§ [Lords] (by Order).
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Meller
I hope this Bill will not be found to cast any shadow upon the House. On the contrary, I hope that after the discussion there will be an atmosphere of clear sunshine in which hon. Members will see their way clearly how to vote on these proposals. The Bill is a short Measure and may be regarded as an extraordinary Measure, because it deals with two pieces of land of comparatively small dimensions. It asks the House to authorise certain action by the 788 county council which, in other circumstances, could have been taken by the county council under existing compulsory purchase vested in them. One of these two pieces of land is situated at Lower Morden and comprises some 31 acres of which about 24 acres are required for cemetery purposes and about 6 acres for a schools playing-field. The other site is in the district of Carshalton. It was acquired by the urban district council of Carshalton some years ago for a cemetery, and it is now required by the county council as a site for a central laundry. This Bill is necessitated by the fact that in order to exchange land which has been acquired for the purposes of a cemetery for other land not only is the consent of the Ministry necessary but the other land must be in the possession of the county council.
The facts which have given rise to the necessity for the Bill in this case are as follows. The county council in July, 1936, approved of the principle of a central laundry scheme. The Ministry of Health was consulted and intimated its general approval. In July, 1937, the county council authorised an expenditure of £185,000 on the equipment of a central laundry, and working drawings and detailed plans were approved, provisionally, by the Minister of Health. It was necessary that the laundry should be built on a site convenient to a very large hospital which the county council is building in an area where in recent years there has been placed a very large housing scheme, known as the St. Helier Estate. Since the Act of 1929 greater responsibilities have devolved upon the county council in connection with providing hospitals and caring for the sick and the poor. Having regard to their responsibilities, they took up the urgent question of the provision of hospitals. They are building the hospital at St. Helier on land which has been given by the London County Council, but that land is limited in its dimensions. Indeed so limited is it that the hospital, which is to accommodate some 850 patients and a staff of 500, has had to be built into the air at a much greater height than would ordinarily have been contemplated, and no space round about the site is available.
The county council have for some time experimented with and carried on very successfully laundries in connection with some of their institutions. They had 789 laundries at Kingston and at Epsom. I have already mentioned the St. Helier Hospital, which is costing in the neighbourhood of £1,000,000. The county council have also had to provide extensions of the hospitals at Kingston and Epsom, and in both cases it is impossible to extend the hospitals without demolishing the laundries which existed in connection with those hospitals. Therefore, the county council formed the view that it was more economical and, upon hygienic grounds, more desirable that the washing in connection with the hospitals should be concentrated in a works specifically built for the purpose, and not mixed in any way with the work of private laundries. They came to the conclusion that a large laundry was necessary for this purpose. They looked round to find a suitable site. A considerable time was occupied in doing so, and at last they found a site which was suitable as regards situation, because it was near where the hospital was being built at St. Helier and was suitable also from the point of view of ease of access for labour and convenience as regards power and water. That site was the cemetery site at Carshalton. They examined other places, but they were met with many difficulties because the paramount need was labour, and it was not desirable to go far afield with the scheme. The site at Carshalton also is comparatively easy of access from Kingston and from Epsom.
The county council entered into negotiations with Carshalton. Carshalton was willing and the Minister was willing to help them, and they thereupon set about finding suitable alternative land for the cemetery site. They were faced with two difficulties—the suitability of the site for the laundry and the suitability of the site for the cemetery. It was also desirable that the cemetery site should be easy of access. The piece of land in Morden was then discovered. Overtures were made to the then owner, but he frankly refused to enter into negotiation. The county council then set about looking for other land but came up against this difficulty, that practically every site which could be considered within reasonable distance, was upon chalk. They had land on their hands in the form of smallholdings at Woodmansterne, but just about that time there occurred the typhoid trouble in Croydon and public opinion was strongly against putting cemeteries or sewage 790 works or any user of land of that kind upon chalk which might, according to the theory then in the minds of a good many people, be likely to contaminate water supplies.
Therefore, the county council were forced to consider again the Morden site which appeared suitable from many points of view. First there was already a large cemetery there owned by the Battersea Council. There is another portion of land now being laid off and running side by side with it belonging to the Malden District Council, and there is a third piece of land which is that desired by the county council partly for the purpose of exchanging with Carshalton as their cemetery site and partly for a school with playing fields—about 6½ acres. The playing fields would be used by this school and other schools in the district. The site of this land is bounded by two cemeteries and by a sewage disposal works and near it there is the Sutton gasometer while just at the other side is a large field known as the Hood Memorial ground.
§ Sir R. Mellor
My hon. Friend says it is a pleasant prospect, but we must have these places somewhere and if it is said that a cemetery affects the amenities of a district, surely it is better to have one large cemetery or two or three cemeteries all together, than have smaller cemeteries dotted about everywhere over a larger area. The county council, after very careful consideration, came to the conclusion that this was the right place.
I have heard it said that the county council is embarking upon a municipal trading. That is not so. This laundry is to be used solely for dealing with the washing of these hospitals which will amount to about 250,000 pieces per week. It may be asked, why not give out this work to a commercial laundry? You could not put so large a proposition to a commercial laundry unless you were prepared to enter into a very long contract. What private laundry proprietor would be prepared to spend the vast sums required for machinery and extension of buildings in order to cope with such a quantity of work, unless arrangements were made covering a long period of years? In that case what guarantee would the council have that the work would be carried out satis- 791 factorily? If it were not carried out satisfactorily the council would find itself in a dilemma. Having carefully studied the matter the county council arrived at the conclusion that a central laundry was desirable in all the circumstances, and I hope that their decision will be confirmed by the House.
Other objections have been raised. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) is to raise one to-night. He has been good enough to let me know some of his views, but probably he will expand them later. I hope that by the time I have finished I shall have persuaded him that to take the line which he proposes would be base ingratitude to an authority which has as much at heart as he has, the scheme for open spaces. He has seen this site and he says that it is ideal for playing fields and therefore that it is wrong to use it as a cemetery. He says that he is not concerned with the troubles of the county council and that he is more concerned for the living than the dead. I fully agree that the county council have a duty to the living, but they have a duty to the living who are sick, in addition to their duty to the living who are well. The local authority might be severely criticised for not providing an open space, but they would be condemned and never forgiven were they to neglect their duty to the sick and suffering. I venture to say that if the House refuses a Second Reading to this Bill, it will be doing an injustice to the authority which has striven, to the best of its ability, to do this work, and it will be hampering that authority in carrying out the work imposed upon it by the Local Government Act, 1929.
On the question of open spaces, let us see where Surrey stands. What have we done in this matter? I have been looking through a summary of open spaces which has been published by the London County Council, and I find that it gives the percentage of area in the Home counties occupied by public open spaces, from which it appears that in Buckinghamshire they have 2.6 per cent. of the county as open space, in Essex 6.8, in Hertfordshire 6.3, in Kent 3.9, in Middlesex 9.7, and in Surrey 10 per cent., excluding water and rural districts. That is not the only thing, for although Surrey 792 is a county of commons, the county council has acquired open spaces during the past few years, and it has contributed, either by contributions in whole or in part, apart altogether from the green belt scheme, some 5,000 acres. If I take the recommendation of the committee which considered the question of open spaces for the public, that there should be seven acres for every thousand of the population, I find that the Surrey County Council have provided for at least 49,000 people, and, more than that, they have provided in the green belt scheme 1,479 acres, and in other ways they have contributed 970 acres.
But let us deal with this particular site and see whether there is the urgent necessity for this open space. Within a mile radius of the proposed land for this cemetery, there are no fewer than 500 acres of open space—surely a very generous contribution. The hon. Member for Swindon would have all the land, I suppose, as an open space for the people to enjoy. It is said that the landowner himself has expressed certain views on this question, but it is only since the matter has become so urgent, because I want the House to understand that when the Bill was introduced in another place, only one petition, and that, the petition of the landowner, was lodged against the Bill, but in this House there has been no petition lodged at all, and that is a point which ought to be taken into consideration. The owner of this land suddenly finds himself in this position, that he is very anxious that it should be used, after he has finished with it, presumably when he has passed to the Elysian fields, for an open space, but there is no guarantee of that, there is no conveying of it for the public use, and nobody at present has offered to purchase it as an open space. It is, therefore, very problematical whether it would be so used.
I venture to say that, on the question of an open playing field, we in Surrey have provided exceedingly well, and particularly so in the immediate district of this site. I understand that there may be an objection raised on the score that you might have a cemetery with a crematorium, but on the question of crematoria, I understand that no small cemetery is ever considered suitable, and indeed they are rather costly to put up. 793 Therefore, if you had two or three large cemeteries together, you might in due course have a burial board, and possibly the desires of the hon. Member who may raise this matter might be met by an amalgamation of these lands.
