§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."1144
§ Mr. AMMON
We have no intention of dividing the House against this Bill, because there are many things in it which are necessary for the good government of London and which irrespective of party, we desire to see carried into effect. Whoever is responsible for the Bill will, I hope, give us some information about what has happened with regard to the London squares and enclosures, particularly with regard to the report of the Royal Commission which was made some time ago. There are other things which one would like to see mentioned in the Bill, but probably you, Mr. Speaker, would not permit us to refer to them at any greater length. There are one or two matters in the Bill, however, about which I would like some further information, particularly in regard to the proposed extension of the tramways. It will be within the memory of the House that a short time ago a traffic Bill passed through this House. It was very much in the nature of a blank cheque to the traffic Combine of this city. It was in the vaguest terms and meant the handing over of the tramway system largely to the private traffic Combine. There is a proposed extension of the tramways which I should very much welcome, particularly if it mean the linking up of the north and south systems, but the House has a right to be informed whether this means an additional amount of capital to be expended at the expense of the ratepayers of London, and then to be handed over to the Combine and in what respect it is connected with the Bill that has already passed the House.
Another point is the seemingly unnecessary delay in the proposed construction of Lambeth Bridge. I cannot recall how many years ago authority was given by this House, and confirmed in another place, for the London County Council to proceed with this construction. We now find after this long lapse of time that they are asking for further powers to acquire further properties. Surely, it is dilly dallying to an extraordinary extent that they should have waited so long before coming for this very necessary permission to carry forward this structure. It is to be regretted that there is no reference to the proposed Charing Cross bridge, to which, I imagine, there will be no opposition in this House or 1145 the other place. Certainly the Council seem to have been very slack in that respect. The only other point to which I want to refer is that of the Sadler's Wells Theatre. A paltry £1,000 seems a very miserable contribution to be given by the London County Council, by an authority whose penny rate produces something like £250,000. At any rate, they might have made a bigger contribution, and shown a broader spirit by taking a step towards the establishment of a municipal theatre. I have no wish to delay the passage of the Bill, but the House has a right to be informed on some of these points, particularly as to how much longer the Council intend to delay the bridges, and as to what is their position with regard to the proposed tramways extensions and the traffic Bill which passed this House, and will soon come back from another place.
§ Captain AUSTIN HUDSON
I would like to raise two points on this Bill. The first is on Section 27, which concerns the power of the Council to take land. I and a large number of other people in London are a little disturbed at the way that the London County Council in taking wholesale powers either for road widening for housing schemes, or for other schemes of every kind, are taking away the few open spaces that we have left in London. The present position in London as regards open spaces is rapidly becoming worse, and unless we have some assurance from the County Council on such an occasion as this that when they are going in for these schemes they are considering very seriously the need for open spaces, and particularly for playing fields, it may be too late about 10 years time, when the whole of London, and particularly central London, is built over. About a month ago an interesting survey was presented to one of the committees of the London County Council in connection with the question of playing fields and open spaces. The survey shows that in Central London, within 10 miles of Charing Cross, there are about 18,000 acres of open spaces and 13,000 acres of playing fields, a total of 31,000 acres. At the same time, on the authority of the National Playing Fields Association we want, in London alone, 57,000 acres for playing fields. We also have in this survey the fact that there 1146 are suitable sites for only 32,000 acres left in London.
I am a little anxious about the situation because of what is occurring in my own constituency. In North Hackney recently the County Council, under the compulsory powers of their 1925 Housing Act, have taken steps to acquire a certain plot of land. Their first idea was to take a plot which not only had very few houses on it, but included a large tennis club and a bowling green. I give to hon. Members the fact that that bowling green belonged to the local Conservative Club. This large tennis club is after all a playing field, and if the London County Council had the intention, as they did, of building over it, it shows that they were not taking this problem to heart as they should do. As a matter of fact the scheme has now been slightly altered, and the tennis club has been left out. They intend, however, to take a certain number of houses with large gardens, and to build on the sites. There are few of these houses with gardens left within 10 miles of Charing Cross, and they should, if possible, be left, because we have little enough breathing space as it is, and few enough trees in London; and unless we protest against this kind of thing, they will be built over, and the chance of preserving open spaces, trees and gardens in London will be gone. We know that the County Council take these spaces because it is much easier to displace only a dozen families rather than a large number in some slum area, but it means that these open spaces will have gone for ever. I hope that the County Council are taking note of that, and particularly of the necessity of preserving them either as playing fields or as squares where we can get a certain amount of light, sunshine and air in inner London.
