HC Deb 13 June 1918 vol 106 cc2480-94


Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That the Bill be now read a second time."


I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day three months."

This Bill is to authorise the closing and sale of the Church of St. Olave, Southwark, and the sale of St. Olave's rectory, and the site of the old rectory; the extinction of the ecclesiastical parish of St. Olave, Southwark, and the merger thereof in other parishes, and for other purposes. The object I have in view, in bringing this question to the notice of the House, is to call attention to some of the provisions of this measure, and I do so as Member for the constituency in which this parish is situated. First of all, this Bill divides the old parish of St. Olave into two parts, handing over one portion to St. Paul's, Bermondsey, and the other to St. John's, Horsleydown. There are certain old charities in this parish, and they are mentioned generally in the Bill, but there is one charity in the old parish of St. Olave which, very curiously enough, is not mentioned in this Bill, and I do not know what the view of the Charity Commissioners is with regard to it, but it seems to me that the division of a parish like this is rather a dangerous question in regard to future contingencies. The charity, which is not mentioned, is rather a curious one; perhaps it can hardly be called a charity, it is a fund, derived from a very old burial ground on which the present London Bridge property of the South-Eastern Railway is built. The money which is obtained from this ground is divided between the rector of St. Olave's, the parish which is to be extinguished, and the rector of St. John, Horsleydown. There is no mention of this in the Bill, and unless the matter is dealt with it will lead, I suppose, to litigation. I take the line that the promoters of this Bill have acted in some roundabout fashion in regard to the future administration of the parish. The parish of St. Olave is a very oldone, and was divided by an Act of the reign of George II., out of it being carved the newer parish of St. John, Horsleydown. So I should have thought that the most practical method for administering this ecclesiastical matter in future would be to re-establish the original parish, using St. John's Church, and keeping the charities as they have existed in the same parish—that is to say:, counting the parish of St. Olave in it, not adding a portion to St. Paul's, Bermondsey, but giving the whole area of the parish to the supervision of the church of St. John's, and calling it the parish of St. Olave and St. John. If that were done it would save future confusion, and it would enable the Crown to have an adequate living for the parish of St. Olave and St. John. By this Bill the proceeds are divided in such a way as to convey the sum of £150 to the rector of St. John's, and £75 to the rector of St. Paul's, Bermondsey. If the original boundary were to be introduced into the Bill, you would then have the substantial addition of £200 income for the rector of St. John's, and would make 'him responsible for the whole parish, as he was before the Act of George II. was passed. That is an arrangement which should be introduced into this Bill.

A further point is one which raises the most opposition and most criticism. When this Bill was introduced originally it was the object of the promoters to sell and build over the whole site of the church, and it was only by the action f the Metropolitan Open Spaces Society that an Instruction was promoted and moved in another place to the Committee, which dealt with the Bill, and this Instruction led to the introduction in the Bill of Clause 9, which deals with that part of the sites of the old church and old churchyard which is not to be built upon. The Bill, as originally introduced in the other place, proposed to override no less than three Acts of Parliament, by which the old burial grounds attached to the churches were to be preserved as "free spaces. The society and the local authority, the Borough council, In the interest of the public amenities and the health of the community, succeeded in getting this Clause introduced. It is very easy for anybody who is interested in the matter to prove clearly that this Clause is not worth the paper on which it is printed, and to prove that the open space which will be secured by this Clause will not be worth having. I ask the House to look a little closely into this matter, and I wish to put before hon. Members this point of view: The promoters are to get from the site as much money as they can. I quite recognise that their object is a very laudable one. One of the promoters of the Bill is the Bishop of the Diocese, and he looks at it entirely from the point of view of the church. He wishes to utilise the proceeds of the sale for the creation of a parish in some other part, where he says it is very much needed, an unknown locality, and at any rate nowhere near this part Of London. The promoters of the Bill made anagreement with the London County Council, who appeared by petition, and it was proposed in regard to the proceeds of this site that the London County Council should obtain the sum of £5,000, in order to devote that to open spaces as near as possible to the actual site. It was maintained that, by this proposal, the principle of the three Acts of Parliament which I mentioned would be maintained.

