§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ The FIRST COMMISSIONER of WORKS (Mr. Harcourt)
Perhaps it would be as well for me to give a brief explanation of this Bill. It contains only one clause, designed to attain a single and simple object, by the only method known to our procedure, by which a chapel can be unconsecrated. This chapel is now disused. There is no cure of souls. It has no congregation. It has been dismantled inside, and it only cumbers the ground. It cannot be got rid of except by tins method of procedure. The Bill only applies to the site of the chapel, not to the site of the Duke of York's School, for dealing with which no legislative powers at all are required. It is merely to enable me to remove this now useless building that this Bill has been introduced.
§ Mr. HOARE
moved as an Amendment, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
I hope it will not be thought that my opposition to a Bill which looks harmless is either vexatious or obstructive. I find, in passing, that opposing the disposal of the site of the Duke of York's School is almost the inherent right of the representative of the Constituency which has sent me to this House, for on reference to past pages of "Hansard" I see two of my predecessors in the representations of the Constituency addressed to Ministers a number of questions with reference to the way in which this historical and extensive open space is to be dealt with. On the face of it this is a harmless measure. The object of the Bill is apparently to free the site of the old chapel of the Duke of York's School from ecclesiastical uses. Let me say, in passing, I understand the Commissioner of Works is breaking away from the traditions which have up to a recent date attached to Bills to desecrate consecrated buildings. I believe it has hitherto been the practice to obtain the formal approval of the bishop of the diocese. The failure to obtain that approval, however, is not the ground on which I am opposing this measure. I oppose it because I regard it as an integral part of the general scheme 627 for dealing with and disposing of one of the largest and most historic open spaces in the central district of London. Three weeks ago I asked the right hon. Gentleman what was going to happen to this site. He gave me a very unsympathetic answer. He practically said he was prepared to dispose of it to the highest bidder. I regard this particular Bill as dealing with a very salient point in connection with the site. I believe it would be extremely difficult to develop the site of twelve acres on commercial lines if this particular piece is not free from ecclesiastical uses, and I take this opportunity of opposing the general scheme for disposing of the whole twelve acres. This is one of the best known open spacer, in the West of London. Hon. Members will remember the massive Georgian building and the large tracts of grass surrounding it. I understand that when the school was moved a year ago there was some understanding that the money required for building a new school should be obtained by the sale of the present site, but I should like further information from the Commissioner of Works before the whole site is sacrificed. In the answer he gave me three weeks ago he implied, in the first place, that there was no great need for this open space in this part of London, because there are a great many other open spaces, such as Chelsea Barracks and Hospital. He also implied that it was not in the legal and technical sense of the word an open space. In reference to the fact that this district is already well supplied with open spaces, I quite realise that Chelsea is more fortunate than a great many other districts in the centre of London, but that seems to be no reason whatever for sacrificing any one of the open spaces which it already enjoys. It is no doubt fortunate. I hope it will remain fortunate in this matter of open spaces. But I repeat, that is no reason for sacrificing this particular twelve acres. With reference to the second point, that this tract of land is not legally and technically an open space, I quite agree it never has been, and is not at the present time legally open to the public. But it seems a very analogous case to that of the square gardens. These are not legally open spaces in the sense that they are open to the general public, but somehow the general public have got to feel that they have a very real interest in their preservation as open spaces, and if it is proposed to build over any one of these square gardens, a large number of which 628 London enjoys, an outcry is immediately raised. On one or two occasions when a. private landowner has proposed to build over a square garden, although entirely within his legal rights, there has been such an outcry that the municipal bodies of London have been compelled to take action. I have here a case in which the London County Council had such pressure brought to bear upon it that in one instance, that of the Albert Square, it was compelled to pay many thousands of pounds to keep the space open simply because the public felt that they had a right to its preservation. In a second case, that of a square at Kensington, there was such strong feeling that certain hon. Members opposite, who were then Members of the London County Council, actually promoted a Bill to prevent private landowners building over square gardens. It is a curious fact that this particular site was, when it was bought by the Commissioners of the Duke of York's School, the property of the largest landowner in the district, the Lord Cadogan of the day. One hundred and ten years ago it was the town residence of the then Lord Cadogan. Imagine for a moment that this site, instead of having been sold to the Commissioners, had been leased to them, and the lease had fallen in, and the Lord Cadogan of the day proposed to do what the right hon. Gentleman opposite is proposing to do, and build over it. We all know what would have happened. We should have had such an outcry in the Press that it would have afforded the raw material for the whole of the campaign of the gentleman who might be called upon to oppose me at the next General Election. I heard enough about the iniquities of ground landlords at the last election; what would it have been if the greatest ground landlord in the district had proposed to build over an extensive open space extending to no less than twelve acres, which the public had got to regard almost as its own? If it is wrong for a private landowner to be guilty of an action of that kind, surely the same code of morals applies to a public Department. It may be rapacity or it may not be rapacity on the part of a private landowner, but it matters not in the least to the neighbourhood whether the person who builds over the site is the ground landlord or a public Department. The site is built over, and London loses one of those lungs upon which it depends so much for its fresh air. I believe at the 629 present time, if this was the property of a private landowner, the agitation would go even still further.
