HC Deb 08 February 1933 vol 274 cc263-308

I beg to move, That, in view of the widely-expressed dissatisfaction over the recent decisions of the Commissioners of Crown Lands with regard to No. 4, Carlton Gardens, and the uneasiness still felt as to the future of Carlton House Terrace, Carlton Gardens, and other Crown lands in London, this House urges the Government to take immediate steps to reorganise the administration of Crown lands and in particular to secure that in any future decision educated and responsible opinion shall be fully taken into consideration. I am afraid that this evening I am breaking a resolution which I thought fit to make for myself that during the next few months the voice of the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) should be heard rather less in this assembly than in the past. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because I coupled with it at the same time the hope that the same self-denying ordinance would be adopted by all those hon. Members whose names are Williams. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) having spoken yesterday, I feel that I am pardoned, particularly as it is not by my will and choice that I am speaking to-day but is entirely due to the chance of the ballot. If there is any advantage in these Wednesday Motions, it is that we should have the opportunity of discussing something which is topical. I am certain that the Debate on Kenya which has preceded this one, and this discussion, if they have any advantage, have the advantage that they are dealing with questions which have arisen rather acutely during the last month or so.

One imagines hon. Members raising in these Debates subjects of direct interest to their constituents, and I should perhaps be talking to-night about unemployment, beer, totalisators or agriculture, but I deem it of some advantage that those who are perhaps not directly concerned with the government and administration of London should, when occasion arises, lift their voices in this House and criticise something that has occurred in what is, after all, the finest city in the world. I must say that I am very sorry, and that I apologise to the Minister of Agriculture that I should have had to drag him here to-night, when his mind should more appropriately be occupied with questions of milk and potatoes and those great Acts which we know he is about to introduce for the benefit of our great industry of agriculture.

It is an unfortunate fact that he is technically responsible for what is done by the Commissioners of Crown Lands; in fact he is a Commissioner. A great deal of the trouble which has arisen during the last few weeks, and which has been much ventilated in the Press, has been due to this divided authority and to the fact that the Minister of Agriculture is nominally, and only just nominally, the spokesman for what is done by the Crown Lands Commissioners, who are what one might well describe as the absolute essence of bureaucracy. It is indeed admitted from many points of view that this is the case to-day. For those who hold non-Socialist opinions, this position is merely one further proof of what we have held so long, namely, that the State is not only a thoroughly bad landlord but is the worst authority to undertake those activities in life which in the past have been carried out by private enterprise. When one considers that the enormous estates of the Commissioners of Crown Lands are administered by a civil servant, we see some of the difficulties in which this nation would be involved if the Socialists had their way.

The first part of this Resolution is really a peg, and a very scandalous peg, on which to hang the few remarks with which I will trouble the House. The text is Carlton House Terrace, No. 4, Carlton Gardens; I am not proposing to go into the details of the whole history of the case and of the disputes which have arisen, because the hon. Member for Don-caster (Mr. Molson) who should be here and apparently is not, had intended, as the Seconder of the Motion, and I hope still intends, to deal with that. I would only just point out one or two salient facts in regard to the controversy around Carlton Gardens.

First of all, as far back as the 4th July, the question was raised in this House as to what was going to happen to that particular site. It was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland), and the Minister then said that, although no agreement had been reached, the plans would be submitted to the Fine Art Commission and so on. In fact, any incipient opposition was lulled by the very sooth- ing words of the present Home Secretary, and nothing more was thought about it at that time. We find now that it was at the end of the month that the plans were submitted to the Fine Art Commission. The whole story of the half-truths and the misunderstandings between the Department, the architect, the firm of painters who are most concerned, and the Fine Art Commission, will no doubt be detailed during the Debate, but there is one salient date on which I should like the House to focus its attention, and that is the 13th July.

On that date the Minister of Agriculture went away to Ottawa with that very fine delegation which was to get such very great results, and no doubt he forgot all about Carlton Gardens. I do not blame him for that; anyone would in his position. After all, he had been dealing during the Session with one of the most important agricultural Measures ever placed on the Statute Book, the Wheat Bill. He must have had hours and hours of Committee work in connection with the Ottawa Conference, in consultation with agriculturists in this country and with his own colleagues, as to what the policy of the Government was to be, and it is, after all, not humanly possible for the Minister to do everything. This matter was certainly so much outside the ordinary scope of his labours that, so far as I can see the case, he stands absolutely forgiven. With these great problems to be dealt with, he, who was only a nominal Commissioner, can very well be excused in this House. But that does not excuse the Commissioners qua Commissioners, because all the while, after this House had been told that everything would be discussed and planned and arranged and so on, the demolition of the existing house was going on, and, as the months went by, the foundations and the steel superstructure which we now see were rising—and so was the tide of questions in this House.

Within the last fortnight, however, we have heard from the Minister himself that the whole question was really a matter, so far as the contractors are concerned, of something like £60,000; and, when pressed, he said that there was no particular reason to suppose that the contractors would have been willing voluntarily to cancel their contract, and, therefore, by and large, the plans which had been adopted must go on. I do not think I am misquoting anything of the substance of what the Minister said in his recent published statement. To that, so far as Carlton House Terrace and Carlton Gardens are concerned, a great many of us would take exception. Many people would say that there were adequate grounds on which the Government could have gone, and, it having been seen that they had made a mistake —for the Minister knows just as well as I do that a mistake was made by someone—perhaps some arrangement could have been come to.

The case, apparently, rested at that time on a general idea that there were several of these houses in Carlton House Terrace and Carlton Gardens falling vacant, and that there was difficulty in renewing leases, and the new arrangement with this particular firm—we have it on the authority of the spokesman of the Government in the other House— means an increase of something like £350 per annum on the present lease as compared with what was being received before. For that paltry sum of £350 a year, all this commotion and disturbance has been caused. It is really rather a pity. We have on the one side an expression of the opinion of practically every reasonable and well-educated person, while, on the other hand, we have a sort of attitude of "Blomfield contra mundum." It is not to be supposed that those of us who have objected to what has been going on in Carlton House Terrace are exactly aesthetes in the normal sense of the word. I should say that I myself, and the hon. Member for Doncaster, who is going to second this Motion, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth, would never pass an aesthetes in any company. But the damage is being done.

That is all I want to say about Carlton House Terrace. I think it is a most discreditable story in connection with the Crown Lands Commissioners, and, if it could be done now, I would urge the Government, even at this very late hour, to try to do something to get the firm of painters who are going to occupy No. 4 to come to some accommodation with the Commissioners. I wish it could be done, and I do not think it is impossible even now. But I want to argue the case on much larger grounds than that. It may possibly be that this grave mistake will result in good in the long run, because at least it may wake up a Government— I do not say this Government, because I do not suppose that this Government, until the last few weeks, has had the matter under its consideration at all—to the scandalous condition of affairs in regard to the Crown Lands Commissioners; and, if it does that, perhaps it will have been worth that £350 per annum, though I still doubt it.

The idea, apparently, in this case was that because at the moment four, or five, or six—or whatever the number may be— houses in that particular part of London were unoccupied, it would be advisable to change them into offices or flats, because it would be easier to get tenants. That is exactly where I would join issue with these people. Is there any reason to suppose that, when prosperity returns to our country, there will be more demand for flats and offices than for large houses? It is just as reasonable to say that the resultant prosperity of our nation will induce some people—possibly even members of a Labour Administration—to want to go and live in a big house in Carlton House Terrace. I see that an hon. Gentleman opposite does not agree, but he is going to get some rich recruits, I understand, before long. The experience of the Crown Lands Commissioners is not to be found only in Carlton House Terrace. It is to be found in their Regent Street properties. What do we find there? There they thought it would be a good idea to extend their office accommodation, and they perpetrated one of the worst blots upon London in rebuilding Regent Street.

If I were to read the January "Architect's Journal," I should find an article on this subject. As I only drew up this Motion last night, I admit that I have not had time personally to investigate it, but I take it that it is a reputable paper, and it states that there are in the Crown Lands Commissioners' houses in Regent Street to-day 20 vacant offices, 30 completely vacant floors of offices, and nine shops, three of which are whole buildings. With that already the case on their own property, why on earth do they want to talk about changing a lot of residential property into still further offices, to be still further unoccupied? The Regent Street property is let at rentals which I understand it is practically impossible to pay to-day. Again, in the "Times" of the 26th July last year there will be found a statement made by the Town Clerk of Westminster. He says that these businesses in Regent Street were being assessed on floor areas by the assessment committees, and not on actual rents, because the latter were so high that it was impossible to do it on that basis. That is why I again stress the fact that it is absolutely preposterous on the part of the Crown Lands Commissioners to develop office property in what is now a residential area.

One has only to read the "Times" of this morning to find an account of a meeting of the Regent Street Association last night on this particular question. They have been asking for a reduction in their rents, and it appears that they were very sympathetically received in August by the Permanent Commissioner of Crown Lands. He said that he was prepared to make recommendations to the Treasury for temporary concessions, and so they asked to be received by the Treasury, but the Treasury refused. I note also that, when the Minister of Agriculture received the deputation on the 26th January, the Treasury were again cited as sole arbiters in the matter of rents. As the association goes on to say in its report, it seems inconsistent with the position and responsibilities of the Permanent Commissioner, who is in effect an estate manager, that his action should be controlled by a body whose concern is not estate management, but revenue. Therefore, there is not only the bureaucratic control of the Permanent Commissioner, but behind him there is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, apparently—I stand to be corrected—has a considerable voice in the fixing of these rentals. Of all the ridiculous arrangements that anyone could devise for dealing with this kind of property, these are probably the most absurd.

