§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD BENN (Lord of the Treasury)
It was not from any want of courtesy to my hon. Friend that I did not rise at once, but because I thought it would be more convenient if I spoke after some hon. Gentlemen who have objection to the Bill had spoken; but if he and the House generally desires me to speak now I will do so. The Bill is one for completing the improvement to the approach to the Mall through the Admiralty Arch at Charing Cross. The improvement would be undertaken in the first place by the London County Council, with the assistance of two other bodies, the Westminster City Council and the First Commissioner of Works. These three authorities will share the expense between them, and it is estimated that the net expenditure will not exceed £115,000. I assume that the other point on which the House will need to have some information after the question of expense, is the extent of the control of the design, because, of course, this improvement is undertaken in order to provide a worthy approach to the Admiralty Arch, and to ensure that the buildings which are erected on the Charing Cross side of the Admiralty Arch shall be of suitable design. That is provided for in the Bill, in one Clause of which will be found power for the First Commissioner of Works to exercise a veto over the design of the buildings to be erected on the site to be acquired. To sum the matter up, it comes to this: Three authorities, the Office of Works, the Westminster City Council, and the London County Council, are contributing the money, and the First Commissioner of Works is exercising control over the design. I do not think that there is anything else to be said to commend this Bill to the House.
§ Sir WALTER ESSEX
I should just like to know the method by which the Office of Works will proceed in this matter. We have lately been rebuilding a large portion of official London, and I think I shall carry the general opinion of the House with me when I say that those rebuilding schemes, on which we have spent such a vast amount of money, have resulted in a number of buildings of which the average Londoner who has any sympathy with or appreciation of architecture has no reason whatever to be proud. I am not going to criticise—it is too late to do that—the Admiralty Arch, although that might easily be done. The proposal is that these new buildings to be erected by these two large insurance companies shall be erected under plans provided by themselves and by their own architects. They are very large corporations, and no doubt they have available the very finest architectural skill this country can show, but even in the case of the Government themselves the resuit has not always been buildings creditable to this nation. I would like that we should, in the very centre of the Empire, our proudest spot, safeguard ourselves against any further extension of the architectural abominations which are a heartache and sorrow to many of us to-day.
I do not think that the powers taken in this Bill are adequate. I think, considering the large contribution that is being made from public funds and from municipal funds, a larger control should have been exercised, and that a control should have been exercised in the very selection of the architect. See what is offered. Plans are to be bought—one probably for each company. How can you exercise anything like an adequate control or guidance in such a case? You may simply say, "These plans do not seem to us to be at all adequate to the enormous importance of the district in which the buildings are to be placed." You cannot then do other than begin to carve, chop, and cut them about by the suggestions you make, and in these suggested alterations you will be hampered by being met by the company demanding first and foremost, as will be only fair and right, that you shall not too much alter them, seeing that they have been designed under calculations bearing in mind the obvious necessities of the companies concerned We cannot discuss the 1873 policy of the Westminster City Council or the London County Council, but why does not the Office of Works simply say, "If you will tell us what your wants are, we will provide you with a general idea of what the fronts of these buildings looking out upon these great thoroughfares and in this great place of national importance should be." There is a veto to be exercised, but there is no initiative of idea or of a scheme, and I do feel anxious about this position. Some of my hon. Friends think that the whole scheme should be vetoed, and that rather than widen the Approach the Approach should be narrowed, to shut out the arch from the public view as much as possible. I do not share that view, but I do feel that in regard to Trafalgar Square, in this great Metropolis of ours, this House should walk warily, and that we should see that England expresses herself in the architecture there in a much more satisfactory way than in the majority of cases she has lately been doing.
§ Mr. DAWES
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
It is with some little reluctance that I rise to move this Amendment. I do not wish in any way to obstruct the improvement, although I am bound to say that the history of the whole thing is not particularly creditable to any one of the parties concerned. In 1911, after a good deal of negotiation and a great deal of delay, the London County Council were driven, through the imminence of the Coronation procession, to come to a decision that a certain widening of the then very narrow Mall Approach had to be made, and in their negotiations they had to take the premises of certain insurance companies and other bodies. One of the premises was part of the premises known as No. 58, Charing Cross, which were built by the Liverpool and London and Globe Office. The London County Council Improvements Committee, in reporting what they proposed, stated that the Liverpool and London and Globe Office declined to negotiate for the sale of any part of that property unless they were given an option of repurchasing a certain part and also certain surplus parts which the London County Council acquired. At that time the London County Council were faced with the Liverpool and London and Globe Insurance Company's refusal, and they were 1874 obliged to agree to these terms because the Liverpool and London and Globe Insurance Company knew that the London County Council had no compulsory powers, and could, therefore, only negotiate. They also knew that the London County Council were in this difficulty, that they were obliged to provide the Mall Approach for the Coronation. They, therefore, came to this arrangement.