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that only last year one of his colleagues passed, or was instrumental in passing, a Housing and Town Planning Act, and it seems to me to be principally designed to deal with cases such as this particular site. I could refer the right hon. Gentleman to a large number of clauses of this very lengthy Act, which seem to me to exactly apply to a site of this kind. In Part II., Section 54, it is provided that a town planning scheme may be made in accordance with provisions of this part of the Act as respects any land which is in course of development, or which appears likely to be used for building purposes, with the general object of securing proper sanitary conditions, amenity, and convenience in connection with the laying out and the use of the land or any neighbouring land. That seems to me to exactly describe this particular site. I could also refer him to other clauses which distinctly say that one of three things should happen when sites of this kind are threatened by building or development In the first place it is enacted that the private landowner should be called upon to make a scheme to ensure the safeguarding of public interest, and in the second place, supposing the private landowner refuses to do that, the county council may step in, and either compel him to produce a scheme of his own or make a scheme of their own. Thirdly, if they refuse to do that they are at the mercy of the Local Government Board, who come in and say, "You are not carrying out your duties as a local authority properly, and we must make a scheme over your head." At present the London County Council is only too anxious to see some such scheme drawn up. I understand that the late chairman of the county council and the clerk are making representations to the Commissioner of Works with this end in view, but how are you to expect a local authority to do its duty in carrying out an Act which was only passed last year when another colleague of the right hon. Gentleman who was responsible for the Act brings in a Bill with the incidental result of frustrating the application of the Act in this particular locality? It seems to me that the unfortunate county council is between the Devil and the deep sea. I will not press that metaphor too far, but at the same time the county council on the one hand 630 is expected, under the Town Planning Act, to see that some scheme is drawn up for dealing with the site, and if it refuses to do so it is at the mercy of the Local Government Board to come in and make a scheme over its head.
What does the right hon. Gentleman propose to do with the site? Does he propose to develop it entirely as house property, or would he, for instance, consider some sort of compromise by which, at any rate, a part of the site should be preserved for public use? Has he considered the requirements of London traffic? At this point of the King's Road on which the Duke of York's School abuts, the thoroughfare is very narrow. It is one of the main thoroughfares, east and westward, and it is most important that King's Road should be widened at this point. On the west side of the site there is a very narrow street, and it is quite possible in the future, with improvements in the neighbourhood and the demolition of certain houses, that that narrow street might become an artery between Victoria Station and South Kensington, or between the south of the river and South Kensington. It is of the utmost importance that not only should the King's Road be widened at the point of the Duke of York's School, but on the west side also a small street-Cheltenham Terrace-should be widened. I suggested the other day that the site might very profitably be used as the headquarters for the County of London Territorials. I understand the Territorial Force Association for London is very anxious to get headquarters somewhere in a central district, and it seems to me that no site would be more suitable, either for its position or for its historical traditions. It is most important that the site should not be lost, and it could not be used in a better way.
