§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
I beg to move,That a Select Committee be appointed to consider and report upon plans for the rebuilding of the House of Commons and upon such alterations as may be considered desirable while preserving all its essential features.On the night of 10th May, 1941, with one of the last bombs of the last serious raid, our House of Commons was destroyed by the violence of the enemy, and we have now to consider whether we should build it up again, and how, and when. We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us. Having dwelt and served for more than 40 years in the late Chamber, and having derived fiery great pleasure and advantage therefrom, I, naturally, would like to see it restored in all essentials to its old form, convenience and dignity. I believe that will be the opinion of the great majority of its Members. It is certainly the opinion of His Majesty's Government and we propose to support this resolution to the best of our ability.
There are two main characteristics of the House of Commons which will command the approval and the support of reflective and experienced Members. They will, I have no doubt, sound odd to foreign ears. The first is that its shape should be oblong and not semi-circular. Here is a very potent factor in our political life. The semi-circular assembly, which appeals to political theorists, enables every individual or every group to move round the centre, adopting various shades of pink according as the weather changes. I am a convinced supporter of the party system in preference to the group system. I have sewn many earnest and ardent Parliaments destroyed by the group system. The party system is much favoured by the oblong form of Chamber. It is easy for an individual to move through those insensible gradations from Left to Right but the act of crossing the Floor is one 404 which requires serious consideration. I am well informed on this matter, for I have accomplished that difficult process, not only once but twice. Logic is a poor guide compared with custom. Logic which has created in so many countries semi-circular assemblies which have buildings which give to every Member, not only a seat to sit in but often a desk to write at, with a lid to bang, has proved fatal to Parliamentary Government as we know it here in its home and in the land of its birth.
The second characteristic of a Chamber formed on the lines of the House of Commons is that it should not be big enough to contain all its Members at once without over-crowding and that there should be no question of every Member having a separate seat reserved for him. The reason for this has long been a puzzle to uninstructed outsiders and has frequently excited the curiosity and even the criticism of new Members. Yet it is not so difficult to understand if you look at it from a practical point of view. If the House is big enough to contain all its Members, nine-tenths of its Debates will be conducted in the depressing atmosphere of an almost empty or half-empty Chamber. The essence of good House of Commons speaking is the conversational style, the facility for quick, informal interruptions and interchanges. Harangues from a rostrum would be a bad substitute for the conversational style in which so much of our business is done. But the conversational style requires a fairly small space, and there should be on great occasions a sense of crowd and urgency. There should be a sense of the importance of much that is said and a sense that great matters are being decided, there and then, by the House.
We attach immense importance to the survival of Parliamentary democracy. In this country this is one of our war aims. We wish to see our Parliament a strong, easy, flexible instrument of free Debate. For this purpose a small Chamber and a sense of intimacy are indispensable. It is notable that the Parliaments of the British Commonwealth have to a very large extent reproduced our Parliamentary institutions in their form as well as in their spirit, even to the Chair in which the Speakers of the different Assemblies sit. We do not seek to impose our ideas on others; we make no invidious criticisms of other nations. All the same we hold, none the less, 405 tenaciously to them ourselves. The vitality and the authority of the House of Commons and its hold upon an electorate, based upon universal suffrage, depends to no small extent upon its episodes and great moments, even upon its scenes and rows, which, as everyone will agree, are better conducted at close quarters. Destroy that hold which Parliament has upon the public mind and has preserved through all these changing, turbulent times and the living organism of the House of Commons would be greatly impaired. You may have a machine, but the House of. Commons is much more than a machine; it has earned and captured and held through long generations the imagination and respect of the British nation. It is not free from shortcomings; they mark all human institutions. Nevertheless, I submit to what is probably not an unfriendly audience on that subject that our House has proved itself capable of adapting itself to every change which the swift pace of modern life has brought upon us. It has a collective personality which enjoys the regard of the public and which imposes itself upon the conduct not only of individual Members but of parties. It has a code of its own which everyone knows, and it has means of its own of enforcing those manners and habits which have grown up and have been found to be an essential part of our Parliamentary life.
The House of Commons has lifted our affairs above the mechanical sphere into the human sphere. It thrives on criticism, it is perfectly impervious to newspaper abuse or taunts from any quarter, and it is capable of digesting almost anything or almost any body of gentlemen, whatever be the views with which they arrive. There is no situation to which it cannot address itself with vigour and ingenuity. It is the citadel of British liberty; it is the foundation of our laws; its traditions and its privileges are as lively to-day as when it broke the arbitrary power of the Crown and substituted that Constitutional Monarchy under which we have enjoyed so many blessings. In this war the House of Commons has proved itself to be a rock upon which an Administration, without losing the confidence of the House, has been able to confront the most terrible emergencies. The House has shown itself able to face the possibility of national destruction with classical composure. It can change Governments, 406 and has changed them by heat of passion. It can sustain Governments in long, adverse, disappointing struggles through many dark, grey months and even years until the sun comes out again. I do not know how else this country can be governed other than by the House of Commons playing its part in all its broad freedom in British public life. We have learned—with these so recently confirmed facts around us and before us—not to alter improvidently the physical structures which have enabled so remarkable an organism to carry on its work of banning dictatorships within this island and pursuing and beating into ruin all dictators who have molested us from outside.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me—
§ The Prime Minister
I think I might be allowed to proceed. I shall not be very long, and then perhaps my hon. Friend can make his own speech. His Majesty's Government are most anxious and are indeed resolved to ask the House to adhere firmly in principle to the structure and characteristics of the House of Commons we have known, and I do not doubt that that is the wish of the great majority of the Members in this the second longest Parliament of our history. If challenged, we must take issue upon that by the customary Parliamentary method of Debate followed by a Division. The question of Divisions again relates very directly to the structure of the House of Commons. We must look forward to periods when Divisions will be much more frequent than they are now. Many of us have seen 20 or 30 in a single Parliamentary Sitting, and in the Lobbies of the Chamber which Hitler shattered we had facilities and conveniences far exceeding those which we are able to enjoy in this lordly abode. I am, therefore, proposing in the name of His Majesty's Government that we decide to rebuild the House of Commons on its old foundations, which are intact, and in principle within its old dimensions, and that we utilise so far as possible its shattered walls. That is also the most cheap and expeditious method we could pursue to provide ourselves with a habitation.
I now come to some of the more practical issues which are involved. It is said that we should wait until the end of the 407 war, and I think perhaps that was the point my hon. Friend opposite wished to put. Certainly we must do nothing which appreciably detracts from the war effort, but what we have to do in the first instance is to make up our minds and have a plan and have the preliminary work and survey effectively done, so that at the end of the war, if not earlier, we can start without delay and build ourselves a House again. All this will be a matter for the Committee, which will certainly have more than 15 Members of the House, representative of the different parties and different points of view. I am, however, not entirely convinced that it may not be found possible to make definite progress with this work even during the course of the war. The First Commissioner of Works has submitted a scheme which would enable the old House of Commons to be reconstructed with certain desirable improvements-and modernisations affecting the ventilation, lavatories, accommodation for the Press, the ladies' gallery and other prominent features. This scheme would take only 18 months, but it would be prudent—and those concerned with building houses would, I think, feel that it would be prudent—to count on double that period, because everything must be fitted in with war needs and also because it is the habit of architects and builders usually to be more sanguine when putting forward their plans than is subsequently found to be justified by the actual facts. The last House of Commons, the one which was set up after the fire in 1834, was promised in six years and actually took 27 years—
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
We had not a bricklayer Prime Minister then.
§ The Prime Minister
—and so, when I speak of rebuilding the House of Commons in 18 months, it is, of course, without panelling or carving, which can be added as the years pass by. It is simply a Chamber for us to dwell in and conduct our Business as we require to do. The timber must be set aside now if it is to be properly seasoned. The Clipsham Quarry, from which the stone was procured for the maintenance and replacement of the Houses of Parliament, is temporarily closed. It would have to be reopened. We must then consider very carefully the strain upon our labour 408 resources. The First Commissioner informs me that for the first six months after the plan has been started, after the word "Go" has been given, only 46 quarrymen and demolition men would be required, of which half would be over 40 years of age and the other half over 50 years of age. In the second six months 185 men would be required over 40 and an equal number over 50. But of those over 50 years of age 60 would be masons, whose trade has so little work at the present time. In the third six months—and we shall be getting on by then—we shall require 170 men, not additional, over 40 and an equal number over 50. All the 170 over 50 would come from the building trade; the 170 over 40 and under 50 would come from the engineering trade. This last is a much more serious consideration. But there is no need for us, even when the whole scheme is approved and the work has begun, to commit ourselves to the rate of reconstruction. We can fit it in as a stand-by job. It might well be that in a year's time, when we require men from the engineering trade, our affairs might be in such a posture that we should be looking for jobs rather than for men.
However, the House is not asked to commit itself to any decisions of this kind. On the contrary, the Committee has first of all to make its decisions of principle and then the execution of these decisions must be a matter for the Government to carry out as and when the public interest requires and strictly within the limits of the war effort. All the same, I must tell you, Mr. Speaker, that it would be a real danger if at the end of the war we find ourselves separated by a long period from the possibility of obtaining a restored and suitable House of Commons Chamber. We are building warships that will not be finished for many years ahead, and various works of construction are going forward for war purposes. But I am bound to say that I rank the House of Commons—the most powerful Assembly in the whole world—at least as important as a fortification or a battleship, even in time of war. Politics may be very fierce and violent in the after-war days. We may have all the changes in personnel following upon a General Election. We shall certainly lave an immense press of Business and, very likely, of stormy controversy. We must have a good, well-tried and convenient place 409 in which to do our work. The House owes it to itself, it owes it to the nation, to make sure that there is no gap, no awkward, injurious hiatus in the continuity of our Parliamentary life. I am to-day only expressing the views of the Government, but if the House sets up the Committee and in a few months' time the Committee give us their Report, we shall be able to take decisions together on the whole matter, and not be caught at a disadvantage in what must inevitably be a time of particular stress and crisis at the end of the war, from a Parliamentary point of view. Therefore, I ask that the Committee should be set up, and I feel sure that it will be able to make a good plan of action leaving the necessary latitude to the Government as to the time when this action can be taken and the speed at which it can be carried into effect having regard to the prime exigencies of the war.
We owe a great debt to the House of Lords for having placed at our disposal this spacious, splendid hall. We have already expressed in formal Resolution our thanks to them. We do not wish to outstay our welcome. We have been greatly convenienced by our sojourn on these red benches and under this gilded, ornamented, statue-bedecked roof. I express my gratitude and appreciation of what we have received and enjoyed, butMid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
I am sure the House has enjoyed the Prime Minister's speech fully as much as he obviously enjoyed making it. It was the Prime Minister in the genial mood in which some of us prefer to see him. This is not a party question. It is a question that affects all of us. I remember that Sunday morning. I was the first member of the Government to see the blazing Chamber. I found it very difficult to express my feelings at that time. I felt a sense of personal loss, which I knew would be shared by all Members of the House, and, I am bound to say, an intensified sense of bitterness against the author of the damage. I am not by nature a conservative, though some of my friends think I am, but on these matters conservatism shows itself at its best. I should myself have felt most unhappy if we had had to live for long in what we called the 410 annexe, We were grateful for the habitation at the time, but one felt that it was not a Chamber consonant with the dignity of this House. It looked rather like an attempt at cheap fiction.
I think myself the Government are right in trying as far as possible, and having regard to efficiency, to restore the old Chamber. At the same time I feel that there are improvements which could obviously be made in all kinds of ways. I believe that our Assembly after the war will be a focus for people from all parts of the world. I am certain that the great newspapers of the world will come to be more strongly represented in our Chamber, in the Press Galleries, and, if we could somehow or another improve the ventilation, which I have always heard defended, though I never met any Member of the House who thought it was any good, that would be to the good. It we could modernise the building, in as far as we can, without in any way altering its historical character, if we could make further provision for the public and for the Press—I admit that is difficult—I think that would be all to the good. I think the Select Committee ought to get to work fairly quickly. I share the Prime Minister's view that a long hiatus, gradually outstaying our welcome, would be losing something of the spirit of the old place, which will go in time unless we get back, would be a national loss and a loss to the Chamber, and I hope, therefore, the House will accept the Motion and that the Select Committee will be appointed, and then, I think, will be the time to talk at greater length on the proposals put before us.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
May I ask you, Sir, whether you are proposing to call any of the Amendments on the Paper?
§ Mr. Speaker
I did not propose to call any of these Amendments.
§ Mr. Maxton
I regret that very much. The Prime Minister knows that I am not hostile to the proposal that a Select Committee should be set up to consider the matter. I think he is also aware that I had very great fondness for the other Chamber. I have the same sort of nostalgia as he expressed it in his well-chosen peroration. I think he is giving his Select Committee much too narrow a mandate, I do not know whom he is proposing to put 411 on it, whether he is thinking in terms of putting on senior Members of the House, who are past the age of thinking in terms of looking forward, or whether he is thinking of the young men who are going to lead the country in the future, but I should like him to think in terms of an entire change. I think the Chamber as it is now should be preserved as a historic monument, as a reminder to men for all time of the period that we have gone through. I think we should think of growing into a new type of world after this war, and I think we should think in terms of starting in different surroundings to make plans and preparations for the new world. After all, the great things about the British Parliamentary system did not grow up in the last 104 or 105 years during which that Chamber has existed. The Chamber across the corridor has not any great record of antiquity behind it. It was not built in one of the finest periods of British history. There is in the Forest of Dean an ancient building which has as fine a record in the development of the Parliamentary system of this country as had the Chamber over the way. There are one or two buildings in Edinburgh which are now just historic monuments which played some considerable part in the constitutional development of the present Parliamentary system. There are places where mud huts used to stand, where wise men used to meet for their deliberations.