There was an additional provision that if a further widening was not decided on by the London County Council before 24th June, 1912, this option was to take effect. The London County Council acquired the property, and they did nothing further before 1912. At that time, somewhere about March, 1912, the committee reported to the council that, owing to the difficulties with the Government and so on, they did not propose to do anything with regard to the widening, and they referred to the fact that this option of the Liverpool and London and Globe Company had become effective. At that very time they were negotiating with the Phœnix Insurance Company, owners of 57, Charing Cross, for the sale of part of the land over which the other company had an option. I only mention this, because it shows that by a most unfortunate muddle this transaction has been practically dogged by misfortune from the beginning until now. Eventually the county council, in February, 1913—and I will ask the House to note the date, because it happened to be just before the county council election—in view of the large amount of public interest recently devoted to the matter, reconsidered the decision they had come to a few months previously, that they would do nothing further, and they then decided to appoint a joint committee of officials of the Board of Works and of the Westminster City Council to see what could be done in the way of further widening. The conference met once or twice, and in July, 1913, the London County Council Improvements Committee reported that the conferences had been held and that a proposal had been put forward, evidently by the Liverpool and London and Globe Insurance Company. At that time the County Council Improvements Committee appeared to have changed their view entirely about that company, for they said that the company were taking a sympathetic attitude, whereas before that they had complained that the company had presented a pistol at their heads and had insisted on 1875 certain terms before negotiation. The scheme put forward by the Liverpool and London and Globe Company, and endorsed by the London County Council, provided that the company should give up a very small portion of land now enclosed by a hoarding and should be rehoused on the premises of the Phœnix Insurance Company. Not a single word was said to the Phœnix Company all the way through about this proposal. It had not been suggested that any part of the Phœnix Company's property should be taken except a small portion which was required for the highway, but the suggestion is that the Phœnix Company is to be expropriated by Act of Parliament for the benefit of a trade competitor who is to be put in their place. That is the proposal put forward by the London County Council, and it is a curious coincidence that, on each occasion, on which the Improvement Committee have brought forward this recommendation the discussion has taken place between two and three in the morning. I have had the greatest difficulty in getting information about this matter. I said the Phœnix Company had not been consulted before this recommendation was put forward. But there was an interview which Lord Peel, the Chairman of the improvements committee at that time, and now the chairman of the county council, had with the Phœnix Company, after all this had been decided upon, and he then said that, unless the Phœnix Company consented to be expropriated, and to have their land practically confiscated, he would go to Parliament, he had the Government behind him, the Government Whips would be put on, and they would practically have no redress.
§ Mr. DAWES
My authority is the chairman of the Phœnix Insurance Company, and he wrote that in a letter which was forwarded to Lord Peel. If the Noble Lord is not satisfied with that, I will rely on what was said to myself in the county council, and that was that any opposition I might possibly offer to this Bill would not have the least effect. I think it was the Noble Lord himself who said that they had the Government Whips behind them. The matter again came before the London County Council at its last meeting before the Christmas recess, at about three o'clock in the morning, and I need not re- 1876 mind the House what sort of attention any matter is likely to receive at that hour. On that occasion an agreement was also asked to be entered into between the county council and the Liverpool and London and Globe Company. I venture to suggest it was one of the most extraordinary documents ever put before the county council. I may remind the House that the present site of the Liverpool and London and Globe Company is about 29 feet frontage, and this agreement was entered into within six days after the resolution of the county council had been passed, thereby showing that the whole matter was cut and dried before it came before the county council at all. Clause 3 reads:—If the compulsory powers above referred to are obtained and the council shall have sufficient surplus land of the improvement for the purpose, the council will convey to the company in exchange for the land, coloured pink on the plan hereto attached, a site of equal area having a continuous frontage to Charing Cross and the approach to the Mall as intended to be improved, such site to afford building facilities at least equal to those possessed by the company's present site, and the frontage not to be less and to start not farther east than the centre of the party wall now dividing No. 57, Charing Cross from No. 58.And the consideration is to be nothing! The Liverpool and London and Globe Company are to pay nothing for this site. I do not know whether the House is going to adopt a principle of this sort. I did not wish particularly to bring this matter before the House. But I am perfectly certain that very few members of the county council, other than the members of the improvements committee, know anything whatever about the details of this matter. I feel, unpleasant as it is to say so, that the county council have been kept in the dark with regard to this proposal, and I cannot imagine that the Commissioner of Works has appreciated the effect of this very extraordinary agreement. I submit the principle underlying it is one on behalf of which the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act was never intended to operate. I know of no precedent for land being compulsorily taken, not for a public improvement, but in order to enable a public improvement to be brought about in this way. What they want to do for the purpose of improving the highway they could do under Michael Angelo Taylor's Act. 1877 But they desire to move away the Phœnix Insurance Company and replaced it by the Liverpool and London and Globe Insurance Company, and to do that they go to all the expense of getting an Act of Parliament, although the Phœnix Insurance Company have assured the county council that they are most anxious to co-operate with them in carrying out the improvement, and have never held them at arm's length, but have always been willing to negotiate. I am very sorry that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Oxford University (Sir William Anson) is not here, as he would have explained much better than I can the position of the Phœnix Insurance Company in this matter. But he is detained at Oxford.