Lastly, I move this Amendment for the reason that it is most important that the London County Council should be able to make its representations, and that the municipal bodies in the neighbourhood should also be able to do so. I ask, What is the hurry? There is surely no particular demand at the present time for more houses in London. I am told that there is a considerable number of empty houses in Chelsea. It seems to me there is no reason for bringing a large site extending to twelve acres into the market when it is known that there are about 50,000 empty houses in the County of London Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman thinks 631 this open space will become an extravagant luxury. It is quite possible if the Budget, in the quest of which we are faint yet pursuing, goes through this House, the increased taxation will make the preservation of these sites very difficult and expensive. The passing of that measure is still problematical, but if this Bill goes through and this site is entirely developed, then a large extent of land will be lost for ever to London in general and to Chelsea in particular. For these reasons, and particularly because we have had no definite information as to the site, I beg to move.
I do not think that in seconding the Amendment I need say very much. I am fortunate enough to come from a country which though poor in many respects, is rich in open spaces. But I am about to become a resident in Chelsea; I know the neighbourhood well, and take very great interest in it. I think the House is entitled to have some assurance from the Government as to what they are going to do in this matter. Of course, I can understand the attitude the Government take up. They see the chapel in the condition which has been described, and they look upon the site as undeveloped land, and wish to redeem it from that un-regenerate condition. I think we are entitled to some assurance as to the way in which it is to be developed. When this chapel is torn down the site will be put to some public use, or it may be made into an open space for the use of the community as a whole, and not for a cinematograph building or something of that sort. Personally, although I should like to see the Territorials housed there, I cannot help hoping that the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to leave it an open space for the benefit of the poor of the locality. Hon. Members know that all round King's Road and Victoria there are a great many streets inhabited by the poor, whose children would use this open space. It is in the interests of the poorer class I speak.
§ Viscount DALRYMPLE
I support the Amendment of my hon. Friend on another ground. The object of this Bill is to do away with the military chapel. So far as I know, that is the only military chapel in London at present which is consecreated, and if any of the troops wish to get married in the other chapels, which they are bound to use, they have to pay a licence of£30 or so to some unknown authority-I do not know who. I did so 632 myself for the privilege of being married in one of these particular chapels. I am certainly opposed to doing away with any consecrated chapel until the others are consecrated. Another reason for opposing this Bill is in connection with the subject of barracks. Taking the barracks in London, the Wellington and Chelsea are probably the most uncomfortable barracks in the British islands. I think that the Wellington Barracks have been condemned for the last twenty years. Everybody thought that they were going to be pulled down until about five years ago, when the whole place was given a new drainage system-a putting of new wine into old bottles. I suppose in future the troops have got to be satisfied with that particular form of barracks which now exists there because they have got new drains. For that reason I oppose doing away with these barracks. We certainly need far more barracks in London. They are not quite so much needed now since the present occupants of office have reduced the number of men, but possibly some day there will be an adequate army maintained in London, which will certainly want barracks.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
I think that the House may not quite understand my position in this matter. I am trustee for the children of the Duke of York's School. I have no power to give away this land or part with it for any purpose, however desirable, except for the benefit of the school and the advantage of the children. I have no power by the Act of Parliament under which I hold this land to devote it to the purpose suggested. It cannot be devoted to that purpose unless it is purchased by somebody who is willing to use it for that purpose. I hope that the hon. Member for Chelsea does not think that I throw any obstacle in the way of its purchase to have it converted into an open space. The Borough Council of Chelsea has not yet approached me, and the London County Council has not yet approached me, as purchasers. If my Friend the Secretary of State for War made me an offer on behalf of the London Territorials I should welcome competition between them all, because that would mean that the boys of the Duke of York's School would profit. But I must point out that the whole of the new school for these children, which has been erected at Dover, with its splendid grounds and swimming baths, which I hope hon. Members passing through Dover will visit, have all been 633 provided by loans advanced on the security of this site. The money