May I remind the House of what is dealt with by the Crown Lands Commissioners? They are not dealing with a bankrupt estate; their business is not to try to squeeze out the last penny from wherever they can get it. Their history is a very interesting one. If you go back into it, you find the Crown surrendering its lands, and accepting the Civil List, originally under the Office of Works, with the First Commissioner in charge; then, owing to the scandals in the Department, it was transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture; and now, in view of the scandals under the present administration, I hope it will be transferred back to the First Commissioner of Works. They are dealing with 251,000 acres of land, a great deal of it agricultural, and anyone who is sufficiently interested to read the report of the Commissioners of Crown Lands for last year will find that, for the financial year ending on the 31st March, their gross income revenue was £1,777,000, while their gross expenditure was only £534,000, and that they paid into the Treasury, into the national accounts, that year, £1,250,000, which, in spite of their having this property without tenants, was only some £30,000 less than they paid into the Exchequer in 1931.

I am stressing these figures because, apparently, the argument as regards Carlton Gardens has been that they could not leave the property untenanted any longer, as they were losing so much. Last year, however, they only paid into the Exchequer £30,000 less than the previous year. The accounts show, also, that last year they had to spend £66,000 for maintenance expenses in connection with farms in hand. In view of the state of agriculture as it was at that time, it is not very remarkable that they handed to the Exchequer a little less than the previous year, but it was only such a little less that I really cannot believe that they need have made this great revolutionary attack on the whole of the Carlton estate, Carlton Gardens and Carlton House Terrace, just because of the extra £350 that it might bring in, when the figures dealt with are so large.

What is the good of this House stressing, in Debate and in legislation, the whole question of town planning—last Session Parliament passed a great Bill on that question—when here is a Government Department, a Department of the State, which surely ought to be the model employer, absolutely disregarding any of the principles of town planning and, indeed, going out of its way to encroach on one of the few parts of London which were really adequately planned at the time when they were built? That is not the first time that there have been grievances which hon. Members of this House could feel with regard to the Crown Lands Commissioners. I do not know whether everybody here would say that the Commissioners were perfect agricultural landlords, either. I have a very distinct recollection that, at the time Mr. Guinness—now Lord Moyne—was Minister of Agriculture, towards the end of 1928 and at the beginning of 1929, rents of agricultural estates in Lincolnshire and the south-eastern counties were raised very considerably; the unjustifiable raising of these rents caused more trouble than it is possible to imagine to candidates in that by-election, and the excuses put about by the Commissioners for the raising of the rents of Crown lands would not hold water at all. Some of us have been storing up grievances against the Commissioners of Crown Lands for a long time, and I am very pleased to have had the opportunity of bringing something against them to-day.

When all is said and done, if you look at it by and large, here is a great estate being run on what is obviously a very bad system. So we ask the Government quite frankly in our Motion to take immediate steps to deal with it: to reorganise its administration which, at any rate in these three instances that I have quoted—the Carlton House Terrace property, the Regent Street property and even the agricultural property some years ago—has not been what it should have been considering that the State is dealing with these problems. If it decides in its wisdom or its folly that Carlton House Terrace is no good any more for private houses, then let it at least look round the world and see what other people have done in similar circumstances. Let the Permanent Commission or the Minister of Agriculture—I should be very glad if he would take the trip—go over to Paris; let them walk into the Place Vendôme; let them see that most wonderful square, the facade of which is as it always was, but behind it they will find two or three banks, innumerable shops, and two of the most famous hotels in the world. They certainly would not have chosen that sort of place for a hotel, but these have managed quite well. Let them go to the Place de la Concorde; they will see a great building being put up for American Government purposes. The condition was laid down by the French authorities— whether Paris itself or the Government was concerned I could not say—that no building could be put on that site unless it corresponded to the existing building on the other side of the Square. These things are not difficult to do, but require the will to do the right thing, and many of us suspect that in the last few weeks that will has not been forthcoming.

We say that there is a case for the reorganisation of the administration, and if there is not we urge that some steps should be adopted to see that educated and responsible opinion is taken into consideration. By "educated" I mean something analogous to the Royal Fine Art Commission; I would make it mandatory that they should be consulted and that what they say should be published, so that we may choose between one opinion and the other. By "responsible" I mean that this House should have somehow some opportunity of expressing its views on the subject, and not have to receive its information in this present very clouded state. I hope the Government will find it possible to accept our Motion. It is very humble; it is put in very large words. The Minister will, I am sure, realise that had we felt like it, or felt it wise or desirable, we could have condemned the Government root and branch, and, what is more, we could have had a majority in this House on this subject. Certainly! Why, the first Memorial to the Prime Minister was signed by 80 Members of Parliament in the twinkling of an eye. I am not so sure but that most of the Members of the Government itself heartily endorse everything I have stated.

We make the case that the Carlton House Terrace business is a scandal; that the Commissioners of Crown Lands should be dealt with; that the administration be altered; that Parliament should have a say because, if for no other reason, the Commissioners have thought fit in their folly to tamper with what is, after all, the great processional way of the Empire. It would be quite easy for me or for any hon. Member of this House to wax sentimental about London—" The metropolis of our far-flung Empire "— where the Romans have left their traces, and the Normans, and every century right down to Wren, Adams, Rennie and Nash, whose work we are discussing to-day. There may be some Members of this House who do not think much of Carlton House Terrace, but still it is the relic of an age. It is part of a plan which Nash conceived and which has been half destroyed by these same Crown Land Commissioners in Regent Street, but a little bit of it still remains. It is a terrace from which an intelligent observer or an interested admirer can see almost every wonderful sight that London has to give. During the last few years some great processions has passed there along the Mall; those excited crowds on Armistice day, those great Peace processions, all the captured guns; practically every great soldier and sailor we have had since it was built has had his funeral procession along there. The King comes from Buckingham Palace to our Palace at Westminster to open our Proceedings. If you ask any Englishman of our race scattered over the globe to think of all the great cities—Paris, Berlin, New York, Edinburgh—which have their great processional ways, he will say that the Mall beats them all. One of the reasons why the Mall is so impressive is because of this very terrace which Nash built over 100 years ago. If I put our case as low as that, I believe it would be a winning ease, but when you take into account all the other considerations which inevitably arise, it is overwhelming. I beg the Government to be good enough to accept our Motion.

8.8 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

The House has heard from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) a striking indictment of the general administration of the Crown lands. My task is the humbler one of following out the particular controversy which has led to this Motion being moved in this House. For the last six months or more there have been Members of this House who have been much concerned with what they understood was going to be done with a certain historic site, a site which was occupied by the house of two Prime Ministers. It was as far back as last spring that the first rumours reached the tenants of Carlton House Terrace that certain great changes were intended, and residents there addressed a letter to the Commissioners of Crown Lands. On 4th July, shortly before the Summer Recess, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) asked a question of the Minister of Agriculture with regard to the intentions of the Crown Lands Commissioners. That question was asked with a special reason. It was that before this House rose, when for a long space of time it would be impossible to raise this matter again, he desired some assurance that no rash and unwarrantable change would be made in the character of that neighbourhood. He was reassured by a reply from the now Home Secretary that any new building to be erected on that site would be subject to the provisions of the London Building Act, and that the Commissioners of Crown Lands had further stipulated that the plan must be submitted to the Royal Fine Arts Commission.

Without making any charge of bad faith, I cannot say that that undertaking was carried out in the spirit, when one knows that only the plans for that house were submitted, and not the fact that the new building was to be of a nonresidential character, that it was to be 30 feet higher than No. 1, Carlton House Terrace, and 40 feet higher than the house which it replaced. This matter was submitted to the Royal Fine Art Commission, not by the Commissioners of Crown Lands, but apparently by Sir Reginald Blomfield. There has been, as this House is aware, a good deal of controversy between Sir Reginald Blomfield, the architect of this new erection, and Lord Crawford, the Chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission. Looking at the first consideration, the House is entitled to know exactly in what capacity Sir Reginald Blomfield was charged with the responsibility of submitting these plans to the Royal Fine Art Commission. One would naturally have supposed, after the answer that was given by the right hon. Gentleman on 4th July, that the plans would have been submitted by the Commissioners of Crown Lands themselves and that the whole question of height as well as design would have been put before them in order that they should make their comments. The importance of this matter lies in the fact that there has been a great deal of confusion about whether the whole of Carlton House Terrace was to be rebuilt, or whether there was to be only a single building. When Sir Reginald Blomfield submitted his plans for the new building to be erected on the site of 4, Carlton Gardens, he apparently incorporated it in a plan for the rebuilding of Carlton House Terrace, and apparently the Royal Fine Art Commission was given to understand that the Commissioners of Crown Lands had decided upon a policy of the entire reconstruction of Carlton House Terrace and that 4, Carlton Gardens, was merely the first instalment of a comprehensive plan.

