HC Deb 20 December 1912 vol 45 cc1945-55

I invite the House to make a complete change of atmosphere and subject, and from the tobacco fields of Ireland to proceed with me to the site of the new Delhi. It is a proud thought to remember that it is a year and four days ago that His Majesty, the King Emperor, laid the foundation stone of the great new capital which those of us who live long enough and have the money to go out there hope to witness one day. On the same day that the great announcement of this change was made by the King himself in Delhi it was announced here in the House by the Prime Minister, and the Leader of the Opposition at once stated that this must obviously be a matter to be fully discussed, whereon, with his usual courtesy and decision, the Prime Minister said obviously this must be the subject of Parliamentary discussion. I propose to give the House the leading questions connected with this great Imperial question. The King Emperor himself, in the course of his speech, said that the new creation must be a city in every way worthy of this beautiful ancient city of Delhi, and a little later the Viceroy in Council announced his strong personal interest in the subject, stated that he had given a great deal of personal attention to the question of this new Delhi, and expressed the opinion that the buildings should be in Indian style and should be carried out by Indian craftsmen. In doing so, he was understood at the time to speak as Viceroy, and to convey the opinion and considered judgment of the very highest authority in the land. What has happened since? The Government of India sent out a Town Planning Committee. It was stated that this Committee should be one of the very highest authority. It was to consist, we were told, of a sanitary engineer, a town planner, and architect, and a landscape gardener. The three gentlemen who were sent out were Mr. Brodie, an engineer, against whom I have not a word to say, and a most eminent man in his profession. Then there was Captain Swinton, a man very well known as Whip of the Moderate party on the London County Council, a former aide-de-camp of the Viceroy of India and no doubt a man of the world, who knew his way well about India, but I contend not cither an expert in town planning architecture or landscape gardening. The third member of this Town Planning Committee was Mr. Lutyens, an excellent architect, a gentleman who has built country houses and work of that description for people who can appreciate artistic architecture, but who has had no experience whatever of large public buildings or town planning.

Some criticism was naturally directed to the composition of this Committee, and it was promised to us again and again, both by question and answer across the Floor of the House, and also on the occasion of the Indian Budget last year, I hat their report should be published with all expedition and that their plans should be ex- hibited in the Tea Room. Whatever we may have seen in the Tea Room, we have not seen their plans, and whatever we have been able to get in the Vote Office, we have not yet got their report, and this is all the more remarkable because, as soon as this Town Planning Conimittee returned after its first visit to India in July last, what purported to be a summary of their Report appeared in the "Pall Mall Gazette" of 24th July. It was never denied as reflecting, at any rate, the views of the Town Planning Committee. Though when this announcement was made by the Prime Minister, the fullest publicity was promised us in order that the public generally, and those who took a special interest and had special knowledge, might be always well informed as to what was going forward, it was with the very greatest difficulty that we got any information at all. That is very unsatisfactory, and I hope in future the India Office will turn over a new leaf and begin with the New Year a reformed record.

There is another point in connection with this Town Planning Committee which is very remarkable. No sooner had they sent out this Town Planning Committee than the Viceroy himself requested the India Office to send out another gentleman to give an independent judgment, and the India Office sent out Mr. Lanchester, one of the most eminent architects in large public affairs, and Mr. Lanchester has made a Report to the Viceroy on the very same questions and subjects which were remitted to the Town Planning Committee, and I want to ask the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Harold Baker), with his great stores of learning and sources of information, why was it necessary to send out Mr. Lanchester at all if this Town Planning Committee was adequate, and what was the difference in the questions submitted to him and those submitted to the Town Planning Committee, and if we are going to have the Report of the Town Planning Committee, may we also be privileged to see the Report of Mr. Lanchester, so that we can see what different points of view there are? I am omitting a great number of very important matters, but I am sure this is a great Imperial question. I believe the warning note I strike to-day may possibly save the India Office from confusion and further hesitation, and if there are struggling interests behind the scenes, it may induce the India Office to exercise a strong influence and bring things out into the light of publicity and let the public be informed about it—the interested and artistic public. Let me point out how many most important considerations there are which hang upon this question of the building of our new great capital in our Indian Empire.