for the new Duke of York's School has not been voted by Parliament. It has been advanced in preparation for the sale of this slum. The widening of any streets in this locality would, of course, depend on the way in which any ultimate purchaser determined to lay out the site. I should naturally keep a close eye on the way in which the site was laid out in view of the traffic in the neighbourhood, so far as I was able to effect it. The hon. Member for Chelsea seemed to suggest that the Borough Council of Chelsea and the London County Council had no notice of the way with which this site was to be dealt with. It was advertised in the ordinary way in last November. I gave the statutory notice of the introduction of this Bill; and in answer to questions in this House during the last four years I always stated that the site would be disposed of as soon as the boys were properly housed. In reference to the question of the marriages of troops in a dismantled chapel, I am afraid that the hon. Member for Wigtownshire would not find it a very suitable place. I do not think he could marry there, or that the church could be used for any service or ceremony. It is without a pastor, and is absolutely dismantled. I am acting in this matter merely as trustee for the, advantage of the boys. I am making no profit for the Government out of the sale of the land. I am merely acting for the profit of the Duke of York's School, the interests of which I am bound to look after under the terms of the Act of Parliament.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The right hon. Gentleman has given, in his second speech, a reason which he did not give in his first. He moved the Second Reading in a very short speech, illuminated, no doubt, by his accustomed wit. The chief words in his speech were that the Bill was a curious Bill, that it consisted of eight preambles and one clause, and, having said that, sat down. Having had the privilege of listening to the right hon. Gentleman for some years, and knowing his great ability, I thought there must be something concealed in his mind which he did not want to reveal. The right hon. Gentleman saw that it would not go down with this House. It was different in the last House, when they had their big battalions behind them, and when their supporters stayed in the smoke-room and other places, and it was not necessary to 634 advance some argument in favour of a Bill. But, seeing that the Second Reading was likely to be treated adversely, the right hon. Gentleman gets up and poses as the champion of the interests of the boys, and remarks that any hon. Members going to the Continent might stop at Dover and see the swimming baths provided for the lads. Why were we not told of all this before?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
There are many things which I do not know, but I learn a great deal from listening to the right hon. Gentleman. I am not going abroad, and, therefore, I shall not have an opportunity of stopping at Dover to verify the statements of the right hon. Gentleman, which, of course, I accept in good faith. Since when has the right hon. Gentleman constituted himself the champion of the boys of the Duke of York's School?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
What is the difference between a trustee and champion? I understood that a trustee was a person who was appointed to do the best he could for the people who were beneficiaries of the trust. That was my idea in old-fashioned phraseology. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would explain the difference in his mind between champion and trustee. The right hon. Gentleman poses as the trustee of the boys. Is it, or is it not the fact that the authorities connected with the school have objected to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman? [HON. MEMBERS: "What authorities?"] The Governing Body of the school have objected to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
The decision was taken by the late Executive Government before I came into office. I dare say objections were made at the time, but no objections have been made to the building of the school I have provided for.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I have no doubt the buildings provided by the right hon. Gentleman are very excellent. I ask is it not the fact that the Governing Body of the school have objected to the proposals in this Bill?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I should be the last person to accuse the right hon. Gentleman of endeavouring to evade a clear issue, but I did not ask him whether they had the power, but whether they had objected.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am informed, I do not give it on my own authority. If it is the fact that they have objected-[HON. MEMBERS: "To what?"] To the Bill, what else would they object to. I am not venturing to assert that they objected to the right hon. Gentleman as trustee, but only to the Bill. If it is the fact, and the right hon. Gentleman does not contradict that the Governing Body do object to this Bill, may I ask if he would consent to the adjournment of the Debate until we can ascertain what the views of the Governing Body are? That seems to me to be a reasonable prposition.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