It has never been the intention of us who have protested against this building at 4, Carlton Gardens to suggest that for all time Carlton House Terrace should be preserved as a monument to Regency architecture, however unsuitable it may become and however derelict it may be. At the present time there is a clear case for doing so on financial grounds; as a matter of fact there are only four houses in the whole of that Terrace and in the Gardens which are vacant at the present time. I suppose that any landlord in London who had as many houses as that and had only four out of them vacant at the time would regard himself as a very fortunate man. If, however, it is found necessary that the whole of the Carlton House Terrace site should be rebuilt, then most of us would not raise any objection to it. But there is a single plan submitted to the Royal Fine Art Commission upon which they are asked to pronounce. They are given to understand by the architect who makes this submission to them that the Commissioners of Crown Lands have decided upon an entire reconstruction of the whole site. It is some weeks afterwards that they learn, when at last they get into communication with the Permanent Commissioner of Crown Lands, that the Government, as a matter of fact, have no policy about the site at all and that it is still in doubt as to whether it will or will not be necessary to rebuild the whole of the site.

The Royal Fine Art Commission very naturally considered the whole of the design as put before them—with what authority I hope we shall be informed to-night—by Sir Reginald Blomfield, a large and ambitious scheme for the whole of the reconstruction of the site. They found that, assuming that reconstruction was going to take place, the building to be erected on 4, Carlton Gardens was not inappropriate. At once they took exception to the increase in height—an increase in height which will mean that the new Carlton House Terrace will be actually higher than Buckingham Palace itself. But as that had been referred to, and as it was not within their terms of reference, the chairman of the Fine Art Commission very naturally wrote a personal letter on the 28th July expressing grave doubts as to what the effect upon the amenities of that part of London would be of increasing the height of those buildings.

On 30th July the Chairman wrote again. For some reason or other, he was not quite sure that in his first letter he had made it quite plain to the architect, Sir Reginald Blomfield—and I repeat it again—whose exact authority for explaining to the Fine Art Commission the policy of the Government is still obscure. He wrote again in order to express the wish and the desire that his letter, written on behalf of the Commission, should be brought to the notice of the permanent Commissioner for Crown Lands. The unfortunate thing is that on the 16th September the permanent Commissioner wrote to Lord Crawford to say that no rebuilding of the Terrace at present is contemplated, so that it now appears that Sir Reginald Blomfield, when he announced to the Fine Art Commission that it was the policy of the Commissioners of Crown Lands to rebuild the whole area, was going beyond what Be was authorised to do.

I asked a question of my right hon. and gallant Friend on 19th December, and he replied that: The policy of the Commissioners of Crown Lands is, shortly, to review at an early date the position of Carlton House Terrace, having regard to the increasing difficulty of obtaining tenants for the dwelling-houses therein. I accordingly put the supplementary question: If it is the intention of the Government to review the whole position, how is it that Sir Reginald Blomfield is able to explain their policy to the Fine Art Commission? to which my right hon. and gallant Friend made a reply with which I entirely agreed that: It is difficult to discuss this matter by question and answer." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1932; col. 724, Vol. 273.] He has now an opportunity of explaining the position to us in the course of a speech, and I hope that his well-known lucidity of exposition will enable him to make the position clear. On 28th October the permanent Commissioner of Crown Lands met the Fine Art Commission for the first time.

What, on the whole, is our complaint? Our complaint is that the whole record— the obscure, the somewhat tortuous negotiations which have been going on—is a very remarkable commentary upon the efficiency of the administration of the Crown Lands. We also contend that, as a matter of fact, the building of a single skyscraper at No. 4 Carlton Gardens before any comprehensive scheme for the rebuilding of the whole of that area of London will inflict an eyesore upon the whole of that great processional way to which my hon. and gallant Friend has referred. You have at the present time three leases in Carlton House Terrace which have a further life of 50 years or more. We understand that it is the intention ultimately to build up to this greater height, so that only those of us who can look forward to living the next 60 years may, with a certain amount of confidence, expect to see once more the skyline of Carlton House Terrace restored to its pristine purity as it was before the present Commissioners of Crown Lands began their administration.

I wish to ask one or two questions of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman as to exactly what he has done since first this agitation began in order to try and persuade Messrs. Pinchin Johnson to abandon what are admittedly their legal rights in this lease which was so unfortunately conceded by the Commissioners of Crown Lands. I do not think that one need ask him to come before us in the white robes of a penitent, because I think he did that fairly effectively, although perhaps a little reluctantly, and not altogether gracefully, when he issued his statement to the papers, and said that with regard to the future, in view of the public interest which has beer taken in this question and notwithstanding such considerations as the increasing difficulties of finding tenants and the serious loss to Crown Revenue involved in the houses remaining untenanted, notwithstanding this consideration the Commissioners of Crown Lands did not propose to take any further action in regard to the development of Carlton House Terrace until public opinion has had time and opportunity to express itself and those opinions have been fully considered. The list which appeared the following day —I think it was in the "Times" of those who have joined the general committee—the Carlton House Terrace Defence Committee—shows, I think, that there has already been time enough for public opinion to express itself, and that anyone might have said that public opinion had expressed itself some months ago.

I ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman whether, during the last few months, he has really made whole-hearted efforts to persuade Messrs. Pinchin Johnson to agree not to build that new building two storeys above the existing level of Carlton House Terrace 1 I ask him whether the approach was made in the first place by Messrs. Pinchin Johnson to the Commissioners of Crown Lands, or whether, as a matter of fact, the approach was made by the Commissioners of Crown Lands to Messrs. Pinchin Johnson? I want to ask him even more urgently, whether, at an earlier stage in these negotiations, he or his colleagues had any indication, formal or informal, that Messrs. Pinchin Johnson would be prepared to consider terms—and fairly favourable terms—upon which they would be prepared to meet what they recognise to be a great volume of public opinion. I want to ask him whether he has tried to persuade them to take over one or two floors in the neighbouring empty house of No. 1 Carlton House Terrace in order that they might have the same area of accommodation that they would have if they insisted upon putting up this building an extra two storeys.

If anyone had any doubts as to the appalling blunders which have been made in this matter of No. 4, Carlton Gardens, surely there cannot now be any doubts when we remember that my hon. Friend the Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) has elicited the information from my right hon. and gallant Friend that there are two fine Regency chimney-pieces in that house which belong to the Commissioners of Crown Lands. Recklessly and thoughtlessly the house was handed over to the housebreakers, and afterwards the National Art Collections Fund came along and bought back those very same chimney-pieces in order that they might be given to a national museum, so that that part of the house, at any rate, might be preserved for the benefit of future generations. If my right hon. Friend is not prepared to depart one jot or tittle from the announcement that he put in the newspapers, then, whatever may be the future of Carlton House Terrace, for the next 60 years we are to have this coarse, ungainly, incongruous 20th century building in stone standing up above the graceful, dignified stucco architecture of the Regency period, which will stand, I fear, for the next 60 years as a memorial to future generations of the thoughtlessness, the barrenness, the incompetence and the short-sightedness of the present Commissioners of Crown Lands.

8.28 p.m.


I had hoped that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture would have taken the opportunity of making a reply at an earlier stage of the proceedings, so that the only duty of those of us who might speak after him would have been, perhaps, to thank him for accepting our Resolution, mild in its terms as it is, and for an assurance that so far as the future is concerned there should be an adequate safeguard that mistakes like the one that has been perpetrated, like the mistake that is being perpetrated at this moment, should not occur again. The case has been put with such humour and so forcibly by the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) and also so forcibly by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson) that I do not wish to take up a great deal of time in trying to reinforce it, but I would urge it strongly upon the attention and consideration of my right hon. Friend from two different aspects.

There are two points which we wish to secure. There is the question of the building now in course of erection. We want to get a modification or a change as complete as we can in that building. Then there is the more general question of the outlook for the future, and a change in the system which will make it, if not impossible, at any rate, difficult, for mistakes of this kind to recur. With regard to the building that is now being erected, we have been told that to make any substantial change either in its height or its character is impossible, that it is too late, that it has gone beyond recall. I refuse to believe that that is so. The erection of the present building is really a villainous business. I would not pretend for a moment that Carlton House Terrace is the most magnificent architectural building or monument that has ever been constructed by the intelligence of man; far from it, but I do look upon it as a fine, dignified, suitable and harmonious building in an all-important site, overlooking what my hon. Friend has called the great ceremonial way from Buckingham Palace through Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament or Westminster Abbey.

When people condemn Carlton House Terrace for its architecture I cannot help thinking that there are some people who have what I might call the Nash complex, just as there are other people who have the Blomfield complex.


Nobody now.


If we are criticised because for the time being we prefer the present buildings, until they can be replaced by something equally as good, I ask who are our critics? The critics are the same people who, apparently, are so contemptuous of Nash that when the building at Carlton Gardens was being taken down they threw in the mantel-pieces for nothing and the same fireplaces have been bought back as a specimen for the Victoria and Albert Museum. They were also wanted for another museum, and I am not sure whether that was a more suitable place for the fireplaces or the critics. What we claim is, that we are dealing here with a great ceremonial route, which ought not to be spoilt. It is the only one that there is in London. We are not so well off in London in this respect as some capitals are. Let anyone compare the route from the Arc de Triomphe down to the Place and ask themselves whether the French people would tolerate anything that would spoil that route. We ought not to tolerate anything of the kind in London.

