HC Deb 17 February 1931 vol 248 cc1150-80

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Captain BOURNE

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

It is with regret that I rise to move this Amendment. I have long felt that a Private Bill should not be objected to as a general rule, and more especially in the case of a Bill, such as the one presented by the Surrey County Council, which contains a large number of purely local provisions which are not the concern of anyone who resides outside the council area, and with which I have no concern, and it is solely because of one big point of principle that this Bill contains that I move its rejection at this stage. So far as the general provisions of the Bill are concerned I have no comment to make, but in Part VIII of the Bill, which deals with town plan- ning, the Surrey County Council is taking a line that seems to me to be undesirable at the present time. I wish to make it quite plain that I am not opposed to town planning or, rather, as I gather this Bill proposes, regional planning, as such. I believe that it is necessary in order to preserve the amenities of our countryside that a considerable measure of regional planning should take place, but I wish to protest against any one single local authority bringing in a Bill and seeking to obtain very far-reaching powers dealing with town planning, more especially as there is at the present time a Departmental Committee sitting in this connection at the Ministry of Health which I believe has achieved a very large measure of agreement.

Anything that is done in the way of regional planning should be done by a Government Department and applied to the whole country. Any attempt to deal with this very important question piece-meal, one county perhaps taking one set of powers and the next county perhaps taking another set of powers, is likely to make confusion worse confounded. Everyone admits that our present system of regional or town planning is in a very unsatisfactory condition, and if one authority is to be given special powers which are not applicable to another county it will mean that those who own land those who wish to develop land will be put into a state of hopeless confusion as between one county and the next. Any action taken merely by one authority in this respect is inadequate, and it is in order to call the attention of the House to the undesirability of any local authority, no matter how powerful or how important it may be, taking separate action at this moment, that I have taken the course I am taking to-night.

Among other Clauses in the Bill there is one, Clause 61, which makes elaborate arrangements for the prevention of ribbon development. I do not know anyone in this House who is in favour of ribbons development. A great deal of work is being done up and down the country in the making of new roads, and there can be no doubt that ribbon development has created eyesores on the countryside. We should all welcome some comprehensive Measure for getting rid of it, but when we look at Clause 61 we notice that it contains several very peculiar powers. In the first place, the council seek authority to declare any county road a main road for the purposes of this Section. I am not certain how that conflicts with the existing Statutes relating to he powers of the Ministry of Transport in regard to roads. If and when that is done, it is provided that nobody may build within a certain distance of the road.

Then comes a proposition to which I take strong exception, namely, that any person who says that his property is injuriously affected under this Section is entitled to apply for compensation from the county council. If we are going to pay compensation out of the rates in respect of improvements and regional planning, we are going to create for ourselves a great amount of trouble. One of the very difficult problems in dealing with any question of regional planning is on what basis the compensation shall be paid. If we are going to place on the rates of one county the liability for compensation, which in similar cases may not be accepted by another county, I feel that we are going to get into the most hopeless confusion, and that things will be left undone in one county that are done in another, simply because of the financial consideration. This financial consideration cuts at the very root of developments, and it is for that reason that I think it is absolutely necessary and essential that whatever method of compensation is adopted it should be a uniform one that applies to the whole country and not one that applies to one county, whose scheme may cut completely across the plans that may be submitted by the Government. I do not know the Government's scheme, but I do know that in America in many States a system has been introduced whereby when certain lands are being developed certain portions are set aside for open spaces. A levy is made upon those whose land is scheduled for building, and the finances derived there-from provides very favourable compensation for those whose interests have been affected. I think that is a very fair system. If the Surrey County Council is to be allowed to put compensation on the rates as a method of stopping ribbon development, another county council may introduce another and perhaps a better system for dealing with the question, and we shall get confusion. That is another reason why I think these particular powers should not be granted to any one local authority at the present time.

There is a very long and very elaborate Clause dealing with petrol stations. I do not know how Surrey may suffer in this respect, but I think that a Clause of this length and complexity ought not to be introduced by a single council. Then there are various powers sought for acquiring land? I hope that it will not be necessary for local authorities to acquire land to preserve views. There is no reason why a vast amount of land in the country should not be used for normal agricultural occupation and be scheduled for agricultural occupation only, and at the same time be preserved for the enjoyment of views. If a local authority is to be allowed to acquire every new piece of land which might give access to every beauty spot, the financial burden that will be thrown upon local authorities will be very great. I am certain that in a vast number of counties this particular system would be accompanied by very heavy cost. That is another reason why this particular power should not be granted to one local authority, but that it should be part of a national scheme dealing with the subject on general lines rather than in the particular Clause of any County Council Bill.

There is another Clause to which I should like to draw attention, namely, Clause 144, which deals with the preservation of woodlands. That, again, is not desirable. There may be, and there very often are, good reasons for felling woodlands. It may be desirable that land which has been under forest should be used for other purposes, agricultural or otherwise, but we do not want stray powers of this kind incorporated in the local Act of any one authority, no matter how big or important that authority may be. Lastly, this Bill applies to one county. So far as I know there is no other county at the present time which is proposing to use these powers. Obviously, it must mean in the case of people who own estates partly inside and partly outside, but adjoining the county, will experience considerable difficulty in the development of their estates. In respect of that part of their estate which lies in the county of Surrey they will be tied by the regulations of this Bill, but they will be left in complete perplexity as to what may happen to that portion of the estate which is outside the county of Surrey. There is a provision in the Bill enabling the county council to alter the boundaries of existing estates. I do not know whether that should be of universal application, but if you apply that principle of the alteration of estate boundaries only in Surrey you may not be able to apply it to another portion of the same estate, and it will make for much confusion and inconvenience. It may lead to a very large amount of that ribbon development and that lack of skilled planning in counties which are fairly close to London and adjacent to Surrey, merely because by going over the county border people will he able to escape these regulations. If we have a national scheme dealing with the whole country it will be impossible for people to avoid the regulations in that way. I fear very much that one effect of this Bill will be to produce undesirable development in adjoining counties. It is in order that we may hear the views of the Surrey County Council and the Ministry of Health that I move my Amendment.