As the right hon. Gentleman has now denied that they object of course he stands by that statement. Possibly on the Committee stage we may be able to discuss that again. I stated that I listened to this Debate with an open mind. I know the position of the site in question. I happen to be a ratepayer in Chelsea, and I am not so sure that it is a very enviable position. In fact, I would rather not be a ratepayer in Chelsea, as the rates are very high. It does seem to me that the object which the right hon. Gentleman has in this Bill is not a good one. The Bill is very vague upon what is going to take place. A consecrated building has been destroyed, and, I presume, from what has taken place in the course of this Debate, that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to sell the site to the speculative builders at the best price he can get. It is true he made some observations about safeguarding the manner in which the site was to be laid out. After all, we know perfectly well that those observations are not binding, and that apparently if the right hon. Gentleman gets a good buyer he is going to throw over all the requirements of the neighbourhood in order to obtain a large sum of money. While the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, I wondered why he was anxious 636 to do this, and I came to the conclusion that he was under the impression that the Budget of last year had passed, that the undeveloped land clauses were in operation, and that possibly his colleagues would come down upon him for not having developed the land. Let me reassure, the right hon. Gentleman. The Budget of last year has not passed, and those particular undeveloped land clauses are not likely to pass for some considerable time, so that there need be no hurry in this matter. I am informed that there is a use to which this site might be put which, while not destroying it as an open space, would be useful for the military forces of the Crown. I understand that the married quarters at Chelsea Barracks are not as good as they might be, and that a portion of this site might be used for providing such quarters. The hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Hoare) cited the Town Planning Act, and said that they were between the Devil and the deep sea. I do not know whether the Devil was the First Commissioner of Works or the President of the Local Government Board, but I am sorry the latter is not present to see what his colleagues are doing.
My hon. Friend made a good point when he asked the House to consider what would happen if a private individual did what the right hon. Gentleman proposes to do. If a duke, in possession of an open space more or less open to the public, proposed for his own private ends to soil that space to the building speculator who would give the highest price, nobody would be more ready than the right hon. Gentleman to assist the Chancellor of the Exchequer in denouncing the iniquities of the duke in question. Yet when the interests of his own Department are concerned, in order to make some paltry sum the right hon. Gentleman proposes that this open space should be destroyed. I think we ought to have, before we decide to pass this Bill, some further explanation from some responsible person in the Government-the right hon. Gentleman cannot speak again-as to whether or not there is any violent hurry for this. I cannot conceive what good is going to come of it, for the right hon. Gentleman has never told us what he is going to do with the money when he has obtained it. [HON. MEMBERS: "He has."] What am I to understand as to the receipts from this open site, when it is sold, and the chapel is pulled down, and the consecrated portion unconsecrated-I do not know what 637 my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) has to say on the desecration of a consecrated place, and I think we could hear on that an eloquent speech of at least three-quarters of an hour's length. I will, however, confine myself to the merely pecuniary aspect of the case. Am I to understand that the proceeds of this sale are to be entirely devoted to buildings which the right hon. Gentleman has already erected? If he has already erected them, where has he got the money from? [HON. MEMBERS: "Borrowed it."]
§ Sir F. BANBURY
We talk of finance! I thought that one of the reasons the Members of the Ministry, which the right hon. Gentleman adorns, advanced when they came into office was that no loans would ever be taken? Therefore both the Treasury and the right hon. Gentleman have committed two grievous errors. Both have broken faith, and both have borrowed money; or, rather, one has borrowed it and the other has lent it. This money is to be used to condone the error which has been made by the Treasury in breaking its rule and advancing the money. Supposing there is a surplus?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
But what are they going to do with it? Was it instead of collecting Income Tax?
There is another point which my hon. Friend has mentioned. Where does the trustee come in? The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he is trustee for these people, and yet he is going to allow his colleague, because he happens to be hard up, to use the money for his own purpose. The more this Debate continues the more I am convinced that my hon. Friend is right and the right hon. Gentleman wrong. I think the best thing the right hon. Gentleman can do is to admit once in his life-we all make errors-that he is wrong, and to consent to the adjournment of the Debate until he knows a little bit more about the subject which the Bill is supposed to advance. I shall have great pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend if he goes to a Division.