The Prime Minister is straining it too far when he tries to make out that the essence of the Parliamentary system depends on the continuation of these somewhat cramped premises built about 104 years ago. I think world politics are going to be of more importance in the post-war period than ever before, and we should think in terms of going away from this site altogether. The Prime Minister has reminded us that we are strangers in this part of the premises, but even at the other end we were only the tenants of furnished apartments and were there not on sufferance but by the good will of the owner. I should like to see premises built on a fine site, in good English parkland, as near to London as the kind of land can be got—some 20 miles out, I should say, is not an impossible distance—and there I would erect the finest building that British architecture 412 can devise. I would create it for the purpose that we have in mind—Britain playing a primary part in world politics. I would have regard to the fact that we hope and expect to be in day-to-day touch not merely with the Parliaments of the Dominions but with the Parliaments of other countries. I would have a railway station especially in those grounds, I would have a fine car park, I would have an aerodrome, I would have everything done on the finest and biggest scale, a place to which the nations of the world knew they had to come to discuss the problems that interest them and interest us, and with every convenience on the spot both for receiving them in hospitable fashion and enabling them to carry on work in an effective way on their arrival.
I only sketch those conceptions in the very broadest outline. I think the Prime Minister should not prejudge and prevent a wider consideration of the scheme. He has the appointment of the Select Committe in his hands. He can put on it all the old deadheads of the House if he pleases. But give them a mandate that is really worthy of a Select Committee of this Hour, because what he is asking them to do is not work for a Select Committee. It is work for a foreman engineer. Let him give the Select Committee something to think of, to consider alternative proposals and to consider that we hope we are moving into a different kind of world from that which we have lived in in the past, in which these limited premises were completely inadequate and would be quite unsuitable to the probable development of world politics.
Let me say this other thing. I think the right hon. Gentleman will remember that I took an active part with himself in getting us these premises. I was anxious that during this war period we should remain in this building. I thought it would have been a bad thing from every point of view if we had left these premises permanently during the war, and I was glad that this temporary arrangement could be made within the great Palace of Westminster. But in coming back here I was fully conscious, because I am not a hero like the majority of Members of this House, that this place was of no use to me as giving adequate protection. I was very glad indeed that 413 we had a gas proof shelter underneath. I thought that was fine, particularly when there was no gas, but I was also conscious that this place did not afford to me the sort of protection I should have liked to have; and when the Prime Minister encouraged me by saying that we were sitting on the target I did not feel any better. But I came, none the less, because I felt it was right and proper that we should be in these premises. I see there are some people talking about the possibility of another war after this one. There is in that at least this bit of hope—it suggests that this one is going to end; but as intelligent men we have to count on the possibility that this war may not be the last war, and I feel that the Select Committee should consider housing Parliament in premises where there would be some greater protection for the House of Commons and the Noble Lords when they are carrying on their labours.
§ The Prime Minister
There are always the Admiralty Buildings.
§ Mr. Maxton
The right hon. Gentleman must remember that while he has access to all the various Government premises round about Whitehall the rest of us have just got to be content with this place.
§ The Prime Minister
I meant for the Houses.
§ Mr. Maxton
I do not want to go underground with the House of Commons. I do not want to get down into a hole to do my work. I think there is some reasonable medium between a decently-constructed modern building and this somewhat inadequate place where we are now. I do not want to argue the details now, but I urge the Prime Minister to extend the terms of reference to the Select Committee so that they can have regard to all those considerations which I have put forward and many others that can arise in the minds of other hon. Members. I do not want to have a Division on this matter, because it is not a matter that we should divide about, but one on which we should try to arrive at a harmonious and common understanding, and I am certain the Motion before us is not big enough to allow proper consideration to be given to this subject.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)
There are one or two remarks which I should 414 like to make on this matter. First, I cordially agree with what the Prime Minister said about the homeliness of the House of Commons and the conversational method of conducting our affairs. We have just had an example of it in the conversation between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Independent Labour Party. Modern ideas of bell pushes, desks, inkpots and so on would certainly destroy the personal touch which we all enjoy and which I was long enough in the old House of Commons to enjoy to the full. We could not fail to agree with what is in the mind of the Leader of the Independent Labour Party, his dream of some magnificent building away from London, but although we must feel sympathy with what he had to say, I do not think it is relevant to the rebuilding of our House of Commons. But it is a fact that ever since I have had anything to do with politics I have realised that we as a great country have no building which is at all worthy of the greatness of the Empire and of this country in which to entertain people from overseas, from Europe and so on. I remember Sir Austen Chamberlain saying to me that he thought it was a tragedy that a great conference and party which were to be held in London had to meet in one of London's picture galleries, Burlington House, and on many other occasions conferences have had to meet in buildings not any more suitable than Burlington House. The whole of that side of the matter is not relevant to the question of a new House of Commons, but it is a subject which, I submit, ought to be carefully debated one day, so that some fine building worthy of the greatness of this country and the Empire may be erected.
There is one last word I have to say. Most hon. Members realise that we very nearly lost this House. They have only to look above their heads to see the wound that was made in the roof and to pull up the carpet which is in front of us to see the wound in the Floor. So we nearly lost two Houses. Coming from the other House into this, one cannot fail to notice the difficulty of the acoustics here. I speak as an unfortunate individual who lost the mechanical part of his left ear in an accident some years ago, with the result that I feel that the acoustics here might be very much improved. Whatever the Committee do, I trust they will realise that in the old 415 House of Commons all those Members who wished to be heard and made certain of being heard could be heard, but a great many speakers in the House of Commons do not really enunciate properly and make perfectly certain that everything they are saying shall be heard by everybody. It is right that everybody who is in the House when a Member is speaking should be able to hear him—I am not speaking of the incurably deaf, but of the ordinary individual who is not deaf. Hon. Members both on the other side and this side of the House must recall times when they have sat behind Ministers and others making most important speeches when they have not been able to hear. Over and over again in this House and in the other we have heard the remark "Would you kindly speak up?"
§ Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
No, "Speak up"—not kindly.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish
Sometimes it is said rather roughly. I press that particular point because without having any real technical knowledge of acoustics I think it should be easy to make the building as perfect as possible by scientific methods, and I ask the Committee to call in the best technical knowledge they can command to make as certain as possible that everybody shall be able to hear everything, whether it is good or bad. Finally, I want to express the love, which I share with all Members of the House of Commons, for our old home, and to look forward to a new one being set up at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
I should like to say just three things, largely following what the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said. I am afraid that what he said, although it might have been a useful contribution if the whole or the major portion of these buildings had been destroyed, hardly fills the bill when we realise that most of the Palace has been saved. It seems to me that the speech of the Prime Minister was based upon that fact. It is pleasant to be in so spacious a Chamber as this, but I am positive that, in spite of the red benches, most of us would prefer to be back in our own home. For two very obvious reasons. The whole centre of gravity of this place is round about the old Chamber, and although I have not worked it out, and 416 do not propose to do so, I think it could be easily demonstrated that the loss of time to Ministers and to Members in coming to this end of the Palace amounts to an appreciable number of hours in the course of a year. The second reason why this Chamber, though so useful as a stop gap, is not the kind of place we should put up with for longer than is necessary, is that the public galleries are very inadequate. People who sit in the public galleries can see very little of what goes on. It is the essence of democracy that the public should have admission to our Debates, but for the vast majority of visitors it must be a very uncomfortable experience to sit in the galleries hearing voices but not knowing who is speaking. Therefore, the sooner we do get back into a reconstructed Chamber the better it will be both for Members and for those who come to listen to our Debates.
Those of us who know the surroundings of the old Chamber know very well that it is possible to increase certain of the amenities while keeping within the main walls, which still stand, and I think the Motion moved by the Prime Minister is based on that assumption and adequately covers the ground in the light of the obvious fact that it would take many years to build elsewhere and to transplant Parliament to parkland, somewhere out in Buckinghamshire or wherever the place is the hon. Member for Bridgeton has in mind. It is best that we should build on what we have got left, with all its surrounding associations. We can there, even in the limited space at our disposal, get most of the amenities we desire, both for Members and for the public who come to listen to our Debates, in the shortest space of time.
§ Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
I listened with deep interest to the Prime Minister's speech, and, like the Prime Minister, I should like to get back to the old House. Naturally people of a certain age hate changing houses and hate changing customs. But I do feel the Prime Minister is thinking backwards instead of forwards. We may need to get into premises on this site at once, but I am certain that he has missed something. He is thinking of what we have been used to; he thinks the world is going on as before. I do not think that at all. I believe that just as the houses in which we live are changing so public places will have to 417 change, and the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) was right in saying that the terms of reference to the Committee should be enlarged. The Prime Minister has always looked backwards, more or less. All historians have to look backwards, or they would not be historians, but the time has come when the House of Commons has to look forward. When we talk about our intimacy and all the comforts we have had in the old House, which nobody enjoyed more than I did, I hate to think there is a fear that they may not come back, but I do not believe things are going to be the same. I do not believe there is going to be this brave new world which everyone is talking about. Where are the brave new people? You cannot build a different world until you have different people. I do not believe that people have changed so much. I do not believe that my children are a bit better than I am. I know what public life is. When we talk of things which are going to get better all of a sudden when the war is stopped, I do not believe it, but I do believe that there is a more reasonable time coming. We can see it now among the people who have been in this war.
I believe that we shall emerge out of this fight into a more reasonable age. It may be better to have a circular House. I have often felt that it might be better if Ministers and ex-Ministers did not have to sit and look at each other, almost like dogs on a leash, and that controversy would not be so violent. I do not think there is any merit in violent controversies, and I do not believe that the fights in the House of Commons helped democracy. This House looks quite different from outside from what it does inside. We think it is all very well to have long speeches about nothing and try to put Ministers on the mat, but the people in the country do not see it that way. The people who sit here making rows do not see it as the people see it; they are having a good time making them. I am certain that the Prime Minister is not in touch with the world that is coming, if he thinks that we ought to build a House of Commons exactly like the one we had. I am certain that he is wrong, and I hope that he will broaden the terms of reference. I hope that Members of the House of Commons, especially the younger Members, will press their views upon the Prime Minister. I would prefer to go back to 418 the old House that has been our life for the last 25 years, but I hope and pray that it will not be the life in the future, and I beg the Prime Minister to reconsider the matter.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:consideration of plans for the rebuilding of the House of Commons be deferred until the end of the war.I think I am the odd man out, because I am opposing the whole of the Prime Minister's Motion. I believe that the time is not opportune to deal with the matter while the country is in such a terrible state. What will be the message to the people? That the House of Commons is discussing what appears to be an academic thing when very much more important matters wait to be dealt with. Anybody witnessing such a Debate would think that Members of tire House of Commons do not have regard to the welfare of the people of the country but only to themselves, in getting ready some place to go to.
Are we badly housed here? Is anything wrong with this place at the present time? Are we not able to carry on our business? If anybody can prove that we are not, I will say, "Get another place. We had better prepare some kind of a mansion for ourselves where we can be more at home than we have been." I think that the Prime Minister to-day was missing the point. He was speaking about the old associations and what the House of Commons meant. We all know about that, and no one opposes that kind of thing. I am only opposing the waste of time in trying to get something ready, when there is no immediate need for it. It may be said that it is only a proposal that a Select Committee should examine the matter, but I understand that the Select Committee would be getting ready to do something. The Prime Minister said that if the Select Committee determined upon certain aspects, we should start to put its recommendations into operation.
What will be the feeling of people who have been bombed out of their houses when men and materials cannot be found to put those houses right? Their humble dwellings have been bombed, yet we are told we cannot put things right because 419 the materials are wanted for more important things. Those people will ask themselves what has happened to Members of the House of Commons. They will say, "Are they hiding themselves behind the Parliament Act twelvemonth after twelvemonth, and in the interval trying to build better premises for themselves?" That is how it will seem to people outside, and how it seemed to me when I went to my constituency and saw how people are housed. I am constantly assailed by young couples who are trying to get housing accommodation and when I appeal to the town council they tell me that they are not allowed to build. Those people have a real grievance. Though the rebuilding of the House of Commons may be only a small matter, yet it means that materials and labour will have to be taken. In life it is not only the thing which takes place, but the image that is created in the minds of men, that makes the most impression. I have described the image that will be created in the people's mind as to what we are doing on this occasion. The House of Commons and the Prime Minister are ill advised. I understand it is just the Prime Minister's wish that this should go on, but we could spend our time much better than in deliberating upon this matter.
It has been said that it was a bad thing for the nation when the House of Commons was demolished. Was it bad? To my mind it was one of the best things that could have happened to our nation. One idea that has gone about is that no harm comes to the heads of States who are fighting because they protect each other. I have heard it said that the House of Commons would never be bombed because certain buildings in Germany would not be bombed. Hitler did a great service to this country when he smashed the House of Commons, in the sense that he let the country know that nobody in the country was immune from Hitler's vengeance. The same with Buckingham Palace. I would rather let the House of Commons remain as a living manifesto until the end of the war of what Hitler tried to do with the House of Commons. We should be serving the nation best if we said that now is not the time and that some other time at the end of the war will be the time to get ready for it. Will anything go wrong? Will business be quickened or lessened by the rebuilding 420 of the House of Commons? I do not see that it can be. If we had not a place to go to I could understand it.
Some reference was made by the Prime Minister to the other place being very kind to allow us this place and to our not being tenants too long because they want the place back. I have been in that recess where they are, and it is a nice homely little place, just big enough for the persons who attend. I have never heard any complaints from Members of the House of Lords that they want to get back. I think they want to stop there, because it is more company for them sometimes. During Debates in the past, I have looked down upon this Chamber when there have been present about half a dozen Members, who seemed to be lost in the place. In the little place where they are they make a family party and they enjoy themselves. I do not dislike this place. It is a really nice place and comfortable, and the hearing facilities have now been made very good. I sat in the Gallery one day and listened to one of my hon. Friends speaking, and his voice came out splendidly. There is no difficulty in this House about hearing. What is the position? Are we short of something to do? Have we nothing to talk about? Last night we adjourned the Debate on the Workmen's Compensation Bill because we had not time to go through it. It is a far more important matter than rebuilding the House of Commons. Time might very well be spent to-day in getting that Bill through. We are wasting time on a pleasant Thursday—not Sunday—in doing something which is not material.