The county council are, I feel, placed in a dilemma. They find what they regard as the most suitable land, land which on all hands is recognised as being desirable—the town planning authorities at Morden and Carshalton do not object to the proposals—and, therefore, I ask this House, realising the great responsibility which is placed upon the county council, realising too, as we all do, how desirable it is there should be open spaces, to say that this is a Bill which ought to be supported. If there be good reasons for an examination in greater detail than can be done in this House, let the House agree to give the Bill a Second Reading and consider it in Committee, but let us not thwart local authorities in carrying out duties which we have placed upon them. What is to happen if this very necessary adjunct to a great hospital is not conceded? I am told that practically every hospital to-day finds it necessary to have a laundry attached to it. This has not been found possible here, because of the limitations of the land, but as near as possible to the site of the hospital and to the sites of the other two hospitals which are to be benefited by this scheme, we have found a site; we have avoided the modern objections to placing a cemetery upon chalk land, and—
§ Sir A. Wilson
What are these modern objections of which the hon. Member speaks? Since when has it been an objection, and why is it modern?
§ Sir R. Meller
It is an objection which has been held in the minds of some people for some years, but it has become far more acute since the Croydon trouble last year.
§ Sir A. Wilson
Can the hon. Member give me any scientific reason or say since when it has been an objection?
§ Sir R. Meller
I am not a scientist, nor am I a geologist, but I would ask the hon. Member to go into the district concerned. Let him go to Sutton, to Carshalton, to Croydon, or to any of the districts around where they have suffered as a result of the alleged pouring or leakage of impuri- 794 ties through fissures in the chalk. After all, public opinion must be considered, and the scientist is not always right. You cannot assuage the fears of people merely by saying it is all nonsense. Scientists of the day may say you cannot pollute water through chalk, but you have to face facts, and that is what we are doing. I ask the House to give this Bill its very careful consideration, realising what depends upon it, realising what the Surrey County Council have done, and I venture to say that if Members of this House face dispassionately the considerations which have been placed before them, they will have no other alternative than to give the Bill.a Second Reading without a Division.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Wakefield
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day three months."
The hon. Member for Mitcham (Sir R. Meller) has told the House the reasons why the Surrey County Council desire that this Bill should have a Second Reading, and he has described to us the necessity, as he suggests, for obtaining a piece of land at Morden close to the Kingston By-pass, a piece of land which in every way is admirably suited, not for a cemetery, but for a recreation space and for a playing-field, a piece of land close to the railway, close to other recreation grounds, close to the main road, close to where people live, accessible for the playing of games; and in these days it is extremely difficult to get a level, naturally-drained piece of ground, as this is, close to transport facilities and suitable for a playing-field.
The hon. Member has described the necessity, as he suggests, for the Surrey County Council using this as a cemetery because it is desired to erect a central laundry in the north-eastern part of the county. He rather suggested that I preferred to make the point that we should consider the needs of the living rather than of the dead, and he said that that in fact was what the Surrey County Council were doing, that they were considering the needs of the sick and needy, and that, therefore, it was necessary to establish a central laundry. I would suggest that by refusing to give permission to the Surrey County Council compulsorily to acquire this piece of land by Morden, 795 the House will not necessarily prevent the erection of a central laundry.
It is proposed to erect a central laundry on a site which for 39 years has been scheduled as a cemetery for use by the Carshalton Urban District Council, but the hon. Member did not tell the House that they had looked at other sites, and in particular at another site which last summer they found to be entirely suitable. This particular site is situated in the Carshalton urban district, and they pursued a course of action, which was quite right and proper, before scheduling this land for cemetery purposes, to see whether there were any objections to its use as a cemetery. The Ministry of Health investigated the position, and the Sutton District Water Company objected to the site being used for a cemetery, but the Surrey County Council and the Carshalton Urban District Council obtained independent advice as to the suitability or otherwise of the site for a cemetery, and following upon that independent advice, they actually, on 21st July, 1937, included this land in their town plan as a site for a cemetery. Therefore, the House will see that if the Bill is not allowed to go through, it will not prevent a central laundry being erected on this site at Carshalton, because there is an alternative site available for the purposes of a cemetery.
§ Mr. Wakefield
The Ministry of Health have issued a full statement as to what ground is suitable and what is unsuitable for cemetery purposes. The hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), who is seconding the Amendment, will deal with that aspect of the case in detail. I am proposing to deal primarily with the need for open playing spaces on the outskirts of London. There are three objections to this Bill. The first is to the Surrey Council running a laundry. Other Members will have something to say upon this point, although I do not desire to raise any objection to Surrey County Council working a laundry. I have dealt with the second objection, which is that there is an alternative site available. The third objection is to the compulsory 796 acquisition of this land for cemetery purposes on the ground that it is land which ought to be town planned and scheduled as an open playing space. The importance of having level land for playing-fields cannot be too greatly stressed. I agree that Surrey have played an important part in providing open spaces on the south side of London. They have done well in this matter, but I do not think that people realise how important it is that level open spaces near to where people live should be preserved.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education earlier to-day made reference to the increase in the number of playing-fields and gymnasia which are being provided for schools. He also pointed out that it is not much use providing them for young people in school unless facilities were available for them when they grow up. For that reason the National Fitness Council was formed, and the Parliamentary Secretary described some of the work the council was doing. I am privileged to be a member of that council and the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is chairman of an area committee covering the very area about which we are talking. He knows as well as I do the importance of having adequate facilities for places in which people can play games. It is not much good telling people to keep fit if they are not provided with playing-fields. The greatest difficulty with which the Fitness Council are faced is to find adequate facilities to enable people to take exercise. The appalling building over of open spaces in London grows apace. I remember only a few years ago I used to fly from the De Havilland Aerodrome at Stag Lane, a beautiful level space that ought to have been preserved for playing-fields. Because building had gone on round the aerodrome, the De Havilland Aircraft Company moved into the country, At once that level space was built over, although there was urgent need for its preservation as playing-fields for people living in the district.
That is the sort of thing which is happening all over London. The London County Council have applications every winter and summer for playing pitches from over 1,000 clubs. Only one-third of these can be satisfied. A cricket team can play only on certain occasions during the season, and a football club can get 797 only one out of every three Saturdays for playing. In the last 10 years over 20,000 acres within a radius of 10 miles of this House have been built upon. More than half of these were in use as playing fields when they were built upon. At the present time the needs of Central London and Greater London are such that at least 30,000 or more acres could be utilised with advantage. The hon. Member for Mitcham gave figures showing what Surrey was doing in the preservation of open spaces, but open spaces down at Guildford are not much use for people living in the centre of London. They want to play games close to where they live. The hon. Member made a point that there were no petitions against the Bill and that the local people were satisfied that there were enough open spaces for their needs.
§ Sir R. Meller
Out of 3,227 acres acquired by Surrey County Council, only 450 lie in Guildford. The rest are in the district from Epsom to Richmond.
§ Mr. Wakefield
The point I am making is that playing-fields, in order to be of any value to people in the big cities, must be close to where they live. All land close to London which is level and can be suitably used for playing-fields ought to be town-planned and preserved for that purpose. It ought not to be used for sewers or roads or cemeteries. The hon. Member suggested that there was no local objection to the Bill and that the local people were satisfied. We have to consider a case of this kind, however, not on local merits but on the needs of London as a whole. If we look at the figures we see that there is a great need for extra playing fields not only in that district, but in districts such as Merton, Carshalton and elsewhere in order to meet the needs of people living in Central London. I would like to pay a tribute to the hon. Member for South Shields for the great work he has done in the preservation of open spaces and fields in Surrey. He has had great difficulty with his reactionary colleagues on the Surrey County Council. I am looking forward to having his support on this occasion.
§ Sir R. Meller
I can say that nothing has had an easier passage than the proposals of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) when he asked the Surrey County Council to contribute to- 798 wards the open spaces in the green belt scheme.
§ Mr. Wakefield
The hon. Member and the Surrey County Council have certainly done good work. I am pointing out that the hon. Member is in a peculiar position. He is Chairman of the Estates Committee of the Surrey County Council and of the Area Committee of the National Fitness Council. His position reminds me of the woman who was before a judge and when being questioned was asked her age. She said it was 30. The judge intervened and said, "My good woman, seven years ago you were in the court and you then said your age was 30." "Yes," replied the woman, "but I am not the sort of person to say one thing one day and another thing another day." The hon. Member must be consistent, and I look forward to his support on this occasion so that we can have this place at Morden scheduled as an open space. I will give some figures to show the urgency of the position. It is an accepted standard that there should be an acre of open space to every 150 people. What is the position in Central London? In Deptford there are 2,749 people per acre of public open space; in Finsbury 4,892, Holborn 3,849, Islington 6,362, Shoreditch 9,500, Southwark 4,500, and Stepney 4,800. The hon. Member suggested that Merton and Morden were well served with playing spaces.