Lieut.-Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE

I beg to second the Amendment.

I wish to reinforce the argument of my hon. and gallant Friend that it is necessary to draw the attention of this House to the growing practice on the part of local authorities of coming to Parliament and seeking powers of a character which go far beyond those which can properly be described as coming within the category of local needs and interests. There is a natural tendency on the part of every local authority to make itself as important as possible and to acquire as wide powers as they can induce Parliament to grant. That action is only natural, but there comes a point where a dividing line must be drawn between matters which must be settled on lines of broad national policy, and matters which may well be left to the particular needs or particular fads and fancies of any local authority. I would ask the House to consider the Preamble of the Bill: To confer further powers on the Surrey County Council and to enact further pro- visions with respect to the good Government and administration. No one objects to the county council of Surrey asking for powers dealing with the good government and administration of Surrey. That, obviously, is what the Surrey County Council exists for, but when we come to the next sentence: and the preservation of the amenities. we open up a very wide question. It is not that anyone desires that any amenity in Surrey should be destroyed; far from it, but if the County Council of Surrey acquires special powers to deal with these amenities in its own particular way, other county councils will probably say that this power has been granted to one county and that they would like Parliament to grant similar powers to them. It is far too big a power to grant to any particular county. I invite the House to consider how a Clause of this kind gets sandwiched between Clauses quite different and purely local in character. I will read the marginal note to Clause 141: Supply of water to Botleys Park. A most legitimate undertaking. Clause 142 deals with the dissolution of the Surrey smallpox hospital committee, no doubt a matter well within the province of the Surrey County Council, who are no doubt capable of deciding whether that body should disappear. Clause 143 deals with footpaths; there we come to the border-line, but we will let it pass. When we come to Clause 144 the marginal note is: Preservation of woodlands. Here the Surrey County Council are asking for powers which it would be wrong, and impossible, for Parliament to grant to any particular local authority. This is an instance of a Clause of national importance being hidden away among a lot of other comparatively small matters dealing with baths and wash-houses. Having once given such powers to any particular local authority it becomes a precedent, and all other local authorities will seek to acquire the same powers. Let me return to the Preamble of the Bill. The powers sought there are for the control of establishments used for massage and of places used for certain classes of public entertainments, the sale of coke, moveable dwellings and encamp- ments, the construction of roads, town planning and building developments, and the prevention of acts tending to injure rural amenities. No doubt it is very necessary there should be powers for the regulation of massage establishments, but it would be far better for the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health to bring in a Bill dealing with it.

The same applies to places of public entertainment, which I presume would fall within the province of the Home Secretary. The sale of coke is a matter for the President of the Board of Trade. There is not a village, or hamlet or town, in which coke is not sold, and if the sale of coke is to be regulated it should be regulated by one law covering the whole of the country. The question of moveable dwellings has troubled the House in times past, but I have no doubt that the Minister of Transport is quite capable of dealing with that point. Town planning is a matter which should be dealt with by the Minister of Health. In this Preamble, with the exception of good government and administration, all the matters mentioned would be much better dealt with on a national basis, and it is to protest against the growing habit of local authorities coming to Parliament for powers to deal with such matters that I second the Motion for rejection.


The observations of my two hon. Friends rather lead to the conclusion that this is a very good Bill. The Preamble lays down that the principal objects of the Bill are the good government of the country and to preserve the amenities of the county of Surrey, and I should have thought they were objects which my hon. Friends would praise, whether they are in a national Bill or in a county Bill. Apparently, my two hon. Friends think that these things are good: then why not allow us as an enlightened and advancing county to set them going, and not keep the county of Surrey falling into the background by raising a number of objections? After all, are we not having a number of things set right and thus setting an example to other counties who are not so enlightened? I gather from the kindly observations of my two hon. Friends that they are not objecting to the Bill. They are prepared to let the points they have mentioned go to Committee, where they could be raised, and I hope that without any very prolonged discussion the House will come to the conclusion that that is the right procedure to follow. No strong abjection has been raised to this Bill outside the House. There have been those objections which are always raised when any attempt is made to get a private Bill through, but, on the other hand, there has been strong co-operation by all local authorities in the county and on some Clauses criticism of a, well-informed and kindly nature.

The county of Surrey stands in a very peculiar position. It is a, county which I hope is known to the majority of hon. Members of this House. It provides the highways to the South Coast, and it has some of the most beautiful uplands and woodlands. Some of its scenes have been described in paintings. It is the desire of the county council to preserve these beautiful amenities. Think of the position of Surrey during the past 10 years! There has been an enormous growth of population, a great development in building, and unless the county authorities take steps very early, much of the beauty of which we are proud and are endeavouring to preserve for posterity will disappear altogether. That is the main object of this Bill. Some of the items to which my hon. Friends have referred are very small matters indeed, such as massage establishments and smallpox hospital committees. But are they not important parts of the good government of a county, and the very things which the county authority should take in hand?

In the consideration of this Measure three main principles stand out—the sporadic development, the sporadic and uncontrolled ribbon development of bungalows, and the need of a considered policy in the provision of substantial open spaces. I wish hon. Members had seen some of the hideous things which Surrey has had to face during the past few years, the sporadic development and the ribbon development of bungalows, which has taken place regardless of any consideration to the aesthetic views of the residents and visitors. This is not a Bill solely for the residents in the county. The county authority is endeavouring to preserve the amenities for the great mass of people who go there for picnics and camping. We ask this House to help the county council in their desire to preserve them. On the question of open spaces, it is quite true that they have powers for the acquisition of open spaces, and a great deal has been done by the county in the purchase of small open spaces, but there comes a time when it is not a small matter, when the space you desire to preserve is beyond the means of the local authorities, a large open space, such as the one which is mentioned in the Bill, namely, the acquisition of Norbury Park. The attempt there is to preserve a real beauty spot of considerable acreage, a thing impossible for the local authorities. The county council, having regard for the county as a whole, and not for the particular locality, rightly says, "Yes, we will obtain powers, and we believe that an enlightened House of Commons will give us such powers, so that we can go forward with that particular project."