I have as much respect for the old building as anyone. I loved the place, but there are greater issues now. I do not want the country to get the idea that the war is over because we are getting ready to build a place for ourselves again. That is going to be the impression on people, that the war is at an end. "How do you know?" someone will ask. The answer will be: "Because Members of the House of Commons are rebuilding their place and taking labour for it. It must be near the end." That is the impression that would be conveyed to my mind, and may be conveyed to other people. I have no disrespect for the Prime Minister or his feelings in this matter, or for the old Chamber; not at all. I am a great believer in the Houses of Parliament 421 and their functions, for what they have done, but at a time like this we can very well afford to wait until the end of the war, when we can take the matter up and review it in the light of a new world and decide whether it should be outside the old spot and the old associations. All those matters can be considered at the end of the war, but it is wrong to consider them during the stress of war.
Major Petheriek (Penryn and Falmouth)
We have just seen an example of the proper working of the Parliamentary system. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) happens to be the only Member of this House who definitely holds the view that no action should be taken until the end of the war. He had the courage to put down an Amendment, and even though he got no support he has moved his Amendment in the House of Commons. It seems to me that every Member should be willing to do the same, and even if he is the only one who holds a strong view on any given subject, he should be willing to stand up in the House and say so.
I cannot agree with the views that the hon Member has put forward. I think it is necessary now to make plans and to have them all ready so that the rebuilding can take place at the earliest possible moment, but if the use of labour and materials interferes in any way with the prosecution of the war, we should not start till the war is over. But that is, I think, a matter which can reasonably be left to the Government to decide.
With regard to the suggestions of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), who not for the first time has appeared in the role of genial Jacobin and asked that we should have a sort of Potters Bar Canberra 20 miles from London, attractive as that may sound, I do not think it would work, quite apart from the traditions which we should lose by such an action. It would be 20, 25, 30 or 40 miles from Whitehall. There would be endless difficulties of transport, and can you imagine a Minister having to spend the morning in his Government Department and then having to rush down to the new place, perhaps 30 miles away, losing half an hour or more in order to get to the House to answer Questions? Quite apart from that, I think that Westminster is the place for the House to remain. It is true that in the past the House of Commons 422 has been moved from Westminster. On one occasion at least it moved to Oxford. Speaking as a Royalist and as a Cambridge man, I should have found it difficult at that time to approve the move. But for centuries now Parliament has been known to sit in Westminster, and a great tradition of Parliament has grown up within these walls.
There are two points I should like to make, two suggestions, to the Select Committee which I imagine will be set up. The first is that I hope that in the plans for rebuilding, the architectural plans at least, every effort will be made to conform to the existing architecture from the outside. Perhaps one of the greatest architectural monuments in this country—I refer to the great court of Trinity College in Cambridge—has one eyesore. Oddly enough, it ought to be quite a good eyesore. Architecturally seven-eighths of that court conforms, but there is a perfectly square Queen Anne house in the corner that looks wrong. I hope every effort will be made to conform to the architecture of the Houses of Parliament as they were previously and as they are now in the main, even though the House of Commons has gone. The second point is that I think there is one amenity which the House of Commons has very gravely lacked in the past and that is private rooms in which Members could work and keep their papers. It is very difficult, when the ordinary Member lives perhaps half-an-hour or three-quarters of an hour away while the House is sitting, for him to attend to his work properly, and he comes up in the morning, perhaps bringing his papers. Something arises in the course of Debate, and he finds that he cannot get the paper he wants because he has left it at home. In addition, it would be a very great advantage if it were possible for Members to receive guests in a private room. Often constituents come with troubles and wish to express them privately.
§ Mr. Maxton
I did not go into details like that. Can the hon. and gallant Member tell me how he is going to fit those two items into the scheme which the Motion contains?
I do not know. I am not an architect, but I wonder whether it is possible to build upwards on the existing site. At any rate there is a space 423 quite close which is available, or could be made available, in Westminster which we could use for that purpose. I will not insist on that point any longer. We should need a number of small studies in addition. At present it is only, as it were, the prefects who have the rooms, not the small boys. The result is that the work of Parliament is not carried on quite as well as it would be if we had the amenities I have suggested. It is perhaps a pity that the Motion has been drafted a little too narrowly. Nevertheless, I think that if the Motion is interpreted by the Committee in a sensible way, it will be possible to take into consideration all those considerations which should be examined in the course of their sittings.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
I think the House is under a great debt to the Prime Minister for the delightful way in which he introduced this question of building the Chamber. I feel that his proposal that the old form should be preserved has received a very substantial measure of agreement. I am not going to trespass on the time of the House except to say one or two things with regard to the access and comfort of those who are witnesses of our toils. They can, in the main, be divided into two classes. The first consists of constituents and citizens, and they should here have free access and every comfort, but, on the other hand, the number of seats available should not be so large that the House becomes a place of casual resort and where to spend a quarter of an hour sheltering on a rainy day. On the other hand, the Press of this country and of the Dominions and the foreign Press should have greater facilities than are available for them at the present time. Here is the greatest Assembly in the world at work, and the Press is entitled to every assistance in recording and supporting our efforts. It may be that room for this increased accommodation could be found in place of those unused and rather gloomy retiring rooms behind the side galleries of the old House of Commons.
I think that the Select Committee might consider the desirability of proceeding in two stages, first the stage of setting up the main structure, temporary in its furnishings but equipped, as the Prime Minister has said, for its task of helping, 424 controlling, governing and legislating for this people in the days to come. I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), who always speaks with such sincerity. Surely anybody is entitled to reasonable equipment to enable him to perform his job. At the present time arrangements are being made to go ahead with new garages for fire-engines so that they can be more efficient on the day on which they are wanted. Surely, if the pumps for static water are entitled to protection, the springs of eloquence are also entitled to a home. The furnishings in this new Chamber are perhaps a matter on which there should be no urgency at all. Mr. Speaker, it may be that the Chair which you occupy may for some time continue to serve you but replicas of the chair destroyed in the old Chamber are available in some Parliaments of the Dominions and I can conceive it possible that some of those Dominions might think it a courtesy and a tribute to this House to return a replica of the old chair. The furnishings would require deeper consideration as to their nature and character. I think we are right in considering this Motion at the present time. This, I believe, is evidence of the new urge which the Government is developing at the present time. First we had, just after Questions, immediately before this Business, a proposal that the Minister of Agriculture might enter into consultative arrangements. Here we have a Motion to establish a Select Committee. The War Cabinet is now seized with the urgency of bringing forward plans. For its intrinsic merits and also because I believe it to be some Measure of the other plans to be brought forward I support this Motion.
§ Mr. Hannah (Bilston)
I wish first to agree very cordially with the chorus of praise that has been raised in this House for the Prime Minister's speech. I think we all feel that he was at his very best, and most of us were agreed with his general view. I am very glad he did not strain our loyalty by talking about an exact replica of the House of Commons which was recently destroyed. It always seemed to me that in this great building it came rather as an anti-climax to enter through the noblest hall which the Middle Ages have handed down to this generation in any part of Europe, with the finest timber roof in the entire world, then to go 425 through the rather well rebuilt St. Stephen's Chapel, with its fine vaulted roof carrying on to a great extent the tradition of its great medieval predecessor, then to enter the splendid Central Lobby, a modification of the octagon of Ely Cathedral, and finally to pass into the House of Commons. You were rather reminded, I think, of an ordinary Methodist chapel. It was not up to the standard of the building as a whole. I do not in the least want to gibe at the Methodists. In fact I shall be taking one of their services next Sunday, but in my most expansive mood I have never congratulated my Methodist friends on having made any very marked or striking contribution to the architecture of the Christian Church.
I do not think that when the Germans destroyed the House of Commons as it was, they did very much harm to the reputation of Barrie, or Pugin, who suggested to him so very much of the details of this fabric, and I cannot but feel that while we desire to restore the House of Commons as it was in all essential features, it might be improved upon to a very considerable extent. I do not think that we should pretend it was never destroyed and try to build one which might have been the original Chamber of this Palace.
I hope we can manage to a very great extent to preserve permanently the calcined stone lobby of the House of Commons. It is rather effective at the present time with its timber supports, reminding one rather of a Cairo mosque, but, of course, we cannot keep it just as it is. I would, however, hope that some parts of the old stone work in its present condition might be permanently preserved. I cannot agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Major Petherick) that the kitchen block in the classical style in the Great Court of Trinity College at Cambridge hurts in any way that splendid work. I think it looks exceedingly well and gives just the variety that is required, but if you enter the Chapel with its old Tudor exterior, mostly built in the reign of Elizabeth, you will find one of the finest chambers in this world, with the splendid screen, panelling, stalls and baldachino in the classic style that were mainly the work of the much discussed Dr. Bentley, an early eighteenth 426 century Master. I cannot help thinking that we should keep our minds open, and not necessarily open at the bottom, to the idea of having a new chamber in the classic style. It might be made admirably to harmonise with the rest of this building. I do not think there is any fabric in the entire world that could be taken as an exact model, but nevertheless I would suggest something of the spirit of that magnificent Vintners' Hall, one of Wren's great masterpieces in interior architecture. I hope that the Committee, when set up, will ask for competitive designs for the new House of Commons, allowing perfect freedom for the character and even the style. Personally, I rather feel that Ionic pilasters on the lower floor, with modillions supporting the galleries, and perhaps a Corinthian order above carrying a coffered roof, might give us a better effect than anything Gothic. Those preposterous pendants of the last House of Commons were not considered by most of us at, ornament. The roof was certainly not a thing of pride. The designs submitted might be commented upon by some of our distinguished architects who are too old to want to do the work themselves, but might be admirable in judging the designs, so that we may have the best achitecture that this generation knows.
It is proposed to set up a Select Committee. We all know what that means, or may mean. At least we ought to. We have all heard that if Noah had appointed a committee to build the Ark, they might or might not just be getting to work at the present time. If we set up a committee, and they do their work properly, and really set about getting the best design possible in the circumstances, I do not think we need fear any undue haste. I cannot help feeling enormous sympathy with the views put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). My experience is exactly the same as his. I cannot walk, or even cycle, through my constituency without getting asked again and again whether I cannot get somebody or other a house. The housing shortage is perfectly terrible in every part of the country. It is symbolic of national unity that we are now meeting in this Chamber, illustrating, emphasising to the entire world, the unity and harmony that exist between the two Houses of this Parliament. It is impossible not to feel that the present 427 arrangements might be allowed to continue for a certain time. I cannot imagine a more magnificent gesture than that we should declare that until the housing needs of the nation are fairly met, we can manage to make shift with this not entirely inconvenient Chamber in which we are sitting now. There is much feeling abroad that we are not sufficiently energetic about the Beveridge Report, the new educational reforms, or housing. When I was giving an address in my constituency the other day, I was asked by quite a number of by no means unfriendly hecklers whether the Government were really in earnest, and whether we should really get all this in our own day and generation. So I make a very earnest appeal that we shall declare to the entire world that until the housing needs of the nation are met, we will continue to sit where we are.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
I would like, if it is not considered an impertinence, to pay tribute to the very great speech made by the Prime Minister. I agree with him, and not with the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), as to the situation of the future House of Commons. The old House had many inconveniences. [An HON. MEMSER: "It had nothing else."] I think it had much in addition. It had association with those pants of the building to which reference has just been made—Westminster Hall, the Crypt underneath, the Cloisters, and other parts which to me seem worth preserving.
§ Mr. Maxton
Did they play any part whatever in our legislative work?
§ Mr. McEntee
That depends on what the hon. Member means. They certainly played a part in our legislative work in the past, and if I am asked whether they played a part in the legislative work of the immediate past, I should say, Yes.
§ Mr. Maxton
In our time?
§ Mr. McEntee
In my view, they did.
§ Mr. Maxton
The Crypt and Westminster Hall?
§ Mr. McEntee
The Crypt has been used, even in my time as a Member of Parliament, for incidents connected with the conduct of Parliament, and the building 428 itself is of very great value. I can remember conferences taking place in Westminster Hall. The two Houses met His late Majesty there. I can remember incidents there which have the closest association with our Parliamentary life. [Interruption.] I have just been reminded that the French President came there not so very long ago. Quite outside all that, there is the practical side. All the Government offices are in or close to the House of Commons. Whitehall is the area in which Government offices are. If the House of Commons were to be removed to some place 20 or 30 miles away, as the hon. Member for Bridgeton has suggested, it would, in the first place, create many practical difficulties. If it must be removed, I do not know any place more suitable than the Prime Minister's own constituency. Where could you find a better place than the centre of Epping Forest?
§ Mr. Maxton
How far away is that?
§ Mr. McEntee
The Prime Minister's constituency starts about eight or nine miles from here, and goes a long way into upping Forest. I am interested in that, because part of my constituency is in the Forest. The Prime Minister's inclination, and my own, might be to have the new House of Commons in his constituency—it would be a very fine site. But the best thing would be to have it here. I do not think we should build the House of Commons exactly as it was before. I do not think that the architectural value of the old House was anything to boast about. When the Lobbies are constructed—in which I hope to take part in some Divisions in future—I hope that they will be more on the lines of the Cloisters downstairs than of the Lobbies we had in the past. I feel that Members ought to get better accommodation than they have had in the past. The question arises of how it is to be done. I think it is possible. I know of no reason why the House should not be built higher. It could have the general characteristics of the old House, with accommodation for Members above. I have not discussed this question with anybody, but I heard the idea mentioned casually here to-day, and I have thought over whether it is possible. I think it is, and I hope that the Committee will give it consideration. It might be considered an abomination to have a lift so close to the old House of Commons, but I do not see 429 any objection. There might be one at the back of the old Speaker's Chair, so that we could get reasonably quickly to the accommodation prepared for us upstairs.