§ Mr. R. D. HOLT
As I have listened to this Debate I have been very much astonished and very much shocked—
§ Mr. HOLT
Shocked, indeed, by the I attitude the hon. Gentleman has taken up, and in particular the attitude taken up by the hon. Baronet, who poses as an advocate of sound and honest finance. It is proposed by this Bill to enable the Commissioners of Works to sell a site for the greatest possible advantage and benefit of the beneficiaries of the trust. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea and the hon. Baronet, who told us that he was a very large ratepayer in Chelsea—
§ Sir F. BANBURY
No, no; certainly not. I must ask the hon. Gentleman not to misrepresent me. I said I was a ratepayer in Chelsea, and that it was not a pleasant thing to be so.
§ Mr. HOLT
I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that he was a large ratepayer. What do these gentlemen want? The plain truth is they want to get an open air site in the rich borough of Chelsea without paying for it. If it was West Ham, or some poor district that came forward with this plea something might be said for it, but Chelsea is one of the richest districts in the whole of England. If the rates are higher in Chelsea it is simply because gentlemen for whom hon. Gentlemen opposite voted have had charge of the government of Chelsea ever since it came into existence. Why should Chelsea be treated differently from any of our great municipalities in this country? If Liverpool, Manchester, or Glasgow wanted an open-air space they would have to pay for it, yet here is the case of one of the richest districts in the whole of England absolutely cadging on a trust for small children-the children of poor officers-trying to cadge the money in order to save themselves from the disagreeable necessity of paying for it. I hope that the House will not agree for a moment to postpone this Bill. If the inhabitants of Chelsea want a site they have plenty of time to make up their minds to pay for it like anybody else.
§ Captain JESSEL
The hon. Member who has just sat down said the ratepayers had plenty of time to make up their minds like honest men if they wanted a site and also to pay for it. Surely that is a reason for supporting the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea asking that the Bill should be adjourned for six months. The local authorities have not been properly consulted. 639 The borough of Chelsea has not had notice, and the London County Council is now formulating a scheme to be placed before it as you are aware. These are the points upon which we want to be consulted. It is not a question of cadging in the least. All we want to do is to preserve an open space for the benefit not only of Chelsea, but of the rest of London. What humbug this is after all! It is humbug on the part of the Government. They came down to the House last year, and they passed the Town Planning and Housing Scheme, in which provision is made for this very case of providing open spaces; and yet they do not give the local authorities of London a chance. I should like to have heard the President of the Local Government Board, if he was sitting upon this side of the House, denounce the Government that would have tried to take away a local lung from London without giving an opportunity for the local authority to be heard. What is the hurry? Are the Government afraid they are not going to make a better bargain when the Budget is passed. Is that the reason there is such a tremendous hurry? On the other hand, why is a society like the Open Spaces Preservation Society not opposing a Bill like this? The real fact is we have not had time. It is true, notice was given last November, but what has municipal London been doing since last November? It has been electioneering, and very successfully electioneering too. At the same time we have not had an opportunity of considering this measure. I hope the First Commissioner of Works will be able to agree to this Motion. He must be aware that the London County Council have a scheme to approach the right hon. Gentleman. As the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London has said, if a duke had done this thing the whole of the Radical Press throughout I London would have been howling with denunciations. The Government seem to have done the very same thing, and have not given anybody a chance. I want the right hon. Gentleman to give the local authorities a chance in order to see if some compromise cannot be arrived at. We have not heard what is going to be done with this money. If the whole of the twelve acres are going to be sold they will produce more money than is necessary to provide the swimming baths. If that is so surely the Government might meet the representatives in London half-way. I think the hon. Member for Chelsea has 640 done a public service to London by drawing attention to this question, and I hope the First Commissioner of Works will accept this Motion, and thus give the local authorities a chance of meeting the right hon. Gentleman in conference, in order that they may secure one more lung for the people of London.
§ Mr. HARCOURT
Hon. Members seem to be under the impression that this is a Bill giving power to deal with the whole of this site, but it does nothing of the sort. I could have sold the whole site, with the exception of the chapel, any time during the last four years. This Bill enables one small corner of the twelve acres to be pulled down and thrown into the site, but that will have to be done by the same process whatever authority purchases the land, either to lay out as an open space or for any other purpose. This Bill only deals with one small corner of it. I shall be most happy to receive any suggestions from the London County Council. That body has been aware, during the last three years, that this site was to be sold, and they have not made any proposal to me. Any time they do, if I have not sold it, I shall be most happy to consider their proposal, but the rejection of this Bill to-night would have no effect in making me retain the land, and it would only deprive me of the power to sell one very small corner of it.