The other point which I wish to raise is on the question of flooding. A Section in the Bill deals with the prevention of floods, and I hope that under that Section the county council are considering the flooding of the River Lea. Every year the River Lea floods in North London and a number of people have a most uncomfortable time. We are told each year that something will be done about it, but nothing is done. I believe that something will be done, because the question of the flooding of the Thames 1147 has come before the country so vigorously of late years that I think the whole question of the prevention of flooding will be considered, and I hope that the county council will be able to say that the flooding of the River Lea is also being considered, and that adequate works are put in hand to prevent it. It is not a big job and could easily be done, and it would have a great effect on those people who are flooded year after year.
§ Mr. GARDNER
While not opposing the Bill, I think that I am entitled to enter a protest because the London County Council, the greatest municipal authority in the world, are seeking powers which are not adequate for the purpose for which it is proposed that they should be used. The hon. and gallant Member for North Hackney (Captain Hudson) referred to the River Lea. I will refer to the River Thames. When the River Thames flooded the neighbouring constituency and part of my borough in 1927, two young women were drowned, and the London County Council served notices under the Act of 1879 for the repair of walls to their original height, although the flood level in 1927 was actually four inches above that height; under the Act of 1879 they could do nothing else, and in this Bill they are not taking any powers to remedy that. That is a very serious thing. The Minister of Health called a conference of all the riverside authorities; there was a tremendous outcry about the loss of life and property, and one would have thought that after that conference the first thing that the London County Council would have done in seeking new powers would have been to make sure that, in the expenditure of money on riverside defensive work, powers would be secured to prevent a recurrence of the flooding.
It is true that the greatest flood previous to that of 1927 was 18 inches below the present level; it is likewise true that, in converting fields into towns, where the river used to overflow is now built upon, and the volume of water flowing into the Thames is very much higher, so that in the event of a recurrence, there is no reasonable guarantee that the flooding might not actually rise a foot higher than on the last occasion. Although the property owners, local authorities, build- 1148 ing firms, wharfingers up and down the Thames are asked to make up the riverside frontiers under the Act of 1879, nothing is being done to cope with a possible contingency in the future. I think the county council have been overlooking this question, more particularly as I know that their attention has been drawn to it, and I had hoped to prevent my own council paying a sum of money which they are demanding for the repair of a wall on the ground that, having spent the money, there would be no safeguard.
I wish also to mention the question of superannuation funds. If there is one anomaly in London, it is the innumerable funds which exist in connection with the borough councils, and if the London County Council want to give a common service with advantage to the whole County of London, this is one of the services they might render with the greatest possible advantage to all concerned. I think they might in this Bill have made arrangements whereby every individual employé of a borough council, when he wished to change his post from one council to another, would know, when he was going to that other council, that his superannuation allowances would be the same. The position to-day, in the case of a man who wishes to change his employment in this way, is that the council that wishes to employ him has to take into consideration, in fixing his salary, whether or not it should give a higher salary to compensate the person concerned for the lack of the uniformity which ought to prevail in the matter of superannuation. I hope that whoever is responsible for the County Council in this House will take both these points into serious consideration and give me a reply upon them.
§ Mr. SCURR
I feel particularly fortunate to find an occasion in this House when at any rate one hon. Member opposite has truly represented the opinion of at least one of his constituents. The hon. and gallant Member for North Hackney (Captain Hudson) has raised the question of London squares and enclosures, which I had the honour of being the first to bring before the attention of this House by attempting to promote a Bill on the subject some time ago. Since then we have had the appointment by the Prime Minister of a 1149 Royal Commission, which has reported, but the Government, I presume, have not had the time to promote legislation on the subject. I feel that this is beyond everything a question for the London County Council. It is a London question, and the danger of the squares being built over is a very real danger. I am constantly reminded of that fact whenever I pass Mornington Crescent and see that tobacco factory there, and whenever I go on the Euston Road and see that even such an excellent body as the Society of Friends has destroyed Ends-leigh Gardens by building over them. I hope the Council will at any rate prevent building on the squares that remain, and leave it to the future to decide what should be done with them.