I want to trouble the House with one personal matter. I have, unfortunately, incurred the displeasure of the Noble Lord the Member for Bath (Lord Alexander Thynne), who kindly takes an active interest in our London affairs. My Noble Friend told me the other day that I was not acting in the interests of my Constituents in this matter, and he more than hinted that I had some personal motive in opposing the Bill. As far as my Constituents are concerned. I represent a part of London where we have less than 1½ acres of open space to 58,000 of population. I doubt very much whether it would not be in the interest of my Constituents to oppose this on the ground that it is an extravagant and rather thriftless scheme, and that the matter could be arranged at much less expense. But I do not want to take that particular ground. As to the personal motive, I may explain that I am a shareholder in the Phœnix Insurance Company to the extent of 100 shares of £1 each. They were the shares of another company which was absorbed by the Phœnix Company. The firm to which I used to belong, and from which I retired before I entered the House, has for the last 130 years acted for the insurance company. That is the sole interest I have in this matter, and I venture to suggest that as my great-grandfather, my grandfather, my father, and I myself all had business connections with the Phœnix Insurance Company, it is not unreasonable or improper that I should have been asked to put their case before the House. That is the long and short of it.
I want to ask whether this House is going to approve of what I say is a new and very extraordinary principle, and one which, I venture to suggest, if it had come from any quarter except possibly the 1878 majority of the London County Council the Noble Lord the Member for Bath would have described as "robbery and confiscation." There is no justification for the proposal. 57, Charing Cross, the property of the Phœnix Company, is not required for the improvement, except a small part, and the company are willing to negotiate with the county council or the Office of Works, and has said so in writing. No one who knows the Noble Lord or Lord Peel would for one single second suggest the proposal was not absolutely honest and straightforward; but I do say that if this principle is once established you set a thoroughly dangerous precedent—a precedent no one can think it is desirable to set by saying, "We propose to do so-and-so; if you refuse our offer we have only to go to Parliament and get Parliamentary powers. It was never intended these powers should be obtained in this way, or that people who had had land in their possession for a large number of years should be expropriated so that a rival and competitive company might be put in their place. The only reason I have ever heard suggested for this scheme is that the Liverpool and London and Globe Company have now got a corner site and are therefore entitled to this consideration. But neither the Liverpool and London and Globe Company nor the Phœnix Company had originally a corner site, and I fail to to see that one company is more entitled to a corner site than the other. While I do not wish to divide the House against this Bill, I think we are entitled to some assurance from the Government that at any rate, as regards this agreement, when it comes before the Select Committee of which I presume the hon. Member for St. George's - in - the - East (Mr. Wedgwood Benn) will be a member, they will at least be neutral in regard to this unfair and unbusinesslike plan.
§ Mr. HICKS BEACH
I rise to second the Amendment, for the purpose of getting an adequate discussion on this Bill. I have some slight connection with the Phœnix Company myself, and I have been asked by the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford to say a word on behalf of the company. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Dawes), has very fairly stated the reasons for opposing the Second Reading of this Bill. I am authorised to say on behalf of the Phœnix Insurance Company that they have not the smallest objection to facilitating the securing of 1879 this public improvement, but what they do object to is that a site which has been in their possession for over 100 years should suddenly be taken away from them by Act of Parliament and given to a trade rival which has not been in that neighbourhood nearly as long as they have. Neither of the companies was originally in possession of a corner site, and therefore this company which has held this freehold for so many years, naturally takes very strong objection to any agreement being made behind their backs that they should hand over their freehold site to another and a rival company which has occupied a much smaller position for a much smaller number of years. The Phœnix Insurance Company had received no communication from the London County Council when this bargain was made with the Liverpool and London and Globe Office. They have expressed to the London County Council their willingness to co-operate in every reasonable manner to bring about a proper and satisfactory entrance to the Mall Approach. They are perfectly willing to come to terms on any reasonable understanding. The hon. Member for Stafford (Sir Walter Essex) raised a very reasonable point as to the erection of new buildings.
I do not myself know whether the county council propose to erect the buildings themselves and sublet them to the insurance companies, or whether they propose to let the insurance companies themselves build them; but I think I can say on behalf of the Pliœnix Company that, if the site is sold to them again and they have to erect the buildings, they will be only to glad to carry out, so far as they possibly can, the wishes of the Commissioner of Works in regard to the design of the buildings. I fully agree that it would be most undesirable that unsightly and ill-proportioned buildings should be erected on the entrance to the Approach. I am quite sure that this particular company would give every reasonable undertaking to carry out the design approved by the Commissioner of Works. I must again utter a protest against this appropriation of a site that has has been held by a very ancient company for well over 100 years, and the attempt to force an Act of Parliament upon this House to give that site to a trade rival. I hope that if a Second Reading is given to the Bill that an undertaking will be given by the Government to have the 1880 whole of this matter thoroughly and impartially thrashed out in Committee. The company are ready to abide by the decision of an impartial Committee, and I hope we shall have a reasonable settlement.