I appreciate the objection which the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and others have mentioned, the criticism that we shall be subject to—and rightly—if we do anything which would unreasonably prevent building for the people. I doubt whether there is any Member of this House who is more pressed in his own constituency for additional housing accommodation than I am in mine. I live in my constituency, I meet the people every day, and I am continually being pressed by my constituents for additional housing accommodation. But I should not object in the slightest degree to meeting these people after the new House has been built, even if it is built during the war, and putting to them an answer to their question as to why, when they cannot have houses, we can have a new Parliament. Everybody who knows anything about building knows that the material which would be used in the rebuilding of the House of Commons is in no way similar to the material used for the housing of the people generally. I imagine that it will be a stone similar to that used recently in the repair of the old House. I imagine that the timber will be English oak—at least, I hope it will be English oak which is used in rebuilding the English House of Commons. I know of no timber more suitable. [Interruption.] I apologise; I should have said, "the British House of Commons." If those materials are used, what harm could it do on the material side to rebuild the House of Commons during the war? It would not interfere with the building of houses when it becomes possible to build houses. They must be built with timber and other materials which are suitable for the building of houses, and the material which is used for building the House of Commons is undoubtedly not suitable for building ordinary houses.
Like all prophets, I am never sure of what I prophesy; but I. would point out that we have had a great boom in the building trade, and great numbers of men and women have been brought in from outside, in addition to those already in the trade, to meet a war need. It was entirely a war need. Great buildings have 430 been put up in the country in places which were almost inaccessible. That need has been almost met. The result must be that, in the very near future, a large number of building trade operatives will not be required in the trade any longer. What is to be done with them? It may be said that they should be put into other war industries, but many of them—not most of them—would be quite useless in other war industries. They are the older men, who have been in the building trade all their lives and are past training for other industries, although they are experts in their own. It is experts in the building trade who are required to rebuild our House of Commons. I do not think, therefore, that there is any difficulty about labour or about materials, if we decide to rebuild during the war.
I take many people around the House of Commons from time to time and a number of them have expressed to me the view that it would be a very great pity if the House of Commons was rebuilt for at least a few years after the war. They say, "Leave it there just as it is, and let people from abroad, when the opportunity is open to them again, come over and see what the Germans did to our ancient building of Westminster Palace." That is an aspect which ought to be considered by the Committee. It may be said that we do not want to make a show place of our House of Commons and that to bring tourists here is something that is cheap and something which we ought not to keep up. I do not agree. There is a great deal to be said from the point of view that people from the Colonies and the Dominions would desire to see what happened to the House of Commons. When members of other Governments or members of the public from other countries come over here, as I hope they will soon after the war, we should give them an opportunity of seeing what happened.
There is a great deal to be said for the objection to the form of the Committee that is going to consider the matter. If history and our experience mean anything, we are not likely to get the Report for some years, and it may be, as an hon. Member said, almost a century after the war. The Prime Minister indicated that it was his desire and the desire of the Government that the Report should be made quickly. I shall have sufficient 431 confidence in the people on that Committee, whoever they may be, to believe they will make their Report sufficiently quickly to enable the plans to be got ready so that the building can be put up after the war.
§ Sir Alfred Beit (St. Pancras, South-East)
Before the Debate goes any further I would like to express my disapproval of the suggestion of the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) and certain other hon. Members that when we come to rebuilding the House of Commons special accommodation should be made available for other purposes above it. If that were done, we would have no daylight whatever in the new Chamber, and having sat, like many others, for two years in this artificial illumination, I certainly look forward to the day when we can have a Chamber very much better lit than the former House of Commons used to be.
The reason why I intervene now is to express a certain uneasiness, which, I hope, can be conveyed to the Prime Minister, because he alone can set my fears at rest, as to some of the words in the Motion. The words to which I refer are, "preserving all its essential features." It has not been made clear to me what exactly is meant by essential features. The Prime Minister gave certain definitions, many of which referred to spiritual matters far beyond the physical considerations which are before us and which relate, over the centuries, to a period long before the House sat in the Chamber destroyed by Hitler in 1941. If the essential features are what I think they are, then I have a great feeling of uneasiness. I would not like this Select Committee to be appointed with its hands so tied. If we appoint Select Committees, we should at least allow them a certain latitude. The Prime Minister has made it clear that if this Motion is carried in this form the Select Committee will be very limited indeed in what it can recommend for the future reconstruction of the Chamber. On certain points there is general agreement as to the shape of the Chamber and I can agree with the desire to carry on the oblong shape and to avoid the Continental Chamber.
On the question of the size of the Chamber, which the Prime Minister also wishes to see perpetuated, there might 432 very well be two opinions. We may have to consider in the near future a redistribution of seats, and it is not inconceivable that there might be more Members as a result, that is, unless Wales and Scotland are prepared to give up some of their seats, which I doubt whether they will do without a struggle. It is possible for people who sit on the Front Bench to say the Chamber is big enough, but those who know what it is like on certain occasions realise that the argument can be advanced that certain alterations might be necessary. That is as I see it. The words "preserving all its essential features" mean that the Select Committee would have ruled out from the start any proposal that the outside walls should be moved from where they now stand. That is one of the reasons why I think the Select Committee should be given a greater latitude.
I cannot agree more heartily than I do with my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah) regarding his observations of the architectural style. If "essential features" means what I think it means, the Select Committee would be obliged to reproduce as faithfully as possible the Gothic characteristics of the former Chamber, and those characteristics date from a period which is an extremely unhappy period in British architecture and which in no way represented the inmost feelings of the architects and workmen of that time. If you want to see real Gothic, cross over the road to St. Margaret's, Westminster. That is different from the Chamber which we used to know, for, as an hon. Member said, it was like a Methodist chapel. If hon. Members go into the dining room they will see a picture of the House of Commons as it was before the fire of 1834. It was the same oblong shape, but it was simpler and more dignified and an excellent example of the decoration and architecture of the great Renaissance period in England. Though I do not suggest we should copy that detail any more than we should copy the later Chamber, I support the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston, that we should not be tied down to reproducing in full detail the decoration and architecture of the Chamber destroyed two years ago.
I do not know whether the Committee will have full powers to go into these 433 questions. They may say that the Dominion of Canada, when they built their House of Commons, did us the honour of imitating in every detail the then existing British House of Commons. They may say, "That was their view and we are instructed to rebuild preserving all essential features and it is obviously not within our power to consider any new forms of decoration reverting to any previous style or experimenting in new ones." If I can be told that the essential features will be limited to such obvious details as Mr. Speaker's Chair, the Clerks' table, clocks and so forth, which are essential, I shall be happy. I want to know whether this Committee, which I assume will consist of representative Members of Parliament, is not from the very start to be tied down in such a way that it cannot make any deviation in any shape or form from the old Chamber.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
I would like to contribute a few sentences to this very interesting Debate, and the one thing I want to press upon the House is that I would not like Members to think entirely of the location of the rebuilt House of Commons nor the architecture, although important, nor the ornamentation, nor the size of the Chamber. We must all understand that a Parliament is intended to be a place where men and women speak to each other, and unless we satisfy that first qualification, the location, architecture and ornamentation are of no consequence at all. It is very painful here sometimes to know that a Member has a very good story to tell and nobody can hear it. I want to suggest that when the Select Committee receive evidence about these other problems connected with the new House they will not leave out the paramount point, namely, the acoustics of the new place. I have had the privilege of seeing Parliaments abroad, and I would like to make this observation. I do not like the circular Chamber. I prefer meeting my political opponent face to face. I do not like turning at a slant to argue with him. The trouble now in Coalition is that I meet my political friends face to face, which is a disadvantage on occasion.
An hon. Gentleman below the Gangway mentioned that we have to be very careful about the location of the new Parliament; it must be in Westminster, because the Departments of State are here. But I am sure I am right in saying that 434 the Departments of State are scattered all over the country at the moment. [Interruption.] Not the chief offices I know, but the Civil Service staffs which work for Government Departments. Why, they have taken over nearly the whole of Blackpool and Cleveleys to my knowledge. I would ask that that should be taken into account as well.
With regard to accommodation for Members of Parliament, I have been here for a long time, and, frankly, I was a little annoyed when I came here, being a trade union official with an office of my own. I found that there was no accommodation at all except on chance. I have been through the Senate and Congress in Washington. An hon. Gentleman suggested that you cannot have the offices for Members of Parliament outside this building. I have been in an underground railway in the Senate in Washington. When a member of the Senate has finished his work in the Chamber he takes a trip underground to his office on a little electric railway and comes back again when he is called. Every member of the Senate and Congress has a suite of rooms for himself. The one think that I have felt the need of here is the lack of accommodation in order to do my work effectively. I hope that the Select Committee will bear that in mind. As to the location of Parliament, it does not matter what anybody may say here. In my view, tradition will determine that and tradition will determine that it shall be built here. I do not think there is any question about that at all. In some countries Parliament is not in the largest city. Washington is not the largest city in America, and in Springfield, Illinois, there is a Parliament too.
§ Mr. Hannah
It is the capital of the State.
§ Mr. Davies
Exactly, but it has a Parliament. I want to emphasise that on the Continent of Europe it is the orator who is listened to. There is a rostrum, and he mounts the rostrum, and unless he is a first-class orator he cannot make headway at all in his Parliament. I pay tribute to this Parliament, because its most humble Member may speak and that is more important than listening to a few great orators.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
There is sometimes a hefty House.
§ Mr. Davies
Look at it to-day. I want to re-emphasise that the location and type of the building, its architecture, whether stone or timber, are all subservient to the one factor, namely, whether you can get a Chamber in which people can talk to each other and make themselves heard. I like Parliamentary democracy; I will do everything I can to maintain it, because it is from striking on the anvil of argument that we succeed and progress. I hope I may live long enough to be a Member in the new Chamber, wherever it is built.
§ Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest (Plymouth, Drake)
I sympathise very much with the last words of the speech made by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies). When the Prime Minister made his statement about the future he said that the proposed new House of Commons should be built within the four walls of the old Chamber as they at present exist. But my feeling is that the Chamber as it was was too small for the needs of this Parliament. I believe that Members have been happier sitting in this Chamber than they were in the old Chamber. There is more room, the acoustics are better, there is more space generally, and back bench Members, in particular, have been more comfortable and more suited to a Chamber of this size than the one we had to leave when it was destroyed. Therefore, I hope the Select Committee will not be bound by the existing four walls of the old Chamber and that if necessary they will spread, either in length or breadth, without affecting the fundamental arrangement of the House, which enables Members to sit opposite one another and discuss matters across the Floor and the Table. If we intend to do something to the House of Commons itself, I hope we may do something in connection with the Libraries, which are undoubtedly too small for the needs of Members. Sometimes I have been in there and have found every seat taken, and I have often looked into the room opposite and found it occupied by Members, perhaps of the Opposition, who make use of it. The Lobbies might be larger and more convenient in order to enable Members to have more discussions than they have to-day.
I cannot help thinking that we should modernise in our space so that Members can carry out their duties. More and more in the future we shall have to be in the 436 House of Commons for the many great Debates that will arise. Typewriting and dictating arrangements are also quite impossible. These are things which must come within the purview of the Select Committee. I speak only as a back bench Member, who has been here many years and has found some of these disadvantages. I hope the Select Committee will in no way be limited to the old Chamber itself but will review the whole of the operational side of Members' lives and the convenience and amenities which they ought to have to do their work properly.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I hope that the small attendance in the House to-day does not mean that hon. Members do not attach great importance to the proposal which is before us. Taking the long-term view, I believe that the size and shape, although not possibly the architectural design and ornament, of the Chamber in which we have to carry on our deliberations has the most profound effect on the history of this country. The Prime Minister enunciated a great truth when he said, "We shape our buildings, and our buildings shape us." I completely disagree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Lieut.-Colonel Guest). I have noticed a distinct change in the nature of this House of Commons since we have come into this actual place. I have noticed more difficulty in controlling the Government, as it were, a lack of intimacy, a falling off in the quality of Members speeches, owing to the great size of this Chamber. We have sent the House of Lords, our noble landlords, to a much smaller room, perhaps one quarter the size of this, and it has meant their rebirth as a deliberative assembly. Any Member of the House of Lords would tell you that. I do not think the subject matter of the Motion is a matter of opinion or nostalgia, but a practical matter which has been proved by experiment in the past. It is just because it is so important that this House of Commons should get back to the atmosphere of intimacy and close control that I think we are not only justified, but bound, to take the earliest steps to return to the same sort of habitation as our original place. That is my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). I think it will mean great changes, and changes for the worse, in the life of this House of Commons, and in the debating qualities 437 of this House, if we sit in this place much longer.
The two great questions before the House to-day seem to me to be the shape of the Chamber and its size. There does not seem to have been much argument in favour of a semi-circular chamber. If there is, I hope hon. Members will seriously address their minds to the question whether a semi-circular chamber has not been the death warrant of Parliamentary democracy on the Continent, and in many parts of the world. I think that if the French Parliament had had a rectangular Chamber, and their Government had had the power of dissolution, the effect on democracy in France might have been far different. By far the greater measure of discussion, so far, has been about the size of the Chamber. I cast my vote unhesitatingly for an intimate Chamber. I loathe and detest addressing great open spaces as, no doubt, do other Members. I look back not only with nostalgia and affection, but with admiration, to that atmosphere of tense and lively and concentrated interest in the great moments we have had in the past. I remember particularly the Debate on 8th May, 1940, which brought about the fall of the last Government. So I cast my vote unhesitatingly for the smallest possible Chamber. I beg hon. Members who have experience of foreign or Colonial Parliaments to think whether the shape and size of those Chambers have not had a considerable effect on the history of those institutions.