There is also a great sanitary question. Only the other day a very eminent engineer delivered a lecture in London at a meeting very largely attended by high authorities in which he showed that the health of Delhi might be immensely improved by damming up the river Jumna. It is a dry bed during part of the year, and if the river was dammed there could be formed a beautiful lake on the confines of the city. I will not enlarge upon that, but I hope it will be taken into consideration by the Town Planning Committee. Another question which has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardineshire (Captain Murray), namely, the question whether the new Council Chamber is to be a mere annexe of Government House. In the summary of the Report published in a London evening paper it is said that the Council chamber in which the India Council is to sit is to be a mere annexe or wing of Government House. I object to that altogether. If it is in any sense to represent in future a popular or representative body, it ought at once to have buildings of its own, and I am sure that is another point on which we should like some information. Certainly, I hope that the summary of the Committee's Report which has been piratically printed will prove to be inaccurate, as no doubt it may well prove to be in this respect. I wish to refer to the question whether Indian craftsmen and artists are to have their chance. I ask that question because in the summary of the Report it is stated that it has been decided to throw Indian architecture aside and to go in for Italian Renaissance. Since then there has been a crusade undertaken in the congenial columns of the "Times" in favour of that movement. The "Times" stated, in its sententious way, that Italian Renaissance is the style of the modern civilised world, an opinion I strongly differ from if I look around me at the beautiful Gothic buildings in which we are assembled here.

I wish to utter my protest against a decision being taken thus early, and in this manner, against Indian art and architecture. If anyone would wish to know what Indian art and architecture can do, let them go to South Kensington in the holidays—they can take their wives and families or anybody else with them—and see the magnificent architectural examples exhibited there, and the beautiful work which is being done in perfect tradition with the best old times of India. I wish also to call the attention of the House to the fact that we are going to set up in Delhi buildings which might as well be set up in New York or Rio de Janeiro. We shall be giving no national expression to the great nation of India, but really be slighting the national art, architecture, and craftsmen in our great Empire. There is another most important point, namely, that after all we are governing India as trustees for the Indians, not on our own account, but because we believe we have a great Imperial mission. The bill is to be paid by the Indians. The whole cost of the new Delhi is to be paid entirely out of the revenues of India. I want emphatically to protest against the revenues of India being made the servants of British or Italian art. I want the Indians to have a chance of working out the splendid craftsmanship and the splendid genius they possess, very different from our own—a genius that cannot be denied.

If hon. Members will take the trouble to look into the current number of the "Sphere," they will see a magnificent set of illustrations of modern Indian works of architecture—buildings erected recently throughout the Indian Empire. I venture to say that for beauty, skill, craftsmanship, and magnificence of design, totally alien as they are to our art, and totally inappropriate as they would be for buildings to be erected in London, these buildings cannot be surpassed throughout the world. I feel deeply on this subject, not only as a man who loves art, but as a man who loves the British Empire. I would like to feel that we are doing a great act of justice, and advancing the progress and prosperity of our great Indian Empire, and therefore I conclude by asking hon. Members whether it is fair that the Indians, who have great genius, a great history, and a great tradition, should be asked to pay out of their revenue in order that some architects—excellent men, no doubt, and gifted and accomplished artists too—may have the opportunity of erecting in the new Delhi palaces of Italian art. The idea, though furthered by one paper, and promoted by another, is in itself absurd and unjust. I hope we shall have the Report of what the Town Planning: Committee has been doing, and that we-shall have some plans and drawings, exhibited in the Tea Room, and that at any rate, we shall not be told that the decision-has been taken to put up modern western-palaces in the great capital of our Eastern. Empire.