§ Mr. ALBION RICHARDSON
It was quite unnecessary for my hon. Friend (Mr. Dawes) to have said what he did in explanation of his position, because the House knows he has taken up the attitude he has taken in what he regards as the public interest, but I submit to the House with confidence that the view he has put forward is one which cannot be defended by anyone who like myself has formed an entirely independent opinion, far away from the scene, and who is not in any way connected with the London County Council or with either of these companies. The Liverpool and London and Globe Company, in view of several authorities to whom I shall refer, has behaved throughout this transaction not only with propriety, but with great magnanimity.
§ Mr. A. RICHARDSON
My hon. Friend laughs, so I will tell him why I say that. Before the Coronation, at a time when the county council had no compulsory powers when they were absolutely at the mercy of the owners of the adjoining property, the Liverpool Company, without a penny of profit to itself, and incurring in the transaction a considerable loss, voluntarily offered to surrender a sufficient part of its property to enable the necessary widening to be made for the Coronation procession to pass through. The only bargain that the county council made with the Liverpool Company was that if at the end of twelve months it was ascertained that all the land was not required which had been so surrendered by the Liverpool Company, the Liverpool Company should be given the right to repurchase what it had sold under this arrangement. In the meantime, at great inconvenience to the company, and I believe at some pecuniary loss, they carried on their business in this truncated building—the remaining portion of the premises in which they had formerly carried on business. What happened at the end of the twelve months? The widening was made, sufficient property was taken out of that surrendered to enable the whole of this public work to be done and to meet the occasion at that time. The county council then gave notice that they did not require the surplus piece of land which 1881 was then upon their hands, and the Liverpool Company exercised their option of acquiring it and proceeded to pull down the truncated part of their building, and to rebuild their premises. They went to a large expense in getting out architect's plans, which were submitted to the county council and approved. They incurred architect's and surveyor's charges, they wholly demolished the remainder of their building and sank the foundations of the new edifice. Then, apparently, public feeling grew, and there came about a public demand, which was advertised a great deal in the Press at the time, that a really satisfactory opening should be made and the original widening extended.
In that position of things what was the attitude taken up by the Liverpool and London and Globe Company? They might, if they had been out to make money, have continued building and then have made an extensive claim for compensation for disturbance. That is what would have been done by people who were anxious to get the uttermost farthing out of a public authority. They did nothing of the kind. They agreed to stop building and to take temporary premises opposite, the only bargain of any kind that was made with the county council being that, in consideration of doing that public service and of saving the increased burden which would have been thrown upon the people who would have had to pay the compensation ultimately, the county council should give them not better premises, but premises with precisely the same area and in the same relative position. The whole of the cost to which the Liverpool Company had been put by the dislocation of its business through the transfer to other offices in temporary premises, and the temporary rent they were paying—the whole burden of that was to be undertaken and borne by the Liverpool Company itself, and under this agreement they did not receive one penny of compensation. It is a little hard, in these circumstances, that it should be said that the Liverpool Company have been actuated in this matter by anything but the highest civic spirit and the desire to do what in the public interest they rightly considered to be the proper thing. The agreement to which my hon. Friend has referred as being made in December was really not made in December at all. It was formally assented to in December by the London 1882 County Council. My hon. Friend forgot that on 23rd February, 1913 the arrangement was made to which I have referred. The agreement was contained in a letter. I am referring to the agreement as to the substituted site, the removal to temporary premises, and the company's receiving no compensation for disturbance. The whole of that agreement had been made between the parties in February, and had actually been acted upon by the Liverpool Company, and they had removed their business to the temporary premises upon the faith of it.
§ Mr. DAWES
May I read the resolution of the county council of 17th December, 1913? It runs:—That a conditional agreement be entered into with the Liverpool and London and Globe Insurance Company, Limited, in connection with the completion of the Mall to Charing Cross improvement, providing for the reinstatement of the company on a site fronting on Charing Cross and the Admiralty Arch Approach; that the Improvements Committee be authorised to settle the details of the agreement; and that the seal of the council be affixed thereto.
§ Mr. A. RICHARDSON
I agree. What I said was that the bargain was contained in the letter of 23rd February, which was embodied in a more formal agreement which was approved in December. I should like to point out this: the conduct of the company has been criticised in regard to this matter. This agreement went before the improvements committee, and was brought up for the approval of the council, and my hon. Friend (Mr. Dawes) moved that the agreement be referred back.
§ Mr. A. RICHARDSON
It was a draft agreement which I think was put before the county council in December.