In the matter of town planning, the statutory provision which exists allows for a degree of town planning, and some authorities have done what they can in collaboration with the county council, but it would be unwise and dangerous in the present state of the county of Surrey to postpone this matter for another year. The hon. and gallant Member says that policy, so far as town planning or regional planning is concerned, should be a national question. Very well, if we can have the national question settled at once by all means, but what hope is there in the present state of Government business of getting a Bill through dealing with town-planning on a national scale? The hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) says that while these may be beneficent powers for the country as a whole, if they are given to the county of Surrey, think what might happen if they are not given to Kent, Berkshire or Sussex! I hope that the Bill will receive the support of the House, so that other local authorities will be up and doing; will follow the good example set by Surrey and come forward and ask for similar powers for their own county.

8.0 p.m.

So far, the only real difficulty raised by the Bill is on the question of regional planning and the preservation of amenities. The hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Lieut.-Colonel Ruggles-Brise) regretted that this important departure had been sandwiched amongst smaller and unimportant things. The importance of a particular Clause in a Bill does not depend upon its position in the Bill. If the particular Clause is No. 12 or No. 144, it does not matter, the principle is there; it is not suggested that the Clauses are in the order of the value of the suggestions we are making. We have had, and still possess, in the county of Surrey a number of enlightened landowners who have been anxious to co-operate with us. The good development of estates within the county has been carried out by landowners who are largely in agreement with the principles of this Bill. We are going to get their co-operation, but we have a few persons who do not see things in that particular light. We want to say to those that a great example has been set them by a majority of landowners and if they are not prepared to come in under the old order of things then, unfortunately, we must apply to them a little compulsion, but the county council are not proposing to act harshly. The comments and criticisms which have been made upon some of the Clauses have been of a kindly nature. When the Bill reaches Committee, if there has been well-informed criticism and if reasonable suggestions have been made, accommodation will be found. I think that when the Bill has passed through Committee it will come to this House blessed by those who, in a faint way, may condemn it to-night. I hope it will receive a Second Reading and that it will be an example to other counties to follow.


I rise to support the Bill and I hope very much that it will get a Second Reading. I have put my name to the Bill, not as a resident of Surrey, but because I very whole-heartedly approve of the general outline of the Bill. As one who, although not living in Surrey, goes down there fairly frequently and who knows that hundreds and thousands of other people also go down there fairly frequently, I hope that the Bill will pass its Second Reading. It is absolutely essential that local authorities should be given further powers to prevent any development that they may consider to be not in keeping with the district. One welcomes the fact that the county council of Surrey has realised the situation that is facing it. Surrey is an exceptionally beautiful county. It also happens to be very near to London; it is very accessible; and expansion is going on at a tremendous rate. New arterial roads are being cut through the county. Unfortunately already there have been many rather deplorable developments. It is a real joy to see an authority realising the situation and making an effort to cope with it before it is too late, and endeavouring to see that the amenities of the county are preserved.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) said that the part of the Bill to which he objected was Part VIII. But it is almost entirely because of Part VIII that I take an interest in the Bill. I do not know very much about the technical details, which concern only the county council. It seems to me that the provisions in Part VIII are of the utmost importance. Nearly every one of the provisions in Part VIII—I think I should be right in saying every one of them—have already been approved by this House in the two Rural Amenities Bills that have already been introduced and have been given a unanimous Second Reading. On the question of rural amenities surely there is nobody who would not agree that some developments may be deplorable and disastrous. A great new road may, in itself, he a fine thing, but if you build rows of abominable and beastly little villas alongside it, a district may be ruined. It seems to me that the Surrey County Council are facing that fact, that they are anxious to see that the space on each side of these roads is kept free, and that trees are planted alongside the roads. They are concerned with the efficiency of traffic and the preservation of amenities. There can be nothing worse than indiscriminate roadside development. The Surrey County Council ought to be highly commended in that they have had the sense not to wait for anyone else to come along, and in this Bill are trying to ensure that their own county is not spoilt.

Then there is the question of the regulation of design and elevation. That is of the utmost importance. You cannot allow people to dump down ugly and unsuitable dwellings in any place they may like. It is perfectly legitimate that the county council should have the power to see that the design and the elevation are adapted to the situation in which a dwelling is to be built. There are many other important Clauses which I cannot touch upon now. The last speaker spoke of the great importance of open spaces, and there is another item in the Bill which is of the utmost importance, and that is the provision relating to the preservation of views. There are numerous fine views in Surrey. The most beautiful view in the world can be spoilt by one unsuitable and glaring building, one ugly piece of architecture, one unsightly advertisement, one ugly industrial or private building. I know many really beautiful views that are absolutely wrecked because of one or two things of that description. I am very glad that the Surrey County Council have made regulations about petrol stations. I do not want anybody to think that I am "anti-petrol station." You must have these things, I suppose, but they should be as unobjectionable as possible. There are many petrol stations that might be a great deal worse than they are. They are nicely designed, they are not ugly, and they are not glaring, but, on the other hand, there are petrol stations that make one feel ill. It is a very good thing that the county council should be given further powers to see that these absolutely necessary wayside petrol stations are of the very best description.

Surrey is absolutely the right county to have introduced a Bill of this description, because it is a county most accessible to London, it is a, county which is expanding very rapidly at present, and the highest possible commendation should be given to the representatives of that county on the fact that they have felt it incumbent on them to introduce this Bill at the present moment. As for the argument that Surrey should not go ahead but should be condemned to wait about until the Government or some other county comes forward with a scheme, that seems to me to be a very bad argument indeed. I believe that here one could draw a moral affecting the whole country at present. What is wrong is that nobody seems to start doing anything until it is too late. A great many deplorable things have happened already in Surrey, and it is essential that the county council should do something before it is too late, that it should look a little further than its own nose, and that it should introduce these provisions before the situation has become too irksome and before it is too late to improve upon it. So many people do nothing until they are caught out, and then they fall down and do not know where they are. I hope this Bill may prove an example to other authorities. I know the Government have announced that they hope to bring in a Bill, but business is so crowded that there does not seem very much hope of such a Bill being introduced at present, and there is absolutely nothing wrong in the Surrey County Council looking ahead. It is indeed refreshing to find that people are anticipating events, instead of waiting for events to overwhelm them.