This is part of a residential district, a well-to-do residential district. It is, however, not a question of rich or poor, but a question for every patriotic British citizen who values the greatness and beauty of London as the capital of the Empire. One and all have prized this possession, and one and all, poor as well as rich, have contributed to the defence committee set up to prevent this route from being entirely spoilt. There is one other question that I would mention, because it deserves to be mentioned, and that is the private interests that are threatened. I do not want to lay too much stress upon the private interests. Private interests, even if they are endangered, are less important than public interests, and must give way, but I must say that, as a specimen of landlordism, what has been done in regard to this building is indeed striking. There is a strictly residential clause in the leases and the Crown forces the residents to keep that clause. It keeps them strictly to the clause, which provides that it shall be a residential area. People pay premiums for their leases and spend money on their houses, and when the Crown comes in, not being strictly bound, or thinking that it is not strictly bound, by these conditions, it proceeds to break the conditions which it imposes on others.

We have always been told that the Crown should be a model employer. It ought to be a model landlord. If action of this kind had been taken by any private landlord it would have been held up to execration as the sort of thing a landlord ought not to do. Private interests should always be subordinate to public interests, but it is only fair that they should receive justice and consideration. A heavy responsibility lies upon those who are responsible for what is now being done. It is important of itself, and it is typical of what may happen in the future, even though we realise that it is a small matter in comparison with the great issues of world troubles which occupy the attention of the Government at the moment, and a small matter compared with the great agricultural questions which occupy the attention of the Minister of Agriculture, as they did of his predecessors. That is true, and we realise it.

Again, we do not want for one moment to go looking for scapegoats; that is the last thing in the minds of those who are raising this question. All we want is to stop the mischief that is being done and prevent the possibility of such mischief occurring in the future. When we asked that the mischief should be stopped, or repaired, as soon as possible, look at the response ! It is seven months since the question was first raised in this House in the beginning of July. Month after month since then it has been brought before the attention of the authorities. At the end of July or the beginning of August there was the letter from the Chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission asking that their apprehensions might be brought before the Commissioner of Crown Land. Apparently they were not, a very strange history, but the Commissioner was aware of them at the end of September or the beginning of October, and at that moment it was perfectly easy to repair the whole situation. Nothing was done. The House met. The matter was brought up again at the end of October or the beginning of November—the building was still going on and great apprehensions were being felt.

Just as we were lulled to acquiescence by the answer given in July so we were satisfied by the answer given at the end of October. Then we realised for the first time that the opinion of the Royal Fine Art Commissioners, whose views we believed were to be asked, had not been taken on the whole question. Again, at the end of November, or the beginning of December, the question was brought forward, and again nothing was done. In December, as the building was still going on, apprehensions became more lively, and there was a Debate on the matter in another place. Just before the Adjournment the question was brought up in this House and some of us also wanted to debate the matter on the Adjournment but were not able to do so. All this time, up to a very late date it was possible to prevent this building being erected, which everyone can see now is going to spoil the aspect of our one great ceremonial route through London. I believe it can be stopped now. At any rate, nothing has been done all the time.

We are told that representations have been made. I must state my conviction that I do not believe these representations were made to the firm who are erecting the buildings with the force and energy which might have been used and which might have brought about a different state of affairs to that which exists now. The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) is a great authority on steel structures. I suppose he is one of the greatest authorities as an architect that can be found in the country, and if he were present at the moment he would say that it is possible, at a much later stage in the erection of a steel structure, as distinct from a structure which depends for its strength on brick or stone, to change its character, and that this might have been done up to a very late stage, even if it cannot be done now. Even now, although it becomes more difficult with every day that passes, it is possible for the greater part of the mischief to be prevented, from the public point of view if not from the point of view of the residents. I refer to the two ugly top storeys which are to rise up over the trees and which will spoil the fine view now enjoyed by everyone. We are told that the firm which is constructing the building cannot afford to do without the accommodation of these two top storeys. As a matter of fact, the next building, No. 1, Carlton House Terrace, is vacant and they could get all the accommodation they want in, that building. The amount of square feet in the two storeys is very little over 5,000 square feet, including passages, and the amount of square feet in No. 1, Carlton House Terrace is over 19,000 square feet, or nearly four times as much. It is perfect nonsense to say that they could not make a communicating passage through and have more accommodation than they will have in the two top storeys. I would urge this point on the Minister of Agriculture. It can be done. Does anyone suppose that the authorities of Paris would allow a building to be put up by a British controlled company completely spoiling the whole view in the Place Vendome? Why, the whole of Paris would have been in an uproar. If in Italy there were a building being put up destroying the look of one of their great ways, it is unthinkable that the work could proceed. Here you have a building being put up for an American controlled company, and it destroys our great ceremonial way. I do not wish to show any animosity against a company controlled for all practical purposes by foreign capital. I believe that if representations were made to the Standard Oil Company that this building at the height proposed was offending the good sense and good taste of so many people in this country, we should not meet with a completely negative response.

When the Carlton House Defence Committee was established it was not a question of going out into the highways and byways and asking people to join. The committee was started, not by any of us politicians, but by a literary man, Mr. J. C. Squire, and the response was amazing and absolutely spontaneous. It came from people whose opinions entitled them to be heard. They were in every walk of life. I say sincerely to the Minister that it is not too late yet to get the worst still abated. I do not believe that such a thing as this could conceivably have been allowed in any other capital in Europe.

Now as regards the future, I would point out again that this particular atrocity does not stand alone; it is only one of a series. Look at Regent Street. If there had been a landlord who had a real taste for building, with leases in Regent Street all likely to fall in at about the same time, just think how he would have loved to have had the opportunity of seeing the great street rebuilt on one great harmonious plan. But we have a street which is the poorest success architecturally as it has been financially, and that is saying a great deal. Think also of the other things that have been prevented. Think of what would have happened if everything had been left to the present kind of administration alone. We would have had in the middle of Regent's Park, on the site of one of the houses there, a great block of very comfortable flats for the well-to-do. Fortunately that was dealt with in time and was prevented. But the fact shows that the present instance does not stand alone. What we ask for assurances about is not only the preservation of Carlton House Terrace. We do not want to have that messed about. It does not follow that when the time comes, if need be, it should not be replaced by something else. As a matter of fact those houses, on the most expert opinion that I can get, can still be used in many ways, partly for dwellings, partly for embassies and partly for other purposes. The houses are alterable a great deal more than critics are ready to concede. But if Carlton House Terrace is to be replaced let it at any rate be replaced on one comprehensive plan with buildings fine in style and on a suitable scale, so that they will not dwarf surrounding buildings and be incongruous.

We are anxious not only about what may be done in Carlton House Terrace, but about what may be done with other buildings on Crown leases in London. I ask the Minister of Agriculture to agree that we should have some system devised to take the place of the present system of administration, so that in the first place the administration will be better, and secondly, that public opinion outside and inside this House shall know what is going on and be able to express itself. One thing further I ask to have considered, and it goes a little beyond Crown lands. We have here a unique opportunity at the seat of Government. We have on the one side of the Houses of Parliament and the Abbey an amazingly beautiful piece of ground in the Green Park and the great road stretching down the Mall to Whitehall. We can rejoice in a combination of good fortune and Mr. Nash very largely for what we have. But if we are to have a rearrangement we should take into view other beautiful, historic buildings and other areas in London over which there is not yet proper control. All the ground from here to Buckingham Palace ought to be brought into a comprehensive scheme and wisely planned. All modern cities change a little from time to time. The small streets off Victoria Street are changing. If those were brought into a really comprehensive plan, all the district round the seat of Government and the Abbey, up to the Palace, could without question be made the setting for the most beautiful seat of Government in the world. So, as has been said, good may come out of evil. I ask the Minister of Agriculture to stop the evil. That can yet be done as to five-sixths of it. Then let us have the good growing in the future as a beautiful tree firm-rooted in British soil.

8.55 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel APPLIN

When this civilisation of ours has passed away and this Mother of Parliaments no longer exists, on the spot where these Houses now stand will be written the epitaph "Too late." We are always too late in this House and we are too late on the subject which we are considering to-night. We were too late—and here I am not saying anything against the Minister of Agriculture because the matter was not in his Department—on the question of the Haig statue. It was a fait accompli before the House became aware of it. We are too late in everything in this regard; and there could be no greater monument to the folly of not controlling those who have the building or the rebuilding of this great city, the centre of the Empire, than Park Lane to-day when we remember what Park Lane was a few years ago.

There is, however, something which goes much further than what we here in this House think on these matters. We must remember that London is not only the property of those who live in London. It is not only the property of Great Britain. It is the property of all those men and women who belong to our great Empire. When the beautiful little statue was removed from the centre of Piccadilly Circus and taken away for some years owing to certain work that was being carried out there, I received numbers of letters from friends serving oversea in all parts of the world begging me as a Member of Parliament to do my best to have that little statue replaced. To them, home, London, meant that little statue in Piccadilly Circus. It is one thing which every man remembers when he is out of this country—a small thing, perhaps a thing of little real importance, and yet representing a very strong sentiment binding our people oversea to the Mother Country. Therefore, I plead on behalf of those who live in other parts of the Empire and who come to this country from time to time that we should prevent the ruin of this great city of London, that we should see that it is not turned into a second New York.