Looking at it, however, from the point of view of the constituency which I represent, I strongly protest against that arrangement, and against the value of this site being taken by the promoters of the Bill with the object, no doubt, of promoting the spiritual welfare of people living far from this district, and by the London County Council, who wish to devote the sum I have named for open spaces nowhere near. I do not think this is a very praiseworthy method of dealing with this matter. This neighbourhood is badly in need of open spaces; it is surrounded by poor parishes, and I want to secure such value as can be obtained from this site for the inhabitants of the old parish and its surrounding district. I want to see that the principle of the three Acts of Parliament is maintained, not in some site in the suburbs, but in this very place.

My hon. Friends who will speak for the London County Council will doubtless pour scorn upon this small open space which is preserved in this compromise Clause. It has been said that it is not much more than the size of a lawn tennis court, but I say that a piece of ground even that size in the situation it is proposed to be by this Bill is infinitely more valuable to the people of London than any extension of a great park in the suburbs. Further, the view to be obtained from this small open space is very fine. From it you can see the whole of the arches of London Bridge, the Fishmongers' Hall, and the fine buildings on that side of the river. There is no open space near, and it will be an excellent place in which people can take their midday meal It is far more important to retain even these small spaces£ and I quite admit I would rather have a larger space if possible£than to sacrifice the "whole of the site, build it over, override previous Acts of Parliament, and devote the money towards an open space in the suburbs. Without any desire to obstruct the spiritual work of the promoters, I would say that if the people of this unknown parish in a distant part of London want a church, let them pay for it, and let the ground landlords of that parish pay for it, but let us keep this site for those who are natives of the place. This small space is valuable to the people who have to live and work there, and that is why I have taken up the attitude that I have adopted. I trust that the rather specious arguments which are always put forward to overthrow a compromise will not be pressed very far. The compromise was arrived at by the promoters, by the Bermondsey Borough Council, and by the Metropolitan Open Spaces Society. I admit that the London County Council was not a party to it, but I think we are justified in supporting this part of the Bill. If the Bill is to be passed, let it be passed with this compromise, without which it will be a grave injury to the cause of open spaces and to the needs of the district, and if any money is to be taken from the proceeds of the sale and given to any public body I say it should not be given to the London County Council, but to the local authority, the Bermondsey Borough Council.


I have been listening to see what arguments the hon. Member would address to the House in support of his Motion. He told the House quite frankly that he looked at it from the point of view of his constituency, the Borough of Rotherhithe.


On a point of Order. Do we understand that the hon. Member is seconding the Motion for the rejection of the Bill?


He has given notice of seconding it, and I presume he is doing so.


I was going on to point out to the House, when I was interrupted, that I have wider grounds for the Motion, which, stands in my name as well as in that of the hon. Member who moved it, than those which he has put forward. I found it a little difficult from his speech to see how he would gain his object or why he moved the rejection of the Bill, because it is quite clear that he believes in the compromise embodied in Clause 9, and he appears to be moving the rejection of the Bill on Second Reading, because he is so much afraid that if it goes to Committee, Clause 9 will be taken out of it. I am anxious to bring this matter before the House from a different point of view, and I would like to give my account of it, as I have got it from the agents of the promoters and from a careful perusal of the Debate on Third Reading in their Lordships' House, which has hardly been alluded to in this Debate. The position in regard to this Bill is very curious. First of all, the Bishop and the present Rector of St. Olave's (Canon Craig) are the promoters of the scheme. They want to be able to sell the site of the church, lock, stock, and barrel, so to speak, and to utilise the proceeds for a new church, a new rectory, and the endowment of a church somewhere within the Diocese of South-wark. I do not think anyone would maintain that that was not a laudable object, or that a church which is practically disused, and which serves no resident population worth speaking of, would not be very much better if it were done away with and an adequate church provided somewhere with a proper endowment and a rectory where the population has moved to.