This Bill to a certain extent gives us an opportunity to review the policy of the London County Council in regard to London improvements, and there are two matters with which I want to deal, one of which may seem small, but I do not think there would have been the slightest opposition from any part of this House if it had been put into the Bill. The Council have obtained powers in their model dwellings and tenements for the compulsory lighting of stairways, which is very important, but in many of these buildings there are people living who are old and infirm, there are cripples, and there are young children, all or whom have to go up and down these stairways, yet the provision of rails in these places seems to have been entirely overlooked by everybody. Representation has been made, and particularly by the Metropolitan Borough Council of Shoreditch, where there is a large number of these buildings, calling attention to the necessity of this question being dealt with, but nothing so far has been done. There are also the general improvements which are mentioned in this Bill, and I hope the Minister of Transport will have something to? say to the London County Council on this question of a condemnatory nature. The London Traffic Advisory Committee and the Minister have been constantly bringing before us the necessity for improvement at the Elephant and Castle, and everybody knows the tremendous traffic block that there is there and the consequent danger to pedestrians and others, but no provision is made to deal with that question. Ow- 1150 ing to the fact that the London County Council have to come before us in this way, I think it is necessary for Parliament to draw attention to these omissions on their part.
In regard to improvements generally, the London County Council are spending a certain amount of public money in buying land at very high prices, particularly in the central parts of London, where some improvements are absolutely necessary. One result of those improvements is, of course, to improve the value of the land of all those who are on the borders of the improvements, and I certainly think that Parliament ought not to allow these things to pass without those persons who receive the benefit of the improvements making some contribution towards the cost thereof, instead of the whole cost being thrown on the ratepayers.
My last point is with regard to the totally inadequate contribution which is being made by the Council towards Sadler's Wells Theatre. Everyone knows the remarkable work which has been done by the Old Vic, and while we may argue with one another about the merits or demerits of a municipal theatre, it is a custom in this country to proceed, in matters like this, by voluntary methods at the beginning. These methods continue until the time comes when it is impossible to raise the necessary means, and when the thing is valuable the community has to step in and take control. So far as all the best sides of the municipal theatre are concerned, these have been given by Miss Bayliss at the Old Vic, and to extend these to the North side of the river, which is sometimes very much neglected in the matter of improvements, is, I think, a good thing indeed. But out of nearly £250,000 which is needed, for the London County Council to put up a miserable £1,000 is a disgrace to a body of that character. I sincerely hope that when the Committee upstairs considers this question it will see the inadequacy of this sum and, if it has the power, increase it, in order that there may be a worthy contribution from the citizens of London towards this work, to which, I am sure, not a single one of the four-and-a-half millions would object.
§ Mr. TASKER
The hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr) conveyed the assurance to my hon. and gallant Friend the 1151 Member for North Hackney (Captain Hudson) that he had pleased him, and perhaps my hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Mile End, who lives in North Hackney, will give the necessary support to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Hackney towards the end of next month. It has been indicated that no Division will be taken against this Bill, and I am glad to find such a reformation in spirit on the benches opposite, because opposition to this Bill was promised in the Debate at the London County Council, and the son of a former Prime Minister said that whatever Bill was promoted by the council would be opposed by the Socialist party in this House.
This is the first opportunity I have had of indicating my resentment and indignation at the aspersions which have been made against hon. Members on this side who are also members of the London County Council. It will be within the recollection of the House that we have been charged with being interested, either legally or financially, in the affairs of the Traffic Combine. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) touched upon it, but did not go so far as his hon. Friends did in the last Debate. I wish to assure the House that neither now nor at any time have I, as a member of the London County Council, been interested in the Combine in the slightest degree, nor have any of my relations or friends, so far as I know, and it is ridiculous and nonsensical to suggest that we want to hand over either the present tramway system or the extension of the tramways referred to in the Bill.
§ Mr. TASKER
There has never been the slightest intention of so doing; and it was a gross and offensive misrepresentation of the facts to say that there was any such intention. It is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer would term a series of terminological inexactitudes. That, I suppose, is a Parliamentary expression, but I generally refer to it in shorter terms, and I can only imagine that anyone who believes such a stupid assertion must be a first-class nincompoop. Reference has been made to London squares. The only open spaces 1152 lost are Mornington Crescent and Endsleigh Gardens. The council were quite impotent unless they exercised their powers under the Town Planning Act, the effect of which would have been to purchase those open spaces at the market price, and then to sterilise them. This would not have given the people of London the opportunity of using them, and all that would have been done would have been to prevent people building on them. There is some limit to the capacity of the London ratepayers' pocket.
One of the reasons why London squares may he built over is because of the infamous persecution which emanated from the Liberal benches principally, supported by the Socialists, who have maligned and held up to ridicule the landowners in London. Town planning existed in London long before the Socialist party was thought of, and the people responsible for the best town planning in London were the great landlords of London. Anyone who knows London and recognises the work of those great ground landlords who laid out London's squares knows that they did more for town planning in London than the London County Council are likely to do in our lifetime. Hon. Members can look at any street where there are forecourts, and they will find it is an invariable rule of the London County Council that, if a man seeks to build on a forecourt, he is required to surrender two-thirds of the area in order that he may build on the remaining one-third. There is no legislation in this country which operates so harshly as does that requirement which is placed on the owners of land in London.