We do not want these great buildings in the centre of the city. If it is necessary to have them for commercial purposes place them in the commercial part of London. Let them go somewhere on the other side of Temple Bar or the place where Temple Bar used to stand, but let them be outside that London to which people from all over the world come, and which they admire as a great city. With regard to the particular piece of vandalism which is now under consideration, we owe a great debt of gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) for having expressed the views of all men and women of any education or any ideas of artistic beauty, and for having voiced the demand that London should not be spoiled. Again I would remind the House that in these matters in the past we have always been too late. Right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench bring up things at the very last moment when the House is unable to consider them in detail, and then they tell us that we cannot do anything because there is already a fait accompli. They told us, for instance, that nothing could be done about the Statute of Westminster because certain promises had already been made to the Colonies. With everything it is always "too late."


That is Conservatism.

Lieut.-Colonel APPLIN

No, it is exactly the opposite. Conservatism means what I am now advocating, and that is the conserving of those good things which we possess, instead of plunging into an uncertain future and erecting the steel building, without foundations, called Socialism which will topple down. I am delighted to support the Motion, and I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will not confine himself merely to his agricultural duties as such, but will consider this grave question of the future of London, and give to the House the assurance for which we have asked.

9.0 p.m.


So well have previous speakers put the case for this Motion that there would seem to be little left to say, but I wish to mention a point of view which has not yet been indicated. I speak as one who spends a large part of the year in London, but who comes from an industrial area in the provinces. In that area there are so many buildings that are so architecturally disgraceful that they seem a very far cry indeed from the magnificent premises of Carlton House Terrace. Therefore, I am sure that to the people in that and other industrial areas it may seem strange to-morrow morning, especially if gentlemen of the journalistic profession, who have perhaps not quite as much conscience as some of their colleagues, put the matter before them in the columns of their daily papers that we in the House of Commons should spend a couple of hours in discussing one building and some fireplaces in London, and the action of the Commissioners of Crown Lands in regard to them. But even in those industrial areas we have gems of architecture of which we are proud and which we are glad to see conserved.

I do not quite agree with the Mover of the Motion on the subject of Government control. There exists a very admirable department called the Office of Works, which is responsible for preserving a great many things of beauty throughout this country in districts where otherwise there would be unalloyed stagnation, districts which are from the architectural point of view, a crying shame to those who have brought about such conditions. The industrial revolution laid waste great tracts of the North country, but there are people of every class and in all walks of life who are glad to see certain things preserved, and who, whether they come to London or not, will agree that it is good that what is beautiful in London's architecture should be preserved. I have found a very interesting sentence which expresses rather well what I mean. It is a sentence written recently and is as follows: Architecture in these latter days has become so complicated, it has sometimes strayed so far from the narrow track of art into the easier paths of financial enterprise that its essence and justification as a serious art of building are in danger of being overlooked. I commend that sentence to the notice of the House because it was written by the very architect—Sir Reginald Blomfield— who is responsible for this desecration in Carlton Gardens. It seems to me that people in the country, whether they have been expensively educated or not, whether they can be called cultured or not, are quite capable of appreciating these architectural features. The people who walk about London every day, the people who come to London for short visits, whether they know anything about periods of architecture or not, whether they know who built Carlton House Terrace or not, appreciate beauty, and would abhor the desecration of one enormous jagged building sticking up on that site. Whether they would notice the ghastly building on the other side of the Park I do not know, but where there is a beautiful thing, they would notice more readily that something ugly had been superimposed and the harmony thereby ruined.

The speakers who have preceded me have dealt with the details of the quarrel over this matter, and with, shall I call it, the ghastly blunder of the Permanent Commissioner in this respect. I take it that the Permanent Commissioner is really at the bottom of this affair and not the Minister of Agriculture, because after all that office changed hands during the important period of these negotiations. Therefore, I urge that some steps should be taken—and I hope the Minister of Agriculture will agree with me in this —to remove from such a man as the present Permanent Commissioner any right or possibility of committing such a blunder in the future. I would also add the hope that it is not too late, as the last speaker has said, to stop the building going up some 40 feet above Carlton House Terrace. I therefore appeal to the Minister to consider that it is not only cultured opinion, but the sort of opinion that would be held by the people of the country and of the Empire, that would much appreciate it if he could see his way to agreeing with this Motion.

9.6 p.m.


I listened a few weeks ago to an extremely interesting lecture by one of the greatest mechanical engineers in either Europe or America, and his considered judgment about the present advance of machinery, in regard to which he himself is so great an expert, was that the greatest danger that faced the modern world from that advance was the complete neglect of beauty; and he pointed out that the great desideratum of the present phase of our civilisation was a reverence for taste, using that word "taste" in its highest aesthetic sense. Surely we have become witnesses of a very remarkable slighting of that principle in the very deplorable instances which have been produced to-night as examples of what one can only call a perfectly astonishing neglect of taking thought for the future. It is not a question of getting the highest rent, as I hope will be quite evident, and it is a question of following a real principle. Those of us who are familiar with Carlton House Terrace—and many Members of this House are members of a club which backs that Terrace—must have been conscious of its extreme beauty and the damage which must be done when that lovely vista is taken away from the south side of that position.

I hope the Minister will take counsel and thought from the fact that he is a member of my profession, and that we are not wont to say that nothing can be done to alter, for example, the scheme of an operation. The patient may be under an anaesthetic at the present moment, but the operation can be changed, and I hope that even some possibility of stopping this very dreadful operation may still be found. The very fact that this is a steel and concrete building makes a change of plans much more possible than if it were any other material. For all those considerations, I sincerely hope the Minister will not only be able to announce that there will be a cessation in this direction, but will accept, on behalf of the Government, the very moderate Motion which is on the Order Paper.

9.9 p.m.


I wish to lay a little more stress than the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) laid upon one matter in connection with this question. I wish to point out the injustice that has been done to the tenants who are now living in Carlton House Terrace, a grave injustice which they are entitled strongly to resent. They were required, when they took the leases of their houses, to bind themselves not to use their houses for commercial purposes, and they were given to understand that that condition was imposed upon all those who took leases of houses in Carlton House Terrace. Having taken the leases on that understanding, they now find that a large structure is erected in the Terrace for commercial purposes. They have resented the action of the Crown Commissioners in this matter very much. May I read to the House two brief extracts from letters written by two of the tenants, in which they express their views of the conduct of the Commissioners? The tenant of No. 3, Carlton Gardens has written: I purchased the lease of No. 3, Carlton Gardens, about a year ago, and have since spent some £16,000 on permanent improvements. Nearly all the existing leases specifically preclude lessees from using the premises for any purpose other than that of a private dwelling-house; and it is upon the guarantee implicit in this restriction that the leases were acquired. If there had been any indication of the remotest possi- bility of one of the neighbouring houses being used for business purposes, I should certainly not have purchased my lease. It seems clearly unfair that the restriction upon the use of their premises observed by the existing lessees should not be imposed on future tenants. Then another tenant, the tenant of No. 22a, Carlton House Terrace, writes: I was given to understand at the time I purchased my house that the strict regulations in connection with building restrictions, etc., etc., would never be departed from; otherwise I would not have spent anything like the amount I did on my house; and neither would I have paid so much for the lease. He goes on to give a rather interesting fact, for he writes: When I bought the lease of 22a, Carlton House Terrace my great aim was to have the house rebuilt in Portland stone, and my architect, Mr. Arthur Davis, of 22, Conduit Street, W., drew up plans accordingly. These were rejected by the Commissioners, who insisted that the house should be built in the same material as the rest of the houses in the Terrace and Gardens, and their action in allowing a tall building to be erected in Portland stone, which will be occupied as offices, whereas they would not allow me to build my house in Portland stone, is most inconsistent. They would not even allow any chimneys to be used, so that my architect's original plans had to be altered. I think these people have a very just grievance, and if they should take it upon themselves to go to law—one has not considered the matter in detail—are the expenses of resisting what I should regard as their just claims for compensation to be met out of funds coming from the Crown? The thing is unthinkable. That is but one aspect—the injustice to the tenants—but it is one which I thought ought to be brought before the House, and it is one which I hope the House will remember in making up its mind on this subject.

9.14 p.m.


I am sure that we must all of us feel a debt of gratitude to the Mover of this Motion, who took advan-take of his luck in the Ballot to put down for discussion to-day this subject, which, as he himself said, is topical and which has raised a great deal of interest both in this House and in the columns of the Press. I think it is greatly to the advantage of all of us that it should be possible to have the matter discussed on the Floor of the House of Commons, where alone these matters can be fully thrashed out and where the points for and against can be put and considered by hon. and right hon. Members, such as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Captain Crookshank) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland), who has given so much care and attention to the consideration of this subject.