Next we come to the point of architectural style. I am not one of those who decry the style of this Palace of Westminster. I believe it is dignified and in the true English tradition and that it is particularly suited to Parliamentary democracy. It is not a pompous but a dignified and good style and I think we ought to be grateful to Barrie and Pugin. As to the details of ornamentation I think the old Chamber was done on the cheap; a lot of it was trumpery. There is a lot of detail I would like to alter, but I will not worry the House with my reactions at the moment. I would, however, like to impress upon the House the desirability of not creating a new House of Commons which would clash with the prevailing style of architecture in this Palace. There I depart from my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah). Architectural 438 tastes are so vastly different, but I feel that in architecture his taste is bastard.
§ Mr. Hannah
What about Hampton Court and the great Elizabethan mansions?
§ Mr. Nicholson
Nobody could possibly call Hampton Court bastard architecture. However, I do not want to be diverted further. I want to beseech the House, in all seriousness to think of the examples of other Parliaments, whether our two-party system has not depended upon our rectangular Chamber and whether the high respect in which the House of Commons is held in this country is not due largely to the extraordinary vitality of our Debates. I would ask them to reflect whether that vitality has not been to some extent dissipated in this present Chamber. I unhesitatingly support the Motion before the House and I hope it will be carried without a Division.
§ Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)
I have listened with intense interest to the Debate, and as far as I can gather the rectangular shape of building has received general assent. The admirable speech of the Prime Minister was most convincing in that respect but I would impress upon the House that when the Motion states that the Select Committee shall have regard to all the essential features of the old House—for that is the sum and substance of it—it is the desire of the Prime Minister and the Government, apparently, that we shall to a very large extent copy the essentials of the old place. The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson) referred to the lack of ability to hear in this House. I do not think that that is in any way due to the size of the Chamber; it is very largely due to its structure. It is impossible to obtain the best acoustics in this House without in some way or other detracting from its architecture. So it is not a question of size. I agree that it is most uncomfortable when one rises in a Chamber of this size and sees so many empty seats. We have all experienced that, but I would prefer that to being in a congested Chamber such as the old Chamber. It was most uncomfortable, and on numerous occasions it was utterly impossible for Members to find a seat. I have seen Members in the galleries but the galleries themselves were by no means 439 satisfactory, again because of the acoustics of the Chamber.
I paid strict attention to the speech of the Prime Minister, and it appeared to me that he had a keen desire to erect another building on the walls, as it were, of the existing foundations of the old Chamber. That means we are limited in length and breadth. I listened very attentively to the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for West Waltham-stow (Mr. McEntee), who suggested that it might be possible to raise the height of the building with a view to providing more accommodation for Members upstairs. That would not be in keeping with the Motion, and anything that might be suggested in that regard would be unacceptable for this reason. The old Chamber was placed between two existing buildings, therefore you must keep the architecture of the remaining buildings, otherwise you will have a bastard building of the worst possible kind. It would be an eyesore to everyone. Outside you must endeavour to keep the existing building. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] There is room for disagreement. I am prepared to submit my proposals and to abide by a critical examination of them, but you must at all times consider that this is a limiting Motion, and the Select Committee has to act within its confines. I think it is desirable that we should keep the outside of the building in conformity with the existing building. It may be possible within that space to provide a rather larger Chamber by making the Division Loonies narrower than they were, but when it comes to making more provision for Members in the matter of writing facilities and the like, it seems to me an almost impossible proposition within the confines of the Motion.
In the construction of this House, of course, very many mistakes were made. The original Commission made an extraordinary mistake in selecting the stone for the remainder of the building, because it was taken from a quarry in which there had been a geological disturbance, and there were any number of fissures in which the corrosion of the London atmosphere caused considerable trouble in respect of the stone splitting. I know this, because I was on the Committee which investigated the problem in 1924. I mention this so that the Committee may see that nothing of the kind happens again. 440 The Motion brings us down to realities in this sense, that we have to a very large degree to agree to the erection of a new House in conformity with the previous House. There is very little choice for us. Inside, it might be possible to make such an alteration, but in the general and main outline it will be a reproduction of the old House. It had its shortcomings and disadvantages, but I sat there from 1923, with a break of four years, and I had become accustomed to it. I appreciated the old House and could accommodate myself to it, but, if it is possible to make improvements within the limits of the Motion, I hope the Select Committee will do all it is possible to have done in the circumstances.
§ Mr. Arthur Duckworth (Shrewsbury)
I do not find myself altogether in agreement with the views the hon. Member has just expressed. Only one speaker has definitely opposed the Motion, but some of us feel a sense of uneasiness about its terms, and I think there is some danger of the House and the proposed Committee being unduly swayed by sentimental considerations. After all, in the pre-war years many fine buildings, far finer than the old Chamber, were destroyed without any assistance from the enemy, and unfortunately this process was regarded with almost complete equanimity. It is also the case that there were very few instances where those buildings were destroyed and rebuilt in which the buildings which replaced them could be said to be in any way an improvement on the original buildings. Therefore, from a purely sentimental point of view, I hope we are going to preserve some reasonable sense of proportion. Although we may greatly regret the old Chamber, with all its historical associations, it is in my view the fact that its destruction has presented us with a great opportunity. Now that it no longer exists, we may as well face the fact that it had many serious defects. Its public galleries were hopelessly inadequate and badly placed. It suffered from a system of ventilation which was antiquated and calculated to give everyone cold feet and a hot head, and lastly it was built at a time when the standard of taste and design had probably reached a lower ebb than at any time in our history. It was, in fact, a dim and depressing interior and its acoustics were not particularly good.
It is in respect of these considerations that the last words of the Motion seem to 441 be rather dangerous and ominous—"while preserving all its essential features." I wish to support very strongly the point made by the hon. Member for South East St. Pancras (Sir A. Beit). Is it going to be for the Committee to decide what is the definition of "essential features"? Is it going to depend on the composition of the Committee to decide exactly what those words mean? I think we should be given some answer to this question. Various speakers have touched on the question of design. I do not think that is a suitable topic for us to discuss to-day. That can very well be left to the Committee, but there were certain features of the old House which I and many of my hon. Friends certainly do not wish to see reproduced in the Chamber which will eventually replace the old one. It has been suggested by more than one speaker that the ruins of the old Chamber should be left as they are as a sort of war memorial and that we should rebuild on a completely different site. I take the view that that is a ludicrous suggestion. It is a ludicrous piece of sentimentality. It is certainly a suggestion which future generations would not approve. On the contrary, I believe that we have been given a wonderful opportunity of building a dignified and imposing House of Commons Chamber of good design with modern equipment, worthy of the great traditions and the long history of Parliament. If we can achieve that, and the Select Committee can succeed in its work, though we may have sentimental regrets for the past, we shall have here in the heart of the British Empire a House of Commons which will be a worthy memorial of the days when this country stood alone against the fury of Hitler's onslaughts.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
I cannot see the need for this Motion at all. It is a definitely limiting Motion. It says that the building in design and character is to be the same as the old building and, if that is what is to be done, we do not want to appoint a Committee but an engineer to get on with the job. The idea of the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) was worlds worse. He says, "Build it like the old one but with something on top of it." It reminds me of the ugly cars that we see in the streets. They may be necessary in war-time, but I think there is nothing uglier than a motor car with a bag thing on top.
§ Mr. McEntee
Is it not a fact that the Palace of Westminster has varying heights in the actual building and that they add to the beauty of the building and do not detract from it? Why should another storey destroy its architectural beauty?
§ Mr. Buchanan
I cannot see it. We are definitely limited in the matter of size and the type of building, and the Committee is to be set up within that framework. We all have some kind of regard for the past, but some of us also have regard for the present. I think we ought to admit that the old generation did not have a monopoly of wisdom in these matters, any more than the new has. I reject the suggestion that the modern generation cannot produce a new building as beautiful as anything that has been produced in the past. I am no judge of these matters because I have little education and little knowledge of them but, looking at Lambeth Bridge and the abortion at Charing Cross, give me Lambeth Bridge every time. It is far more beautiful. It was built by people of this generation. I reject the idea that the young men of this generation are not good enough to design a new House of Commons. It is not a fair thing to say. I should like the new House of Commons to be designed by some of those who are now in the Forces. It would be the best testimonial to the men—something done by themselves and not by an outworn past. An hon. Member has said that the reason for the downfall of France lay in the shape of the French Chamber. Really we must try to be serious. The downfall of France was a serious matter, and no man ought to dismiss it in flippant terms. The shape of the French Chamber had nothing to do with it. The old House of Commons was small and of oblong shape. I have a great deal of sympathy with those who say the present Chamber is preferable to the old one. The air here is much fresher. I am town bred, but even I like fresh air, and I prefer the atmosphere of this Chamber to the terrible atmosphere of the old one, which at times was musty. How can Socialists, the builders of the new Jerusalem, have so much regard for a place that had such a terrible atmosphere and was never properly heated.
I used to speak a great deal in the old Chamber. One year I held the record for making speeches—a thing which was neither creditable to the House of Commons nor to me. The subject of unemployment 443 insurance was before us and I intervened constantly, and I found it an easy place to speak in, but I found the temporary building which we occupied for some time a still easier place to speak in. Most places are easy to speak in—except my constituency, where I find it more difficult, because they know me better. But I say frankly that we ought to build a new Chamber and have it built by modern people with modern ideas. It should show those who come after us that not only had Britain men capable of fighting but men capable of designing a good building, where men and women could plan the Britain we want in the future. I want a House of Commons planned by the men who are good enough to fight and at the same time are good enough for better things. They have the capacity to do it—to blend the best of the old with something new, because I do not believe the old had a monopoly of the best things.
I agree with the Member who said that in a building built within the terms of this Motion we shall not get decent writing rooms. Who could interview his constituents properly in the old place? What happened when three or four people came to see a Member? They had to sit in a miserable lobby, which was often wind swept when the doors were open. They could be taken downstairs for a cup of tea. A lady could not be taken down, and it was a good thing too, because one could not take a lady to a sort of place which was only an apology for a bad butcher's shop. It had tiles round it. An old-fashioned interior in Gorbals would not have been as bad. Look at the old tea room! The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), with his engineering friends, must have been ashamed to take them there, and I was ashamed to take even humble people from the Gorbals. Joking apart, who was ever proud of yon terrible place? The terrace had some little attraction, but that was about all there was, and usually the terrace was used for only a few weeks in the year.
Everybody who has spoken so far has assumed that he is going to have a place in the new House of Commons. I speak somewhat diffidently about it. I am not so sure. They must be thinking the Diety will keep them alive—but the Diety changes his mind—and that the electors will be sure to send them back here. Let 444 us assume that some of us will be back here. I want a Chamber built that will be a good place for a challenging Debate, a well furnished place, a place where the acoustics will be good, where the air will be good and where Members will be given every reasonable opportunity to carry on their work. Let hon. Members on this side remember that the Labour force here may be a growing one, and the Conservatives may find poorer men coming in on their side. Under those changed conditions the people get to know us better, our constituents find they have an approach which they did not have before. I remember when one of my predecessors, the late Mr. Bonar Law, came to Gorbals he was met with a band and banners. In those days a Member of Parliament was someone apart. I go down there now and they only say "There's Georgie again." Things are different. In the case of both Conservative Members and Labour Members the intimacy with constituents must continue to grow, correspondence increases and we must have facilities for doing our work. The test of a House of Commons is not in the building. The test of a House of Commons is how far it can make the lives of people happier than in the past. To give us a decent House of Commons will not make their lives altogether happier but the Members of the House of Commons will feel that they are better equipped for their job.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I do not know with what degree of interest the House will want to listen to one who has not been a Member of it for a long time, and who by the nature of things will one day have to go elsewhere whatever his constituents may do with him in the meanwhile. Nevertheless, I should like to express in a few sentences my views on this subject. I would begin by agreeing with the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that the terms of this Motion are too narrow. A number of speeches to that effect have been made, and I hope that the Postmaster-General, if he is to reply to the Debate, will take an early opportunity of intervening and tell us that the Select Committee will take a wide view of its terms of reference, because we want to be certain that all the matters which have been raised to-day will be taken into account. I listened with a great deal of interest and warm appreciation to what the Prime Minister 445 said, but I thought it was a little alarming when he began to quote actual figures of the numbers of workmen who would be employed and the actual quarries which would have to be opened. It seemed to me that that part of his speech was in the nature of a schedule of building materials and of labour and could only be based on a very exact idea, in the Prime Minister's own mind, of how the Clamber was to be built. There will have to be some departure from that, it seems to me, if the various demands which have been made by hon. Members are to be satisfied.
I agree broadly with the views which have been expressed by other hon. Members as to the shape of the new Chamber, but, again I am in agreement with the hon. Member for Gorbals when he found himself at variance with the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson) who said that one of the causes of the downfall of France was the shape of its Chamber. That is carrying things very much too far. We do not know exactly what form our Parliamentary democracy will take in this country in future years. It has been said by some that we have had, in effect, a Coalition since 1931, and we cannot now say that after the war we shall return to strict party divisions, with a number of supporters of the Government faced by a comparable number of Members of the Opposition. I do not like to advance the view that we ought to have a semi-circular Chamber, but at the same time I feel the Committee might well bear it in mind with their eyes on possible party alignments in the future.
