HC Deb 06 March 1928 vol 214 cc1082-7

Order for Second Reading read.

The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Sir William Mitchell-Thomson)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is one of the ordinary Measures of this kind in connection with the Post Office, which have become almost annual affairs in the House. It enables the Post Office to acquite certain sites for the purposes of its working, and as hon. Members who are familiar with previous Bills of the kind know, the Measure will after the Second Reading follow the Private Bill procedure by going to a Select Committee. It then comes back to this House for a further Committee stage and for Third Reading, and I can assure the House that there is nothing in the present Bill which calls for any detailed discussion at the present stage.


How much money is involved??


I could not state exactly. That is a matter for negotiation.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I should like some further explanation regarding this Bill. I, for one reason or another, have not been present when the right hon. Gentleman has introduced previous Measures of the kind, and I am not acquainted with all the circumstances which he has mentioned. For example, I should like to know more about sites which the Post Office has in view and in which areas they are. I think the right hon. Gentleman ought surely to be able to give the House some idea of how much it will cost even if it is still a matter of negotiation.


I wish to raise one question on this Bill which interests me because it affects my constituency. In the city of Leeds there is a burial ground which was closed some years ago under the Disused Burial Grounds Acts. That Act provides that it shall not be lawful, when a burial ground has been closed, to erect upon it any building except a church or chapel or place of worship. This Bill proposes to erect a Post Office on the site of the burial ground in Leeds, and it is provided that if human remains are found the Postmaster-General shall, without being required to obtain any faculty, cause the same to be decently removed and interred in some consecrated ground to which the Bishop of Ripon may consent. I want to know why the Post Office, when they wish to erect a new Post Office, choose a consecrated burial ground as the site? I should have thought they could have found some more suitable site for the purpose. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is a Bill which is constantly before the House. It cannot always happen that the Post Office wishes to put up new buildings on a burial ground. The Act of 1884 says in terms that you shall not put secular buildings on a burial ground. Why should this particular burial ground be desecrated by a Post Office?

There is another thing. The Bishop of Ripon, apparently, is to consent to the disposal of the bones buried in this particular ground. As far as I know, this burial ground was not closed so very long ago. It was in 1850, I think. How do we know that the persons buried are Members of the Church of England? Some of them may be Roman Catholics and Nonconformists. We do not know. At any rate, there is no particular reason why the Bishop of Ripon should consent to the disposal of the remains any more than the Bishop of any other denomination. We want to know why you are using a burial ground to extend this Post Office. Probably the right hon. Gentleman will say that this burial ground is near an existing post office, and that that is the reason. I want to know whether this ground is being used at present as a public recreation ground. If so, is he closing an area where people may disport themselves. [Laughter.] The House seems to be very much amused, but it is really a serious question I am asking. First of all, there is the consecrated nature of the ground, and, secondly, the fact that this ground is now used by children and other people. It is possibly laid out as a park or open space—I do not know. We ought not to consent to this Clause going forward, although it may be said to be a Committee point—and after all, the whole Bill is only dealing with two post office sites of which this is one—without some assurance that the Post Office have looked round for further accommodation, seeing that this ground was used as a burial ground and was a properly consecrated ground for the interment of remains.


I asked the right hon. Gentleman opposite at Question time to-day whether he would remedy a grievance which we have in Wales with regard to appointments in the Post Office, and I rise in order to protest against the very flippant answer which he gave. He said he saw no more reason for the appointment, in the case of future vacancies in the Post Office, of those who had an acquaintance with the Welsh language than he thought the Welsh Members ought to have an acquaintance with the Welsh language. If the right hon. Gentleman knew the Welsh Members as well as I do, he would know that they are conversant with the Welsh language. If he wishes me to address him in Welsh, I shall have very much pleasure in doing so, though I am afraid he would be rather bored before I sat down. I hope he will give this matter his very serious consideration. There are some people in some of the parts of Wales who are really not acquainted with the English language, and it is a slight and a slur on a gallant nation to refuse them the right to speak their own language in public places.


That would not be in order on this occasion.


I should not like to he discourteous to the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), hut he will find all the sites set out in the Bill and the details are a matter for Committee. With regard to the question put by the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser), I am not at all surprised that he should have asked what was a very proper question. The facts are these: In that portion of his constituency there is this disused burial ground. It has been disused since 1854, as far as I am aware. My statements must be ex parte, because the matter must be examined by a Committee upstairs with proper evidence. As I am informed, the ground was never, in fact, a consecrated ground. It was burial ground of the sect known as the Inghamites. The hon. and learned Gentleman expressed some apprehension lest this ground should be used as an open space for the recreation of children.


What I said was that it was probably so used now, and my apprehension was that it would no longer be so used.


The hon. and learned Gentleman need not have any apprehension on that subject. I now understand that he expressed apprehension that is might cease to be used as an open space for the recreation of children and other purposes. As a matter of fact, the area of the burial ground is occupied in part by the Postmaster-General at the present moment, although not built upon. As to the other part of the burial ground, it is occupied by the whole width of Toronto Street and for about 15 feet on either side of the street it is now covered with substantial buildings which have been there since 1891. The hon. and learned Gentleman will see that this ground, as a burial ground, has long ago ceased to exist, and in these circumstances, I hope and believe the Committee will agree to this appropriation of the remaining part by the Post Office for the purposes of the Post Office.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Before we leave this point, there is a reference on page 3 to Mount Street Gardens, which are public gardens in the City of Westminster. Westminster is notoriously short of playing-grounds, and is the right hon. Gentleman going to put a post office on these playing-grounds?


I would like to ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, why no reply was given to the hon. Member on my left who put a point that surely was worth being considered and replied to? Does the Postmaster-General think he can walk in here, and in that off-hand manner of his not care whether he does reply or not?


The hon. Member for Anglesey (Sir R. Thomas) was speaking on a point which was not in order.


If that be the case, I put it, with all respect to you, that it is too late in the day for you to say that, because you never objected, but allowed him to go on.


I was moved by the reference to the Inghamites. I would like to know if there is anything in the archives of the Post Office which will tell us whether originally there was any protest from them when the matter was first raised, and was there any protest after the Inghamites were disturbed?


I can only speak again by leave of the House. The Inghamites, as far as I am aware, ceased to exist as an active force many years ago. It is believed that all the bodies in this particular portion of ground have long since been removed. It is said that that was done in 1891. It is, however, a little difficult to say, but a part of the ground is in fact covered by streets and buildings and the remaining part is in the occupation of the Post Office, and I do not think any question is likely to arise.


Why should the Bishop of Ripon have jurisdiction over the bones of defunct Inghamites?


Because, so far as I know, there are no residuary legatees of the Inghamites. In regard to the Mount Street Gardens, the apprehensions of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) are in fact not well founded. It is not proposed to disturb the surface of the gardens, as the work proposed to be executed is a tunnel, which has to be not less than 16 feet from the surface of the ground.

Bill be committed to a Select Committee of seven Members, four to be nominated by the House and three by the Committee of Selection.

Ordered, That all Petitions against the Bill, presented three 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 heard in support of the Bill:

Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records:

Ordered, That Three be the quorum of the Committee.—[Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson.]