§ Viscount DUNCANNON
I wish to support the Motion which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea. I do so on special grounds. The right hon. Gentleman says the Borough of Chelsea have not approached him with reference to the purchase of this site, and neither have the London County Council. If I am correctly informed, the Chairman and the Clerk of the London County Council have already had the privilege of an interview with the right hon. Gentleman on this very question in order to arrange that he may receive the representatives of that body. The hon. Gentleman opposite expressed himself very much shocked that Chelsea should desire to obtain an open space for nothing. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Hoare) and myself have been for the last three years members of the London County Council, and during the whole of that time we have been twitted because we have not increased the open spaces in the County of London. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has time to read the 641 speeches of his right hon. colleagues. I believe it has been stated in this House that right hon. Gentlemen have not always the time for that pastime, but if the right hon. Gentleman had read the speech of the President of the Local Government Board-and I would like to echo the question of the hon. Baronet as to where the President of the Local Government Board is on this occasion-he would know that he took the trouble to go on the platform during the recent London County Council election and to attack the council, to which my hon. Friend and myself belonged, for not increasing the open spaces of London. That charge, as a matter of fact, was not correct. During the past three years the open spaces in London have been largely increased, and it seems to me very hard that we should be attacked in this matter, when we have from that Front Bench opposite been attacked in the past for not increasing the open spaces of London. I would therefore join with my hon. Friends in supporting this Motion.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I do not propose on the present occasion to enter into the matter raised by my hon. Friend. Perhaps the atmosphere of the House is hardly sufficiently serious to deal with a question of that kind; but I would venture to submit to the Government a suggestion which might, I think, bring this discussion to a close and lead to an agreement among all parties. If the Government could see their way to send this Bill after its Second Reading to a Select Committee that would give a full opportunity to those who may criticise the proposals of having their various suggestions considered, and, if the Government are right-and probably they are right-in their plan, no ultimate loss to their scheme would accrue, whilst those who at present feel dissatisfied would have the satisfaction of knowing that a hearing had been given to them, and that the matter had been properly looked into. The London County Council, the Borough Council of Chelsea, and those, perhaps, who are sentimentally interested in the school, might give evidence before the Select Committee, and the Report of the Select Committee would in such a matter generally be held to be decisive. I do not think very much time would be lost by the inquiry, and I think very great satisfaction would be given. Amongst other things the ecclesiastical point, which is certainly worthy of some interest, might also be looked into, and thus any disregard of ecclesiastical sentiment or 642 principle might be avoided. In all respects the Government would, I think, fully meet the desire of the critics of their proposal if they would send this Bill to a Select Committee, and so ensure a full inquiry. I have never pretended to understand why some Bills which are public Bills are as a matter of course sent to a Select Committee, and why others are not. I often observe on the Notice Paper an order for Second Reading, and the Bill to be committed to a Select Committee afterwards. I have always imagined it was the case that some private rights were concerned when that notice appeared, and that those interested in that private right were thought to have a title to appear before a Committee and to be heard. Though strictly there is not a private right here, there is naturally a local interest excited, and it seems reasonable to apply the analogy of the ordinary practice of this House, and to allow the Bill to go to a Select Committee. I am sure that that will give satisfaction, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider that proposal.