I was much in agreement with the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Duckworth) when he mentioned the galleries. It was lamentable that in the old Chamber there was so little room for the Press, and particularly for the foreign and Empire Press. It is a point to which we shall have to pay more regard after the war, possibly, than before. We ought also to make better provision for the many visitors from overseas who will be coming here and will desire to attend our Debates. A point which has not been mentioned may particularly interest the Postmaster-General, because he exercises authority over the Department which may be primarily concerned, and that is the question of introducing some electrical machinery to facilitate the business of recording a Division. The Prime Minister 446 spoke about 20 Divisions in a single day. Five hours of time taken up in "trekking" through Division Lobbies—sometimes a very agreeable process when you want to meet those whom you have not previously seen or when you want to hear what exactly was the Amendment upon which, you have just voted, but, nevertheless, sometimes a maddening waste of time. Perhaps the Select Committee might consider adopting some 20th century practice of pressing buttons or dialling dials. The General Post Office might be asked to design some apparatus which would satisfy the numerous and often conflicting requirements. The only other point I wish to make is that I hope the Select Committee will include some of the younger Members of the House who will be going on, it is hoped, for many Parliaments in the future, and, if I may suggest it with respect, not include any of those who have decided to retire before the next Election.
§ Mr. John Wilmot (Kennington)
I should be surprised and sorry to think that the Motion, as set down, is quite so limited as the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and others seemed to believe.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
Gorbals, not "Goebbels."
§ Mr. Wilmot
That seems to be a reflection on the acoustics in this Chamber.
§ Mr. Buchanan
It may be a reflection on the hon. Member's use of the Scottish language.
§ Mr. Wilmot
I think that the limits of the Motion are much wider. I do not think the Committee will be limited to the exact size but will merely be limited to remaining the essential features of the old Chamber.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The building has to be on the old site, so the size is bound to be limited.
§ Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest
I think the Prime Minister's remarks did definitely limit the thing to a restoration of the old Chamber.
§ Mr. Wilmot
The terms of the Motion do not say it and it may well be that within the terms of the Motion some minor modifications of size will be possible. I suggest that few Members would 447 wish to alter the essential features of the old Chamber—I should not—that it should be rectangular and that it should be arranged as the old one was, that is should be roughly the same size, for to have it very much larger or very much smaller would seem to me to have many disadvantages. Within the terms of reference it would be possible for an able designer to find a way for a few more seats for Members, and rather better placed, probably by better use of the south end of the Chamber; and certainly he should provide what is necessary to accommodate more public and more Press. I think it will be found that these things can be done within the scope of the Motion. My hon. Friends have felt, and I think it is very natural at this time, that at the end of a chapter of history we might well commence by building a new kind of Chamber. It is to some an attractive idea but one which I hope the House will reject. We are building for posterity, and nothing is so liable to become out-of-date as a new architectural style. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not if it is good."] It is difficult for a contemporary to be a judge of its essential merits.
I happen to be a member of the London County Council and in the County Hall there is a new debating chamber designed for a new building after the last war, when people had the same kind of feeling as we have now. It was thought to be a fine building. I still think it is, but its debating Chamber is deplorable. It was built by a fine young architect; he had one of the biggest and most responsible tasks that ever fell to an architect of his age and time, but he completely failed in the design of the Chamber. Unfortunately he died at a young age. He made the mistake, an old mistake, of providing a semicircular Chamber and of providing each member with a set desk and seat and he completely destroyed thereby any sense of gathering round for intimate discussion. To address the London County Council is to make a speech in a tomb. He also made the mistake of lining it with marble, so that the acoustics have become so intolerable that we have had to cover all the marble with curtains in order that speakers can be heard at all. This was a modern attempt, with the advantage of every modern aid, to provide an ideal debating 448 Chamber. Each member had a knob which he could press to regulate the ventilation according to his personal taste; but adjacent members have different tastes, so that does not work very well. There it is, near to us, a standing example of how not to do it.
The old House of Commons to which I came some years ago, and from which alas I was absent for some time, had proved itself through the years an almost ideal Chamber. Its acoustics were on the whole very good. It was lined with oak, which time has shown to be the best acoustic material. It provided an intimate sense of discussion and because the Members had no set seats the empty spaces were always away down at the end. Even the smallest assembly in the old Chamber had a feeling of completeness of men gathering in a library round a table to discuss a matter of common interest. Yet when it was completely full, there was, as the Prime Minister said in his grand speech to-day, a sense of big occasion. All of us who have had the habit to call meetings will know how much better it is to have a small hall packed to overflowing than a big hall partly full. So I think that, within the terms of the Motion, it will be possible to devise a new Chamber which will retain the sense of intimacy and not limit those who have to design it to a too exact copy of the old.
We do want a few more seats perhaps, but not many more; I should imagine that another 30 would make a great difference in comfort and accommodation of the House. We do not want quite a replica of some of the rather tawdry, Victorian Tudor-Gothic which was rather carried to excess in the Old Chamber. On the other hand we do not want to disfigure the extraordinary success of this surprisingly successful facade by building an entirely new type in the middle of it. We have to make a compromise between the old and the new, which is after all, a fitting thing to do.
While the new Chamber is being built within the terms of this Motion, there is surely nothing to prevent the formulation of plans for later building something in addition to a new Chamber. We want a new Chamber, but we also want later on some new facilities. It would be really bad that Members of this House of Parliament should much longer after the war be expected to use the downstairs smoking 449 room as the only visitors room; a sort of luxury gentlemen's lavatory which might have been constructed in the Gothic of Paddington Station. It is a deplorable affair; and there is enormous waste of space, due to the construction of the ground floor of this building. I hope when the present emergency is past that we shall be able to tackle the job of providing Members with a workshop worthy of the work which they are doing.
Certainly, there must be recognition that we have evolved from the quill pen to the typewriter. There is no provision in this House for anybody to use a typewriter, except under the most archaic conditions. We have also another invention which has come to us since this House was built, the telephone. The telephone here is an outcast, crowded into odd corners, to be sneaked to with pieces of paper. There is no facility for using the telephone at a desk, which is the way in which everybody uses the telephone for every other occasion and purpose. When this House was built, electricity had not been developed and so all the ventilation was carried out, I believe, by the method of making fires and creating a draught along corridors. The fires are gone. The draughts are still with us. An entirely new system of ventilation is needed, based upon the electric fan; air-conditioning can be adapted to the new Chamber built upon the place of the old.
It seems to me that some provision should be made for the accommodation of Members upon reasonable terms. I am a Londoner and I have the easiest of conditions, but the difficulties of many Members from distant constituencies and of slender means are quite unnecessary. I do think that in designing rooms apart from the Chamber in which Parliament may do its work we should provide for proper office and secretarial accommodation and if possible for some mid-week residential facilities for a limited number of Members who might wish to make use of them. Finally, there is the point that a large part of the business of Members is in seeing people, and there is just no adequate provision here for interviews. It should be possible to bring visitors into this Palace of Westminster in dignity and comfort. I hope that provision will be made for that. I propose to support the Motion and I hope that the majority of Members will do the same.
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid (St. Marylebone)
I should very much like to be a member of this Select Committee, but I am afraid that my chances of such an appointment are rather remote. I have, however, taken a very real interest in the question of what the new House of Commons is to be like. Admitted, that that interest is to some extent for the same reason as that stated by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), who said that it was possibly in the hope that he would still be a Member of Parliament when the new House is built.
I am not very concerned with whether the new House is going to be oblong or semi-circular. I was, though, very intrigued with the suggestion put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). He seemed to have some very beautiful, although some pixilated idea about having the House of Commons segregated some 20 miles from London, the nerve centre of our nation. I wondered whether he also intended to move all the Government Departments from London to 20 miles outside. If so, that would be an immense task, but unless the Government Departments were adjacent to the House of Commons, the whole idea of our having the House of Commons outside London would be negatived. Though that idea did not appeal to me, nor am I concerned about the shape of the building of the new House, nor do I desire to be able to bang the lid of my desk, I feel with other Members that it is absolutely essential that in the new House ventilation should be considerably improved. But this is what I want to stress. Though keeping to our traditions we should keep—to use the Prime Minister's words to-day—"to the sharp pace that modern life has brought upon us."
For once I find myself in the very rare position of being in agreement with the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) who has just spoken. I do believe with him that it is a great opportunity for us to instal in this new House of Commons a more expeditous way of voting. It has already been pointed out to-day, I think with some force, that as in the old days, so in the days to come, unless we get a more modern form of voting, we shall continue to waste anything up to three or four hours on those days when there are a 451 great number of Divisions. Without each Member having his own place in the new House there is no reason whatever why voting should not be done electrically. Hon. Members may smile, but if they had had the opportunity of travelling round and seeing Parliaments of other countries, they would have noticed that electrical voting has been done with considerable success. The Parliament I have in mind at the moment is the Parliament of Finland. There it has proved a great success. Here such a system could, in a year, save an immense amount of valuable time and by such means we should keep, to quote again the Prime Minister, "to the sharp pace that modern life has brought upon us."
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
I wish to say that I support the Motion as put forward by the Prime Minister. I was not only deeply impressed to-day by the superb language of the Prime Minister but also by the Prime Minister's fine appreciation of Parliamentary institutions and their implications. It has been a matter of wonder to me that the Debate to-day has followed more the material side of things rather than following the noble line developed by the Prime Minister. We have been concerned perhaps far too much with detail. It was not my intention when I came here to-day to take part in this Debate. I was only moved to do so by expressions of certain views, though they were not unexpected, from such a quarter as the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) who suggested that some sort of political hotel could be erected, say somewhere in the suburbs of London, with all modern conveniences—mostly underground, I believe. He suggested to my mind a complete break with tradition. I think it was Disraeli who said in the old House across the way that when you break with tradition you inevitably replace it by a regime based on force.
I am not one of those who wishes to break with the past and to construct a brave new world completely dissociated from what has gone before. All our arts and crafts and skill in the art of government descend to us from the past, and it is buildings and their associations which tend to keep us in contact with those traditions. Nothing keeps us more in touch with our Parliamentary traditions than our presence here in the Palace of 452 Westminster. I have always, in spite of what so many say, regarded formality as one of the essentials of human existence. Good manners tend to stabilise our relationships one with another. Constitutional formalities induced in us by great buildings with their associations tend to stabilise the body politic and we should not forget this. I appreciate the fact that the Prime Minister is anxious to push on this work. It is essential to my mind that there should be no gap, no hiatus at the end of the war of perhaps three or four years before the new Parliament assembles in the building appropriate to it, in the precincts which have been associated with so much of the past. This is my reason; new forces will arise when this war is over, forces which will need to be controlled, and it is essential for these forces to meet under the traditions of the great Palace of Westminster because the very fact that they meet in these buildings will act as a controlling force and will help to guide men to sane conclusions.
Let us go ahead with this scheme with all the risks that might still be entailed in doing so. The Palace of Westminster has been associated in our history with Parliamentary government over a long period of time. It has been suggested earlier in the Debate that Parliament has met elsewhere, but for a long time past we have met in these buildings. They have for long been associated with the councils of the State, the King's Palace of Westminster. Indeed we have only to turn our minds back and we will remember that party government, the idea of an inner Cabinet, arose in the 18th century in the old Chamber which preceded this and which was situated within these precincts. Burke, Sheridan, Charles James Fox, Pitt and others there laid down the foundations of what we are enjoying today. Let us remember these things. As the Prime Minister so rightly said the other day, our institutions have been built through a long period of time on firm and sure foundations and will be well able to stand the shocks and the stresses which might impinge upon them in the post-war world. They will be better able to do that if we meet as soon as we can—that is those of us who will be fortunate enough to be here—in the building which has so long been associated with Parliamentary government and its development. So I beg the House to support the Motion 453 as put forward by the Prime Minister, not indeed shutting our eyes to the fact that we may alter here and displace there, but nevertheless bearing in mind that the building in the Palace of Westminster is part and parcel of the Parliamentary institutions which allow us to proceed united in the prosecution of a great and dangerous war and will allow us to bring in the reforms and benefits for the people of this Realm whom we all in our different ways endeavour to represent.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
I cannot say that I agree with the hon. Member who has just sat down. It would seem to me he is going backwards and not forwards. For my part, I would say that when on that famous night in 1941—and I was not very far from the precincts of this House when it happened—the old Chamber was destroyed I regarded it in my own mind as somewhat symbolical—the end of the old order. I think that some of the speeches that have been made to-day also support that view. I welcome the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). It seemed to me we might find that new institution which he runs, "Forward by the Right," for once inclining a bit towards the Left. Whether, in fact, when the new Chamber is built we find them going into the right Lobby or not, remains to be seen.
I got up to support what has been said by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) for whom I have personally the greatest esteem and who made a splendid speech. I do not resent in the slightest his quips at me regarding the downstairs tea-room. I agree I always regarded it as a cross betweens an underground station and a public convenience and no architect worthy of his salt would have constructed such a place for Members of this House to consort in. But I thought the hon. Member was a bit off side so far as his theological views were concerned. Of that no matter, but I never thought of the great Deity as changing his mind. To change the mind is a human frailty, not one which one would attribute to the Highest. On the other hand, I agree with the hon. Member in his objection that the Motion is so limited. The old foundations may have been good and all right but the site has been cleared now so let us employ the best brains and the best ingenuity we can and build a monument which is worthy of the best intentions 454 of the younger generation. I realise in the destruction of the old Chamber of conversation or Debates, whatever you call it, the passing of the old generation and the hope that the future generations would put up something which was really a testimonial to the energy, enthusiasm and suffering of the young people of to-day in bringing about the changes that must come. I agree with the hon. Member for Gorbals in that I would like to see something bigger, something which connotes an expansion of ideas. What we want to see is something which while it maintains if you like the old ideas, at the same time gives us a greater promse of opportunity for the future. We are going to increase our numbers in these islands and not reduce them as the Reich Fuehrer intended; if so we are not going to be limited to 600 Members of this House; we shall be more numerous. Quite obviously the accommodation we had before will be quite inadequate.