I hope that this county, which has realised the dangers ahead of it and has put before the House a co-ordinated and comprehensive plan and scheme, will have its proposals sympathetically considered, and that the House will encourage the council in the stand it has taken, bearing in mind the object of the Bill, which is that this really beautiful county shall be preserved, as far as possible, before it is too late. If they waited six months, a year, or 18 months, a tremendous lot of harm would be done. About six years ago we had a house in Surrey, and I used to travel down a certain road out of London. Now, when I go that way, I hardly recognise the road; there is so much building going on and the rural beauty has been ruined and wrecked. I hope the House, without a Division, will pass the Second Reading of the Bill, and will commend the Surrey County Council for its forethought and foresight in putting forward this Measure to preserve the amenities of its county.


The Bill to which we are asked to give a Second Reading contains no fewer than 161 Clauses and some four Schedules. It is obvious that one cannot draw up a Bill with all those Clauses without introducing some item that would be objected to by different Members or different sections of this House. But those who object to this Bill have to show rather more than a justifiable criticism of certain items. That is a matter for the Committee stage, and no doubt a Bill of this length will receive, if it gets to Committee, very careful consideration at that stage.

But the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) goes a great deal further than that, because, if it is proceeded with, it is tantamount to a rejection of this Bill, and I submit that, to justify that, the supporters of that Amendment have to show not detailed criticism of certain parts, but reasonable objection to the main principles of the Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Oxford referred on more than one occasion to the fact that, no matter how important a local authority might be, regional planning should be more properly a matter of national concern, and he seemed afraid to throw further responsibility on even an important local authority. But we have so much business before us in this House—and that business tends to increase from year to year—that surely it is obvious that more important functions will have to be entrusted to local authorities in the future than in the past. That does not seem to me to be a valid objection to this Bill.

As to the interesting nature of the principles which this Bill sets out to achieve, the promoters of the Bill, influenced no doubt by the fact that it is such a long measure, have sent us all a copy of a statement in support of the Second Reading in which they summarise the principles of the Bill. Obviously, there are two considerations on that. The first is, does that summary fairly represent the contents of the Bill? I think those hon. Members who have looked through the Bill will agree with me that, on the whole, the summary is a very fair statement of the main provisions of the Bill. The second point is: Are they principles which can reasonably be commended to the consideration of this House in order that the Bill may have a Second Reading? I will not read the whole statement, though it is not a very long one, but I will just draw the attention of the House to the general nature of the provisions, that are therein set out. For example, we have: Powers with respect to the Norbury Park Estate bought by the Council in order to save it from ruin by undesirable building operations. The prevention of indiscriminate dumping of caravans and other movable structures. The prevention of ribbon development along county roads. The preservation of woodlands. I think that those objects might fairly be summarised as an endeavour to preserve the amenities of the county for the benefit of the general public, and to preserve them from the wilful or careless damage of a few. At any rate those hon. Members who agree with that description of the objects of the Bill, will agree that the Bill is worthy of a Second Reading. If there are any who think that that description is not a fair one, I suggest for their consideration the fact that, though only a few of us may live in Surrey, everyone in this House visits Surrey at some time or other, and I defy any Member who visits the county, even only occasionally, to deny that the amenities of the county are being rapidly spoiled. It may be urged that the powers required to preserve these amenities are powers that ought not to be required. I am inclined to agree with that view. The trouble of course is the terrible badness of public manners in this respect. The remedy for this kind of thing is an enlightened public opinion, informed by education. But that is a slow business and this is a very urgent problem.

If public opinion in years to come is more enlightened than that of to-day, so that the necessity for such measures would no longer be so great, it would then be impossible to put back the beauties that had been destroyed in the meantime. Therefore, however those of us who are inclined to dislike any extension of public control over the individual may consider carefully the provisions of the Bill in Committee, on the general question of control versus public opinion, we must on this occasion vote for control on the ground of urgency, if on that ground alone. To sum up: The beauty of our countryside is in some sense a national possession. It is a possession of very great value. When a measure is laid before us designed to preserve beauty, we ought at least to see that such a measure is carefully examined, and in order that a measure of this kind may have careful and detailed examination it is necessary that it should have a Second Reading. I therefore hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) will not insist upon his. Amendment. If he does insist upon it, I shall vote against it.


I wish to support the Bill. Much as I would emphasise the desire to preserve amenities, I think the really strong case for the Bill is that in a county like Surrey we should vest the county council with the powers that they want for developing the countryside along the lines of utility as well as the preservation of the amenities. Surrey is very largely suburban London, and for that reason we must have regard for town planning and the right type of housing. There is no reason why house elevations should not have due regard to the aesthetic tastes of people who are born in Surrey and who know Surrey as a very beautiful county. I knew Croydon 40 years ago, and it is only a little way out of London. There have been tremendous developments there. In a real sense Surrey is a county where it is possible to house a great mass of the people who work in London during the day-time. I hope that the Bill will get a Second Reading and that in Committee we shall have an opportunity of seeing that the provisions of the Bill have full regard to the development of housing, the improvement of roads, the acquiring of open spaces, the preservation of woodlands, and that all these things are made compatible with the crying needs of the present day. I was born in Surrey and I have nothing but admiration for the county.


I support the Bill because I think it a very reasonable Bill. The views expressed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) I welcome as criticisms which will make us look carefully into the Bill and see that nothing which should not be there is included in it. From my hon. and gallant Friend's remarks I gather that he is rather anxious whether giving these powers to the county council may cut across the powers of the Government, should the Government at any time bring in a Bill of this description. We know that in the King's Speech the Government adumbrated a Bill for regional town planning, but so far it has not been introduced. I think the Surrey County Council are to be commended for having taken time by the forelock with the object of preserving the amenities of a beautiful county. In many parts of the country one sees unsightly and hideous buildings and hoardings spoiling the view. That is what the Surrey County Council wish to prevent. I am sure that their object is to do good, and I hope that their example will lead other local authorities to take an interest in preserving the amenities of the countryside. For these reasons I feel sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford will withdraw his opposition, and not press it to a Division. The hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Lieut.-Colonel Ruggles-Brise) seemed to suggest that the county council were trying to make themselves important. If I thought for a moment that that was his suggestion I should at once tell him that they are important already. I know the composition of the county council; I know that they are a very progressive authority, and I submit that there are many counties in this country which could take pattern from them. I support the Bill, and I hope that my hon. and gallant Friends will withdraw the Motion for its rejection.