§ Sir Alfred Beit
Is there anywhere in Central London where there are only 150 to the acre of open space?
§ Mr. Wakefield
No, but that is the standard set up for urban areas. If there is this grave shortage in Central London there ought to be on the outskirts a standard not of 150, but of 50 to the acre, to make up for the deficiency in Central London. In the Merton and Morden district there are 316 people per acre of open space, about twice the number there ought to be for the local needs. Certain open spaces have been acquired in that district recently, but, on the other hand, houses are going up by the hundred and fields are being built over. That position will not get better. The hon. Member mentioned the recreation grounds that existed in that district, but they are not available to the people living there. One of them belongs to the British Broadcasting Corporation and is used by people who work in Central London. London University also have a ground there. I 799 was there the other day at some sports when the ground was being used by people from East London. Most of the recreation grounds in that area are used by clubs and by people who live in Central London where open spaces are not available for them. So it is of importance that this level ground, close to road and railway facilities, should be preserved and town-planned as an open space instead of being used as a cemetery.
I want to impress upon the House that local authorities, and even Government Departments, do not realise the importance of the preservation of open spaces. The hon. Member opposite knows how the London County Council are building an estate at Carshalton near to where this central laundry is being put. The big development of the district is one of the reasons why the laundry is being erected there, but the London County Council, in their town-planning arrangements, did not schedule sufficient open space for the people going to live there. Only this morning I was at a meeting of the National Playing Fields Association and was told that a generous private individual was so upset at the position that he had offered, through the Association, to buy back 38½ acres from the London County Council and to give it as an open space for the residents on the St. Helier Estate—that is land which the London County Council intended to build upon. Scarcely a day passes on which I do not get a letter from some part of the country to tell me, or read in a paper, that a playing-field is to be built upon either by a Government Department, a local authority or private enterprise. A few weeks ago I saw in the "Daily Herald" that Craven Cottage, home of Fulham football for 40 years might be sold as a site for luxury flats built to overlook the Thames. If people can afford to go into luxury flats they can afford to move further out. That report stated:The Fulham ground was originally tree-covered park land, and it is claimed that the method of cutting down the trees, leaving in the roots, and constructing the soccer pitch on a higher ground level, was largely responsible for producing one of the best playing pitches in the country.I have other letters showing that it is not realised throughout the country how necessary it is that we should preserve every piece of ground, however small, in the midst of our urban areas. The other 800 day I came across another instance of this lack of appreciation. I am chairman of a committee which runs some youth hostels. The ground at the back of one of the hostels belongs to the Government, and it is a space which is suitable for use by the young people from those hostels or by the people from a big block of flats which is being built just across the road. I heard that it was proposed to build upon this ground, which belongs to the Government. If that attitude of mind exists it is difficult for us to preserve playing-fields and open spaces.
I have another letter here from Ilkley. I give this example to show how difficult it is to get playing-fields in hilly country. You can put a cemetery in hilly country, but not a playing-field. At Ilkley there is a scheme for a new trunk road, and it is stated that if the scheme goes through practically every football, cricket and tennis ground and various other recreation grounds will be seriously affected, and some of them to all intents and purposes rendered useless. Another letter comes from the secretary of the Old Salfordians Rugby Football Club, in which he says:Early this year we celebrated our silver jubilee as a club, and now we have suddenly been given notice to quit our ground at the end of the month. We were sub-tenants of the Manchester Collieries, and they too have been given similar notice to quit. The land has been bought for building at a heavy figure. This was most unexpected by anyone in the neighbourhood as it was generally thought that the land was unsuitable since it lay below the level of the road. We are not in a position to buy a ground of our own, as the majority of our members and officials are artisans and black-coated workers. Land is very scarce in this district, and having asked the county to help us in our search they have advised me to write to you.I have given these examples to show how important it is that Government Departments, local authorities and private bodies should do their utmost to preserve every suitable level space which has easy access to transport and which does not call for much outlay for drainage purposes. I hope that I have shown that this piece of ground at Morden ought to be preserved and town-planned as an open space, and I hope I have shown, though the hon. Member who is seconding the Amendment will elaborate the reasons in greater detail, why the alternative site which was originally chosen should now be used. I hope that the Surrey County Council will drop the promotion of this 801 Bill, realising that it will be better to study the needs of the living rather than of the dead, that they will permit this open space to remain an open space, and fall back upon the alternative space which is available for the cemetery, and then they can build their central laundry and the sick and needy will be none the worse for it.
§ Mr. Wakefield
The hon. Member asks whether the Morden site is available as a playing-ground, and the answer is, yes, that the present owner has dedicated it during his lifetime as an open space. He will not sell it for building purpose, and there is no reason at all why it should not be town-planned as an open space and preserved as a playing-ground for all time. It could be preserved, and undoubtedly if the Surrey County Council did not require to have it as a public open space there would be many firms or clubs which would be only too glad to rent it for games.
§ Sir R. Meller
The hon. Member says this field has been dedicated as a playing-field, but is it not the fact that it is now let to a dairyman for grazing purposes? What does the hon. Member mean by saying that it is dedicated as a playing-field?
§ Mr. Wakefield
During the lifetime of the present owner it will not be built upon and there will be an opportunity for maintaining it as an open space. We shall not have the sort of thing happening here that happened at Stag Lane when the aircraft company left.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Sir A. Wilson
I beg to second the Amendment. I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) in his references to the playing-fields aspect of this question. I am concerned with it primarily from the point of view of the importance of being most careful in the selection of burial grounds, and I venture to hope that no one will think that this House is wasting its time on parochial pump politics in discussing a Bill of this kind, because it really is important. The burial aspect may well be summarised in a very few words. About 180 years ago the people of this country were induced to take to coffins instead of being buried in shrouds. The significance of that was that the churchyard, parti- 802 cularly in urban areas, following upon the industrial revolution, became rapidly overcrowded, for so long as bodies were buried in shrouds they rapidly mingled with the earth to which they were returned, and the ground in the churchyards could be used, and was used, again and again. In 1852 the question had become so serious and so perilous to public health that this House passed an Act under which burial grounds were to be established by local authorities. Unfortunately, they were established not as a social service but as a trading service, and the local authorities were authorised to charge such sums as would suffice to make them pay. From that date the worst aspects of pauper burial and of graves into which 20 or even 30 bodies were flung, or, according to the authentic records of this House, even rammed with a steel rammer in order to get as many bodies into a single grave as they could.
From that horror arises the shame and the further horror of the pauper funeral, which is directly connected with the decision of this House to make cemeteries into a trading service. From 1852 and to this day, as long as there is room in the churchyard of the parish to which a man belongs, every Englishman has the right at common law to free burial, subject only to the cost of breaking the ground, payable to the sexton, and the fee for reading the prayers, payable to the parson; but it is very different in the case of a cemetery. There the executors of the deceased have to buy the grave and if the deceased had the misfortune, as many hundreds of thousands of people have had since the War, to die in a parish in which he was not a resident, being perhaps a transferee from the north of England, and application is made for burial in the public cemetery, the executors are told, "No, you may not bury your father here, except on payment of double fees." That is because they are strangers. That abominable aspect of burial remains. You may bury your relatives in ground to which you are technically a stranger only if you pay double fees, which may amount to as much as £10. The result is that scores of thousands of people, born and bred in the north of England, have come to the South and been buried in a common grave because they could not afford the fees charged by public authorities to strangers.
803 Even to those who are not strangers, costs have gone up by at least 50 per cent. since the War. I have been at some pains to ascertain the facts, and it is within my knowledge that the average price which local authorities have had to pay for land for the creation of cemeteries has often been nearer £2,000 than £1,000 per acre. In order to recoup themselves for the cost thus incurred they have had to charge very high fees, and even then there has been, in most cases, a loss to the rates. I say all this merely as introduction, in order that the House may realise that the issue which we are discussing is important, far transcending the importance of the particular Bill.
The promoters of the Bill decided to build a central laundry. I do not propose to deal with the question of whether a central laundry is or is not desirable; indeed, I do not conceive that subject to be one which can most conveniently be discussed here. It can be discussed, if anywhere, in Committee. The promoters decided to do so upon a site acquired for cemetery purposes 40 years ago by what is now the Carshalton Urban District Council. The promoters declare that this is, if not the only, then the most suitable, site. Kingston, Wimbledon, Merton, Mitcham, Sutton, Cheam, Beddington, Wallington and Morden have been, it is said, scoured in vain; this site and this alone will meet the requirements of a central laundry. It is close by a reservoir. Some sites were rejected by the chief laundry officer, a most particular person, because they were damp and foggy. Apparently dampness and fogginess are a peculiar disadvantage in dealing with washing, in which case the washing in Southern England must indeed be defective.