Then the London County Council step in and say that, though they strongly approve of the objects of the promoters, they think they are asking to get a little too much for the church; that the scheme, if it were carried out, would undoubtedly override the Disused Burial Grounds Act of 1884, and something, therefore, should be done in the way of an open space. It was said in the House of Lords that the open space to be rendered vacant would be in about the most unsuitable place you could possibly conceive for such a purpose. Even stronger language was used by Lord Southwark, who ought to know the subject as well as anybody, having represented the constituency of West South wark for twenty-two years. "As an old Member for West Southwark for twenty-two years," he said— [An Hon. Member: "This is not in that part of the borough at all!"] It is not as remote as New York, any way! The London County Council said that some portion of the proceedings of the sale should be handed over for a suitable open space, and it was agreed that £5,000 should be handed over to the county council, that a memorial of the old church should be erected in a suitable manner on the site by way of a tablet or otherwise, and that the old church, the actual structure, instead of being destroyed, should be removed and re-erected elsewhere where the population had moved to and where the church was required. That scheme is the scheme which was put forward as an alternative to Clause 9. Lord Crewe did not move his Clause 9, because Lord Muir-Mackenzie's Clause, which is the one in the Bill, had already been introduced, but Lord Crewe said in his speech that he anticipated that the question would be raised in the House, and that it would be debated and his scheme would be con- sidered. Clause 9 as he proposed it was supported in an extraordinarily able speech by Lord Curzon and some other Noble Lords, who took the trouble to go down to the locality and to see whether the scheme was really a workable arrangement or not.

The first point I want to make is that the scheme as it is in the Bill pleases nobody. It clearly does not satisfy the county council, because it is the opposite of their scheme. It does not satisfy the promoters of the Bill, because it cuts the site into two halves from the river towards Tooley Street, leaving a frontage of only about 50 feet available on the river, and practically making what is already a rather narrow site for the purpose of a wharf and a warehouse into an almost impossibly narrow site for the purpose, and consequently enormously diminishing the value. It certainly did not meet with the approval of Lord Muir-Mackenzie, who was the Chairman of the Committee, because he solemnly warned their Lordships not to use the mandatory Instruction to a Committee of the Lords as a precedent, because it landed them in various difficulties in regard to this Bill. The Instruction which they found so difficult to get away from is referred to in this way in Lord Muir-Mackenzie s Committee's own Report: In accordance with the Instructions passed by the House on the Second Reading of the Bill, the Committee have inserted a Clause reserving out of the power to sell the premises an obligation to retain the existing churchyard as an open space; but they feel it their duty to represent to the House that the result must be the dropping of the Bill and the loss not only of the benefits which were in view for the diocese, but also of the abatement of the sad conditions now prevailing. So that the actual Instruction which caused all this difficulty was one which could not possibly be carried out because the promoters would not have proceeded a single yard with their proposal. Therefore this compromise was arrived at, and we are in rather a curious position, not only with regard to the Bill as a whole, but with regard to this particular Clause. Clause 9 states that Nothing contained in this Act shall be deemed to allow any building to be erected on so much of the disused burial ground forming the churchyard attached to the old church and of the site of the old church being not less than one-half of the whole area of the existing churchyard and church site as is delineated on a plan signed in duplicate by the Lord Muir-Mackenzie, Chairman of the Committee to whom the Bill was referred, one copy to be deposited in the Parliament Office and the other in the Private Bill Office of the Home of Commons. 8 0 P M.