I also welcome the Bill and I am very gratified at the reception which the House has given to the Measure. The only criticisms directed against it have been upon matters which can be very well dealt with in Committee. Reference has been made to the rural amenities of Surrey which are, in my opinion, being violated in many districts and I only hope that the county in which I live, namely Sussex, will soon bring forward a similar Measure with a view to preserving its amenities. Anyone who knows the towns along the Kingston by-pass road and down as far as Horsham, must be aware of the many incongruous and unsightly buildings which are being erected and the indiscriminate spread of houses of the bungalow type which is taking place all over the country and by which the scenery is fast being destroyed. In Sussex near Horsham there is a huge brick factory right alongside the road, destroying the appearance of the countryside. I hope that the good example set by Surrey will be followed by other counties.

I observe on the Order Paper a Notice of Motion which proposes that there should be an Instruction to the Committee to leave out Part IX of the Bill. This is a matter which particularly affects the district in Surrey which I have the honour to represent, and I wish to say that the Bill has the full and unqualified support of all the local authorities in that division, namely, the Richmond Borough Council, the Barnes and Mortlake Urban District Council and the Ham Urban District Council. The Barnes Council particularly is naturally in favour of the provision in Part IX which deals specifically with their area. Conferences have taken place in regard to this Measure with local authorities throughout Surrey. Its provisions have been carefully examined and the various committees of the local authorities are thoroughly in accord with the proposal to grant these powers to the county council. I am at a loss to know why there should be any opposition to the provision which particularly affects Barnes. It was carried, I think, by 24 votes to one at the Barnes Urban District Council and it proposes to effect an urgently needed reform. The medical officer has had the opportunity of inspecting the district which will be affected, and it is proposed that instead of a narrow winding road, varying from 5 feet in width to 25 feet, there shall be a proper roadway 50 feet wide through a congested part of the district.

There is a school in that area, and at present it is not possible to get near it with a carriage or a car. If this improvement is made it will provide a very desirable open space for the children who attend that school. Having had the opportunity of inspecting this locality I realise that many of the buildings there almost bring it within the category of a slum area. Those buildings will be wiped out, but the people will have the opportunity of obtaining suitable houses. I understand that something like £68,000 expenditure will be made in connection with this reform, and of that sum, the Barnes Council will provide £25,000 for housing, while £10,000 will come from the general rates towards the making of the road. It is a most desirable improvement, and at the same time it will afford a certain amount of employment. No doubt this matter will be discussed in Committee, but I take this opportunity of expressing the hope that the hon. Member who has put down the Notice of Motion for an Instruction, will not persist in it, in opposition to the wishes not only of the local council, but of the people of the neighbourhood, as Part IX is, in my opinion, one of the most desirable parts of the Bill.


It is obvious that the House is almost prepared to come to a decision upon this Bill and in accordance with what I take to be the wishes of hon. Members I shall not speak at great length. The opposition offered to this Bill by some of my hon. Friends on this side was so fair and moderate that it has almost disarmed those of us who are supporting the Bill and I rise merely for the purpose of giving an assurance on one point which has been raised and not of entering into any of the other details involved—although some of those I am quite prepared to discuss. Some criticism has arisen regarding the possible closing of a footpath in the Norbury Park Estate. The council is asking Parliament for powers by which it is hoped it will be possible to preserve the estate for the benefit of the public for all time. A matter of £85,000 is involved, which for the time being, has been borrowed by the council for this purpose. The council believe that they are not justified in expending from public funds such a large sum but they are prepared to make a substantial contribution and the fact that they have received very considerable public and private support has justified their action in preventing this estate from becoming the subject of speculative building.

In connection with the development of that estate they are acting under the advice of the most eminent town-planning and estate development experts. It is not possible at this moment to say exactly what form the development may ultimately take. To some extent that will be governed by the final financial operations which are involved but in consultation with competent authorities and representatives of societies interested in the preservation of the English countryside they have prepared a scheme. There is nothing definite or binding about that scheme except to provide for the fact that in certain eventualities it may be necessary for the borders of the estate to be developed on sound artistic lines. If that should be so it may also be found that the finances are not such as to warrant the council in keeping the whole of the estate, and it may be neces- sary to sell the mansion, but that is a matter of conjecture and I do not make it as a definite statement.

If it should be found necessary they are advised by the authorities to whom I have referred that it may be necessary to close up one of the footpaths. This suggestion has aroused criticism both in the London and the county Press but I am authorised to say that before that suggestion has been put into practice, before, indeed, a Committee of this House is asked to give power to the county council to close that particular footpath, the council will give an undertaking that an alternative will be provided. I need not go into details of the scheme, this part of which has been subjected to some criticism, except to say that it will enable the estate to be developed in such a way that the public will have a much better opportunity of enjoying its beauties than the present footpaths and general arrangements provide. Almost daily Parliament is putting on local authorities heavy responsibilities, and I am sure that this House would not at any time think it right and proper to put on local authorities responsibilities and duties without necessary powers to carry out those duties and to bear the burden of those responsibilities. It will be admitted that the county authorities are the best judges of the kind of powers which they need. This House is the authority that should and does decide the form in which those powers are granted. The opposition has been very fairly and moderately directed to the particular aspect of the subject, and I am sure that any points which have been raised and which can reasonably be met on Committee stage, will be willingly met by those who are promoting the Bill.