The chief laundry officer has said that the site must be perfectly flat and 600 feet by 400 feet. It must be near main sewers and water lines, for it requires no less than 250,000 gallons a day, an amount which is adequate to supply a fair-sized town of 10,000 or 15,000 inhabitants. It must be near electricity mains. He piled on his requirements to a point which makes one wonder how any industry ever managed to establish itself anywhere in Surrey except on this sole site which was selected for the laundry. I question very much whether a central laundry is a desir- 804 able thing and whether it is desirable to concentrate all one's washing, however dirty and although it is from four hospitals, upon a single site, several miles away from the respective hospitals, in order to centralise it, bearing in mind always that it is necessary to have 250,000 gallons a day from a single reservoir. My laundry-expert friend tells me that that quantity is grotesquely high and that has received confirmation by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Sir R. Meller), who stated that 250,000 pieces will be washed at the laundry per week, which means one gallon per article. I am told that that quantity is greatly in excess of the normal requirements. I cannot but think that the chief laundry officer, expert as he is, was perhaps swinging the lead a bit.
The population of the area is increasing and the motor bus services are admittedly model in character. My hon. Friend has insisted that the laundry must be close to the existing housing estate at St. Helier. It is true that the district is increasing in population and that new housing estates are being made in half-a-dozen different areas but, no, the laundry must be close to St. Helier, and nothing else will suffice. It does not occur to the Surrey County Council to do as thousands of employers already do in this country—make an arrangement with the local omnibus company to provide a service which, for 1d. or 2d., will take people the mile or so necessary to bring them to the job, and back. That is being done all over England to-day, to my personal knowledge, and to a great extent in my own constituency, with excellent results. "No," they say, "this site and this only in all Surrey is the one that we want." It must be flat. The chief laundry officer says that it must be flat. I know scores of laundries, great modern laundries which are two or three storeys high, which positively prefer sloping ground in order that the receipt of washing may take place on one floor and the delivery be looked after on another, but that is not good enough for the Surrey County Council. The site must be flat. I can only think that this is a case of an official expert, regardless of any other interests than those of his own department, using the official machinery of the county council, and, if he gets his way here, the official machinery of this House, in order to save perhaps a few thousand pounds in planning a laundry. There is 805 not the smallest doubt in my mind that suitable sites could be found somewhere in Surrey.
However that may be, the selection of this site has necessitated the provision of an alternative site for a cemetery for Carshalton. Two sites were available, one at Woodmansterne, close to Carshalton, and already belonging to the county council. It is secluded, and only in July, 1937, was regarded as thoroughly suitable in all respects for a cemetery; but it is in the area of the Sutton Water Company, and not far from—I use the words of the official evidence—although not within, the company's gathering grounds. It is on chalk. For that reason, and with no evidence whatever that a cemetery on chalk could conceivably endanger the water supply, the site was rejected. My second submission is that the county council were wrong in rejecting this site on those grounds. The Ministry of Health have been good enough to provide me with their official circular which deals with the sanitary requirements of burial grounds, and this is how they describe an ideal site for a cemetery:The soil of a burial ground should preferably be of an open and porous nature, with numerous close interstices through which air and moisture may pass, in a finely divided state, freely in every direction. In such a soil, decay proceeds rapidly, and the products of decomposition are absorbed or oxidised. The soil should be easily worked, and yet not so loose as to render the work of excavation dangerous through liability to falls of earth. It should be free from water or hard rock to a depth of not less than 4 feet 3 inches.In other words, chalk is the ideal formation for a cemetery, and there are, not hundreds, but thousands of graveyards and churchyards, and some hundreds of cemeteries, established at the present time on chalk within the gathering grounds of the Metropolitan Water Board, the Lee Conservancy Board, the New River Company, and half-a-dozen other water companies to my knowledge. If it is to go forth from this House that it is very undesirable ever to have a cemetery upon chalk, we are going to create a very dangerous precedent indeed. Apparently we are going to allow it to be said that, owing to public anxiety—which in point of fact was unjustified—consequent upon the Croydon epidemic, which was due, as everyone now knows, to a typhoid carrier using the well itself as a lavatory, it is not safe to put a cemetery on chalk, not only within the gathering ground of a 806 water company, but anywhere near it. The proposition is grotesque, for we have thousands of square miles of chalk in this country.
I have been through the whole of the records of every inquiry by the Ministry of Health or its predecessors into the occurrence of typhoid or any other epidemic which was alleged to be due to pollution of water, and in no single case have I found it alleged that a cemetery was, directly or indirectly, not responsible, but even accused of being responsible for, the pollution of wells. Moreover, I have been at pains to go through the evidence given before the Select Committees on the Burial Acts, and there again I have failed to find a single case where it has been urged that effluvia or moisture from a cemetery had been responsible for polluting a single public water supply, whether from a shallow or from a deep well. It is my firm conviction that the county council have really gone wrong in allowing themselves to be influenced by the temporary anxiety and the very ignorant comments in the public Press consequent on the Croydon epidemic. Giving evidence for the promoters, the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) himself said that to place a cemetery there would create more apprehension than was really justifiable, and he added:But the apprehension would exist, and, therefore, it would be quite wrong, in view of the objection of the Sutton Water Company, to place a cemetery there.No geologist was called, and no medical officer of health. I have the honour myself to be a Fellow of the Geological Society of London, and I am convinced that, if any geologist or medical officer of health were called, they would reject out of hand any apprehension that the Sutton Water Company might have as to the possibility of any damage being done by a cemetery established, not within, but not far from, their gathering ground. It is a biological and physical impossibility that a cemetery outside a gathering ground could conceivably have the smallest effect upon the supply of water. It has never been suggested to my knowledge in any country in the world, and certainly not in this country. I have studied, as I have said, every recorded paper on the subject, and I am convinced that the county council, with the best of intentions, have allowed themselves to be unduly influenced by 807 public agitation. It was alleged at the inquiry that the Sutton Water Company had had trouble recently with water, but—I quote from the official report—It was due, not to any fault in the chalk, but to a different cause entirely.That seems to exclude altogether the suggestion that it was due to a fissure in the chalk, for the official report says that it was due, not to any fault in the chalk, but to a different cause entirely. That is in reply to question No. 157. The Woodmansterne plot was town-planned as a cemetery on the strength of eminent engineering opinion, which, in July, 1937, regarded it as eminently and absolutely safe and proper. That was stated in reply to question No. 154. It was alleged at the inquiry that the Ministry of Health had objected to the use of the site as a cemetery site, but no evidence was given as to this fact, and it is clear from the evidence of the hon. Member for South Shields that the county council were influenced wholly by unfounded popular fears.
§ Sir A. Wilson
I beg the hon. Member's pardon; it was before the Committee in another place, where these questions and answers were given. It was not an inquiry, but a committee. Had there been an inquiry before an expert, I do not doubt that the result of the inquiry would have been different from that which was arrived at upstairs. Had there been a public inquiry by the Ministry of Health, I do not doubt that the objection of the Sutton Water Company would have been overruled, if, indeed, they had ventured to make it. It is wholly without precedent, and wholly unjustified by any scientific knowledge that we have at our disposal. In spite of the jeers and jibes of the hon. Member for Mitcham (Sir R. Meller) at scientists, I think the public attach considerable weight to the views expressed by scientific men on subjects of this sort.
§ Sir A. Wilson
My hon. Friend says that he does not accept them as final; nor do I. I think that the judge must be 808 this House and the lay public, with due regard to medical, scientific and legal opinions, not accepting these as final, but applying their own judgment to the case in point.
I turn now to the third point, namely, the use of the site at present proposed as a cemetery. It is fine, flat land. It is slightly elevated at the centre, and slopes slightly away from the centre on either side, thus making drainage a comparatively easy matter. I understand that it has a basis, not far below the surface, of heavy clay. It is to be used as a cemetery. This is what the Ministry of Health's circular—the latest available circular—says of a site for a cemetery:A dense clay is laborious to work and difficult to drain By excluding moisture and air, it retards decay, and it retains in a concentrated state the products of decomposition, sometimes to be discharged into graves opened in the vicinity, or sometimes to escape through cracks in the ground to the surface.In other words, this site, although I am perfectly aware that areas nearby have been allocated to a cemetery, is of the type officially described by the Ministry of Health as being thoroughly unsuitable for a cemetery, although in case of need it might be necessary to use such a site. In other words, so far from having selected the best available site, they have chosen the worse of the two sites, and that with their very able eyes wide open, for I cannot imagine that this circular is not already in their possession. The site is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) has explained, ideal for playing fields. It is close to an elementary school, which has already, I gather, been provided with a certain amount of playing grounds—
§ Sir A. Wilson
It will not be difficult, I fancy, to draft a fresh Bill, as the school is not required this year.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Captain Bourne)
We shall get on better if the hon. Member is allowed to make his speech. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will have an opportunity later.