Reference has been made to the question of flooding. If the hon. Member had taken advantage of the issue of this Bill, and had referred to Clause 49, he would have found there provision to supervise the execution of any flood work. Are the county council to be denied the opportunity of obtaining these powers? I understand not. I understand there is no intention of opposing this Bill, and, therefore, it is not fair to the greatest municipal authority in the world to make these attacks upon it, which have no foundation in fact. The last matter to which I want to refer is a subject raised by the hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Gardner), which is really the same point. If he will do the London 1153 County Council the honour of reading the Bill, particularly Clause 49, he will see there that we are seeking power to prevent flooding.
§ Mr. TASKER
I have read it, but I am going to suggest that my hon. Friend with his usual intelligence should read it once and then there can be no mistake.
§ Mr. GARDNER
What is it that the hon. Member wants me to understand? Perhaps he does not understand it himself.
§ Mr. TASKER
If the hon. Member will read it, he will find that there is ample provision made there.
§ Mr. TASKER
If the hon. Member will look at pages 31 and 32 and display his usual intelligence, he will see to what allusion is being made. I hope that this House will not waste any more time upon the matter, but will agree to the passage of this Bill.
§ Mr. MARCH
I do not desire to let this Bill go through without saying a word about it, although I am really sorry to think that the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Tasker) is upset because we congratulate the London County Council on doing something. I want particularly to congratulate the London County Council on Clause 49 of this Bill. If any people suffered during January, 1928, it was constituents of mine, and I am very glad to know that the County Council are seeking extra powers. I hope that they will get them and carry them out. When they brought forward the 1879 Act, I was working round the Thames at Poplar, and I remember they were very energetic for a few months after the Act was passed in getting employers to increase the height of their camp shedding, and were very energetic in finding out where they had to have an opening 1154 for flood doors, or flood gates, or whatever you like to term them; but that did not go on for many years, and one of the primary causes of the very big flood which he had in 1928 was simply the neglect of someone or other in authority who had not kept the walls up to the proper pitch and had not looked after them. I do not know whether that was the fault of the London County Council. Presumably not, otherwise they would not be seeking these powers.
If the London County Council get these powers, I hope that they will enforce them, and I am sure that the people in the constituency which I have the honour to represent will thank them very much. Although we had financial assistance, many of the people were never properly reimbursed for the suffering which they had to endure, neither were they paid for the work which they had to perform in clearing up the sludge and muck which lay about their rooms for weeks. I should like to have seen the London County Council go a little further, and say that the time has arrived when round the river-side there should be no underground places used as sleeping accommodation; and I should like to see the London County Council make provision for people so that that could be done.
§ Mr. TASKER
Will my hon. Friend permit me to remind the House that the total area below flood level in London is something like 19 square miles?
§ Mr. MARCH
Is that all? The unfortunate part about it is that I happen to represent a large proportion of the people living in that area. I understand that there is something like four and a-half to five miles river frontage round the little part of the Division which I represent, so that we have our fair, proportionate share.
§ Mr. MARCH
Yes, and more. There are a good number of houses which contain really no sleeping accommodation underground, but they are much below high-water mark. There ought to be some provision to give them an opportunity of increasing the height and doing away with the bottom floor. However, that is not in this Bill. If the London County Council get these powers and carry out 1155 their work, as I know they have done in many other respects, many of the people in the Division which I represent will be thankful to them.
§ Sir GEORGE HUME
We have heard to-night a little echo over on this side of the river of some of the struggles which go on in another place. As regards the squares, that remark particularly applies, because there has been a very great difference of opinion over in the London County Council as to whether the County Council should proceed by Bill to deal with this problem or whether it should be left to the Government to handle. It is an immensely important problem, and the committee has issued a most important report on it; but the Council had very little time in which to prepare so important a Bill as that would have been if the County Council had come forward with it, and that accounts for the fact that the squares are not being dealt with by this Bill.
The criticisms raised and the scoldings given have been so mild that I am not tempted to deal very largely with the burning question of the tramways. All I can say to soothe Members on the other side is that, whatever they think is going to happen, the London County Council evidently considers it still within its power and its duty to extend the tramways where it is necessary to extend them: but, as regards this extension, we have had evidence given by a most orthodox Socialist borough, asking for this extension to be made. It merely means that the system is going to be linked up through the Downham Estate with the Woolwich system of tramways.