§ Mr. A. RICHARDSON
At any rate, the basis of the agreement was brought before the council on 17th December, and a debate upon it ensued. Lord Peel, in replying to a criticism made by my hon. Friend with regard to the conduct of the Liverpool Company—it is not suggested that Lord Peel had any interest of any kind in the transaction, and he was a man occupying a very responsible public position—said in regard to the conduct of the two companies, and, as the voting afterwards showed, with the entire approval of every member present with the exception 1883 of nine gentlemen who voted in favour of my hon. Friend's Amendment:—The position of the committee is a very simple one They felt that the Liverpool and London and Globe Company had acted very well and with a considerable amount of public spirit in this matter. They had at the request of the Improvements Committee held their hand when they might have built and made the position far more difficult….I should really not be representing the feeling of the committee unless I used very strong language to express their firm determination that they would not be dealing with this matter in the way an honourable public body ought to deal with a company like the Liverpool and London and Globe Company if they did not recognise and put into writing that moral obligation into which they were considerably bound towards the Liverpool and London and Globe Company. They took the strong and high line that it would be a very bad thing for public policy if great public bodies like the county council did not act up to the letter of the moral obligation into which they had entered, and tried to ride oft on purely technical grounds. For that reason solely, and from no desire to give preferential treatment but to be perfectly fair to other companies they decided to enter into this arrangement.
§ Mr. A. RICHARDSON
On the 17th December. In July, the question had been raised. Lord Peel was then still more emphatic in answering the observations of my hon. Friend. He said:—It is not for me to praise or blame. I only say this that neither this council, nor the Government, nor Westminster, owes anything whatever to the Phœnix Assurance Company for the way they have behaved. They stood, and perhaps they are entitled to stand, on the strictest business principles, but I am here to testify that they have not shown, in the course of these negotiations, anything approaching a degree of civic or patriotic spirit. I must absolutely dissociate myself from the statement that they deserve in any way special treatment or any special consideration from the council. They were out to drive a hard bargain, and they tried to drive the hardest bargain they could. I do not blame them, but I want to put clearly on record this fact, that while the other company with whom we dealt showed a very reasonable spirit, the Phœnix Company held out for the uttermost farthing.
§ Mr. A. RICHARDSON
From the speech made by Lord Peel in the county council on the 29th July, 1913. At an earlier stage Mr. Cyril Cobb had also spoken of the public spirit of the Liverpool and London and Globe, and Mr. Whitaker Thompson, the chairman of the Improvements Committee, said:—He desired to voice on behalf of the Improvements Committee, their sense of the very considerate way in which they had been met by the Liverpool and London and Globe Insurance Company.That brings me to the last point—how can it be suggested that the Phœnix Company is being unfairly dealt with in this matter? They have not gone out of their way to give the slightest assistance to public bodies in their desire to complete this work, which is in the public interest and 1884 is a public necessity. But, notwithstanding that, they are placed in precisely as favourable a position as the company which has made all these sacrifices to achieve that end. Here are two companies, one with a frontage to the corner of Spring Gardens, and the other next door to it. The scheme is to move back both offices a few feet from the position they now occupy, so that they would continue to occupy the same relative position, and both of them will have suffered, if there is any disadvantage in the move at all, to precisely the same extent. I do not know that the hon. Member (Mr. Dawes) appreciated the force of the case which the Liverpool Company are in a position to make. The only point he made in answer to it was that the land on which the Phœnix office stands is land on which it has stood for 120 years. That is not really material, because the site which they will be given in substitution will be of precisely the same value as the site they now occupy, and, what is more important to commercial corporations of this character, they will stand precisely in the same relation to each other as they stand at present in regard to their respective sites. I ask the House to take the view that the Liverpool Company, so far from deserving the animadversions which have been passed upon it by my hon. Friend, is deserving of some recognition for the public spirit they have shown throughout this transaction, which has already been recognised by the leading members of the county council, to whose speeches I have referred.
§ Lord ALEXANDER THYNNE
I should not have intervened had the hon. Member (Mr. Dawes) not directly referred to me. I do not think any hon. Member who has been associated with him would impugn his motives or would suggest that in this matter he has not acted with the utmost propriety; but that is quite a different matter from admitting that his case has got a basis in fact when he represents the position of the Phœnix Insurance Company. I think it would be very inadvisable for the House to try and judge between the relative merits in this matter of these two great insurance companies. I suggest that this is a matter which, if it require investigation at all, ought to be investigated by a Committee upstairs. There is only one point I wish to make on the general question as regards these two sites. The London 1885 County Council has not acted in a manner which is not usual in such transactions. We are asking power to acquire certain lands, part of which are required for this great public improvement. There will be surplus lands, and we shall have power, I hope, to dispose of them not to the advantage of this or that insurance company, but in a manner which is best calculated to promote the interests of the ratepayers. I suggest to the House that the whole proceeding of the London County Council in regard to these two insurance companies has been in accordance with the usual practice in this matter, and they are not showing any preference to one insurance company over another. I should be the last to wish to judge between two insurance companies, but I feel that it would be a dereliction on the part of anybody who is conversant with the facts not to acknowledge freely the handsome manner in which the London and Liverpool and Globe Company have met us from the very beginning of this business. They have met us in a very generous and accommodating spirit. To say that for one company is not to suggest that the Phœnix Company have not behaved with the utmost propriety. They approached the matter perhaps in a more businesslike spirit, and from a more strictly businesslike point of view than the London and Liverpool and Globe, but the Phœnix Company have done no more than to attempt to obtain what they considered their rights in this matter, and I do not suggest for a moment that that company has not behaved with the utmost propriety. The point I wish to make is that it would be unwise for this House to attempt to judge the merits of the agreement that has been alluded to. It is a matter proper for investigation upstairs, and, furthermore, as I think the hon. Member (Mr. Dawes) himself will admit, throughout these negotiations the London County Council has not departed from custom and practice in the matter.