On inquiry, I am informed that there is no such plan. I asked the agents of the promoters where the plan was, and they told me that the plan did not exist. It never has been signed by Lord Muir-Mackenzie, it is not deposited in the Bill Office, and it may be completed to morrow, and if it is it will then be signed by Lord Muir-Mackenzie. We are therefore in the curious position of debating a Bill without having a plan which shows the two rival proposals, but the Debate in the House of Lords makes the matter fairly clear. Of course Lord Muir-Mackenzie's position was that the Committee, having an instruction which it was quite impossible to carry out, had to make the best compromise they could, and they thought that this was the best. Lord Crewe, in addressing their Lordships, expressed a hope that they would not agree to the Amendment of Lord Muir-Mackenzie, as it was that most unfortunate sort of compromise which was practically agreeable to nobody. He indicated that the space to be given by the compromise was only 60 feet by 54 feet, with, perhaps, a few feet added by the proviso. But his Lordship added a hope that their Lordships would not give an almost pedantic adherence to the rule, an admirable one in itself, that disused burial grounds should not be built upon. The Disused Burials Act lays it down that it shall not be lawful to erect buildings on disused burial grounds. But there is also a proviso such as our ancestors were in the habit of introducing into their legislation, whereby they avoided landing themselves in the tangles and boggles such as this Bill represents. They always left a loophole, and now it seems to be forgotten that in exceptional cases Parliament may, in its wisdom, say the Act shall not apply. I think if there is a case in which that can be said it is the case of this particular site. This has been spoken of as a very poor neighbourhood. It is not a residential locality. It is a valuable little bit of river frontage of about 100 feet, at the side of which is Hayes Wharf, one of the natural mouths through which London gets its food supplies. It is proposed in this absurd compromise to cut this narrow little site into halves, and to have a wretched little piece of 50 feet, with Hayes Wharf on the one side and another wharf, the name of which I forget, on the other, with enormously high buildings on each side of the site. By stretching out one's neck the arches of London Bridge may be seen. One of the approaches to the site is through Tooley Street, which is absolutely thronged with vans and a most dangerous place for the children and people who are likely to frequent this proposed open space. I believe under the county council scheme it was proposed to take another 9 feet off the site in order to widen the Tooley Street approach. The church tower is to be kept where it is, sticking into Tooley Street, although the church itself is to be entirely demolished.

Will the House listen to what Lord Southwark said on this point? "I do not think we can afford to throw away such advantages as we have got right in the heart of the City. From my little practical experience of the locality, and looking at it from a business point of view, it will be a horrible waste of money to carry out Lord Muir-Mackenzie's Report." Now we have no money to waste at the present time. All the arguments in the House of Lords were against the compromise. We cannot judge properly of the effects of the proposal, because the signed plans to which the Report refers do not exist at the moment. All the weight of the argument was in favour of the county council's proposal. I also am strongly in favour of the proposals of the county council. This Church of St. Olave is not a very ancient structure. It was built, I believe, about 1730. It is not one of Sir Christopher Wren's designing, but it is the work of one of his pupils, and not a very good example of the somewhat debased classic style of that period. But, at any rate, it has a history of nearly two hundred years, and what I want to suggest is—and. it is quite as important as the principle that disused burial grounds should not be built on—that where, owing to the pressure of business and change in the density of population old City churches, or other churches, cease to be of any use in the place where they were originally erected, and become only an encumbrance and a hindrance, they should not be demolished, but the traditions of the church should be kept up, the churches themselves should be removed stone by stone, whether they be fine examples of architecture or not, and should be re-erected in some outlying suburb of the City or in some other place where the population has grown and where a church is required, and in re-erection any necessary improvements or enlargements can be made. I think it would be a great feature in popularising these garden suburbs, to have some definite chain connecting them with the past, such as a church. I like the county council scheme, because it provides that St. Olave's Church shall be taken away and be re-erected, including the tower which is to be left under the scheme of the Bill, where it will only be an obstruction.

The CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS (Mr. Whitley)

I have listened with much interest to the speeches of the two hon. Members who have proposed to kill this Bill. My powers of observation may be deficient, but it did appear to me that each of them was in favour of keeping the Bill alive. One wants the Bill as it entered the House of Lords; the other wants the Bill as it left the House of Lords. I cannot conceive any matter more suitable for a Committee of this House to examine into and to pronounce upon. We have great confidence in the Committees of this House. I am informed that both parties—the borough council on the one hand and the county council on the other— have lodged Petitions to appear and state their case before the Committee should the Bill be sent to one, and, therefore, we may anticipate a full consideration of the plan by the Committee. It may be, perhaps, that the members of the Committee will think well to visit the site. It does therefore appear to me this is eminently a case where we ought not to throw out the Bill on the Second Reading but to let it be properly examined upstairs. I can say to the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill that I will take care that the point he raised about the charity, which may not be mentioned in either of the Petitions, shall be carefully looked into by the Committee if the Bill goes upstairs. I can assure him also with my knowledge of the Committees of this House 'that they will not look merely at the size of the open space which may result from a proposal of this kind. I can well believe that a small site with a frontage on the river may be of more real public value than a larger area or perhaps an addition to an existing open space in some other district. I am quite certain a Committee of this House will be very careful on a point of that kind, and I am quite sure also that any Committee of this House will come to a consideration of the question with a feeling in favour of maintaining the principles of the Disused Burial Grounds Act. We have had many contests in days gone by on that matter, and it is well known how much store is set by the provisions of that Act. I do not mean to say that that or any other Act should absolutely never be departed from if a Committee of the House, subject to the agreement of the House itself, so decides. But I think quite rightly any Committee will deal with it with a desire that an Act of that kind shall not be overridden. I strongly recommend the House to read the Bill a second time and to send it upstairs for examination by a competent Committee.


I do not know whether the Mover or Seconder of the Amendment propose to press the matter to a Division. It seemed to me they were anxious rather to dispute with each other than to defeat the Bill. At any rate, I do not quite know what line they expect hon. Members to take. I rose more particularly to apologise to the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto), who, when he commenced to speak, adopted what appeared to be an antagonistic tone to the Mover, and I thought that probably he had changed his mind, and was going to throw him over; but he has given a very interesting historical account of the proceedings, and I think now the appeal of the Chairman of Ways and Means might be responded to forthwith.


The Chairman of Ways and Means, in my judgment, has very properly and very fairly, and with a knowledge of the subject, which affords ample justification for his advice, asked the House to pass the Second Reading of this Bill. I cordially support his appeal for one or two reasons, which I may briefly state. The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto), I think, misunderstood the reason why the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Captain Carr-Gomm) put down his Motion for the rejection of the Bill, in terms similar to the Motion of the hon. Member himself. It was in the hope, not that it would be carried, but that it would give him an opportunity of putting, as he has very properly done, the views of the locality with regard to the preservation for the district itself of a small open space which, in my judgment, ought to be retained where it is. I am sure that the last thing that the Member for Rotherhithe wished was that the House of Commons should carry the Motion that this Bill be read a second time upon this day three months. The hon. Member for Devizes did not press the point that he would like the Bill destroyed. I do not think he will press his Motion to a Division. He only put it down, I gather, so that he could give expression to the view that whatever the other points of view about this open space were, he preferred that of the London County Council. I have been many years in this House, and I have invariably supported the London County Council in nearly all its works. It seems to me that this is about the only time in thirty years that the county council has been coming to the House of Commons in connection with public affairs relating to the Metropolis that I have heartily disagreed with their attitude upon a particular subject. The fact is that the value of an open space in London, on the river, to the district in which that open space is situated is in inverse ratio to the size of the open space if it happens to be on the River Thames, and my own view is that 100 feet, or 50 feet, secured opposite the Tower, opposite London Bridge, with the Monument and many other public objects in view, with the movement and light and shade of the river itself, gives enjoyment from a limited view point much better than if you were to have ten times that area attached to southwark Park, or Clapham, or Battersea, or somewhere else where open spaces are not needed to the extent they are in this particular district.

I trust we shall not have—and, indeed, I am sure we shall not have—any of the ecclesiastical elements entering into this. There are really no ecclesiastical points in this particular Bill, but I would like to point out to the hon. Member for Devizes that the promoter of the Bill, the Bishop of Southwark, and the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, with thirty-three others, voted in favour of Clause 9, which is the compromise Clause that the hon. Member for Rotherhithe has declared himself so firmly to be in favour of on behalf of the district. When to the Bishop of Southwark, who is the promoter of the Bill, there is added the weight and authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and that of Lord Muir-Mackenzie, who himself was chairman of the Committee that considered the Bill, it seems to me that all the authorities moral, spiritual, ecclesiastical, and archi- tectural, are on the side of Clause 9 which the hon. Member for Rotherhithe so stoutly defends this evening. The only point that has been raised by the hon. Member for Devizes is, if he will allow me to say so, a narrow and a technical one. He complains that there has not been yet seen the deposit plan in connection with this particular open space. The hon. Member for Devizes can rely upon it that the House of Commons Committees, which are punctilious in these matters, will have that plan. Members of the House of Commons will have an opportunity of seeing it, and from that purely technical point of view there is not much claim for the case of the hon. Member for Devizes. I would ask the House to remember that it is not sufficient that the county council should say, "Let the promoters of the Bill clear away this church." I have nothing to say upon that. Let us have the site of the burial' ground for £5,000, so that the London County Council, which is the Metropolitan parks authority, can spend that £5,000 elsewhere. The value of this site is where it now is. There are historical, literary, ecclesiastical, and religious as distinct from ecclesiastical grounds for that burial ground being retained as an open space and an amenity for all time on the banks of the River Thames.

I will only put one other point, and it tells rather against the fact raised by the hon. Member for Devizes. He said it would be preposterous that next to Hayes Wharf—a large wharf on the River Thames where, there are many hundreds and at this moment probably thousands of men and women employed—you should have a narrow open space wedged in between Hayes Wharf and the next wharf but one. The very fact that there are hundreds and thousands of men and women, dockers, stevedores, lighter men, and a large number of women and girls to whom a rest-place on the river of even a limited size is a great boon either in the breakfast, the lunch, or the tea hour, in my judgment is the strongest argument for its retention as an amenity, as a recreation ground, and a strong reason against it being sold and the money spent by the county council in a district that will never have such a claim for an open space as this poor district, that is now more park-less and has fewer gardens and fewer acres of open space per thousand of its population than any other district of London. That area and district has a claim, and now that this compromise has been blessed by Lords spiritual, temporal, and ecclesiastical, and the Archbishop and the Bishop of Southwark are in favour of this project, I hope the House will not accept the advice of the hon. Member for Devizes, but that it will take the advice of the Chairman of Committees and let this Bill go upstairs. I am satisfied that if the Committee see this open space and read the Debate which took place in the House of Lords, whereby, by 35 to 6, the proposal of the hon. Member for Rotherhithe was forced on Lord Curzon, who, in my judgment, made the most unconvincing, the least artistic, and the most repeliant speech he has ever made in the course of a long public career—when, by 35 to 6, the House of Lords decided against the county council and in favour of the hon. Member for Rotherhithe, I trust that the House of Commons, on this particular occasion—it is rarely I have an opportunity of saying it—will say ditto to the majority in the House of Lords, and will reject the Motion of the hon. Member for Devizes.


Like Lord Southwark, I represent part of the borough in which this particular open space is located, and, further, I have had the honour of representing this very constituency on the London County Council for twelve years. I should just like to say with regard to our borough that we feel very strongly that an open space which at some period or other was paid for by the people in the district should be the property of the district, and we recognise in the circumstances the necessity for some compromise which will yield us at least part of that which was previously paid for by the local population. There is a very considerable population in that neighbourhood now. There is an enormous block of dwellings only a few hundred yards from this site. It has some six storeys, and I think no less than 649 different sets of dwellings are in that block alone. Although the district has a river frontage this particular site happens to be the only site on a river frontage of three miles and a-half that is approached from any main road. Anyone who wants to get to an open space from London Bridge to Deptford has to go down tortuous back turnings before reaching it. We would rather have the whole of it, but we do resent the London County Council coming and saying, "You have something here that is of very considerable cash value. We propose to sell it, to walk off with the cash, distribute it to some other people who do not require a site nearly as much as you do this one. We propose to take away what you at some time or another have paid for and to give you something else twenty-five miles away." The people of the district strongly resent such an attitude, and they are very much surprised that the London County Council should come forward with such a proposition.


They never did!


We want as much of that site as we can get left to us in the district to enjoy. It joins the two railway termini, and a tramway terminus is only a few feet from the entrance to that church. It is a very convenient spot, and I do not think there is the slightest danger of people meeting with accidents there any more than in any other part of the Metropolis. I think that is simply an excuse brought forward in order to enable the vendors to handle the scheme in such a way as will suit mainly the objects of the purchasers rather than the interests of the public.


I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed.

The remaining Orders were read and postponed.