As regards the bridges, the London County Council has been taken to task because Lambeth Bridge has not been put in hand sooner. Surely hon. Members of this House know that there is a lot of history about the bridges of London; and Lambeth Bridge is only one of them. We have Charing Cross Bridge and we have Waterloo Bridge, a burning problem with which we cannot get forward. It is not the London County Council's fault that there is no settlement of the question as to whether Charing Cross Bridge is going to be reconstructed or not, and a great deal depends upon the decision there come to. At any rate, Lambeth 1156 Bridge is in a fair way to go ahead, and I am sure that this House will do nothing which will run the least risk of holding up that work.
With regard to Sadler's Wells, the Council always proceeds cautiously when it is asked to contribute money in new directions. Of course, if a big authority contribute extensively, the natural corollary is that it assumes a certain amount of control. In this instance, the tentative suggestion or proposal put forward by the Council that they should be entitled to pay up to the sum of £1,000, experimentally, for rebuilding this theatre is a matter which will not excite a great deal of criticism; and indeed it is suggested that the Council might be encouraged to go a bit further on another occasion. I would ask hon. Members to do nothing to imperil the Bill, because holding up the Bill is imperilling it. It would no be hitting the County Council if the Bill did not go through; it would be hitting any number of municipal and other interests. If this Bill is carried, it will enable the Council to carry out matters which various borough councils have asked the London County Council to undertake, such as prevention of flooding for instance, which the Council is taking in hand. I should like to say a word about that. The Council are merely asking in this Bill for what the Committee which was set up by the Minister of Health recommended that the Council should have. If the County Council went a step beyond that, they might find themselves in a difficulty; they might be told that the Council was going to get powers in excess of those which had been recommended.
§ Mr. GARDNER
Is it not a fact that the Committee wanted flood prevention, and, if my statement is admitted that the wall is four inches below flood level, how can you call that flood prevention?
§ Sir G. HUME
The council needs to ask for no power, I believe I am right in saying, to increase the level up to which protection has to be provided, not by the council but by the owners.
§ Mr. GARDNER
Then why are they not doing anything at all to prevent the floods coming over that wall if you get a recurrence? It is no good spending money now when you know that the tides come four inches above the wall.
§ Sir G. HUME
The hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Gardner) says that the tide comes four inches above the wall. The tide has done so, it is true, but, if he knew the tremendous effect there would be over the whole riverside if the council issued an order that the protective levels were to be increased by three or four inches along the whole of the river, I think he would realise that the council does well to go with caution in the matter.
§ Sir G. HUME
It is, of course, the Council's duty to see that the existing defences are satisfactory, and the council is doing its utmost in that direction by asking for these further powers which the committee suggested the county council ought to have.
§ Sir G. HUME
I was going to deal with that point. As a matter of fact, the council's authority does not extend to the river Lea; the Lea Conservancy Board deals with the river Lea and with the flood works there, so that really that is outside the purview of the county council. We are dealing here with the river Thames.
Then as to the lighting of staircases, of course the council have obtained powers for compulsorily lighting staircases, and I dare say some day they will go still further, but it is not in the present Bill. The hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr) raised some question about improvements which he said were necessary at the entrance to the Elephant and Castle. We all realise the necessity of some very great improvement being made there but we have to go step by step. You will find that in this Bill the county council has already provided for some very costly improvements, and no doubt they will come forward on another occasion and ask for something more.
As to the power of taking land, I think the hon. and gallant Member for North Hackney (Captain Hudson) was justifiably anxious that where land is taken and any building is put up on open space provision should be made; but, if this House considers the contribu- 1158 tion which the London County Council has made to open spaces in London, it will realise that every effort has been made in that direction. I do not think there has been any real criticism as regards new parks and open spaces generally, and hon. Members will realise that the policy of the London County Council and one of its main efforts is to get open spaces in London for the recreation and sport of the people. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member had in view certain proposals as regards Hackney. Probably he had. The suggestion there is a building for recreational purposes for the school children, and there will be more buildings put there. There are special provisions being made for the recreation of children in connection with the work which is carried on in those buildings, of a purely educational character. I am sure the Council does bear in mind, and will bear in mind, the absolute necessity of keeping open spaces. This House knows that it was only quite recently that the London County Council came forward and obtained powers, not merely to purchase land for park purposes and recreational purposes, but to enable them to let that land out for sports, games, and so on. Those are new powers and valuable powers and ones of which use will be made. I hope the House will allow this Bill to go through, and that there will be no danger of its failing to pass before Parliament is prorogued.