§ Mr. BOYTON
There is another side of the question on which I should like some information. clause 9, Sub-section (2), says:—The contribution of the Commissioners of Works under this Section shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament and out of other moneys at the disposal of the Commissioners, in such proportions as the Commissioners, with the consent of the Treasury, may determine."1886 This, I think, is an improvement of a national rather than a local character, and I should like to know from what sources the money will be forthcoming. It seems rather hard that the London County Council should be called upon to make a large contribution and that the Westminter City Council should be called upon to make a contribution, because the council will have to levy a rate and also pay interest on the sinking fund, and likewise the Westminster City Council will have to levy a rate and also lose the rates on the buildings which hitherto have existed on this spot, so that they are paying both ways. I should have thought this Government, of all Governments, would in this case have introduced the question of betterment. I do not know from what source—I hope I shall be informed—the Government will raise the money. I am hoping that the Government will ask the Crown Estate Commissioners to contribute very liberally to their share of this outlay, because it is nothing really to the Crown Estate. In a short time a large portion of the properties of this area is reverting to the Crown. There is Carlton House Terrace, and the increased rent derived from the site of one or two clubs in Pall Mall and in the immediate neighbourhood will be sufficient to pay the interest on this total outlay.
Therefore it seems to me exceedingly hard that the inhabitants of London, for what I regard as really a national improvement, should be called upon to make a rate contribution. The eastern side of the square belongs to the Crown. In a few years that reverts, and there, again, the unearned increment accruing to the Crown from the falling in of the leases on that side of the square is more than ample, probably, to pay the whole cost of this transaction. Then, again, in the first part of the Bill power is taken to raise £215,000. I understood the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill to say £115,000. I take it that out of the £215,000 £100,000 reinstatement money is going to be earned, so that the total cost will be only £115,000, of which the Government undertake to provide a third. But under the original arrangement they were only going to provide, on an estimated cost of £215,000, a half of a third. I see that their expenses now will be strictly limited to a third of £115,000, which is, roughly speaking, the £38,000 mentioned in the Bill. It is hard, indeed, that Londoners should be required to put their hands in their pockets and permanently to lose, not only the money that is 1887 to be provided for the immediate purchase, but to lose rates and building charges for all time. I do not think the increased value of the adjoining property will altogether compensate for the money they are to provide now. In the case of the Crown their riches are untold. They are coming into a colossal increment, and surely, for once, they will regard it as a national, and not a local, improvement, and provide the whole of the money.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I did not intervene earlier, because an interesting point was raised between two insurance companies. I certainly think it is somewhat of a tragedy, that in matters of this importance one should lose sight of the main problem. Surely we ought to have a word of justification from the Front Bench as to why a great and wealthy city like London should come sponging upon the provinces for its improvements. The figure which London cuts in this House naturally makes the Noble Lord (Lord Alexander Thynne) thoroughly ashamed of it. Again and again it comes here as if it was a poverty-stricken village. It does not think it necessary to justify, or take the trouble to explain, that it is dipping its hands into the public purse. There are many other cases besides London which could do with street improvements. I represent a small borough with a historic castle, where the streets are very congested. Suppose every town or every part of London were to come forward in the way that Westminster and Spring Gardens have done to-day, and want public money to be spent. Surely it would be intolerable. My complaint repeatedly against the London authorities has been that they do not rise to the dignity of their position. They will push their responsibility upon anyone else rather than take it on themselves. That is true again and again of the London County Council, and there is no Member who has been in the House for a few years who has not noticed that every time the London County Council is mentioned, it is trying to push its responsibilities on to some other authority or trying to make someone who ought not to contribute towards its expenses. That is what it is doing here. There was a time when London, we all thought, would lead the municipalities of the world. They engaged in the great Kingsway scheme, and, all credit to them, they footed the bill. They talked then about street corner sites and frontages, and sites they would have to let, 1888 but they took the responsibility. They made their great scheme, and nothing that London has done in modern times did so much to enhance its reputation as a great city than the Kingsway scheme. Now they come to a small tinkering improvement at the corner of Trafalgar Square. How can they say that the taxpayers of the West Riding, whence I come, have any interest whatever in cutting the corners off these buildings and indulging in an architectural improvement at the corner of Trafalgar Square?