In the first place, I myself specially welcome this Debate, because I think it is clear that there has been a misunderstanding, that it is desirable that that misunderstanding should be cleared up, and that steps should be taken so that such a misunderstanding should not occur again. The difficulties in front of those who have the responsible task of administering Crown estates and Crown lands are great. I do not need to recapitulate the history of Crown Lands. This is not the proper time to go into the whole history from the time when they formed a substantial source of the revenues of this country. Large as those Crown Land revenues are to-day, they would form an exiguous portion of the Supply which His Majesty requires to carry on the activities of the Empire. One of the difficulties with which those who administer these estates are faced is that some of them cover a vast acreage of rural as well as of urban land and many problems of rural administration are raised in the administration of that land. It is highly desirable that those who are tenants of Crown lands should feel that they are not merely tenants of a Government Department, but have actually a landlord from whom they can expect redress.

The Crown lands do not, however, contain only these great agricultural estates. They contain large town estates and the historical properties in London for which the House is especially concerned to-night. I am not disposed to deal with the question which has been raised regarding previous development. A certain portion of the Crown lands is certainly concerned in the Regent Street development, but I do not want to touch on that, although if the House wishes it I will touch on that also. I wish to address myself particularly to the question which is raised in the Motion—the decision of the Commissioners with regard to No. 4, Carlton Gardens, and the uneasiness felt as to the future of Carlton House Terrace, etc. Let me clear up the first point by saying that the decisions of the Commissioners of Crown Lands are the decisions of two Commissioners, namely, the Permanent Commissioner and the Parliamentary Commissioner, who is the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. The decisions to be taken with regard to 4, Carlton Gardens were, of course, taken by my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary, who is unfortunately confined to his house with that very prevalent illness, influenza. But for that, he would himself have wished to be present to speak on this matter.

I wish to make it quite clear that the decisions of the Commissioners were decisions both of the permanent Commissioner and of the Parliamentary Commissioner; and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and myself take full responsibility for those decisions. The decisions were not those of permanent officials smuggled through in some fashion without the attention of the Minister having been called to them. They were the decisions of the two Commissioners in full consultation, the whole matter having been thoroughly canvassed and examined in repeated interviews, and they were come to with a full sense of the responsibility which those decisions entailed. One of the grounds of accusation has been that something has been done in a hole and corner fashion, smuggled through, as the hon. and gallant Member for Enfield (Lieut.-Colonel Applin) said, so that the House was presented with something too late. Let me deal with that next because it is very important.

The matter which we are discussing began as far back as the 28th April last year when there was an interview between Messrs. Pinchin Johnson and Company and the Commissioners of Crown Lands with a view to obtaining a building lease of the site of No. 4, Carlton Gardens. I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson) whether Messrs Pinchin Johnson and Company approached the Commissioners or the Commissioners approached the company. I am informed that the firm approached the Commissioners. That is the first point he raised. On the 29th April the position arising in regard to that application was fully discussed between the permanent Commissioner and the then Minister of Agriculture, and after full consideration of the facts as to the change of user of the site which would be necessitated by a grant of the lease the Minister decided that the change in circumstances rendered it advisable that the lease should be granted, subject to a building being erected of satisfactory artistic appearance upon which the views of the Royal Fine Art Commission would be available. It was subsequently arranged by Messrs. Pinchin Johnson and Company to employ Sir Reginald Blomfield, who was a senior professional member of the Commission, to prepare designs of the building. That deals with the second point of my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster. He asked what the position of Sir Reginald Blomfield was. He was the firm's architect. He asked why Sir Reginald laid plans before the Royal Fine Art Commission. He was the firm's architect, and naturally he laid the plans before the body which was to give a judgment upon the plans.


Does that account for Sir Reginald Blomfield laying before the Fine Art Commission a sketch endeavouring to show a design of the rebuilding of the whole of Carlton House, which he alleged that the Commissioners of Crown Lands had in view?


Apart from the design, the object of the building was commercial, and was it appreciated that that purpose was inconsistent with the covenants entered into by the other tenants? Was it fair to them to contemplate a building which was contrary to those covenants?


I will deal with the points one at a time. The plans of No. 4 were laid before the Fine Art Commission by Sir Reginald Blomfield. At the same time he brought forward a sketch to show how, in his opinion, a development could be worked in. That was not the sketch of the Commissioners of Crown Lands, nor had it been commissioned by them, nor has it been commissioned. It was obviously within the option of anyone to present a sketch showing anything, and Sir Reginald Blomfield claims no further authority than that for the sketch which he put before the Fine Art Commission.


Did the Fine Art Commission even know the height of the building, and had the height of the building submitted to them anything to do with the height of the building Sir Reginald Blomfield sketched out?


I am anxious to develop my points in a logical manner and to follow out the proceedings step by step. I had got to the stage when the plans were laid before the Fine Art Commission by Sir Reginald Blomfield, and I have, I hope, made it clear that these plans were the plans of No. 4 which Sir Reginald was commissioned to lay before the Fine Art Commission by the firm whose architect he was. That he also submitted a further sketch was a matter for his own judgment, and it was on his own responsibility. On 30th June, the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) who, as the right hon. Member for Tam-worth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) said, has pecular opportunities of judging architectural structures of this kind, and who is also a resident within literally a stone's throw of the building which it is proposed to erect, got into touch with my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Agriculture. He raised objections to the proposed building and brought up all the points which my hon. Friend has just mentioned; and the reasons that have actuated the Commissioners in their decision to grant the lease were fully explained to the hon. Member for Maidstone as long ago as 30th June and subsequently confirmed by letter. Since it is suggested that these matters were not fully brought to the notice of Members of the House, I will read the letter which was addressed to a Member of Parliament actually living in Carlton Gardens: I have considered very carefully all the points which you put to me recently when we discussed the proposal for the erection of a commercial building on the site of No. 4, Carlton Gardens. Will the House note the date of the letter, 11th July, long before the House rose? In the first place, let me set at rest your fears that the Commissioners of Crown Lands are taking advantage of their privileged position to override the law. As regards the London Building Act, the position is that all building agreements on the Crown Estates in London are expressly made subject to the provisions of that Act, and this case is no exception to the rule. As regards the contractual position, implied in the covenant restricting the user of the houses in Carlton Gardens and Carlton House Terrace for private residences only, I should point out that this convenant is qualified by the words ' without the consent, in writing, of the lessor '. As a matter of fact, there was a slip in that letter and these words are not applicable to the house of the ton. Member for Maidstone but they do apply to the site on which this building is to be erected. Excluding No. 9, Carlton House Terrace, which for more than 80 years has been used for the official purposes of a Foreign Embassy, there are 34 houses, of which no less than eight have been released from this restrictive covenant in the last 10 years. In other words, the Commissioners have merely done what so many of the principal private landowners in London have been forced to do since the War. From some points of view such action is, no doubt, regrettable, but it is necessitated by the force of circumstances and no element of illegality arises. The Commissioners are faced with a difficult problem, as I think you agree, and in meeting it they are obliged to consider both their duty to the nation as collectors of revenue and their duty to their lessees. At present, there are two houses, one of which is No. 4, Carlton Gardens, unlet, and allowing for the cost of caretaking, etc., the loss to the Exchequer is more than £3,000 a year. Not the £350 a year mentioned by my economical friend the hon. Member for Gainsborough.


The sum of £350 was the difference between the two leases.


Yes, but on one lease we were getting nothing at all. The loss to the Exchequer would be £3,000 per annum. I understand that another house will shortly come into hand; others will inevitably be added as time goes on, and we are bound to consider any reasonable proposal for reletting. I have gone into the whole question very carefully, and I do not think that reletting for commercial purposes— provided there are adequate safeguards—is unreasonable. The proposed new building in Carlton Gardens will be occupied as the head office of a very old and substantial corporation, and after 6 o'clock in the evening will be perfectly quiet. It should interfere even less than the Union Club and the German Embassy with the amenities of the private residents. I do not suppose that all members of the German Embassy or of the Union Club go home by six o'clock. The lessees will, of course, be bound by rigorous covenants against the display of advertisements or anything of that sort. Your suggestion that all the houses between Carlton Gardens and the German Embassy might well be converted into a hotel, a great part of which would be let off in residential suites and apartments, is not, I think you will agree, one that could be considered for the present. If, however, this idea materialised, it is doubtful whether a large hotel, with much coming and going at all hours of the day and night, would be regarded as a more agreeable neighbour than a quiet office building. With regard to your point that approval of the proposed rebuilding of No. 4, Carlton Gardens would depreciate the value of the existing leases, I can only say that there are five houses standing empty to-day, and although of course I cannot mention names, I have every reason to believe that some of the residents would readily assign their leases if they could. But the demand for houses of this type seems to be dead and I see no likelihood that it will revive. Some of the houses on the North side of Carlton House Terrace have been converted into flats and maisonettes, but these are all houses of comparatively recent construction. I am advised that the older houses, built more than a century ago, with enormous basements, high reception rooms, wide staircases, and very poor accommodation for servants, cannot be so converted. An attempt was made in one case a few years ago, but it resulted in a costly failure. I believe that when it becomes known that the Commissioners are prepared to consider schemes for redevelopment on this potentially very valuable site, the value of the outstanding leases will increase. As regards the planning of the new building, I feel sure that you can safely trust the Royal Fine Arts Commission to see that it is worthy of the site. I know that you recognise my difficulties and responsibilities in a matter like this, and I can only say that I am very sorry that I am unable to meet your point of view. The House will see that this matter received the exhaustive consideration of the Minister. Whether the decision is right or wrong, the suggestion that something was done in a hole-and-corner fashion, either by the Government or by the Commissioners, and was smuggled through this House and not communicated to the Members of the House who were most interested and most informed and most able to bring it to the notice of other Members of the House, cannot stand for a moment in view of the long letter I have just read.