My hon. Friend has spoken of northern art belonging to England and other northern countries. This is essentially a question in relation to southern art which took its origin in Italy. It is designed entirely for a country with brilliant sunshine, and from that point of view alone Renaissance architecture is particularly suitable to India, or any other country with brilliant sunshine. I wish to-put in a plea for that style. We should on this important occasion remember that it is the greatest opportunity that any architect has had in the world for many centuries. No English architect has ever had such an opportunity in design, or anything approaching it. What I want to-secure is that this shall be put in the hands of the very best man who can be found. I have seen some of these modern Indian buildings, of which my hon. Friend thinks so much, and I am bound to say I thought very little of them. Modern Indian buildings are trumpery affairs, and do not reproduce the magnificent building which we see at Agra and other places. I believe we require an adaptation of the style which is best suited to the work. At the present time, under the influence of the extraordinary revival which there has been of all the arts in this country during the last thirty or forty years, I believe that we can find men in England capable of dealing with this great problem in a way worthy of the Empire. The best way to get the work done in the best possible manner, is to get the best advice you can, and to consult the Royal Academy and the Institute of British Architects as to the man who is-best suited to deal with this great problem, and to put the work into his hands. In that way, you will get a better piece of work than in any other way. I have seen a great deal of public competition and I will undertake to say that every architect worth his salt will say that you never get in public competition the best work. The architect who goes in for a public competition is thinking the whole time of what will please the committee, and not what is the best work he can do. In that way he is never able to put his whole soul into the work. You want for this work to get the best possible man, and to let him see the site and saturate himself with the Indian sunshine and the whole atmosphere of the place, and in that way you can get a really magnificent city of Delhi, which would be a credit to this Empire during all the ages to come.


Before I reply to my two hon. Friends I ought perhaps to say a word as to the speech of the hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Roes) earlier this afternoon. He quoted a resolution, protesting against the appointment of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Mac-donald) on the Royal Commission on Public Services. In reply, all I can say is, that I have nothing to add to the complete and full answer which the Prime Minister has given on that subject on several occasions. He also made a suggestion, I believe, identical with that put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, with regard to the treatment of the River Jumna. That will receive most careful consideration when the actual plans and sanitary arrangements of the new city come to be dealt with. My hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset began by quoting a statement of the Prime Minister some time age that a full opportunity of discussing this matter would be given in Parliament. I do not like to disagree with him without having an opportunity of looking it up, but I rather think he will find that the question then being considered was the question of the announcement made at Delhi, and not certainly any question of the system of architecture to be employed in the new city, though there is certainly not any desire to avoid discussion on this subject. Then he went on to deal with the question of this Committee, which has been visiting India, and made certain criticisms.

The facts about this Committee are, it went to India and was expected to be able to report on one single visit. It went out, and decided that it would be far better to divide the visit into two, and to come back to India again at a time when it would find the Government of India in residence at Delhi, but after the first visit it did frame a Report, which was merely a preliminary Report. It is now waiting for the second visit to be completed before it issues a full and final Report.

Those first impressions which found a place in the preliminary Report, were considered by the Indian authorities, and certain modifications were suggested, and therefore we have every reason to wait until those modifications have been considered by the Committee, and they have completed their full investigations, before they give their final verdict on the problem submitted to them. With regard to the publication of the preliminary Report, the Government of India are considering its publication at a very early date, and with regard to the alleged premature publication in a newspaper that publication, in so far as it did cover the substance of the Report, was entirely unauthorised and entirely unaided by materials from the India Office. But owing to the conditions of the work, very naturally and not improperly the substance of the report was really common knowledge at the time. My hon. Friend then raised the question of Mr. Lanchester, and spoke as if there were some mystery behind it. There is nothing mysterious about it.


Mr. Lanchester is not a member of the Committee, and has never been acting with the Committee.

4.0 p.m.