What is the object of it? It cannot possibly be called a national object any more than a street improvement in any central site in London can be called national. One would have thought there was something specially devoted to people who come up from the provinces in connection with it, in which case there might have been a vestige of an excuse, but not a title of an argument has been produced. Simply the Londoners think it is a natural thing that England should pay their debts. Are we prepared always to be put to shame by Manchester, Birmingham, and Glasgow, and the bigger municipalities of the North? They talk about the expense, but I notice that one of the three contracting parties in the Westminster Council. I am a ratepayer in Westminster, and I do not think our burdens are very heavy. I think we might well share our burdens with some of the poorest parts of London. I find that I am asked here by one of the wealthiest cities to come forward and support a Bill to give a sum of money for a little street improvement. I say it is a pitiable figure for the Westminster Council to cut. Part of this expense will come on the entire community; part of it will fall upon the village where I live and pay rates. There the rates are 10s. 8d. in the pound, and the place has neither gas, water, nor a public library. Westminster, where I am also a ratepayer, has much smaller rates, and yet a great deal of public expenditure is given in its district. Still it is not satisfied. Like the daughter of the horse leech, it is still crying for more. This shows that its appetite grows by what it feeds on. The hon. Member asked that the whole of this expense should be borne by the ratepayers of the country. I say that such an impudent claim as this could not have—
§ Mr. BOOTH
That is exactly what it is. The Crown is the ground landlord there, and I would point out that it draws mining royalties. It asked an exorbitant price for ground for a public school, and the local authority had to go to a private landlord for ground. We found him a more reasonable landlord than the Crown. That is almost the invariable rule. I know that it is sometimes like going out of the frying pan into the fire, but after all, private owners, at least the majority of them, are subject to reason and consideration. With the Crown it is almost impossible to negotiate. It is selfishness personified. The hon. Member quotes the Crown, and yet he fails to recognise that the revenues of the Crown are the revenues of the nation. I suggest that it is very undignified for the hon. Member, representing as he does one of the richest puts of this great Metropolis, to come here asking money for this purpose as a poverty-stricken beggar —asking poor villagers in the North of England to come to his rescue. That is, I think, a fairly legitimate summary of his speech. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, naturally thought it his duty to say nothing, just as if it were after eleven O'clock. The hon. Member would not give a word of explanation of the Bill. Why? It is public money that is being spent, and, therefore, the matter requires very little attention. When he tries, he can really explain very voluminously, and he can do his subject justice, but, such is the fashion nowadays, when the hon. Member is moving a Bill of importance he chooses to remain silent. I have protested against this before. I said two years ago, a year ago, and I say again now, that I will never allow the Government to move an important Bill without a word of explanation. I do not care how urgent the present Bill may be. There is something due to this House. It never struck the hon. Member, perhaps, that anybody was concerned in this matter except two insurance companies. The fact that there are ratepayers in the country seems to be forgotten since he built the noble staircase. For the monuments he is going to place in the Green Park he thinks that it is desirable that public money should be spent.
I wish to warn the hon. Gentleman as to this policy, because I think the goodwill of the provinces is worth money to 1890 London. The feeling is growing all over the country that it is unfair to those districts which feed and keep London going, that they should be eternally asked to foot the bill. Is it not enough to pay for the parks at the public expense? Is it not enough that London is made the seat of government, and the seat of law, and that consequently there is a great drain from the country into the Metropolis? Is that not enough? All we do in that way means attractions to London, and increasing the rateable value. When any little ornamental work is to be done we are asked to pay. The money is not asked for the children who are growing up in the slums. It is to have an architectural fad worked out. When the work is completed and the money spent, will they have the courage to walk past it? The cultivated taste is shocked, pained, and grieved by some of these buildings for which the public have to find the money. I say that the attitude of the London County Council and the Westminster City Council is one to be severely deprecated. I doubt whether there is any county council or borough council in the country which, having the same responsibility, would cut the same pitiable figure as these councils do in this case. Let the representatives of London and Westminster take some pride in their work, and not keep getting into difficulties of all kinds, with the result that they have to come here, sometimes for large sums, and sometimes, as they are now doing, for a miserably small sum, putting themselves in a position of indebtedness to the entire ratepayers of the country. I say that the London County Council first, the Westminster City Council next, and the Government third, ought to be ashamed to bring in this Bill.
§ Mr. ALFRED BIRD
I would make a very earnest appeal to-night to the House to let this Bill pass the Second Reading. We are all conscious that the entrance to the Mall, as it now exists, has been for some years practically a national disgrace. I do not wish to go into the past, or to say upon whose shoulders the blame rests for that prolonged condition of affairs. When I came on the scene in connection with this matter I found three authorities at hopeless variance, and I had the greatest difficulty in unravelling all the entanglements which they had got into in respect of the various negotiations. I had to approach first one, and then another, and, by the exercise of whatever little tact I may 1891 possess, to reconcile them to meet one another and discuss the feasibility of putting an end to this state of affairs. I do say that any Members defeating or delaying this measure will find themselves accountable to a very serious public opinion if some action is not taken to put an end to the present condition of the entrance to the Mall. I wish to assure the hon. Member for Stafford (Sir W. Essex) that he need have no anxiety as to the way in which the architectural elevation of the new buildings will be dealt with. I would call his attention to Clause 4, which contains these wordsshall take all due steps to secure the erection upon the said lands of buildings or other structures in accordance with designs, sections, and specifications submitted to and approved by the Commissioners of Works.