§ Sir A. Wilson
It is proposed to provide this site, part of which will be allocated for a cemetery and part for a school. There are plenty of alternative sites in neighbouring areas, and it should be possible to have a joint burial board for the whole of Surrey, so that anybody can be buried in the cemetery nearest without this filthy business of charging double fees for people coming from another area. That is a disgrace. Such a scheme has been proposed, and it has only broken down because the Merton and Morden Urban Council said they had enough land to bury their people, and would not come into any other scheme or allow any of their ground for the burial of people from outside their own area. That is the rottenest sort of parochialism; it is parish pump politics at its worst. There is no hurry for this cemetery. The existing cemetery at Carshalton will do for the next five years at least. There is no necessity for the laundry to be placed on this site. There is an alternative site available at Woodmansterne. The county council could not do better than take heart from what they have heard to-day and announce that they propose to put the cemetery at Woodmansterne and the laundry wherever they like. Then they can think again, take far more trouble than they have yet taken, and consider the whole cemetery position in Surrey, which is far from satisfactory, and draft a Bill to prevent the disgrace of people dying in one part of Surrey and not being able to he buried a quarter of a mile away within the boundaries of another authority.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby
I desire to support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Sir R. Meller). Anybody who has sat through this Debate might be pardoned for imagining that there is nothing more that can be said on the subject of this Bill, but there are one or two small points which I would like to put. If there had been no provision for open spaces or playing fields in the vicinity, I would willingly join with my hon. Friend the 810 Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) and ask that this space should be preserved for playing fields; but it seems to me that when the hon. Member for Swindon complains that public authorities do not do their duty in providing open spaces he might at least make an exception in favour of the Surrey County Council, which I think everybody will admit has been a model for all other local authorities in the way in which it has managed to provide open spaces and preserve amenities in an area which has been rapidly built up. I would like to pay my tribute to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) for the way he has helped the people of Surrey to preserve the beauties of Surrey for themselves and their children.
The fact is that although it is essential to provide open spaces and playing fields in a densely built-up area there are other things which must also be provided. Firstly, there must be proper provision of schools, and nowadays, quite rightly I think, parents feel strongly about it if their children have to go any great distance to school. The hon. Member who has just sat down said that if the Bill fails to get a Second Reading another school site can be found elsewhere, but there is no other suitable school site in the vicinity of this area—an area which is being rapidly built up. Therefore part of this space is intended for something very necessary in the interests of people living in the district, in alluding to whom the hon. Member for Swindon has said that they must have proper facilities for recreation. So they must, but they must also have proper facilities for the education of their children. With all their schools the Surrey County Council try to provide adequate recreational facilities for the children. On this site there will be four acres of the most level part of the site where children can play. Indeed the site taken as a whole is not quite the level plain which some speakers would seem to suggest. One end of it is 20 feet higher than the other.
The hon. Member for Swindon made great play with the fact that the owner of the site is desirous of maintaining it as an open space and handing it on, when he himself passes on, as an open space or playing field; but in the four years during which the county council were conducting negotiations with him on the 811 subject of purchase he never disclosed that he would like the site to be an open space or a playing field. It was not until the petition was presented that the fact was disclosed that he feels that it should be preserved for all time as an open space. The hon. Member for Swindon also informed us that the owner feels that it should not be a cemetery; but in that connection may I say that immediately adjacent to the south-west corner of the site is an area of 34 acres which was acquired by the Merton and Morden Urban Council from the owner for a cemetery, and which is now being used as a cemetery. The owner can have no objection, therefore to a cemetery qua cemetery being placed on his land. The hon. Member has not told us who is to find the money to make this a playing-field. He must admit that the Surrey County Council have been very generous in the way they have put their hands into their pockets—incidentally into the ratepayers' pockets—to provide open spaces and playing fields in this district. There are 500 acres of them within a mile of this site. The hon. Member made great play at the beginning of his speech with the argument that people in central London should be able to come down into this district and find facilities for recreation. Later he complained that part of this 500 acres of open space was not available for local people. He cannot have it both ways. Either the whole of this space should be reserved for local people, or it should be preserved for people coming from another district.
§ Sir A. Southby
The hon. Member says "Both." Well, I contend that they have got it. I have made a rough calculation and I find that of the 539 acres which are now open recreational spaces within one mile of this site, 205 acres are preserved for playing grounds and recreation grounds by private corporations such as the B.B.C., the Westminster Sports ground, and so on. That leaves 334 acres which are public open spaces. The 185 acres of the Morden Park Golf Club and the Joseph Hood Memorial Playing Fields are public open spaces. That is an indication that you have provision for both public and private open spaces. More than half is earmarked for the public and less than half is provided for other people 812 from a distance. The hon. Member who has just sat down referred to the Woodmansterne site on which he said the cemetery could go. With what he said about the difficulties attendant upon the burial of poor people, I have the greatest sympathy. The fees charged to poor people at the present time for burial in cemeteries are, as he said, a disgrace. The site at Woodmansterne is on a hill which slopes down to the valley, in which are situated pumping stations for the Sutton District Water Company. Whatever the scientists may say about the possibility of contamination of the water in wells by the provision of a burial ground, local opinion in the district has a right to be heard. I am certain that the opinion of those who live in that area, following upon the shock which the typhoid epidemic in Croydon gave to them, would be dead against the provision of a cemetery in that particular spot in Woodmansterne. It is a place which I happen to know particularly well. It is a very short distance from where I lived for many years.
I do not think that the question of the Woodmansterne site should really concern this House. The site which it is proposed to make into a cemetery is eminently suitable for a cemetery, and it is close to two other cemeteries. I understand—and I believe quite rightly—the hon. Member who has just spoken believes that, if one could get cremation in this country, it would be a very good thing. May I point out to him that, if this Bill passes, there will be a big enough burial authority to make it possible for that authority to set up a crematorium, and so, if he is keen upon the provision of crematoria, his opportunity is now plain to him—he should vote for this Bill, because through the Bill it might be possible to obtain a crematorium in that particular area.
§ Mr. Fleming
The hon. and gallant Gentleman suggests that there will be three cemeteries in this particular area and also a school. How far will the proposed school be from these cemeteries?
§ Sir A. Southby
The proposed school, if this area is developed, as the county council desire it to be, will be alongside one cemetery, and at a distance, on the far side from the school will be another cemetery. I canot tell the exact distance from the third one. There may be some 813 Members of this House whose objection to the Bill might be found to lie along the line of objection to possible municipal trading enterprises on the part of the Surrey County Council. I confess that on first considering the Bill I had fears on that score myself. I do not think that any Member of this House could accuse me of being in favour of municipal trading or municipal enterprises as such. That fear is completely unfounded. I believe that every big hospital finds it not only necessary, but hygienic and in the interest of the public to run its own laundry in order to deal with hospital washing I do not think that any of us like the idea that the washing from a large hospital should go through a public laundry where the clothes of the ordinary general public are dealt with. It is far better, safer and more hygienic that the hospital laundry should be part of the hospital. In fact, the big hospitals of London, certainly St. George's Hospital, run their own laundries. The Surrey County Council are an authority who have to run, not one, but several hospitals, and they have for some years past maintained laundries in various parts of Surrey which deal with the washing from the hospitals and the institutions. There is no departure in this Bill from what has been going on for a considerable time. Therefore, there is no question of the Surrey County Council all of a sudden starting to run a laundry as something they have never done before. If this Bill does not pass, very necessary enlargements and alterations to the hospitals at Epsom and at Kingston will have to be postponed, because in order to make these enlargements and alterations the existing laundry accommodation for these two hospitals will have to be pulled down.
The new hospital at Wrythe Lane which is in course of construction is limited as regards the site upon which it is placed, and it is impossible to find room on that site for a laundry unless the quarters for the nurses are curtailed. I do not think that there is a Member in this House who does not desire to ensure that, wherever a new hospital is built, one of the first things that should be seen to is the adequate provision of comfortable quarters for the nurses who serve the hospital. Therefore, if this new hospital at Wrythe Lane is to be what we want it to be, the question of quarters for the nurses must 814 take precedence of the provision of a laundry, and therefore provision for the laundry must be made elsewhere. The most suitable site which can be found at the present time for that laundry is the site which is mentioned in the Bill. That laundry is not going to embark in any way upon municipal trading as such. It is only going to deal with the washing which comes from the hospitals and the institutions over which the Surrey County Council have direction. There is no question of competing with any private laundry for any contract for washing. I will not enlarge upon what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend on the subject of the difficulty of obtaining either a fair price or a contract from existing laundries to deal with the washing from the hospitals, except to reiterate once more than I believe that washing from hospitals should not go through public laundries.
