Front Page Titles (by Subject) SIR JOHN LUBBOCK'S ANCIENT MONUMENTS BILL. ( From The Economist, 17 th April, 1875.) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review)
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SIR JOHN LUBBOCK’S ANCIENT MONUMENTS BILL. ( From “ The Economist, ” 17 th April, 1875.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 9.
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SIR JOHN LUBBOCK’S ANCIENT MONUMENTS BILL.
Sir John Lubbock achieved a great victory over the ignorant Conservatism of the House of Commons and the indolent Conservatism of the Government in carrying the second reading of his “Ancient Monuments Bill,” on Wednesday, by a majority of 22, in spite of the obstinate resistance of the Treasury, in the person of Mr. W. H. Smith. It is true that the greater personages of the Government did not speak and did not even vote against the measure, and that a great many steady Conservatives and even Tories voted with Sir John Lubbock; still the Treasury, in the person of Mr. W. H. Smith, gave its earnest resistance to the Bill, and the Treasury was beaten. And no wonder; for Mr. Smith had nothing to say against the Bill, except that in his view, in order to carry out the design of the Bill properly, the cost would be, not hundreds, but “hundreds of thousands” of pounds. That was gross exaggeration of Mr. Smith’s; and besides, the answer is so easy. The Bill does not compel the Government to make any grant towards the expense of carrying out its provisions which the Treasury cannot reasonably afford. They have just the same power of cutting down the estimates to be demanded by the Commissioners for Preserving Ancient Monuments whom the Bill proposes to appoint, as they have of cutting down the estimates of any other officials whose expenses are thrown upon the Treasury. The eleventh clause of the Act says,—“the Commissioners may employ such persons and incur such expenses for the purposes of this Act as the Treasury may allow”. It is therefore childish to assert that the Treasury will have to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds for the purposes of this Act, unless the Treasury itself intends to sanction an expenditure to that amount; and if it does, whose fault is that? Obviously a great deal may be effected with very little expenditure indeed; and as regards the purchase of the right to protect local monuments, we may expect that the funds will be very frequently provided out of local sources, and if not, the Treasury can simply decline to provide it unless they really consider the value of the national object to be commensurate with the expense. A terrible outcry was made by the party which habitually pushes the rights of property beyond the extreme verge of either reason or justice, as to the injury which might be done to cultivators who are thinking of taking the land round some ancient dyke, for instance, running for many miles, perhaps, through the country, into cultivation, and who may be prevented from doing so by the Commissioners giving them notice that it is an Ancient Monument, and that if they wish to destroy it, they must first give the Commissioners an alternative right to buy it from them, or at least to buy from them the right of prohibiting any such destructive use of its site. But how could this injury be done? All that will be required of the tenant or owner of such an Ancient Monument will be some three months’ delay in the execution of their plan. Within that time the Commissioners must either assent to the destructive operations proposed, or must agree to purchase from the owner or the tenant, as the case may be, the monument itself, or at least the right of restraining any injury to it. Now the effect of this arrangement will be rather to increase the value of such places to the needy cultivators than to diminish it. We strongly suspect that in the case of needy men, propositions to injure the ancient monuments which their land contains for agricultural purposes will be not unfrequently made, without any very serious intention of actually carrying out the proposal, in case the Commissioners decline to treat for the right to preserve them;—in other words, propositions of a tentative character will be made rather in the view of procuring the certain compensation, than in the view of securing the uncertain advantage derivable from taking what is very often exceedingly unprofitable land into cultivation. Of course, pasturing sheep or cattle is no injury at all to Ancient Monuments of the kind contemplated. Cattle and sheep might pasture on the most curious Roman camps or other relics of antiquity without doing them any harm in the world. It is only building or agricultural operations which will endanger monuments of this kind, and such operations are much more likely to be suggested as a consequence of this Bill, i.e. with a view to obtaining the offer of compensation than they would be if this Bill should fail to pass. So far from seriously interfering with the rights of property, this Bill will in very many cases add to the value of the property to which it relates.