Does the Minister assume from this one letter to one Member that the whole of the House was informed what would happen? The question I put at the beginning of July was with reference to the height of the building from the public point of view, and we were told by the Minister of Agriculture that any new building on the site would be subject to the provisions of the London Building Acts and the Commissioners of Crown Lands had further stipulated that plans must be submitted to the Royal Fine Art Commission. The only conceivable inference any sensible man could draw from that was that the opinion of the Fine Art Commission was going to be invoked on the scheme submitted. I would ask whether that was done?


As I say, I have to carry out this Debate under a certain amount of difficulty, but it is right that these points should be raised. I am endeavouring to develop the argument step by step. At any rate, it is very clear from that letter that Members knew what was going on. It was addressed to a Member who lives close to Carlton House Terrace and Members are in touch with each other, and a Member whose house is threatened by a new commercial building can get in touch with others. It was impossible to give fuller information than was given by that letter by the Minister to a Member of this House.

As regards the further point about the proposals laid before the Fine Art Commission, I shall come to that in due course. The next point is the terms of the new lease which were submitted on 7th July to the Treasury for authority subject to the plans of the new building being submitted to the Royal Fine Art Commission. On 18th July the agreement was entered into with Pinchin Johnson subject to approval of the plans by the Fine Art Commission. On 27th July Sir Reginald Blomfield submitted plans to the Royal Fine Art Commission. The plans submitted showed the elevation of the proposed new building. A sketch, as I said, was submitted by Sir Reginald Blomfield showing how that design would fit in with the rebuilding of the whole block up to the level allowed by the London Building Acts, which the Minister decided in consultation with his advisers, was a necessary measure if and when rebuilding should take place. Of course, the plan showed on the face of it the height of the building, and the Royal Fine Art Commission were a body fully conversant with the study of plans. On the 28th July approval was given by the Royal Fine Art Commission in the following terms: The Royal Fine Art Commission approve the proposed building for Messrs. Pinchin Johnson and Company, but desire that the upper part of the southern party wall should not appear unsightly from the Mall. It is clear from the terms of the approval not merely that they understood the height of the building but that they understood that one of the difficulties of this higher building was that the piece appearing above the skyline of the existing Carlton House Terrace would show a face to the Mall, and that it was desirable that some treatment should be given to the piece of wall which was going to appear above the line of the existing buildings.


It is very hard for the Minister to have to speak amid interruptions, and we hesitate, for that reason, to interrupt him, but did not the Chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission state definitely in the House of Lords that the opinion of the Royal Fine Art Commission on the scheme as a whole was not invited? Those were the actual words he used in another place.


Of course, the scheme as a whole was not submitted to him. What was submitted to him were the plans of No. 4.


No. 4 as a whole was not submitted to him.


There is no question whatever that No. 4 as a whole was submitted to the Fine Art Commission. I am now coming to the point where it is clear to me that the misunderstanding took place. I said at the opening it was clear that at some point or other there had been misunderstanding, and that it was a regrettable fact, and that I would submit to the House proposals which I hope will deal with the disappointment which is universally felt at such a misunderstanding and will I hope obviate the chance of such a misunderstanding occurring again. It certainly was true that no recommendation as to the height was submitted by the Royal Fine Art Commission. It appeared that at that time they considered themselves precluded from making any recommendation to the Commissioners of Crown Lands as regards the height. All I would say is that they do not appear to have felt themselves precluded from making recommendations since that time. For some reason the Fine Art Commission considered that the whole question of height was a settled matter, and could not be re-opened, and that therefore they were not at liberty to make any recommendation to the Commissioners of Crown Lands on that aspect of the problem. I think it is a pity that no such advice was given. It is true that the Minister had decided that the building could be carried up to the full height permitted by the London Building Act, but I am certain that if at that stage recommendations bad been submitted by a body of the weight and authority of the Fine Art Commission they would certainly have received his attention. At any rate, it would have been a very great responsibility if he had disregarded such recommendation, a responsibility which it is difficult to attach to him when, as a matter of fact, no such recommendation was put forward in connection with the approval given by the Fine Art Commission. Here, apparently, the misunderstanding arose. On receiving the approval of the Fine Art Commission the Minister gave his sanction, and the two Commissions being then in agreement, binding engagements were entered into, and from that time on Messrs. Pinchin, Johnson and Company were within their legal rights in proceeding with the building which had thus been sanctioned and approved and no alteration of that building or those plans can be undertaken except either with the consent and desire of the firm in question or the payment by this House of compensation which, I can assure the House, would not be a light sum.

Colonel APPLIN

Too late.


Not at all; it is always too late after a decision has been come to; but the fact that a decision was about to be entered upon was fully canvassed. My hon. and gallant Friend as a soldier must often have taken decisions and acted upon them, and what he thought afterwards had no bearing on the point. Decisions have to be taken and schemes have to be proceeded with. Approval was given, the decision was taken, and the building was commenced, and now only by the will of the firm or the payment of compensation by this House can any alteration now be entered upon.


Apparently these plans were submitted and an undertaking was given by the Commissioners of Crown Lands that they should be approved by the Fine Art Commission, but no communication took place between the Fine Art Commission and the Commissioners of Crown Lands. It was left to the discretion of the architect concerned to get the plans approved. This is what Sir Reginald Blomfield wrote to the "Times" on 13th December: The Crown instructed me that the dignified residential character of Carlton House Terrace must be preserved in the facades and that in view of the high ground rents that would have to be asked for these very valuable sites intending tenants would be permitted to build to the full height permissible under the London County Council regulations with due regard to aesthetic considerations. I ask the Minister whether it was possible for the Fine Art Commission to express any opinion upon the question of height at all when the intermediary, if I may so express it, between the Commissioners of Crown Lands and the Fine Art Commission said that intending tenants would be permitted to build up to the full height? A further point is this: What was the possible justification for this architect producing plans of a projected rebuilding of the whole of the site in order to obtain assent to the building of particular erections which were to be put on the site?


As to the second point, anybody who is preparing plans for one house is likely to be challenged with the question; "Will this fit into a scheme for the neighbourhood as a whole?" and he is entitled to say: "It will fit into the scheme for the neighbourhood. If I were asked to prepare such a scheme this is the sort of scheme I would prepare."


If the whole neighbourhood is changed !


The question is, would it fit into a scheme for re-developing this neighbourhood, and he is en- titled to submit such a scheme without any responsibility on his part or on the part of the body examining the scheme. When the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson) says the Fine Art Commission were precluded from making any statement by the statement of Sir Reginald Blomfield that the tenants would be permitted to build to the full height allowed under the London County Council regulations, does he contend that it stopped them from making recommendations since? Have not the Fine Art Commission repeatedly written to the papers and made it quite clear that they wished this not to be carried up to the full height? My only contention is that through some hiatus or misunderstanding between the two responsible bodies that opinion of the Fine Art Commission was not, in fact, received by the Commissioners for Crown Lands. If my hon. and gallant Friend wishes to interrupt I am quite willing to give way.


When Lord Crawford writes to the papers he is obviously in the position that he is defending himself and he may put forward any arguments which appeal to him at the time. What I am pressing upon my right hon. Friend is that a pledge was given to this House that before that building was put up it was to receive the assent of the Fine Art Commission. In the terms of reference of the Fine Art Commission they considered themselves justified, from the way in which it was put forward by Sir Reginald Blomfield, in regarding themselves as estopped from proceeding with the matter.


That is exactly what I said in the beginning of my speech, what I say now, and what I am bringing forward proposals to obviate before I sit down. There was in fact that misunderstanding. That is what occurred and what I admit occurred, and it is that which we desire to obviate. The Royal Fine Art Commission indicated to the commissioners that, in their very words, the upper part of the southern party wall should not appear unsightly from the Mall. I do not think it would have been impossible for them to have said that in their opinion it would be much better if no part of the party wall appeared visible from the Mall at all, in view of the statements which have been issued since; and of course they, like any public body, are entitled to have opinions and are entitled to express such opinions—


May I ask if those opinions were conveyed at the time to the Crown Lands Commissioners through the Chairman?


I can only say that I am speaking as a Commissioner of Crown Lands and that we received the recommendation as quoted and no other recommendation. That indicates that that opinion was not conveyed in the same way, in the same terms and at the same time as when the specific sanction was given, in virtue of which sanction my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had no alternative but to allow the firm to proceed, all the conditions having been satisfied. This recommendation reached the Commissioners of Crown Lands and the others did not. It is for that purpose that we are debating this matter here to-night, and it is for that purpose that we are bringing proposals forward to-day.