I really got up to say something which is entirely out of Order. I got up to say this, with great sincerity, because this is probably the only opportunity I shall ever get of doing so. While recognising that the old foundations on which the old Chamber was built were solid—you could not go any lower than what exists there to-day, that is the earth—do not let this House forget that they have already betrayed the future in the answers which were given to-day at Question time about the return to gold and the artificial basis on which the future is to depend. We have been sold up to the mammon of inequity and unless those on the Government Front Bench get up and reject at once what has been done in America and elsewhere with regard to gold and postwar currency rebuilding will be artless and will be overturned in that it will have been founded on rotten foundations.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
Following a practice which is so old-fashioned that I almost apologise for it, I have been sitting here throughout this Debate. The modern practice is for hon. Gentlemen to attend countless meetings upstairs, and only after hearing an address upstairs by the President of Kamcachunga to attend the House of Commons; and then, after making a speech, they rush out. That, incidentally, has been a very prominent feature of this Debate. We have had to-day a very interesting cross-section— 455 if a very banal term may be permitted—of opinion. I would like to sum up that opinion, not, of course, for the instruction of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Postmaster-General, because he wants no instruction, but for my own instruction, or amusement. The Debate began with a characteristically brilliant speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister. To his great gifts as an orator were added his love of the traditions of Parliament, and he was at his very best. On the whole, I agreed with what he said; but I do not think that the matter is quite so simple.
I am struck by one point, which I do not think has been brought out in the Debate, except by the hon. Member the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), representing the Independent Labour Party. If ever there was a question for the House of Commons to decide, it is the rebuilding of the House of Commons. This is not, from a general point of view, although it may be from a constitutional point of view, really a matter for His Majesty's Government. It is true—and I want to impress this upon the Postmaster-General and any Cabinet Ministers on the Front Bench—that in a constitutional sense the Government are responsible, but surely, from every canon of commonsense practice, it is for Members to decide this question. If ever there was a domestic question which affected us as an institution, it is the rebuilding of our own House. I do not intend this in an unfriendly way to the Prime Minister, although I am not afraid to be unfriendly to the Prime Minister, or to any other powerful person—and I think anyone who will stand up to such powerful people is to be commended. But we should be careful not to fall into the error of thinking that if a man is in supreme authority, occupying the greatest office in our State, in a time of danger such as this, and if he has tremendous gifts, we should accept everything he says on a purely domestic question without consideration. No one would complain because the right hon. Gentleman has not stayed here after moving his Motion, but I hope that the Postmaster-General will see that the many opinions expressed in the course of this Debate are conveyed to him. I am still in some doubt-about the meaning of this Motion. It starts:House of Commons Rebuilding.456 Then there is something which to me seems excessively funny. Every Motion that we receive has to bear the name not merely of a Socialist and of a Tory, but of a leader of each of those two wings of the great Liberal party. Whether the Motion gains any weight from that may be a matter of opinion. The Motion is:That a Select Committee be appointed to consider and report upon plans for the rebuilding of the House of Commons and upon such alterations as may be considered desirable while preserving all its essential features.What exactly is the meaning of "the House of Commons" in this sense? It is a term capable of three or four interpretations. To some people, in ordinary parlance, the House of Commons means the whole of the building devoted to the Commons House of Parliament in normal times: the Library, the Dining Room and all the rest of it. Presumably, what the Government had in mind was the rebuilding of the Chamber itself. I do not suppose for a moment that the Government will adopt my suggestion—probably it would be inconvenient to do so at this moment—but I suggest that they could meet the two streams of opinion, which are, in a way, parallel streams, which we have seen in this Debate. The majority opinion, I think, is in favour of rebuilding the old Chamber in more or less the same form, with certain additions. [Interruption.] I spoke of the majority opinion; I was not referring to the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah). He is entitled to his own rather eccentric opinions on this, as on anything else. It seems to me, having listened to the Debate—which is more than the hon. Member for Bilston has done—that the majority of those Members who have spoken favour rebuilding the House in almost the same form.
But there is a very strong opinion, which has been most vividly put by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) in favour of doing something to improve the amenities of the House. I do not think that it is pressing an open door or performing an unnecessary task to reinforce what the hon. Gentleman has said, although I cannot put it in better language than he has done. It should go out from this House, not merely from the Labour party but from the Tory party as well, that we want to remove the immense inconvenience of the utterly old-fashioned, archaic amenities which have 457 been provided for us. I hope that this will not give offence in any quarters. Those of us who are more fortunate than others—if we are fortunate—in the possession of the world's goods realise what a strain it is for the less fortunate to carry on their duties. For instance, the hon. Member for Gorbals referred to the fact that to telephone you have to go to a box telephone, which is by no means confidential. There is no provision for communication with the outside world. Even the Prime Minister, with all his influence, could not resist the will of the House in this matter—I do not think that he would want to. Surely if we had a full-dress Debate on the subject we should have an opportunity of making an overwhelming demand for better amenities, which nobody could deny us.
The House has not lost its future opportunities. This Motion is only for the creation of a Select Committee, to report on some future occasion. The House will have the very fullest opportunity of discussing the subject. Some of us who never act together on normal occasions ought to get together and take such action as is bound to be efficacious, even in face of the strongest Prime Minister—if there is any reason to suppose that the Government are going to ignore what is obviously the will of the House—in pressing that, as far as it is physically possible, the reconstruction of the House outside the Chamber should be dealt with. It is a great pity that the Committee is not authorised to inquire into the amazing anomaly, worthy of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, concerning the control of this place. The Minister of Works, the Lord Great Chamberlain, you, Mr. Speaker, and the Serjeant at Arms are all so interwoven in the control of this building that nobody knows who is responsible. I have always resented the claim of a certain Court official, to whom I have referred, to have powers over a building in which the Commons House of Parliament sits. I would suggest—though obviously the Postmaster-General could not accept the suggestion now, without the authority of the Prime Minister—that something might be added to the Motion, in more or less the following terms:and to report what changes are possible and desirable in the re-arrangement of the rest of the Palace of Westminster allocated to this House, with a view to the greater convenience of Members of this House.458 If something of that kind could have been added, it would not have interfered with the main purpose of the Government to rebuild the Chamber. They could have had two reports. There could be a report on the rebuilding of the Chamber, and work could start; and then they could deal with the other matters referred to in my suggested addendum. I do not ask my right hon. and gallant Friend for any answer on these points, but I hope that he will give not only me, but the whole House—for we are really at one on this—an assurance that these very important matters which have been raised from all parts of the House, will be given due regard. I hope that he will convey to the Prime Minister the fact that, while we accept entirely what the Prime Minister said in his brilliant speech, this is not a matter for one Government, however powerful. It is a matter of all time; a matter for the House as an institution. A Government is ephemeral: this House is one of the greatest living organisms in this country. I would like to say, if I may without seeming effusive, that we appreciate the action of the Prime Minister in coming down here and delivering such a brilliant speech, and showing such a love for this great institution.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South West)
I want more or less to support the plea of the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) for a wider interpretation of the Motion before the House. There is a good deal of confusion over the interpretation of the term "House of Commons". The public outside think of the House of Commons generally as a group of buildings, symbolised by Big Ben, flanking the river alongside Westminster Bridge. I gather that the Prime Minister's interpretation is limited to the Chamber. I understand that my Noble Friend wants this Committee, which I hope will be a representative one, to take a much wider interpretation of their terms of reference, and not to be limited to the actual debating Chamber. It is very important that facilities for the Press, for instance, and all the other matters we have discussed to-day, should be included in the terms of reference. But the amenities and convenience of Members will require very much broader consideration by the Committee. Recently I had an opportunity to visit the Dominion of Canada. They had, it will be remembered, 459 towards the end of the last war, a big fire which burnt down their Parliament buildings, which required complete reconstruction. In the spirit of this House, they desired their Houses of Parliament to be rebuilt on the same traditions as this House, which had been followed when their original building was erected, but they took the opportunity to add enormously to the facilities for Members of that House. The Chamber suffers, I believe, from many of the faults which we want to avoid. It is too big, and the acoustics are bad, and, owing to its size and general planning, they do not have that intimate discussion and Debate across the Floor of the House such as we want to preserve and which the Prime Minister emphasised, though each Member has a separate desk, and having an allotted seat, there is not a struggle to put cards in their place or the necessity to be present at Prayers. Superficially, Dominion Members are much the better provided for than hon. Members are here. Anybody who has been there will agree with me that the character of Parliament has changed, the speeches are of a more forensic character and are addressed not so much to Members on the opposite side but much more to the Press and public outside which is the very thing we want to avoid.
They have one great advantage as a result of their rebuilding from which we might get some inspiration and guidance. In Canada, following the example of Congress, each Member—it may surprise hon. Members who have not visited that country and have not read about it—is provided with a room to himself and a secretary. I am not going to suggest such a revolution as that. We are so accustomed to being uncomfortable that we would think that something was wrong if we had a convenience of that kind provided, but I do not see why, when the Select Committee is set up, it should be prohibited from investigating whether better facilities could be provided for Private Members. It is all right if you become a Minister. You have your private room in the House and your own office in Whitehall. I am fortunate myself, as I hold some sort of position and have a private room and a room for a secretary, but at least 500 hon. Members have no accommodation at all and have to struggle for places in the Library, and at 460 times they cannot even find a place where they can write their letters. Without altering the essential character of this building, it should not be beyond the wit of man to provide the proper accommodation for hon. Members, first, to carry on their correspondence—a very important part of their duties—with their constituents and the public outside, and secondly, to receive visitors instead of having to meet them in the Lobbies or in St. Stephen's Hall. I see no reason why St. Stephen's House opposite or even the new building it is proposed to erect in Parliament Square should not be designed for, and belong to, Parliament in order to provide facilities for Members to carry on their correspondence and do their personal work. I wish to secure some sort of assurance that the Government will consider giving as much latitude to the Committee as possible, and in spite of the eloquence of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) the House of Commons should continue to be on the banks of the river in Westminster where it has been for hundreds of years, and where it is the centre of the British Commonwealth. I do not agree with him at all in his argument that Parliament should sit in a rarified atmosphere in a gentleman's park where we would be away from the stream of public opinion and out of contact with the public.
§ Mr. Maxton
Bethnal Green is only 20 minutes' run from Westminster, which is 420 miles from Bridgeton.
§ Sir P. Harris
It would not be any nearer for the hon. Member if it was in a gentleman's park. This building should house the Houses of Parliament, and the debating Chamber should remain the same, but I hope the Committee will not be prohibited from inquiring into the problem of whether the convenience of Members can be improved in any way without getting into trouble because of the terms of reference.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
My only object at the conclusion of this Debate in which Private Members have taken part is to offer one thought which is the result of 19 years' experience in the House of Commons, and that is the value of atmosphere. There has been something in the atmosphere of the whole House and of the surroundings as a whole 461 that has managed to discover the best that is even in the worst of us. I, and most other hon. Members, have seen great reforming spirits come down to this House as new Members. They have come possibly from the Clyde and the Tyne and from Ipswich, where they have been inspired or embittered by social injustices prevailing in their own districts. They come with an exaggerated idea of what they are determined to do, sometimes even to destroy not only the constitutional structure but the material structure of our Chamber. I have watched for years and seen the way the atmosphere has got hold of these wild spirits, has tamed them and brought them into a constitutional frame of mind in which they become proud of the structure, of the atmosphere and of the constitutional methods adopted by this ancient Mother of Parliaments. I agree with some of the criticisms which have been made, although on the whole I am entirely behind the Prime Minister in the outline of what we should do. Whatever may be the future and whatever the Select Committee may decide, I hope they will try and preserve, as far as possible, that atmosphere which has enabled the negotiations, consultations and Debates in this House to be conducted in the interests of and the advancement of our people.
§ Captain De Chair (Norfolk, South Western)
It is more than a year since I spoke in this House, because I belong to the Dumb Chums' League who sit behind the Government Front Bench, which makes freedom of expression somewhat difficult. I agree with the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) that this is essentially a House of Commons matter, and, having listened to the greater part of the Debate, it would be true to say there has been a growing uneasiness among Members of the House in approaching this problem. We were swept off our feet by that brilliant speech of the Prime Minister, and I feel the House finds itself in the position of the bashful maiden being approached by a rather dashing lover who sweeps her off her feet at the first moment and afterwards wonders whether it was so wise to have said "Yes" so quickly. What worries hon. Members on all sides of the House is that the terms of the Motion are so limited. Those of us who listened to the Prime Minister cannot but have felt that he has set his heart upon reconstructing the whole Chamber exactly as it had been 462 for 40 years during which he had known it. We must remember that the old Chamber is not part of the historic Houses of Parliament dating from the time of William Rufus. There is nothing sacrosanct about the Victorian Gothic era, and while it is natural that one who, like the Prime Minister, has grown up in that environment and who, as he showed in his remarks, regards it as home, should feel a sentimental attachment towards it, but that does not say that it is necessarily the best environment in which the Debates of this Assembly should be conducted. It was all very well for him, as Prime Minister, to envisage a return to the old conditions, because the Prime Minister of the day or the Cabinet Minister is assured by his distinguished Parliamentary Private Secretary at the last moment when the stage is set, that his seat is waiting. The gap is there. That is not the lot of the private Member.
I well remember the first occasion, now eight years ago, when I tried to get a seat in this House. The new Parliament had met. There was great eagerness on the part of all to get seats. But were there seats for all? Not at all. I remember that I fulfilled the precepts of my predecessor to get here early on the day of the opening of Parliament. I arrived at 6 o'clock in the morning, and even then I had been preceded by the noble Lady the Member for Plymouth (Vis-countess Astor) and the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), whom I found camped in front of the door. The moment the doors were opened at 8 o'clock I stampeded with the rest to get a seat, and I adopted the procedure which is familiar to us but which nevertheless is perhaps not so familiar to those outside the House. This procedure whereby one has to place a card upon the seat he hopes to occupy at a later stage gives one no real guarantee that even if he gets up at 6 o'clock in the morning he will in fact hear the great Budget Debate from that seat. What happened to me? I was young and athletic, possibly more athletic than I am today. I reached the seat I had earmarked in good time, but I had hardly sat upon it when there cannoned into me from the side an enormous body—that of the hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Captain Plugge), who, I am afraid, is not in the House today but who has lost nothing of his weight and importance as the years go by. He said, "I intend to 463 take this seat for the rest of this Parliament." I said, "I was here first," and he replied, "I know you were here first. To-day we will share it, but thereafter I propose to get up, if necessary, at 6 o'clock every morning in order to secure this seat." My first experience was not sufficient to encourage me to enter into that competition, and I believe the hon. and gallant Member has occupied that seat up to this day.