I suggest to the House that there is really no objection to the passage of this Bill. All of us want to see adequate playing-fields and the maximum amount of open space preserved for the health and recreation of the public. All these things have been met, as far as they be met, by the Surrey County Council. We all of us feel that there must be proper educational facilities, and the Surrey County Council are doing what they can in the best possible way to meet the educational needs of a growing district. There is not a soul in this House who would not agree that, in putting up this laundry, the Surrey County Council are doing something which is for the good, not only of the sick, who will be tended in their hospitals, but something to safeguard the health of the community outside. The laundry will provide work for a considerable number of people who live in a district adjacent to this laundry and who are certainly deserving of consideration. In the built-up are of St. Hellier, where the main labour for this loundry will be obtained, there are many people who are anxious to find employment. On all grounds I submit that the House will be well advised to give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ 9.5 P.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Elliot)
This is a Private Bill and the Government take no part in it as such, but it is for the convenience of the House that the 815 Department within whose ambit the Bill falls should indicate the atitude which the Minister takes. As to the general purpose underlying the Bill, the provision of a centralised laundry, it is agreed that that is desirable. The principle of private laundry facilities for hospitals is an accepted one and the centralising of these facilities in Surrey is a rational development. It frees more space for hospital purposes proper and leads to economy and easy administration. Therefore, no issue of principle seems to arise, in this regard, out of the Bill.
The next point is where to put the centralised laundry. The county council's contention is that it must be somewhere in the north-eatsern part of the country. I think that can be agreed. It is here that important hospital development is taking place, and, generally, that seems the suitable area. The choice of the particular site, however, has caused considerable trouble. Both councils think that the proposed arrangement—whereby the Surrey County Council buy this land and exchange it with Carshalton's present burial land—is the best practicable solution. That involves two issues, (1) whether the proposed sites are respectively suitable to be taken for laundry and cemetery purposes and (2) whether it is right for the county council to buy compulsorily land which they require, only to give in exchange for other land earmarked for their purpose.
As to the first point, the suitability of the sites and whether those sites as opposed to any others ought to be taken for these purposes, is eminently the sort of question for which the Committee system of this House has been devised. It is impossible for us to go into these technical and Committee points here. They ought to be examined with full knowledge of the local circumstances, where plans can be produced, where maps can be gone over and examined, and where witnesses can be called and examined. That procedure is eminently suitable for the Committee stage. It is worth while noting that this Bill is, technically, an unopposed Bill which goes to the Unopposed Bills Committee, which is recruited from a panel appointed each year by the Selection Committee. The Committee consists of three members of the panel, who usually sit with the Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means as Chairman, and it is advised 816 by Mr. Speaker's Counsel as assessor. That Unopposed Bills Committee is of a continuing nature. Its membership is much the same every year, and it has been able to acquire considerable experience of local government issues and is thus as well qualified as any Committee of this House to satisfy itself as to the merits of any proposal put before it and, after hearing evidence, to come to a decision.
§ Mr. Elliot
Any evidence which the Committee requires to satisfy itself. As to point No. 2, the question of acquiring land only in order to give it in exchange may seem to be more a Second Reading issue. It does not, however, in this particular case seem to be open to much criticism. If the sites are suitable, and it is for the Committee to advise us on that, this method of arranging for their acquisition seems natural enough. The Carshalton site for the laundry, is one on which both councils are agreed and in which no other parties are involved. Carshalton, if they are to give up that site, must have an alternative burial ground, and they could promote a Bill for that purpose—they have promoted Bills in the past—but it was the county council's need that necessitated the new arrangements, and they have saved Carshalton the cost and trouble of promoting the Bill. From the point of view of the lands affected, this makes no material difference.
The Bill has passed through the other House, and was referred to a Select Committee where the case for and against the Bill was put forward. After considering all the arguments it was decided that the Bill should go on. There is no reason why we should deny the promoters the opportunity of having this Bill examined in detail by a Committee of this House. It is true that the Bill was introduced late. The present scheme arose from a long consideration of ways and means by the council and, once having evolved it, they wish to proceed without delaying matters until next Session. The case for allowing it as a late Bill has been approved through the appropriate machinery of the House. Therefore, generally speaking, I think the Bill does not seem to raise any major question of principle for discussion at this stage. The essential issue raised by it is whether this particular piece of land 817 in this particular district is the right site to take, so as to allow a perfectly proper public purpose of the county council to be carried out. That seems essentially a Committee point. Therefore, I recommend the House to give the Bill a Second Reading and to allow these matters to be considered in detail by the Committee procedure which over a long period of years the House has found suitable for the purpose.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
I was hoping that before I spoke I should have the pleasure of listening to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), whom I always regard as the outstanding representative in this House of the Surrey County Council, although the north country is privileged to regard him as one of its Members of Parliament. I am frankly critical of this Bill. Even though the Minister has told us that the idea of these centralised laundries is a well-established practice, I should personally rather enjoy the task of examining their accounts. I am always told that if you centralise things they become more economical, because you eliminate overhead expenses, but I find that, in the long run, all the centralised things are the most expensive. We are told from time to time that when two boroughs amalgamate or when one borough incorporates a smaller local authority, on account of the amalgamation there will he savings of overhead expenses, and everything will be better for everybody; but the real truth is that the larger the unit of population for local government the more costly it is to run the job.
I would suggest to hon. Members that they might fill in one of the green slips in the Vote Office and obtain a copy of the document, "Rates and Rateable Vaiues," which throws a most interesting light upon the extravagance of a number of the larger local authorities. Therefore, when I am told that centralisation is an economy, I frankly do not believe it. This Government and preceding Governments have caused a lot of concerns to be amalgamated, and every one of them is financially a failure. Cable and Wireless for example, and the main line railways. In all these, the centralisation principle fails. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman tells me that centralisation is a long-established principle, I suggest that it was established at the same time as the 818 principle of amalgamating railways was established, and I am not very much impressed.
I have tried to get some information about this laundry business. The only thing that has impressed me in the Debate was the statement by the hon. and gallant Member who represents Epsom (Sir A. Southby), who said that people who sent their clothes to private laundries did not like the idea of things from hospitals going there. That is the only argument adduced that has impressed me. I was not much impressed by my hon. Friend and neighbouring colleague who represents Mitcham (Sir R. Meller), when he spoke about the large number of Surrey's open spaces. That is not so much due to the county council. A lot of those open spaces and playing-fields are distant from where the people live.
§ Sir R. Meller
I pointed out that a very large proportion of those open spaces are easily accessible to the people of London.
§ Mr. Williams
I was in the House when the hon. Member was dealing with that point. I should not have raised the issue if I had not heard the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Williams
It is not as though this county council is one whose efficiency I admire. They are proposing to do this laundry work by what is called direct labour. For my sins or for my pleasure I have to travel to a place called Mickleham, where the Surrey County Council have been building a by-pass. They are at least eight months late in completing it, and I am told that they have done it on the good old Socialist principle of direct labour. I am looking forward to the time when the Minister of Transport will tell us how much extra it has cost. Surrey is not a very economically governed county. There are only two counties in Great Britain whose inhabitants have to pay more than those of Surrey, where it costs £5 per head, man, woman and child, to live. It is quite true that under the influence of the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) it is more costly to live in the county of London, and Middlesex, 819 which also has a certain amount of Socialist inspiration, is 4s. dearer than Surrey. Those who live in the county of Wiltshire can do so for £3 a head.
I mention this because this kind of public extravagance, which I deplore without very much help from anyone else, although there will be plenty of help in 18 months' time, in order to draw attention to the fact that the county council which proposes to spend this money is one which exists at great cost to the inhabitants of Surrey. It may be that this scheme is right and that the only place Carshalton has to bury its dead is to come nearer to the centre instead of moving to the circumference. They are not necessarily bound to have the cemetery in their own area, but I should have thought that by moving in the other direction they might have obtained an alternative solution. I am not very much impressed by the document issued by the Surrey County Council. There is a certain lack of candour about it. It says that the owner of the land refused to entertain any sale by agreement for a burial ground. That is the description of a bigoted landlord, not a landlord who was refusing to consent for a very definite reason of public health. Anyone who took the trouble to read the London evening papers of about six months ago knows perfectly well what the reason was. There were lengthy interviews in the London Press on this matter and pictures illustrating the situation. All that has been forgotten, and the Surrey County Council in this brief completely conceals from this House what were the grounds of refusal. They merely picture this old gentleman as an awkward and cantankerous old gentleman.