§ Mr. E. H. CARLILE
The right hon. gentleman seems to have thought, when he rose a moment ago and explained that he had had the power to sell this large plot of land any time in the last four years, that he would satisfy the feelings and sentiments of the people of Chelsea by showing that hitherto he had regarded their interests, and that now when bringing forward this Bill he would not be likely to depart from the attitude he had previously taken up. That is not at all apparent to anyone who gives the least thought to the subject, because we all understand that a plot of land such as this is very largely reduced in value if it cannot be dealt with as a whole. It is undoubtedly the case, although the right hon. Gentleman did not explain it, that in order to get this large plot of valuable land into a condition when it would be likely to be attractive either to the jerry builder or anybody else, he has come down to the House and asks for power to wipe out this chapel in a corner of the block. Surely my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea ought to be heard on a subject of this kind. Apparently the right hon. Gentleman has consulted no one-not even the governing body of the school, or the county council, or the local municipal authority, or anybody else. He now comes forward with a proposal which, if carried out, will clearly put him in a position to sell 643 this land regardless of the wants of the district and regardless of everything which should be considered in connection with it. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly frank: he tells us he means to get various classes of persons to compete for this bit of ground. Surely the Government ought not to part with it without deciding as to its eventual disposal. They are taking upon themselves a most serious responsibility if they allow it to pass out of their hands beyond recall. The responsibility rests with them to see that this valuable open space is secured for the benefit of the people of Chelsea. But the right hon. Gentleman takes up a very heartless attitude, which we should not have expected of him. He ought to make this site perfectly safe from the jerry builder. The right hon. Gentleman says he is merely the trustee for the property, but the Duke of York's School is in no kind of danger at the present moment, and the interests of the school will be quite safe in his hands. I hope he will allow the Bill to go upstairs, where the whole subject can be threshed and all the interests considered. We hope that this most valuable site may be saved from becoming the centre of a new slum in that part of London, which needs still more open spaces, and we trust, too, that the Government will retain it as an open space in the interests of the locality and of all concerned.
MARQUESS Of TULLIBARDINE
I must confess that when an hon. Member opposite stated that he was shocked at us, I also was shocked that his mind should contain such thoughts, although I have no occasion to be so over anything we have said. With respect to open spaces or anything of that sort, I have long since ceased to be shocked by anything which hon. Gentlemen opposite do. I may perhaps say, however, that I was somewhat surprised that those hon. Members who were responsible for the Town Planning Bill and spoke so much with regard to open spaces should have taken this action. I remember well during the last election hearing many strictures about the iniquities of various landlords in London in this connection-and I quite agree that perhaps in many cases they were right-but I failed at first to discover the reason why the right hon. Gentleman opposite should be so anxious to pull down this consecrated chapel and why one of the best open spaces in London should be built 644 over. I think, however, that I have discovered the reason, because this is a proposal to pull down a great historical school which is a monument to the first British general who ever did anything for the British soldier, and I think that the reason for this action on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite is due to their opinions with regard to dukes. So we have to remember that this is not a fight against existing dukes or future dukes, but it is a fight against a dead one, and probably that is the reason why this particular school has to go. I am very much surprised that hon. Members below the Gangway have not said something in regard to this open space in London, which would be most useful, and a godsend to the children of the poorer people in that part of London, and I must say that this is a shock which has met me since I have had the honour of being a Member of this House. Perhaps if they do not mind about open spaces for the people, possibly hon. and right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway may look upon it from the view that it might be useful for electioneering purposes, and as a place for holding various public meetings, and so on, at the next election. In any case, I am quite certain that the people in this district of Chelsea would have been most grateful to the hon. Members below the Gangway if they had done something to keep this open space, if it was possible, in this part of the town. There is another rather important point, and that is that this space might be made very great use of for the troops in that district. As has been stated, there are barracks in that neighbourhood almost unprovided with married quarters, and there is no better spot than this which could be chosen for the purpose of building such married quarters and providing a playground for the children of the married people. There are also practically no officers' quarters in these barracks, and this is a space almost opposite to them, and here are the Government throwing away an open space upon which they might build for these purposes at the present moment simply because they want to make a little money. That is the chief reason why these boys have been sent down to the country, although that may have been to some extent for the benefit of their health, but as a matter of fact there were no more healthy boys in London.
And, it being Eleven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned; to be resumed to-morrow.
§ Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."-[ Master of Elibank.]
§ Adjourned accordingly at Five minutes past Eleven o'clock.