We scarcely ever remember to have read a debate in which the arguments of the Government and its supporters were so destitute even of plausibility. Mr. W. H. Smith, after pleading that the Government might not have strength of mind to keep down the pecuniary requisitions of the Ancient Monuments Commissioners within such reasonable sums as would not seriously affect the Estimates, went on to say that he objected to the Bill, because it would have a tendency to relieve owners of property of responsibilities, “which they had hitherto been called on to discharge, and had in the main discharged faithfully and well”. A more pumped-up and artificial argument it would not be easy to discover. In the first place, the contention of several of Mr. W. H. Smith’s friends had been that there were no real responsibilities on the owners of Ancient Monuments except such as they themselves spontaneously chose to assume—the very essence of the criticisms on the Bill being that it was unjust to hamper the temporary or permanent proprietors of these monuments by forbidding them to destroy them at their own pleasure, and in the interests of their own property. And in the next place, Lord F. Hervey had made what was held to be the hit of the debate on his own side of the question, by ridiculing the notion that it was of any consequence to any one to preserve permanent records of a horde of barbarians “who stained themselves blue, sat under the mistletoe, and indulged in obscene rites”. Such being the views of some of Mr. W. H. Smith’s chief allies in resisting the Bill, it was hardly competent to him to deprecate any inroad on that profound sense of responsibility, which, according to the Secretary to the Treasury, at present inspires the owners or tenants of Ancient Monuments, and induces them to keep these monuments in good preservation. And not only did the speeches of Mr. Smith’s allies refute Mr. Smith’s own allegations, but in point of fact they were not objections at all to Sir John Lubbock’s Bill. Those guardians of Ancient Monuments who really do feel their responsibilities for these monuments to the public, are not touched by the Bill at all. They may not, indeed, after notice has been given to them, “injure or permit injury” to the monument without obtaining either the consent of the Commissioners or their refusal to buy if not the monument itself, at least the right to prevent its being injured; and Mr. Smith suggests that the fear of injury happening to it without the intention or wish of the owner, is likely to weigh so much on the owner’s mind that he will be compelled at once to apply to the Commissioners to relieve him of his guardianship by taking the monument off his hands. But Mr. Smith can hardly have read the Bill on which he was commenting when he offered this suggestion. It is true that after the property in, or a power of restraint as regards any injury to, an “Ancient Monument” has been already acquired by the Commissioners, then suitable penalties are to be enforced against any persons “unlawfully and wilfully” injuring it, though even in this case the condition that the injury must be “wilful” would completely prevent anything like risk attaching to involuntary neglect. But Mr. W. H. Smith’s remark applies, of course, not to monuments in which the Commissioners have already acquired rights, but to those still wholly in the ownership of their original proprietors. And in that case the only penalty provided for injuries inflicted by the legal owners or tenants on the monuments in question, is the penalty of forthwith giving the Commissioners a right to restrain such injuries for the future. In other words, the owner of an Ancient Monument, who has not yet parted with any right in it to the Commissioners, and who involuntarily or otherwise injures it, is not liable to any such penalty as the eighth clause imposes for the mischief already done, but only to the penalty declared in the fifth clause, which is the very light one of thereby conferring on the Commissioners the right to restrain him from further injury. But an act of carelessness or negligence, the worst penalty of which is that it invests the Commissioners with the power of guardianship for the future, will not be so formidable in its consequences as to frighten any proprietor into the immediate transfer to the Commissioners of a monument which he himself values and is genuinely anxious to preserve to the country. Mr. Smith’s grotesque fear of diminishing the rather diminutive sense of responsibility which English squires or farmers now feel for the preservation of our national monuments, is as groundless a fear as a practical man ever persuaded himself that he really felt. Those proprietors who really care for these things will know very well that the Commissioners would be as little likely to interfere with them as the Treasury (whose sanction for any expense must be obtained) itself. And as for those proprietors or owners who don’t care for the preservation of national monuments, why it is precisely for the purpose of curbing their unruly proprietary bigotry that this Bill is proposed.
The House of Commons did well on Wednesday to reject the advice of the Treasury officials. Ancient Monuments are not less important, and in some respects are more important to the country, than ancient chronicles or records. Indeed, they are ancient chronicles and records with all the vividness of real life about them. And it is even less reasonable to complain of the invasion of property involved in simply restraining proprietors from acts of destruction, than it is to complain of such an invasion of property in cases where owners are compelled to sell unwholesome streets or houses on the ground that disease accumulates in them and that vice thrives. Property has its duties to the national mind no less than to the moral or physical well-being of the nation.