I will not press my new Clause.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.

NEW CLAUSE. —(Variation of agreements.)

(1) Where since an agreement was entered into under Section thirty-four of the principal Act (which empowers a person to enter into an agreement with any of the authorities therein mentioned to make his land subject to conditions restricting the planning, development or use thereof) it has become expedient owing to a change of circumstances or otherwise to vary or annul the agreement such variation or annulment may be effected either—
(a) by an agreement between such person or the person deriving title under him and the authority with whom the original agreement was made, or
(b) by an order of the Minister on the application of such person or the person deriving title under him or of such authority.
(2) Any agreement entered into under this Section may be enforced in like manner and to the like extent as an agreement under the said Section thirty-four.—[Mr. Hutchinson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This new Clause, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland), deals with a very small matter but one to which certain local authorities attach a good deal of importance. In Clause 4 the Bill provides that an interim consent to development may be varied or revoked at the discretion or authority of the Minister. Development is not only controlled by an interim development Order but in certain cases it may be controlled by agreement under Section 34 of the principal Act made between the development authority and the owner of the land. Although this Act provides that consent may be revoked or varied it deals in no way with agreement under Section 34 and this new Clause seeks to enable an agreement made in those circumstances to be revoked or varied in certain conditions in the same way as interim consent may be revoked or varied. It seems right that if development which is controlled by consent may be varied by some subsequent variation or revocation then development which is controlled by agreement under Section 34 should be dealt with in the same way.

I am unable to accept this new Clause which has been moved by my hon. and learned Friend. I think there may be some misunderstanding about it. It is one thing to vary an agreement by consent of the parties but quite mother for one party with the consent of the Minister to vary a contract without the consent of the other party to it. What my hon. and learned Friend has in mind can, I think, be dealt with in another way. In so far as an agreement can be said to embody an interim development consent, undoubtedly that interim development consent can be varied under the Bill. It seems to be of importance to maintain the principles, first that, where an interim development permission is given, its nature and effect are not altered by the fact that it is given as part of an agreement under Section 34; and secondly that an agreement under Section 34 which does not in terms confer interim development permission does not release the landowner from the necessity for obtaining such permission. That, I think, is the position under the law if we do not accept this Amendment, and I think if my hon. and learned Friend—who I think is gallantly taking the place of an absent Member—reconsiders it, he may reach that conclusion himself. Perhaps in these circumstances he will' consent to withdraw the Amendment.

Before I do that, may I ask my hon. Friend if he is of opinion that an agreement under Section 34 of the principal Act may be varied under this Bill by reason of the power to vary a consent Order?

I think it all depends on what you mean by varying an agreement. In so far as it contains an interim development consent, that consent can be varied.

In view of the explanation of my hon. Friend, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

First Schedule agreed to.

SECOND SCHEDULE.—( Repeas of 22 and 23 Geo. 5 C. 48.)

I beg to move, in page 12, line 43, at the end to add:

"Section seventeen.—In Sub-section (1) the word special.
Section eighteen.—In Sub-section (1, a) the words or by the coming into operation of an Order under Section seventeen of this Act ' and the words or Order."
The purpose of this Amendment is to amend Section 17 of the principal Act. As I was explaining to the Committee a few moments ago. Section 17 of the principal Act deals with the preservation of buildings of special architectural or historic interest. The definition of this class of buildings is "buildings of special architectural or historic interest." That is a very unsatisfactory definition. One of the reasons why local authorities have been reluctant to exercise their powers under this section of the principal Act has been the difficulty which they have felt in determining whether a building was of "special architectural or historic interest." The difficulty really arises owing to the introduction of the word "special" in the definition. A building may be architecturally interesting and may be historically interesting but that is not sufficient. The planning authority has to determine whether it is of special architectural interest or special historic interest. No authority would find much difficulty in deciding that a building such. as Westminster Abbey is a building of special architectural interest; but many buildings which most people regard as having a good deal of architectural interest would not necessarily be regarded as possessing that special degree of interest which would justify an Order.

If I may take the example to which the right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir Percy Harris) referred a moment ago, the houses in Queen Anne's Gate, there you have a group of houses undoubtedly of architectural interest. But there are numerous houses in different parts of London of exactly the same architectural type. Can it be said that the houses in Queen Anne's Gate are houses of special architectural interest which would justify an Order being made under this Section? I see the Parliamentary Secretary nods his head, and I am glad that he agrees with that, but the difficulty is that it is not my right hon. Friend who has to decide this. In fact he has just rejected my proposal that he should do so. It is the local authority which has to decide this. It is not in the mind of my right hon. Friend that these doubts arise, but in the mind of the unfortunate local authority. If I may give one more example, the Minister without Portfolio carries on his operations in a building in Whitehall which is undoubtedly a building of architectural interest. But, there again, there exist many buildings in London of very much the same character. If one was asked to say whether that building possesses special architectural interest, it might be difficult for a local authority to say whether it did or not. Local authorities might take different views, and architects might take different views. I hope my right hon. Friend will agree to take out this word which has been the source of a great deal of the ineffectiveness of the power it was intended to give local authorities, and leave them the easier and more straightforward task of determining whether a particular building is of architectural or historic interest or not.

I should like to congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on the skill with which he has woven in and out the words "special architectural interest" and "architectural interest." It is clear, even from his attempt to put it clearly before us, that it must remain forever a matter of taste as to whether a building is in one category or the other. I do not see how the task of local authorities would be made easier by leaving out the word "special." I should imagine that there are very few buildings in the world which have not some architectural interest—even the morbid interest of being a horrible example of what should not be done. If we were to have preservation Orders for such monstrosities, we should find ourselves ossifying and petrifying forever the good with the bad. If merely interest were to be the criterion whether this process of picking was to be performed, we should be very much worse off than we are. At least the word "special" makes people a little seriously consider whether there is something about the architectural or historical interest of a building which puts it in a separate category from other buildings which have an historic interest. The thing is made easier if we stick to the words.

I think the Minister in his handling of the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument has been unjust to the substance of his argument. The Minister's argument would imply that a specially bad building has a special architectural interest. If you really want to preserve it, you want to give the widest powers and the greatest encouragement to local authorities to do so, and the hon. and learned Gentleman made it clear how difficult in certain cases the decision is for a local authority which is hampered by the construction of the word "special." I hope, if the Amendment cannot be accepted now, the right hon. Gentleman will consider the possibility of accepting it in another place.

I hope I was not unfair in the treatment that I gave to the subject. It may be carrying it a little too far to say a horrible example of historical interest, though you could not say it was -not. But there is in between the extreme that I took and the other extreme of a beautiful Minster like York, a great area; and certainly by leaving out the word "special" would would be bound to include a lot of buildings of architectural interest which were not really worth preservation if some social object could be secured by redeveloping the site.

Amendment negatived.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.