§ Mr. BIRD
I would further explain that a committee was appointed by the three bodies, consisting of the Earl of Plymouth and Sir Reginald Blomfield—gentlemen well known and well experienced in matters of this description, and I am sure the nation may place every confidence in their judgment. With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Walworth (Mr. Dawes), I am bound to say that if he had my experience in bringing the authorities together he would not have been so ready to rake up the past, as he has been, in connection with this matter. I can assure him that the subject will be perfectly safe in the hands of the Committee to be appointed in connection with the Bill. I do think that it is taking up the time of the House unduly to discuss these matters in the way they have been discussed to-night. These are purely affairs for the Committee. I conclude by once more appealing to the House to allow the Bill to go through to-night, and not to prolong the unhappy state of affairs which exists at Trafalgar Square at present.
§ Captain JESSEL
I wish to reply shortly to the unjustifiable attack on the local authorities of London which has been made by the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth). The hon. Member seems to me in rather a fault-finding mood this evening, because he not only attacked the local authorities of London, but he ventured to 1892 find fault with the Government itself. He scolded the representative of the Government, and denounced the methods adopted in dealing with this question. As regards the London County Council and the Westminster authority, I myself think that there is very little blame to be attached to them in the matter. I quite disagree with the lion. Member for Pontefract that this is entirely a local matter. It is not; it is a national matter. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend (Mr. Boyton), the Crown is landlord in the whole position. I do not know why the hon. Member for Pontefract went for the Crown in the way he did in his own district. I suppose the Crown there is a bad landlord from the way he seemed to attack the Crown. At Pontefract they seem to have cut off one monarch's head. I do not know whether it is on account of that tradition, or because the Crown is the ground landlord there that they have such an animosity against the Crown. Whatever may be said in the matter—
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Captain JESSEL
I think the hon. Member is quite unaware of the fact that we in Westminster pay higher rates than in any other city in the Empire. We pay over £2,000,000, of which the city of Westminster itself only spends £300,000. I think, therefore, if the people of Westminster as a body contribute £1,750,000, it is treated badly by the people of London if we are to contribute ourselves one-third of the whole cost, while in addition to that Westminster pays its share of the rateable value of London. If there is one body to be commended in this matter, it is Westminster. As regards the London County Council the appeal put forward by the hon. Member for Walworth is, "I cannot see what interest my Constituents have in this matter; they do not come up often to the West end of London; they are poor constituents." Some other hon. Members made similar appeals. I think that the matter has now been more or less amicably settled. It is only owing to the persistence of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, whose good offices were used in the tactful way which distinguishes him to bring all the high contending parties together, that we have arrived at the happy issue to which I hope 1893 the House will give its approval this evening. The different matters which have been referred to are, I think, matters for the Committee upstairs. I notice that the hon. Member for St. George's-in-the-East is looking anxious about this Bill. I trust that he will not think that I would be guilty of obstruction, and I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw his Amendment and allow the Bill to have a Second Reading.
§ Mr. DAWES
In reference to the observations of the hon. Member who quoted Lord Peel's remarks, and after the criticisms which he made, I may point out that the chairman of the Phœnix Company, Lord George Hamilton, wrote to Lord Peel:—I do not understand how you can reconcile your words with the statement that I more than once made to you that the Phœnix Company were ready to co-operate with the London County Council in promoting this improvement, and that they had no intention either of driving a 'hard bargain' or exacting from the London County Council the full amount of the compensation to which they might be legally entitled. On both the occasions on which I met you, you put into the mouth of the Phœnix Company these words. On both occasions I emphatically repudiated that we had any such intentions.It is only fair to Lord George Hamilton that I should say that, and I will now ask the leave of the House to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD BENN
I beg to move, "That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of Five Members, Three to be nominated by the House and Two by the Committee of Selection:
"That all Petitions against the Bill presented five clear days before the meeting of the Committee be referred to the Committee; that the Petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents be heard against the Bill, and Counsel or Agents heard in support of the Bill:
"That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records:
"That Three be the quorum."
§ Mr. BOOTH
May I point out that this is rather an unusual Committee for a Bill of this kind? I do not think that it is a very good procedure. When three are selected by the House and two by the Com- 1894 mittee of Selection I do not like to suggest that they should all attend, but we are entitled to ask that fair consideration should be given to these two companies. They may have the fate of their West End branch decided by this Committee with only three present, and I think that that is too small a number considering the importance of the case. I am sure that the House would not want the slightest injustice done to either company. I do think that the five members should all be present, and I do not know whether you intend to take this matter up to-night, but I would like to move to delete the words, "That Three be the quorum."
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I will put the Question down to the word "records," and afterwards I can put the other Question.
Bill committed to a Select Committee of Five Members, Three to be nominated by the House and Two by the Committee of Selection:
Ordered, That all Petitions against the Bill presented five clear days before the meeting of the Committee be referred to the Committee; that the Petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents be heard against the Bill, and Counsel or Agents heard in support of the Bill:
§ Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.
§ Question proposed, "That Three be the quorum."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Ordered, That Three be the quorum.