I want to deal first of all with the suggestions that have been made, one of them made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth, that nothing was done. Sanction having been given, the work was proceeded with. The question was raised on several occasions in the House, and hon. and right hon. Friends felt a certain uneasiness more particularly in regard to the two top storeys. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth in his speech made a point of asking whether Messrs. Pinchin Johnson had been approached. My right hon. Friend brings forward the suggestion that there was an empty house next door. The Commissioners of Crown Lands are the landlords of the house next door, and the fact that there was an empty house had not escaped their notice. On the 5th December they went to Messrs. Pinchin, Johnson with an offer, not merely of accommodation in the house next door but of a reduction in the ground rent if they would accept vacant accommodation equivalent to the two top storeys in the house next door. Messrs. Pinchin, Johnson, after consideration, replied that they were not able to accept that offer. That disposes of the statement of my right hon. Friend that nothing was done.

So willing and so anxious were we to fall in with the desires of hon. Members that we adopted long in advance the course now recommended to us, though I do not admit for a moment that the building whether as completed or not is likely to disfigure the outlook. We are dealing with a great British architect who however much we may differ from his combative views, has given to this city many great works and has given to the public life of his country many great controversies. I am not at all inclined to admit that a building by Sir Reginald Blomfield is an eyesore in any vista or in any architectural feature in this country, however noble the vista or however distinguished the architectural features may be. The firm was also approached by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tam-worth, and they were also unable to fall in with his proposal. We are told that nothing was done. In my anxiety to make sure that no misunderstanding was taking place on this occasion I myself approached the firm. Before the House rose at Christmas my secretary enquired whether any useful purpose could be served by an interview. The firm answered quite reasonably, and perfectly within their rights, that they thought that no good purpose would be served by an interview. So the Commissioner went, and the Parliamentary Commissioner went, and the unofficial body which is presided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth also made an approach. Therefore any suggestion that this position might easily have been smoothed over if the parties had got into touch is one which I have shown is not borne out by the facts.


The Minister has put forward the suggestion that some offer of compensation could have been accepted by this firm.


I do not know that it is desirable or necessary to explore that further. I have indicated that a reduction in the ground rent for other accommodation could have been accepted in the house next door. When it was suggested that we should explore the suggestion, as we were bound to explore the suggestion that it might be desirable for some other alteration to take place, the firm said that it was not what they desired and that they did not wish to alter their intentions even under compensation. So far as compensation was concerned the figure suggested was a figure entirely out of any scale which could have been considered for a moment by this House or by any hon. Member of the House.


The right hon. Gentleman referred to me. Any correspondence that took place between myself and the firm with the concurrence of certain other hon. Members was without any backing from the Government. I repeat again when he says that everything was done that in the opinion of many of us that if the case had been put by the Government with real determination and with cogency and with force much more might have been done.


When my right hon. Friend says that the matter was not put with cogency and force all I can say is that it was brought forward by the permanent Commissioner and by the Parliamentary Commissioner; by a civil servant and by a Cabinet Minister. I do not know what else he would have done to proceed with it. I think that every step was taken which could reasonably have been taken. In fact, the point; which arose in my mind during the proceeding was as to whether the question and the exploration was not being pushed too far especially as the result of those explorations if they had been successful would have been to cast an additional burden upon the public funds and therefore upon the taxpayers of this country who at the present moment are being squeezed and ground down and whom hon. and right hon. Members who bring forward these proposals are the first to protect. I have dealt with the question whether all was done that could have been done to modify the situation as it developed, and I think I have shown that, as far at any rate as the Commissioners of Crown Lands were concerned, further steps could not reasonably or usefully or with dignity have been taken. Although my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough did not disregard the suggestion that economy was a vital issue in this as in every act of the administration of the time, he indicated that this trust was so rich, that its revenues were so abundant, that the sums which it paid into the public purse were so great, that a small matter like this, of a few thousand pounds, could easily have been overlooked in this connection. There I join issue with him. If you take care of the pence, the pounds will look after themselves.


I have not interrupted my right hon. and gallant Friend, but, really, he has asked for it. I am sure I never meant any such thing to be deduced from what I said. I pointed out that a good estate manager takes into account all his revenues; and let me remind my right hon. and gallant Friend that the Crown Lands Commissioners receive from investment income over £100,000 a year. Goodness knows why they have to have investments.


Now my hon. and gallant Friend is bringing forward a novel complaint, namely, that the Commissioners of Crown Lands have investments bringing in a revenue which relieves the taxpayers of the country. I agree that they are of course bringing in large sums, but I say that, unless we guarded and watched every penny of such funds, the burden upon the taxpayers of this country would be even greater than it is to-day. When my hon. and gallant Friend brings forward the case of Regent Street, I would remind him that there at any rate is a group of persons who would look with the greatest uneasiness upon the use of any proportion of the funds derived from their rents for the purpose of paying compensation, on what they would certainly regard as an extravagant scale, to this firm, who are paying a rent, which although it is well within their power to pay, is far higher than was obtained from the residential users of this estate previously. So much for the economy aspect of the matter. The difficulties with which we are faced are of course not covered by any historical account of the proceedings up to date, and I am sure the House as a whole will be more interested to see what is the present attitude of the Government towards this Motion and the proposals which it brings forward. In the first place, we intend to accept the Motion— [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Certainly. The Motion urges the Government to take immediate steps to reorganise the administration of Crown lands. It has been my opinion, from the first moment that I entered upon my office, that the present position of the administration of Crown Lands was not by any means entirely satisfactory. There is a civil servant who is the co-equal of his Parliamentary colleague. He is, as a civil servant, subject to criticism to which he is in no position to reply. He is dealing with a great number of transactions, all of which have to be considered in the light of their special circumstances, and questions of general policy seldom arise, and, when a policy is laid down, the exceptions to it are apt to be more numerous and important than the cases in which it is literally applied. The practice which up to the present has been followed, with the approval of successive Ministries, Labour as well as Conservative, is for the permanent Commissioner to consult the Minister before committing the Commissioners in any case which appears likely to provoke criticism in Parliament, or to be of special interest in connection with the agricultural policy of the Government. This involves the permanent Commissioner in policy, and he must be open to attack over decisions of policy even though taken after full consultation with the Minister. He is open to criticism, to which he cannot reply, and it seems to us to be desirable that steps should be taken to obviate this difficulty in the future. Under the existing Statute, the Treasury have the power to determine the distribution of duties between the Commissioners. We propose, in the first place, so to arrange this distribution in future that the Minister shall be solely responsible for decisions of policy, and shall be responsible to Parliament for such decisions. The second point of the Motion is: to secure that in any future decision educated and responsible opinion shall be fully taken into consideration. I certainly think that one of the difficulties of the situation has been that that vast body of opinion which, as has been pointed out by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Enfield (Lieut. -Colonel Applin) and others, feels a sense of possession in all those things, has felt that it has in a way been stifled, that it has not had some recognised channel by which its wishes could be brought to the notice of those responsible before these final decisions were taken. It is all very well for the Leader of the Opposition to laugh. I have noticed great bitterness among those of his followers who are out of this House and are finding difficulty in getting their opinions brought to its notice. We shall ensure in future that that opinion shall have direct access as a right to the responsible Minister when these decisions are in contemplation. Under the Crown Lands Acts Treasury authority is necessary before any lease of a substantial character can be granted by the Commissioners of Crown Lands. The Government propose that the powers of the Treasury shall be used in future to ensure that on questions involving aesthetic and other important considerations, such as town planning and so on, independent advice and opinion shall be obtained before commitments are entered into. Therefore, the First Lord of the Treasury, that is to say, the Prime Minister, authorises me to say that he will invite suitable persons, not exceeding, say, five in number, to consider and advise the Minister on these questions when they are raised. This, of course, will be an ad hoc body, specially concerned with Crown land affairs of this character; it is not intended that it should in any way side-track the Royal Fine Art Commission, whose advice will continue to be sought as heretofore.

I hope I have been able to assure the House that, first, the Government have given this matter very close consideration; secondly, that they have acted with a sense of responsibility all the way through; and, thirdly, that they have taken account of the opinion of the House, more particularly as put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough and by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster. On the executive part of their Motion, which deals with the reorganisation of the administration of Crown lands, and the part which deals with the access of public opinion to the Minister before these important decisions are taken, we have met them, in the first place, by reorganisation, so that there shall be only one person responsible, namely, the Minister, and, secondly, by a committee of, say, five persons selected by the Prime Minister himself, and therefore not a purely departmental committee, who shall be necessarily consulted before these decisions are taken. I shall, of course, be very glad to consult with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, and others who have been interested in this matter, on the proposal with regard to a committee, and to discuss with them what persons or interests it might be suitable to have represented on such a body, such as town planning and aesthetic interests and others. I shall be very glad also to consult with my right hon. and hon. Friends of the Opposition, because, of course, this is not in any sense a party question. I hope the House will consider that this important matter has had justice done to it, and will accept our assurance that it is our desire in the future, as in the past, to see that misunderstandings do not arise, or that, if they do arise, suitable methods are devised to obviate their recurrence.

Resolved, That, in view of the widely-expressed dissatisfaction over the recent decisions of the Commissioners of Crown Lands with regard to No. 4, Carlton Gardens, and the uneasiness still felt as to the future of Carlton House Terrace, Carlton Gardens, and other Crown lands in London, this House urges the Government to take immediate steps to reorganise the administration of Crown lands and in particular to secure that in any future decision educated and responsible opinion shall be fully taken into consideration.