I do not wish to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill, but I feel that there is considerable weight in the criticism that was brought to bear by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne). A Departmental Committee of which I am a member is sitting at the Ministry of Health trying to co-ordinate a larger number of the powers and duties of local authorities. They find, as the Ministry do, that there are different qualifications and disqualifications for parish councils, rural district councils, borough councils, county councils and so on; and if Bills like this are to be brought in, a similar committee will have to be set up some day to see if they can co-ordinate all the different powers which have been given to local authorities. I hope that some Measure dealing with rural amenities will be brought in to cover the country as a whole. This Bill contains a Clause dealing with a matter which I have very much at heart, that is, the dumping of refuse. Clause 89 will be a very good thing for the county of Surrey, and it ought to apply to every county round London, but it will mean that if it is passed for Surrey, every county round London, a part of one of which, Middlesex, I represent, will be left as dumping grounds for the London refuse.

If every county round London had a clause passed in exactly the same words as Clause 89, there would be nowhere possibly where London boroughs would be able to dump their refuse, because there is no overriding power in this Clause given to the Ministry of Health, as I should like to see, to provide that in certain waste areas dumps might be allowed for the refuse of London. I should like to see these questions, such as the question of the dumping of refuse, dealt with by the Government in a short one-Clause Measure bringing in very similar provisions to the one contained in this Bill. I do not want to see this one county favoured in this matter so as to leave the rest as dumping grounds for refuse.

Of the other powers in the Bill, Clause 144 will be completely ineffective to preserve the woodlands in the county, for the simple reason that it is only provided that when the trees are felled the county council may say that nothing else can be done with the ground except to plant further trees; and if the owner of the ground does not wish to plant further trees, the place will remain derelict with only stumps of wood round about. Another Clause to which I want to draw attention is Clause 62. I see no reason why the county council should have the power compulsorily to acquire land round the existing country roads. If they were limited to using such land for open spaces, it would not be objectionable, but if a county council acquire land along the roads, it is obviously much more economical for them to put up their houses there and to be ribbon developers themselves.

It is far cheaper, once you have a road, to put the houses by it, and it may be found that a perfectly good landlord who would not have encouraged or allowed ribbon development, will have his land taken by the county council and they will put up some of their council houses alongside.


The county council have no power to erect houses.


Once they have acquired the land, I see nothing in this Section which prevents them from selling it. They can sell it under the Clause at a profit, or sell it to the local district council who can put up council houses. So that, although I was technically wrong in saying that the county council could erect the houses, there is under the Clause nothing to prevent them from selling it to others who could do so. The only other points that are liable to criticism in a Bill like this are Clause 13 and 143, both of which try by Act of Parliament to stop up public rights of way. No doubt, however, these are matters which can be gone into in Committee, and I hope that whoever sits on the Committee will see that if these public rights of way are stopped up the county will give something back to those who like to wander about the country in return for the rights that will be stopped up. Many of the powers which the county council are taking in this Bill are good, and I shall vote for the Second Reading if it goes to a Division.


One or two of the objections which have been made to this Bill are, obviously, points for Committee consideration. The rejection has been moved on the ground that the powers asked for are powers that can or might be used by all local authorities, and that, therefore, they should form part of a general Bill. I want to protest against that new and dangerous view of the powers of local authorities. It relegates local authorities altogether to too helpless a position. Many of the powers that are now generally exercised by local authorities were in the first place granted by Parliament to a particular locality on the demand of the locality; they were copied by others, and finally, in many instances, they became general powers made obli- gatory on all authorities. There are Committee points which affect the Ministry of Health, and on those the Ministry of Health will give a report; there are other Committee points which affect my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and on those his Department will give a report; but I can see nothing whatever to make the House hesitate about giving the Bill a Second Reading. It ought to be a matter of congratulation to anyone interested in local government to see a great and important local authority breaking fresh ground, and in the words of the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Meller), inspired with the purest spirit of local patriotism, "making his own local authority an example which others will copy." I think the House ought to give the Measure a Second Reading, and that points of difficulty in connection with it should be reserved for the Committee stage.

Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed.


I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Part IX. On behalf of myself and those who are acting with me I desire to say that we are glad the Bill has been given a Second Reading without a Division, and from the point of view of its main ideas we hope it will have an equally speedy passage through all its remaining stages. But by universal consent Part IX is not an integral part of the Bill. It deals with a scheme which, I think, it is stretching the English language unduly to call a scheme—with something which would be more correctly described if one referred to it as "an accident." It may interest the House to know the history of this proposal which the Barnes Urban District Council have succeeded in getting incorporated in this Surrey County Council Bill. Early in 1929 the Barnes Council appointed a committee to look into the question of the High Street and into the question of housing. Not until towards the latter part of 1930 did that committee make any report to the council. By a sheer accident the officers of the Barnes Council found that the Surrey County Council were promoting an Omnibus Bill, and in their desire to get their scheme—if scheme it can be called—included in the Bill, measures were hurriedly rushed through without reasonable time for discussion and consideration and without proper steps being taken to acquaint the ratepayers and others interested with the nature of the scheme.

An hon. Member opposite said the Barnes Council were unanimous in support of this scheme. That is not quite so. I grant at once that the Barnes Labour party, who have invited me to express their views in this place, in order that objections which they regard as valid may receive some attention, are not well represented on the Barnes Council, but there is no doubt in my mind that, small as is the Labour party there, they represent substantially the public view of the residents of Barnes and Mortlake on this matter. I have taken steps to satisfy myself as to that, because I will be no party to opposing this merely for the sake of opposition to any Measure to confer necessary powers upon a local authority.

The main purpose of Part IX is to construct a by-pass road through what are now very congested areas. This by-pass road, in its main features, runs counter to every modern authority on town planning and road construction. In the short distance of under half-a-mile this by-pass road will be intercepted and crossed at from four to six points by side streets. Every authority on road construction advises that that is one of the things which ought to be guarded against in the construction of traffic roads. No one who is interested in road-making will say that Professor Raymond Unwin is not an authority of some standing. What does he say in his report on the Regional Planning of Greater London, issued in 1929? In order that traffic may not be delayed unduly, and that danger points may not be created too frequently, cross-roads or side-road junctions should be spaced not nearer than about one-third of a mile in suburban areas, and from half a mile upwards in the outer districts. Even at a third of a mile, cars travelling at 30 miles per hour would pass the junction every 40 seconds. Professor Unwin tells us, therefore, that a small portion of a new road such as it is proposed under Part IX of this Bill to construct behind the existing Mortlake High Street ought not to he intercepted by cross or converging roads.