The hon. Member is accurate except as to the presence in India of Mr. Lanchester at the same time as the Committee. Mr. Lanchester was chosen to make a report, because he is a town-planning expert of remarkable distinction, whose opinion would be of great advantage. I think my hon. Friend was not accurate in saying that Mr. Lanchester reported to the Viceroy. He no doubt had a great deal of communication and conversation with him, but it is not strictly accurate to say that he made a report. I pass to the major question, with which also my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk dealt, the question of architecture. Most of us are aware that a certain amount of controversy has arisen in the newspapers and elsewhere with regard to the style of architecture that is likely to be employed for the new city of Delhi. The controversy has taken the form of contrasting Indian architecture with a particular form of Renaissance architecture called Italian. The hon. Member for South Norfolk, I am glad to say, anticipated what I might have said as a personal opinion with regard to the narrow view taken by many people of Renaissance architecture. But I am not here this afternoon to waste the time of the House or to yield to the temptation which the hon. Member for Somerset held out to me to indulge in a disquisition on architecture. I suggest that at this stage to deal with the question in that way is really rather academic. It is perfectly true that the matter is of vast importance to the new city, but to suggest that there is any violent controversy in regard to it is to suggest that which is not the fact. What have we before us, what is the main problem to be faced in constructing this new city? It should be remembered that the Committee had no reference and no authority of any kind to deal with anything except what is called the lay-out of the new city; they had nothing to do with the style of architecture to be employed. That is a question which is yet in the future, and about which very little, if anything, has yet been decided. But what is clear to the mind of the Secretary of State and the Viceroy is that this is not a question of one single choice as to the style of architecture to be employed. There is a vast variety of different buildings which have to be considered in relation to this City—buildings which are to be destined for different purposes and therefore necessarily should be of a different character. You have the Government offices, you have the Viceroy's own residence, you have the residences of the Europeans, you have the municipal offices, you have the military cantonments, and you have the civil part of the town, all calling for great variety, which must be dealt with in any judgment arrived at on the kind of architecture which should be employed.

There are two essentials which must not be overlooked in deciding this question. One is that each kind of these buildings should be so framed that it serves the particular purpose for which it is intended. The other is that while you preserve that particular utility in each kind of building, you must have at the same time that general harmony of design which will make it a complete and beautiful unity. Variety is quite essential, and I give only my personal opinion at this stage when I say, and I think many will agree with me, that, there is really no reason whatsoever why we should not have Indian and European architecture side by side in the new city. But really nothing at all has yet been decided. What the Secretary of State has decided, and in that the Viceroy is in full agreement with him, is that the fullest possible scope should be given to Indian artists and to Indian craftsmen to work upon the new city, and to beautify it, while giving vent to Indian aspirations and Indian ideas. The hon. Member for South Norfolk dwelt upon the very difficult problem of how architects are to be chosen. He stated the case as to public competition, so far as there is a case, very clearly and very well; and my hon. Friend behind me reminded me that not very long ago the Under-Secretary of State, speaking on the Budget in the summer, made a statement with regard to the question of the extent to which public and open competition should be adopted. That statement was rather a guarded one, and it must be remembered that it was made at a very early stage of the proceedings. But, on careful consideration by the Secretary of State and by others, it does appear that there are serious difficulties in the way of adopting public competition without any exception whatsoever—difficulties such as those my hon. Friend for South Norfolk pointed out, namely, the extraordinary difficulty of choosing judges, the effect that the character of those judges would have on the architects who compete, and the difficulty of arranging the visits of would-be competitors to India, so that they might be in a position to compete on fair terms.

I may add one other possibility, that in the case of open and public competition you do not always get all the best architects to compete. I do not wish to enlarge on this, because I can assure those who are anxious to see the principle of public competition adopted in connection with Delhi that the Secretary of State, in so far as he possibly can, intends to adopt it. On that, as on many of the other questions, I can assure the hon. Member that it is not from any desire to conceal from him what the policy of the India Office is but solely that there is no information which can be given at the present stage, that I have very little to say. Let the hon. Member remember that the ground plan of the new city has not yet been settled. We have not yet received the final report of the Committee that had to settle the ground plan. The Committee will probably report in March, and no doubt the report will be published very shortly. Until that report has been published, and until the ground plan has been settled, I am afraid it is a little premature to consider this question of archi-tects and architecture. I hope the hon. Member will not think that I have done any injustice to the eloquent speech and appeal which he made on behalf of the Indian architects, and I can assure him that the Secretary of State will bear in mind all those considerations which he put forward.