Then again there is a lack of candour in the last paragraph, in which they say that no petition has been presented against the Bill in the House of Commons. A petition was presented in the other House, and it is a costly process to present a petition to the House of Commons. When the burden has to fall on a single individual I am not surprised that he felt he could not afford to present a petition. A document like this is not entirely candid to hon. Members who are not familiar with the facts, and I think that when a public authority at the public expense provides a document like this for the guidance of 820 this honourable House they might add a little more of the truth in order that we should have a rather fuller appreciation of the real position.
I propose to comment on something which the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom said. I am a little surprised that the hon. and gallant Member should say that the owner of the land did not say that he wanted to preserve it as an open space until he presented his petition in another place. I know that the hon. and gallant Member said that in all good faith, but as the owner's position was ventilated to the whole world many months ago, long before the Bill was presented and before the time when he was faced with the demand of the county council, it really is not fair to say that he revealed his attitude only after the Bill had been presented. I know that the hon. and gallant Member did not say this on his own initiative. The county council has drilled all the members for Surrey thoroughly well. They are all on duty. It really amuses me that when any local Bill is brought forward the local Member always thinks he has to agree with his local authority. That is an abrogation of the exercise of free judgment. He does so because he is sent for by the mayor of a borough and told what he has to do.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
Well, invited; there is a suggestion that they should all meet. Quite sincerely if I thought that this great administrative county was doing its work with the maximum of efficiency I should look at the Bill in a more friendly way, but I do not think they are. They are tending to be extravagant. They are among the most extravagant local authorities in the country, but always the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) can show the most extravagant local authority.
§ Mr. Williams
I am dealing with them, and I have already explained to them in a way in which perhaps the hon. Member will deal with his own local authority. Local authorities are coming forward year after year asking Parliament to sanction schemes which are costly, and yet whenever there is any protest about the growth of local government expenditure 821 we always hear that it is not their fault but the fault of Parliament which thrusts these duties upon them. Here is a local authority asking to have this expenditure thrust upon it by Parliament. I do not know what my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) is going to do, but having regard to the advice tendered by the Minister, which it is perhaps wise to accept on these occasions, he perhaps will not press his Amendment to a Division. I say that for this reason—the object of a debate on Second Reading is to emphasise things in a Bill which at first sight seem to some hon. Members to be undesirable. If the Bill contains some great fundamental principle which excites great controversy, then that is a Bill suitable for debating on Second Reading, and for defeating if you possibly can; but it is impossible to say that the question whether there should or should not he a centralised laundry is a fundamental principle of that kind, because the Minister has told us that such things have already been approved in the past. Therefore on the ground of that fundamental principle it is impossible for my hon. Friend to take that stand.
It is also not a question of fundamental principle what piece of land the building should occupy: that is obviously a matter for detailed consideration. But if a particular choice raises issues of importance of the kind that has been raised by this Bill to-night, it is a good thing that the Bill should be debated on Second Reading, so that when it goes before the Committee upstairs, and more particularly when it goes before the Unopposed Bills Committee, where the opponents will not be present, that Committee has the guidance which arises from a Debate in the House. The Committee is aware that the matter does excite public interest, and therefore naturally the Committee, as in duty bound, will give to the controversial aspects of a Bill a greater scrutiny than it would if there had been no protest whatever. To say that is not to reflect on the admirable way in which the Unopposed Bills Committee does its business. But I do think that, having regard to the Debate which has taken place, and to the views expressed by the Minister, my hon. Friend would be wise not to ask the House to vote on his Amendment and should ask leave to withdraw it.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
I should not have thought myself that a county council Bill on this very limited issue could have given so many Members an opportunity of riding their hobby horses as this one has done. We have heard from the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) about Ilkley Moor which is a very long way from Surrey, we have heard from the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) about the origin of modern cemeteries, and we have finally had a speech from the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) about extravagance in general, winding up—in a way which always reminds the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench that he once sat there himself and can do their jobs so much better than they can—by tendering advice to the hon. Member for Swindon. I can only hope that the hon. Member for Swindon will take good advice, even when it comes from a bad quarter, and that he will realise that his hon. Friend has had some experience of the Front Bench and is particularly well qualified to interpret its oracular attitude to the minds of humbler people sitting behind them.
I want first to make this point with regard to the laundries. The population of Surrey during the past ten years has grown tremendously. Every year the equivalent of a town of about 40,000 people is added to the population, and this has been concentrated in the area around London. There are two existing Poor Law institutions which have laundries, Epsom and Kingston, both of which institutions came into existence immediately after the passing of the Poor Law Act, 1834. Their present premises are quite insufficient to deal with the demands of the far larger population that now lives round them, and it is essential that the land now occupied by the laundries there should be used for general hospital and Poor Law purposes. The laundries are antiquated, and it is desirable in the interests of efficiency that they be brought up to date. The erection of a new hospital at St. Helier has afforded the council an opportunity of concentrating this work, and I do not think that any prudent local authority would do other than establish a laundry to deal with the work from these three institutions.
When it came to the question of a site we were faced with this problem in 823 Surrey, that it is very difficult to find a site near a population that is likely to provide a sufficiency of the kind of labour that is needed. But there was established by the London County Council a big housing estate, housing some 40,000 people, in a district where there is very little employment available, and it seemed tfhat we should be carrying on the work that the London County Council had done if we established near their housing estate, where there was little employment, some industry that would demand a fair quantity of labour of a kind that was not otherwise being utilised. For that reason this land near the St. Helier estate seemed to be suitable. Carshalton Urban Council had acquired in 1898 a site for a cemetery, but in the intervening years that site has been so closely built up that it has become no longer suitable as a cemetery site. It is, however, the most advantageous site for this laundry; and, while it is true that you can build a laundry of two or three storeys, anyone who can avoid doing so will do so.
The 12 acres that are available at this old cemetery site were admirably situated, and have all the characteristics that were desired for an efficient laundry. Carshalton Urban Council are perfectly willing to part with the land to the county council provided that they can get alternative land; but when they went to the Minister of Health they were told that because he had sanctioned this site in 1898 as a cemetery, he could not sanction its use for any other purpose; nor could he give his sanction to the disposal of it, and he could not sanction their getting other land while the existing sanction on the present land was in existence.
There was thus a complete impasse. But for that impasse the House would not have been worried with this Bill at all. It is merely to deal with this highly technical point in local government law and administration that these two councils have been compelled to come here this evening. The hon. Member for Hitchin mentioned some questions that were put to me in cross-examination by Sir Patrick Hastings in Committee in another place, because it must not be thought that this Bill went through another place by default. Sir Patrick Hastings after all is a leading counsel and has been Attorney-General, and the fact that he was brought in opposition to 824 a Bill so small as this indicates that the Bill in the first House was properly fought by the opponents. In the course of that cross-examination I was asked some questions, but the hon. Member, in reading my evidence, might also have mentioned the line of cross-examination which was adopted against me by Sir Patrick Hastings with regard to the proper use of this land. Sir Patrick did not suggest that it ought to be an open space. He said, "It is now used for grazing; will it not be a hardship on the proprietor of this dairy holding if he is expropriated?" At that time he did not suggest in cross-examination that this was suitable land for playing-fields at all, and the hon. Member for Swindon has no guarantee that a cricket ball will ever be bowled on this land, or a football kicked. All that the present owner wants to do is to preserve it unbuilt on for his lifetime. The hon. Member for Swindon has had an interview with him.
§ Mr. Wakefield
I am suggesting that the Surrey County Council ought to preserve it for all time, by town-planning, as an open space.
§ Mr. Ede
The Surrey County Council is not the town-planning authority for the area. The area in which the land s situated is that of the borough of Malden and Coombe, and that borough has already purchased, as public open space, over 21 per cent. of its own area. After all, it will become very difficult for some of these local authorities who are preserving as much as one-fifth of their own area if the House is going to say that, having done that, they are to purchase this land, as the hon. Member wants, for Greater London.
§ Mr. Ede
If it is town-planned as an open space, let us consider what will happen then. The hon. Member will agree with me that the present owner's life is not worth many years' purchase. The hon. Member has seen him, and I have. He survived me all right, but the hon. Member saw him after me. I do not suggest his death will be cause and effect. I put it to the hon. Member for Swindon that the most that the present owner will say with regard to this or any other land in his ownership is that he will undertake that during his life- 825 time it will not be built on. He told me, in relation to other land that was ultimately purchased as an open space by the joint action of the Surrey County Council, the London County Council and the Merton and Morden Urban District Council: "My father left me this estate unencumbered, and his advice to me was that I should never do anything in my lifetime that would place any bar upon what my successor might do with the land when it got to him; that is the principle I have always maintained, and it is the principle I will continue to maintain."