I am sure that is a point of view which will interest hon. Members in all parts of the House who are anxious to see public development and improved planning proceed along the right lines. I will quote the opinion of another authority which gave guidance and advice to the Barnes Council a short time ago. In a report on the Regional Planning of the Thames Valley in 1925 we are told: Difficult corners at Mortlake and by the White Hart public house require improvement, and the narrow High Street of Mortlake is in urgent need of widening. Effect has already been given to the recommendation as to the White Hart public house. In 1925 they said that the High Street, Mortlake, which is the place here referred to, was in urgent need of widening. Those for whom I act are opposing this scheme because they think it proceeds along wrong lines. Under this Bill the fast traffic will be thrown right up against the playground of the largest school in the district, and naturally the parents of the children are alarmed as to the dangers which may arise as the result of the passing of an ill-considered scheme of this kind. I will try to satisfy the House that there is a vast amount of public opinion in opposition to this scheme. I will quote first the opinion of one or two other authorities. No one will say that Professor Adshead, of the University of London, is a gentleman who could not be regarded as an authority on town planning and development. In a personal letter addressed to me he says: As representing a wide body of opinion on questions of town planning and town improvements, may I say that you have my sympathetic support in opposing the Bill which the Surrey County Council have brought into Parliament, and which will, I understand, be discussed on Tuesday. Taking the Bill as a whole no one could welcome it more than myself, but containing as it does, Clauses providing for the so-called Mortlake High Street Improvement, the Bill should be opposed. I have lived for 10 years in the Mortlake High Street and know all the circumstances of this improvement. It would be wrong from a traffic point of view, wrong from a financial point of view, and spoil every opportunity for a real improvement to the old High Street in perpetuity. That is the opinion of Professor Adshead, and I think he is an authority worthy of consideration. I will give another example of the many letters which have reached me in opposition to this Bill.

The Chairman of the Barnes Mortlake and East Sheen Ratepayers' Association writes: As Chairman of the Barnes and Mortlake Amenities Committee I am writing to thank you for your efforts in opposing that part of the Bill of the Surrey County Council, Section 9 I believe, dealing with the proposed bye-pass road to Mortlake High Street. My Committee are entirely against this scheme from beginning to end; it is really only a means by which the Council propose finding the site for a future housing scheme, to cost possibly £100,000, which we have no use for whatever in this district. The Council have, very underhandedly, in our opinion, included this Section 9 in the Surrey County Council Bill, and have, so far as they possibly could, kept a knowledge of their movements away from the ratepayers in this district. They have never mentioned so far their intention to use this scheme as a basis for a housing scheme, but that is the next step in their procedure. I may say that this Committee has amongst its Members Professor Adshead, Professor of Town Planning at the University of London, and several architects, estate agents, doctors, etc., who are in a position to be able to judge this scheme from the technical and expert standpoint. I could go on, if it were necessary, to quote other communications that have reached me from various sources in opposition to this Bill, but I do not want to take up too much time. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health has made my task much less difficult than it otherwise would have been, because she has given an assurance that before this Bill passes through the Committee stage the portion of the Bill which affects the Ministry of Health will be considered by the Ministry, and that which affects the Ministry of Transport will be considered by that Ministry. Consequently, each Ministry affected will consider the proposals of this Bill. I think t have drawn sufficient attention to these matters for the Ministries concerned to scrutinise carefully the provisions of this Bill before it is allowed to pass through Committee.

9.0 p.m.

As a result of the scheme put forward in this Bill, there will be between 86 and 90 working-class houses demolished, the tenants of which are at present living under the Rent Restrictions Act. Those tenants are apprehensive because, so far as is known at present, no alternative provision has been made to accommodate the people who will be displaced by this scheme, which it is urged should be immediately carried out in order to find work for the unemployed. There are about 400 people who will be involved by this scheme, and it is highly desirable that this House should ensure, in Committee or in another place, that due and adequate provision shall be made for the people who would be displaced by the scheme. This point should be met before we allow the Bill to pass through Committee.

The Barnes District Council have some dubiety about the wisdom of their own scheme. They are anxious to avoid a division of opinion which would affect the passage of the Second Beading of the Bill. That body passed this resolution: That while the council record with great regret the circumstances they, for the purpose of securing the passage through Parliament of the remaining parts of the Surrey County Council Bill in this session, do hereby comply with the requests of the county council, and give them full authority should they so desire, to withdraw Part IX of such Bill which sought power to enable the council to have dealt with a much-needed scheme of improvement and re-housing conditions in the Mortlake High Street area and providing a playground for the children. The council further desire to record their sense of deep appreciation of the courtesy and generosity of the Surrey County Council in endeavouring to obtain sanction to this scheme. Whoever speaks for the Surrey County Council I hope will be able to allay the fears of those who live in that part of Surrey in regard to the construction of the proposed new road. I think it is very important that before the scheme promoted by this Bill is proceeded with, due and adequate provision should be made for the poor people and the workpeople who will be displaced if the new road is constructed.


I beg to second the Motion.

