HC Deb 09 February 1922 vol 150 cc459-62

May I be permitted to allude to a matter to which I referred at Question time, the removal of the temporary buildings in Regent's Park. I accept with gratitude and relief the assurance of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Pollok Division of Glasgow (Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. Gilmour) that the buildings which are being taken away from the Embankment and St. James's Park are not going to be re-erected in Regent's Park. I also accept with gratitude his promise that the buildings now being vacated by the Ministry of Pensions shall not be occupied by fresh feminine battalions from somewhere else. I cannot accept with equal enthusiasm the assurance of the First Commissioner with regard to the clearing away of all the buildings in the Park. What he says is that all the temporary buildings erected for war purposes in the parks and open spaces will be cleared at the earliest possible date, and that he is sparing no effort to this end. Unfortunately I raised this question 2½ years ago and got exactly the same reply. On 7th July, 1919, the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Dudley Ward), on behalf of the then First Commissioner, said: The question of removing the temporary buildings in Regent's Park has been receiving my right hon. Friend's serious attention for some considerable time past. He will spare no effort to secure their removal at the earliest possible moment. It is quite obvious that, although we have a new First Commissioner, the literary talent at his disposal is the same as that at the disposal of his predecessor. Word for word the answer given me to-day is the same as the answer given me 2½ years ago. I am sorry to say that I was rude enough on that occasion to ask a supplementary question as to whether there were two gentlemen in the Department, named respectively Dilly and Daily. Eleven months later the hon. Member for North Newcastle (Mr. Doyle) raised the same question, and he asked, in view of the apparently permanent character of the Government erec- tions in Regent's Park, by whose authority were such open public spaces permanently divorced from their legitimate purpose? The reply of the right hon. Baronet was that the buildings were erected during the War to meet an urgent public need which still existed. That had not even the advantage of accuracy, because many of the buildings were erected since the Armistice. I want to recall the Air Force Stores as they were in July, 1919. The hon. Member for Limehouse (Sir W. Pearce) asked then when the Air Force Stores in Regent's Park would be vacated. The right hon. Member for Ilkeston (Major-General Secly) said the 1st September had been fixed as the date. That was 1st September, 1919, a long time ago. In October, 1920, I asked whether certain buildings erected during the War on a portion of Regent's Park were occupied by the Aircraft Disposal Company, and, if so, whether any condition had been imposed upon that company for the early vacation of the buildings. The right hon. Member for Central Sheffield (Mr. James Hope) replied that the premises were occupied by the Aircraft Disposal Company with the consent of the Minister of Munitions subject to their surrender not later than 12th September, 1921. The question of their demolition would rest for decision with the Office of Works. Last August my hon. Friend stated that the huts were occupied by the Imperial and Foreign Corporation, Limited, and he said: "The question of their continued occupation is at present under consideration with the Treasury." I understand that at the present moment the Imperial and Foreign Corporation, Limited, are still in occupation. We are told to-day that good progress is being made. So far as I can see, the only progress that the Air Stores' question has made in three years is that they have changed their name three times. They were originally the Royal Aircraft Stores, then the Aircraft Disposal Company, Limited, and now the Imperial and Foreign Corporation, Limited. I hope my hon. Friend will be able to give some satisfactory assurance to the large mass of population who look to Regent's Park for recreation and enjoyment. It is the only breathing space for a large part of London, and I ask that the buildings of the Ministry of Pensions now being vacated there shall be demolished as fast as they are vacated. I asked a year ago that these persons should leave Regent's Park. I am glad to say they have gone to Acton, and I congratulate my hon. Friend (Sir H. Brittain) on having got them in his constituency. We do, not want them in Regent's Park. Regent's Park is badly wanted for other purposes. It will be wanted in the summer for cricket. At the present time not half of the cricket clubs that want space in Regent's Park have been able to get it. I hope my hon. Friend will assure us that the space occupied by these buildings will be placed again at the disposal of the public. He is always courteous, and I am sure he will do everything in his power to meet the legitimate demands of the people of that part of London.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. GILMOUR (Lord of the Treasury)

I can assure my hon. Friend that I regret that my answer of to-day should have left him with any feeling that the First Commissioner of Works and the Office of Works are not doing everything they can to clear Regent's Park at, the earliest possible moment. I am aware that he takes great interest in this question. I have on previous occasions given him what information I could. He has referred to what was originally the Royal Air Force building. That was never under our control, and is not now under our control. As soon as it does come under our control and is transferred to our charge, we will take the necessary steps for its demolition. In regard to the Ministry of Pensions, these buildings will disappear in a very short time. Already 50 per cent. of the staff of these buildings has been transferred to Acton. In a short time the demolition of a large number of these buildings will be actually in progress, and I hope that the whole of the buildings will be vacated in the month of April. A large portion of the Chester Gate Buildings will be demolished within a month from the present time if the plans are carried out, and I can assure my hon. Friend that no other staffs are being or will be put into these buildings. With regard to the Ordnance Stores, they have actually gone. Gloucester Gate buildings have been retained, and are at the present time re-occupied by the Army Pay Staff, who have been removed from Alexandra Palace. These will disappear entirely. As soon as they do—I cannot give a definite date—those buildings will be demolished. I do not know anything more that I can say except to add that the First Commissioner and the Office of Works are anxious to meet to the full the wishes of my hon. and gallant Friend.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-six Minutes after Eleven o'clock.