The hon. Member for Swindon then proceeded to deal with the relationship of this land to the National Fitness Movement. As the hon. Member knows very well, the chairman of the London and Middlesex Committee has arranged with the chairmen of the surrounding committees that where land in their area is required for London, he will consult with them with regard to it. Sir Wyndham Deedes, the chairman of the London and Middlesex Committee, is a man who has been looking all round for land. He has never put this piece of land up to us for consideration. If he had done so, the Joint Committee would have met at once and would have considered it. No one, apart from the hon. Member for Swindon, has ever suggested this piece of land to us. The only level part of it is being taken for a school with its playing-fields, which are to be available for some other schools of the district. The remainder of the land has a fall of 20 feet. I always objected to bowling uphill.
§ Mr. Wakefield
If the hon. Member will permit me to interrupt him, I looked at this land to be sure that it would he suitable for playing-fields. It has a very nice, gentle curve which is natural drainage. It is just the sort of surface one wants for playing-fields.
§ Mr. Ede
I can only hope that when the hon. Gentleman used to play football, and his captain lost the toss, so that the hon. Member had to kick uphill during the last part of the game he consoled himself with the thought that it was a nice gentle curve which was natural drainage. When my captain used to put me on to bowl uphill, I always thought that I should have done better if I had been allowed to change ends. This land, without considerable expenditure, cannot 826 be adapted for playing-fields for the adolescents and adults for whom the hon. Member pleaded. Hon. Members have had the opportunity this evening of voicing their pet projects, and I hope that has been some consolation to those who have spoken; but I am bound to say that I have never heard a case presented by the opponents of a Bill which has been farther away from the exact facts than this one. I hope the House will realise that it would not have been called upon to deal with this Bill except for the highly technical point which arose with regard to the exchange of these two pieces of land for a cemetery.
With regard to the placing of cemeteries on chalk, no matter what the hon. Member for Hitchin may say, there is very considerable feeling on the part of the population now being concentrated on the Northern side of the North Downs that the great gathering grounds for their water supplies ought to be preserved from all possible contamination. These great fissures go up to the chalk, and nobody knows until a well is sunk exactly where it is going to hit one. It may easily drop into one only a few feet below the surface in ground in which decomposing matter may go through the chalk, and drop into the underground streams that supply that great population.
When I gave my evidence before the Committee in another place, I had that in mind. For over 20 years I have been a member of a local authority and for many years I was chairman of its water committee, which derived its water from this chalk bank. We lived in constant terror of what might happen through that possible contamination. This area has a right to be protected from the possible contamination of its water supply. Immediately on the south of Carshalton, within the boundaries of that parish, that great chalk ridge starts, and it stretches for six or seven miles southwards. South of Carshalton they can get a cemetery only on the chalk, and therefore I suggest that it is highly desirable, in view of public opinion in the locality, that the cemetery should be sited where it has been arranged.
After all, this is the sort of arrangement that local authorities are always being urged to make. They are urged to get together and to try to deal with their problems on a mutual basis. The Car- 827 shalton Urban Council and the Surrey County Council have done that, and had it not been for the highly technical point to which I have referred, the whole of this matter could have been arranged without the House being troubled about it, and no doubt some of the transactions could even have been carried through without the approval of the Minister of Health having to be sought. Consequently, I suggest that the advice which the Minister has tendered, that this Bill should go upstairs and there be examined, is advice which the House would do well to follow. If it should happen that that Committee should fail to do it justice—under the chairmanship of the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means it cannot be anticipated that other than the fullest inquiry will be given to the matter—or if it should emerge from Committee in a state which the House dislikes, there will still be the Report stage and the Third Reading, to which the House can take exception. I sincerely hope that the hon. Member for Swindon will feel that, having ventilated the subject at the length at which it has been, he can now agree to withdraw the Amendment, and allow the Bill to proceed.
§ 9.45 P.m.
§ Mr. Lyons
I realise the work which has been done for a good many years by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in connection with local government in Surrey, and I hope he will not consider it any lack of courtesy on my part if I do not follow him on many of the matters with which he has dealt. Knowing his record of work for the Surrey County Council, none of us would desire to belittle the points which he has made or the attitude which he has taken up on this Bill, but there are one or two matters on which I think the House is entitled to enlightenment before coming to a decision. We have not been told, for instance, whether these proposals involve any additional cost to the already over-burdened ratepayers, and if so, to what amount. The ratepayers in Surrey, as in almost every other county to-day, labour under burdens which are becoming well-nigh intolerable, as one scheme after another is placed upon their shoulders by local authorities. We ought to be told therefore by some of the supporters of the Bill whether acceptance of its provisions means any additional charge on the rates, 828 and if so, what will be the extent of the additional charge.
I would make this complaint about the memorandum in support of the Bill, circulated by the Surrey County Council, that it lacks candour and does not give us a great deal of information which we ought to have. I think it only right to say that no such lobbying has been adopted on behalf of those who are opposed to the Measure. The memorandum deliberately omits to deal with several points and gives no estimate of cost. The hon. Member for South Shields said this was a limited issue, but I submit that that is not the right view to take of it. The issue is whether a local authority is to be allowed, whenever it likes and for whatever purpose it likes, to increase the ratepayers' burden without definitely substantiating a case for the increased cost. I do not know whether the ratepayers of Surrey will be satisfied at being asked to undertake another charge which might have been spared them. We are not told whether among the ratepayers of this county there are not proprietors of laundries which might help to do the work for which this central laundry is being erected. The hon. Member might tell us, for instance, what is the estimated cost of this special county laundry which is to be used exclusively for county work.
§ Mr. Ede
It will cost exactly as much as and no more than any alternative scheme. The county council is only doing what every public assistance authority has done, namely, arranging for its own laundry work to be done on its own premises. If this scheme is not passed, the county council will have to turn to some alternative scheme, and we are advised that the proposed scheme is the cheapest possible.
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
Do I understand that this laundry is to be used for dealing only with linen from the adjoining hospitals and that work is not to be brought into it from all over the county?
§ Mr. Ede
If the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) had done me the honour of listening to me when he was conversing with the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield), he would have heard me explain why it has become necessary to remove the existing laundries at Epsom and Kingston from their limited sites. Those places are about five 829 or six miles from the proposed site at Carshalton and the transport will not be a very heavy item, but it would be impossible to erect the hospital accommodation which is necessary at Epsom and Kingston and continue the laundries in those places.
§ Mr. Ede
We are building a new hospital for 862 additional patients owing to the growth of the population of the county. Clearly, a laundry for that hospital will be an additional charge, and will have to be dealt with in this way or some other way. As regards the laundries at Epsom and Kingston, we believe that dealing with the work at Carshalton will be cheaper. Those institutions are over 100 years old and the buildings and equipment are antiquated and we are advised that by using modern machinery we shall be able to do the work at a substantial saving.
§ Mr. Lyons
The hon. Member's statement clarifies the position to some extent, but I would still remark that we are apparently being asked to impose an additional cost for this laundry on the ratepayers without having it established that it is essential and that there is no alternative. It may be said that it is a matter for the local authority to decide, but many local authorities do things without any justification at all, without rhyme or reason, and the ratepayers are committed—generally by Socialist councils—to expenditure which has no justification at all. I am not suggesting that this is a case in which that is being done. I am not trying to controvert what has been said by the hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Lyons
If there is any misapprehension in the hon. Member's mind, let me remove it at once by saying that it is not only Socialist councils who are to blame in this respect. The blame attaches just as much to non-Socialist councils as to Socialist councils and I do not want to score any party point in that connec- 830 tion. Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right. This is not a Socialist council, but there are many instances of wanton and unjustifiable and extravagant burdens being put upon ratepayers by councils not of a Socialist composition. The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) moved his Amendment in the hope that the House would not allow the Bill to proceed. Whether the Amendment is forced to a Division or not. I hope that in any case, if further consideration is to be given to the Bill, that it will be closely scrutinised on two substantial points. First, is this proposal essential and is there no alternative to it which would not impose a charge on the ratepayers; and secondly, is the additional cost involved one that can be accepted by this House? As I said, the ratepayers of the country, in both Socialist and non-Socialist areas, are being called upon to accept burdens which are becoming intolerable, and if my hon. Friend does not press his Amendment to a Division, I hope the points which have been raised, will be considered by those who are responsible for the detailed examination of these proposals.
§ Mr. Wakefield
Having regard to what has been said to-night, and to the fact that an opportunity has been given for ventilating this whole matter, and as there will be an opportunity of considering it in Committee upstairs, my friends and I do not propose to take this matter to a Division, but we should like to reserve our rights on the Report stage. With the leave of the House, I will therefore withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed.