HC Deb 23 November 1928 vol 222 cc2166-70

Order for Second Reading read.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Lieut.-Colonel Sir Vivian Henderson)

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

3.0 p.m.

A few words of explanation of this Bill are due to the House. Briefly speaking, the Bill covers what we know as two sides, of Parliament Square—Abingdon Street, St. Margaret's Street and Old Palace. Yard. At present that part of Parliament Square and those streets are maintained and administered by the Office of Works. It is proposed in the Bill to hand them over to the Westminster City Council for the purposes of maintenance. In the Bill there are two points which deserve consideration. The House will see that in Clause 1, Sub-section (2), there is a reference to an ancient Act, the Metropolis Management Act of 1855. Originally the Crown property in London was administered by special ad hoc Commissioners set up in 1825. When the Office- of Works was established in 1851 the powers of the Commissioners were taken away, so far as this property was concerned, and were given to the Office of Works. But whereas the Commissioners had the power to levy a rate for the purpose of maintaining these streets, the Office of Works have never had that power and the charge for maintaining the streets falls on the Estimates. The Vestries of St. John's and St. Margaret's, who then occupied the place of the present Westminster City Council, were expressly excluded by this Act from levying a rate for that purpose because the property was not under their jurisdiction. As we are handing over this property for the purpose of maintenance to the Westminster City Council, it is obviously necessary to repeal one Section of that Act so as to enable them to levy a rate for purposes of maintenance.

The other point which the House will observe is the Sub-section by which there are retained to this House all the ancient powers and privileges which Members have had from time immemorial; that is to say, Parliament Square will remain part of the Palace of Westminster so far as the jurisdiction of the Lord Great Chamberlain is concerned. Everyone will realise that when this property was originally taken over by the Office of Works, Abingdon Street and Parliament Square were of quite a different character from that of to-day. Abingdon Street was practically a cul-de-sac; there was no St. Margaret's Street and very little through traffic. Owing to the opening of Millbank there is now an enormous amount of through traffic from Victoria Street and Whitehall. In the same way because of the adoption of the roundabout system in Parliament Square there is now a tremendous lot of traffic in the Square itself. It is most desirable from a traffic point of view that there should not be this enclave. The Westminster City Council, who are a highway authority and are entitled to a grant from the Road Fund, should administer and maintain this property rather than the Office of Works who are not a highway authority and are not entitled to a Road Fund grant.


Is the Office of Works responsible for what was Mr. Labouchere's house, now the Industrial Commissioners' Office, and for that side of Abingdon Street? Is the Office of Works parting with any of those rights to make such improvements as are desirable there? Some day that house and other houses near should be removed in order to display to the public what is called King John's Tower, which is very little known. I would like his assurance that the Office of Works is not parting with any rights which would enable it later, when finance permits, to make this public improvement.


As far as I know, I think I can give this assurance; but I will give the hon. Member my promise that I will look into this point before the Bill comes back from the Select Committee.


While these streets still remain within the jurisdiction of the Office of Works I should like to make a suggestion with regard to them, knowing that it could not be put into operation by the hon. and gallant Member if this Bill goes through, but hoping that he may use his influence to pass it on to the new authority. At present considerable delay is caused, owing to the practice—the commendable practice no doubt—of policemen holding up the traffic in order to allow hon. Members to pass on their way to or from the House. There might be constructed an underground passage at the places where that is done. An hon. Member seems to scoff at that suggestion, but I think I can make out some case for it. Before the one-way traffic system was instituted it was a comparatively simple matter for hon. Members to cross these streets, but it is now a matter of extreme difficulty to cross in safety. I feel it so myself, and, perhaps, I am not the least active of the Members of this House, and I know that some of my colleagues feel great difficulty about crossing at these places. If ever there was a case for an underground passage this is one, because it will be an advantage by facilitating the passing of hon. Members to and from the House and will save a great deal of traffic delay.


Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell the House what amount has been involved on the Estimates by the maintenance of these streets in the past, and how it will compare with what we should now have to provide out of the Road Fund to the Westminster City Council, for their maintenance in the future?


As far as I remember, the amount involved in the Estimates is generally about£2,500, but, if the Westminster City Council are to have these powers, they will have to recoup themselves to the same extent, so that the thing is as broad as it is long. As for the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones), if I can facilitate his passage underground I shall be very glad to do so.


We all appreciate the force of the last observation, but I have considerable sympathy with the hon. and gallant Member's suggestion. In my dual capacity I have to cross Parliament Square to my County Court duties constantly, and I assure the House that I feel considerable trepidation in doing so. What has a paralysing effect is the want of proper rules made by the Home Office to compel the traffic to take its proper line at a definite spot. The traffic that comes round the square from Parliament Street, intending to go down Great George Street, does not indicate its intention until it is well on its way, and the result is that those who are going to cross at a particular point never know when a vehicle is going to come out of the line to go that way. It is a very serious thing and until we have a Member of this House either maimed or killed we shall never have this thing put right. I am not going to select which side of the House the Member is to come from who is to make that experiment in order to save the rest of us, but I would impress on the hon. and gallant Gentleman the seriousness of the matter. If he consults the Chief Commissioner he will find that there is a great deal of substance in my complaint. If the lines of traffic were compelled to follow in a definite sequence and then, at a particular spot, show their intention of crossing to the other side, we should have a relative amount of safety, but I can assure the hon. and gallant Member it is a question of a very considerable source of danger.


This is really not relevant to this Bill; it is a question of traffic control.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill 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."—[Sir V. Henderson.]

The remaining Orders were read, and' postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.

Adjourned at Eleven Minutes, after Three o'Clock, until Monday next, 26th November.