One has heard so much to-night about the amenities of Surrey that one is almost inclined to feel jealous. I cannot speak on this matter from the point of view of the expert. The only place where I have lived in Surrey is Barnes, and I know the High Street. I do not wish—and here my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will agree with me—that Part IX of the Bill should disappear altogether, but I think that the simpler way is to do the widening in the High Street itself. After all, there is a great deal in sentiment. You have here an old, historic road, with, on one side, old and crumbling property which ought to Dome down, where every house and every shop has sufficient background to enable the road to be set back without going right through the middle of other property. The hon. Member for Richmond (Sir N. Moore) referred to a school, but, if the proposed new road is taken straight through what is known, I believe, as Vinyard Park—though there is no vine in it—it simply means that that very important school is brought to the side of the main road, which is not the place for a school; they are building schools off the main road now. It involves going round the back of High Street and leaving a narrow strip of an island with three cross sections in a distance of less than 400 yards—streets converging on to the very street that the Surrey County Council are trying to escape. Moreover, if there is one danger in the parish of Barnes and Mortlake, it is the level crossing, but the proposed new street that will run out behind the High Street will come out on to the Lower Richmond Road close to Sheen Lane crossing, still leaving the crossing intact. Sheen Lane is one of the two connecting roads between the Lower Richmond Road and the Upper Richmond Road, but the level crossing is still to be left, and also a blind corner turning into the Lower Richmond Road. Already it has been agreed to cut off the green—a corner of the park, as I call it—in the Lower Richmond Road, and I submit that the simpler and more economical way is the widening of the southern or western side of Mortlake High Street. I would like every Member of the House to go down and walk along Mortlake High Street towards the Lower Richmond Road and out towards Richmond, and there see the proposal. You have two connecting roads—White Hart Lane on the one hand, and Sheen Lane on the other—between the two main roads, namely, the Lower Richmond Road and the Upper Richmond Road, still leaving the level crossing and bringing the proposed new street nearer to the crossing. I submit that the most economical and efficient way from the point of view of traffic is to wipe out the western or southern side of Mortlake High Street from the end of Avondale Road in Barnes to the green and the corner of the park. That would give a good road without demolishing good property, but only rotten property that ought to have been pulled down years ago.


I ask the House to reject this Instruction. With all due respect to my two hon. Friends, I cannot help feeling that this is precisely the kind of point that ought not to be submitted by anyone to the Imperial Parliament of the British Empire. We are waiting tonight to deal with matters actually extending from China to Peru, and we are held up in order that we may discuss about 600 yards of a Surrey suburban street. We almost merit, I think, the description given by Byron of Napoleon: One moment of the mightiest, and again On little objects with like firmness fixt; Extreme in all things! I want to say quite frankly that the scheme which we are being asked to reject is a good one, and I suggest that, having received, by 23 votes to one, the approval of the Barnes Urban District Council, and having been passed, again with a minority of one, by the Surrey County Council, consisting of 93 members, it ought to be passed by this House, because the two minorities of one consisted of the same person, who, I believe, has supplied the brief for the two speeches to which we have just listened—[Interruption.] At any rate the same gentleman has been seen in close consultation with the two speakers. We may appreciate his pertinacity. I do, for he is a valued colleague of mine on the Surrey County Council, and I can only hope that he will be as zealous in good works as in this case he has been in had. A professor living in Mortlake High Street has suggested that another line ought to be taken. If we proposed to widen Mortlake High Street—and many hon. Members who have been to see the Universities Boat Race must have passed along Mortlake High Street—we should have to do two things. On the north side we should have to take down Watney, Combe, Reid and Company's brewery, and, after the disastrous debate of the Liquor Traffic Prohibition Bill last Friday, that establishment, apparently, has a new lease of life for some years to come, and is probably one of the most valuable frontages in the whole country. On the south side it would be necessary to interfere with the entrance to one of the most historic churches in the county, and also to take down a couple of public houses.

With some knowledge of dealing with highway improvements, I venture to suggest that any proposal to interfere with the entrance to a historic church, and put it back practically on to the main road, so that the traffic on Sundays, when the sermon is being delivered, will keep the people awake instead of letting them take their usual slumber, would be highly resented by the inhabitants of the district, while it is by no means certain that the taking down of a couple of public houses would not cost far more in compensation than would have to be paid for the property at the back. With regard to the school, for eight years I taught in Mortlake, so I may be presumed at least to know a little about the accommodation there. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Junior Member for Oldham. (Mr. J. Wilson) said that this was the largest school in the district. As a matter of fact, it is not the largest school in the district. There was a time when it was, but that was when Mortlake was a small place. Mortlake is now bigger than Richmond, and there are at least two other schools in the parish which are larger than this. At present Mortlake High Street receives the children from this school through a series of narrow footpaths which rejoice in such names as Tinderbox Alley and Mullins Path. The names themselves give some indication of the kind of openings that these are, and it is infinitely more dangerous for them to debouch on the main road through narrow paths like that, all of a heap, than to come along reasonably wide roads.

I cannot help thinking that the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Sherwood), in his accurate description of things as they are, forgot that this House has assented to the creation of two new bridges over the Thames, one slightly to the west of the road in question and the other leading again over the Thames at Richmond, and the effect of the building of those two bridges will be to bring along this road, and to divert from going along the Upper Richmond Road from the Lower Richmond Road, a lot of traffic desiring to get to Richmond and beyond. The result will be that this road will be increasingly used as a line of through traffic. The opponents of the scheme have christened this the Mortlake By-pass Road. No one with any authority suggests that it is a by-pass road. The northern part of the road is to be used for traffic coming London-wards, and the southern part of the road is to be used for traffic going towards Richmond. This property at the back is a very higgledy-piggledy property. It goes back to the days when Mortlake was a collection of market gardens, when people erected labourers' cottages wherever they liked on the boundaries of their own property, and connected them in this very narrow and straggling path called Vineyard Path. Eighty-six dwellings are to be demolished. The council are preserving, I think rightly, the whole of the frontages on the new road, and they propose to erect 126 in place of the 86 that are being demolished. I am authorised by the Barnes Urban Council to say that the existing tenants who are dispossessed will be granted, in the process of displacement and re-housing, all the privileges with regard to rent under the Rent Restriction Acts that they now enjoy.

I am sure that, in doing that the Council are doing nothing more than the Committee would demand for these people. The scheme enables a very much needed improvement to be carried out at very little cost, it enables a much needed housing improvement and a very essential highway improvement to be carried out, the local authorities concerned being willing to meet the existing tenants as generously as can be demanded of them. I ask the House to allow these Clauses in Part IX to go to Committee. If, when it gets to Committee, the pledges that I have given have not been redeemed, the Bill must come back here, and it would then be open to hon. Members to raise opposition, and I am sure the House would insist that pledges given openly in the House should be honoured.


After my hon. Friend's assurance, I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.