I mention that as an indication of the total inadequacy of the accommodation for Members in the House. When the House overflowed, as on many occasions it did, hon. Members had to sit in the galleries on either side, where, I believe, they had the constitutional right to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, but it was not easy to catch your eye from so high up. In point of fact it was not often done, and many an interruption which might perhaps have altered the history of the world went unspoken because the Member did not find himself at the psychological moment on the Floor of the House. There was also the difficulty of no ventilation and no proper lighting, which made the lot of Members very unpleasant and uncomfortable, and although we gathered from the Prime Minister's speech that all this may be put right in the rebuilding of the House, nevertheless, the mere fact of being tied down to re-build it within the same walls is going to place great limitations upon the kind of improvements that can be made. I have seen admirals come into this House red in the face from the quarterdeck and within a week they were as white as a lily from the lack of ventilation.
The Prime Minister, in a pregnant phrase, said, "We shape our buildings and our buildings shape us." That is very true, but do they shape us so very well? They shaped the Parliaments which twice failed to prevent world wars and shaped the Parliament of Mr., now Lord, Baldwin, which kept the present Prime Minister out of office for a number of years. We may not, therefore, conclude that the type of building we had before will necessarily produce the most sparkling Legislatures in the future. Some have said, "We should rebuild on the same place and ignore the fact that it was destroyed." Why not rebuild London as it was before 464 the blitz? London was, admittedly, a picturesque jumble of houses, but to-day an opportunity has arisen, which may never occur again, to build a new London more in tune with the opening vistas of contemporary thought. The same thing applies to the present Palace of Westminster. An hon. Member opposite, who represents a London Division, said that contemporary architecture was bad. But all architecture has to start somewhere. After all, St. Paul's was built by Sir Christopher Wren, and no doubt people at that time said that it probably would not survive the test of time. It has stood it very well and is likely to become a predominant feature of future plans for the development of London.
I cannot see any argument for those who say that we should risk nothing, that there is a well-worn path for us to follow. The Motion proposes that we should follow that path again, take the safe course and go back to where we were. I only hope that the Government will see their way to eliminate the restricting words at the end of the Motion:… while preserving all its essential features.I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South-East St. Pancras (Sir A. Beit) will press his Amendment to eliminate those words. Otherwise if this Motion is carried and the Select Committee is set up, it will inevitably, after the first few preliminary discussions, work along the groove which the Prime Minister indicated to-day, with the result that we shall find ourselves with a replica of the Chamber we all knew so well. I hope they will look into the future and not merely to the past, and I hope that the Amendment will be pressed, so that we may have an opportunity of allowing to the Select Committee an absolutely unfettered decision on what is purely a House of Commons matter.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
I am in agreement with the Motion before the House, although I, like many other Members, hope it will be widely interpreted. I rise for the purpose of making one point which in my hearing—and I have listened to most of the Debate—has not yet been made. I, too, very much enjoyed the Prime Minister's speech—it was delightful—but I thought he had in his mind a much too clear picture of the future in regard to the provision of a House of 465 Commons Chamber. I hope that that picture will not be allowed to colour too much the opinions of the members of the Select Committee. What struck me particularly about the Prime Minister's speech was his reference to the stone that would be required for rebuilding. He stated that the quarry from which this building of Sir Charles Barrie was built over a 100 years ago would have to be reopened. In the light of our past experience I hope this question of the stone that is required will be fully borne in mind because hundreds of thousands of pounds have been expended in recent years in repairing the Palace of Westminster because the stone from that quarry has not been able to stand up to the London climate. I am not suggesting that the character of the building should be departed from sufficiently to allow it to be built of stone that would stand any climate, say, Aberdeen granite. I realise the importance of using stone which is in keeping with the present building. It seems that during recent times we have not had the knowledge of stone that was possessed by those who built the monuments of many, many years ago and which are standing to-day. For instance, the monks who were responsible for our great abbeys seem to have known far more than we do to-day—
§ Mr. Maxton
Three cheers for the past.
§ Mr. Mathers
The hon. Member, facetiously, says, "Three cheers for the past." I can take him to Melrose Abbey, three miles from my birthplace, and show him something that can be cheered. That building with its delicate decoration has not eroded to any extent at all since it was erected in the 13th century. It is that sort of art we seem to have lost. Therefore, I hope the Prime Minister's reference to the Clipsham Quarry and its stone will not be taken too literally by those who have a decision to make and that we shall make sure that what has happened to this building will not be likely to happen to the new Chamber when it is erected.
§ The Postmaster-General (Captain Crookshank)
I have not very much to say to the House beyond summing up the Debate, but first of all I must express to right hon. and hon. Members the great regret of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that he could not be here to listen 466 to all that has been said. I need hardly assure my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) that I will take the opportunity of seeing that my right hon. Friend is fully acquainted with the views which have been expressed. It is quite clear that this is a House of Commons matter, and from that point of view it has been an extremely good House of Commons Debate. I am quite sure that what has been said here to-day will be of assistance to the Select Committee when it is set up, because it will have before it the views of Members of different parties, of different ages and different lengths of service in the House. I stand rather in a middle position, this being the beginning of my 20th year—nothing like the stage the Noble Lord has passed—but with a longer experience of the old Chamber than some Members who have taken part in the Debate. But I would assure them all that, though the Motion has got as a matter of practice to come before the House in the name of the Prime Minister and the other Ministers whose names are on the Order Paper, as representing the different political aspects of the Government, of course Ministers are just as much Members of Parliament as anyone else, and they all have their own views on many of the topics that have been raised to-day. I am not proposing to urge my own personal views on this occasion, but I have sympathy with a great deal of what has been said.
By and large, most Members are agreeable to the suggestions which the Prime Minister has made in a speech which will certainly become a classic. He laid down two premises, one about shape and one about size, in the sense of not being so big that everyone would automatically have a seat. He went on from that to make suggestions which he hoped, as a Member of Parliament and as Leader of the House, the Committee would adhere to. If the Committee does not adhere to them, that is for the Committee itself to decide, but on size there was a slight difference of opinion, because some Members took the view that it was uncomfortable to get up and speak and find the benches empty. Many other Members would say it is uncomfortable to sit down and listen and find the benches full, because there is no place upon which they can rest. But, by and large, what the Prime Minister said about the accommodation 467 was acceptable to most of the subsequent speakers.
With regard to locality, the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) did not get very enthusiastic support for his proposal. Most of us feel that Westminster is the place where Parliament should sit. It was born there, and it has sat there for many centuries. [Interruption.] It was born there for all practical purposes. The hon. Member appears to have gone all suburban. He outlined what seemed to be a glorified roadhouse somewhere, a cross between the late Crystal Palace, a civil airport and Waterloo Station, situated in the surroundings of a Chatsworth, most inconvenient for Members who have to work there, inconvenient for keeping in contact with Government Departments, because if they all removed there the wonderful parkland surroundings would no longer remain, most inconvenient for the Press, about whose comfort so much has been said, and most inconvenient for the general public, who we are sure will want to attend our Debates in great numbers. I do not know for whom it would be convenient, but no one has enthusiastically supported the hon. Member, and I think it was one of the jests to which he sometimes treats the House.
§ Mr. Maxton
I do not think that is fair.
§ Captain Crookshank
I do not want to offend the hon. Member. May I put it that the Select Committee will, no doubt, look into it?
§ Mr. Maxton
I sketched in very general terms certain things which I thought could be done in the post-war politics of the world. I urged the Prime Minister to alter the terms of reference so that alternative schemes could be considered. It is to use the right hon. and gallant Gentleman saying the Select Committee can consider my proposals, because they are debarred from considering them by the terms of the Motion.
§ Captain Crookshank
I am sorry. I made a mistake. One does sometimes. I was carried away by the hon. Member's eloquence. There was some difference of opinion about the need for fresh amenities, rather smaller details, perhaps, connected with the Chamber. My hon. Friend the Member for South-East St. Pancras (Sir A. Beit) asked whether there would be 468 latitude for the Committee to interpret its terms of reference as to what was to be covered by the words "essential features." Of course, it is for the Select Committee to interpret for itself the terms of reference, and it would be most improper for me to give them guidance. [Interruption.] If there are terms of reference given to any Committee, the Committee must interpret them itself.
§ Earl Winterton
I should like to assure my right hon. and gallant Friend that he is completely wrong. It is the duty of a Government, when proposing a Motion to the House, to say what in their opinion are the functions laid down for a Select Committee. I asked if they include the right to consider other parts of the House besides the Chamber.
§ Captain Crookshank
The Noble Lord is so impatient. Points of smaller detail, such as ventilation and lighting, are what I had in mind. I am not on the Noble Lord's bigger issue. I will come to that in a moment.
§ Sir A. Beit
Does my right hon. and gallant Friend consider the architecture of the building a smaller issue? That is one of the things that I specifically asked, and the Prime Minister has made it clear that it is one of the things on which his mind is made up.
§ Captain Crookshank
The architecture is not a detail at all. Then there has been some difference of opinion as between my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah) and others. I said earlier that the Prime Minister had given a general view of what he, as Leader of the House, thought would be a good line of approach, and, by and large, the House has accepted that. The Noble Lord will see from the Prime, Minister's speech what he had in mind with regard to the terms of reference.
§ Earl Winterton
This is a matter which we really must inquire into. Every speaker has asked whether it is a fact that in the opinion of the Government the terms of the Motion are so framed that, in addition to considering the reconstruction of the Chamber itself, it can take into account the reconstruction of other parts of the House, which every Member has said should be undertaken.
§ Captain Crookshank
I am sorry, but it is so difficult. I have notes to make what I thought would be a consecutive speech. I have that point on the next page. I told the Noble Lord sotto voce that I was coming to it in due course. If the House prefers a disjointed speech, I am prepared to be disjointed, but I am sorry that my speech will not be the logical oration that I meant it to be. To answer that point specifically, of course during the Debate a good many things have been said regarding amenities for Members—accommodation for Members, better rooms, criticism of the refreshment rooms downstairs, better telephones, better writing tables, better almost everything. All that has to do with the general amenities of life at Westminster. My answer to that would be that so far as this Select Committee is being set up for rebuilding the House of Commons, that is to say, rebuilding what has been destroyed, these various points are not strictly relevant. Rebuilding the House of Commons is one thing, rearranging all the internal affairs of this building, upon which, as is quite obvious, most hon. Members feel very strongly, is another thing. I am dealing with this proposed Select Committee. The Noble Lord said in his speech—I think I have his exact words—that the majority want rebuilding, more or less, of the old Chamber—this was his summing-up of the Debate—and that a strong majority is in favour of improving the amenities for Members. The second point, while it has been rightly the subject of discussion to-day, has not really and in fact to do with the actual rebuilding, but in view of what has been said—
§ Mr. Maxton
We have asked for an extension of the amenities in the old building.
§ Captain Crookshank
The Select Committee's terms of reference do not deal with amenities, but the rebuilding of what was destroyed. I do not think the Prime Minister, when he made his opening speech, had appreciated that the Debate—after all, Debates do move along—was going to take this particular line. He addressed himself entirely to the narrower question of rebuilding what was destroyed, and it was about that which he spoke, and it is about that specifically that this Select Committee is to be asked to undertake its work, but in view of what has been said the first thing I shall do will be to tell the Prime Minister exactly 470 what Members of this House—and this is a House of Commons matter—feel about it, and then we shall see what happens. It may not be at all desirable, on the principle of doing first things first. After all, the most important thing is to get back the Chamber, in which we can work again. [Interruption.] Well, there are reasons why it is not possible to trespass over long on the hospitality extended to us by the other place, and that was dealt with in the Prime Minister's speech. All I can do in view of the turn which the Debate took—at the beginning of my speech I conveyed the apology of the Prime Minister that he could not be present—is to explain what has been said on these various matters. So far as the Select Committee is concerned it is to deal, according to these terms of reference, with the actual rebuilding of what has been destroyed—and that is the House of Commons—as opposed to the general amenities and changes which may or may not be desirable in the Palace of Westminster generally, which is not the same thing.
I hope I have satisfied hon. Members—I am only here to try to do that—and having done it now in an illogical speech as a result of the Noble Lord's intervention, I will go back and answer my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), who was really the only hon. Member who took the line that it was most inopportune to attempt to rebuild any part of this destroyed area. All I have to say in answer to that is that to judge from the Debate, of which I have heard every word, no one else takes that view. Hon. Members did think we should rebuild in due course, I am not saying to-morrow morning, but before you rebuild you have to consider the plans. I would remind hon. Members that this is not a matter in which the Government, apart from putting down the Motion for the Select Committee, can take any initiative. It is not for us to do it. In other fields we are being pressed to get on with our plans quicker and quicker, and therefore why should we not suggest to the House that on its own responsibility it should at least consider planning for its own purposes? We cannot do it for the House, and that is the reason why the thing has to come before the House in this form, in view of the necessity for time in a matter like this. After all, a report has to be carefully prepared by those of 471 our colleagues who will be on the Committee, and so I do not think it is untimely that it should be set up now. There is nothing irrevocable in what we are doing to-day. The Committee is not set up: the names of the hon. Members who will be proposed to the House will come before the House in due course. The Committee will then require to take evidence and make its own plans. Its report will come before the House and the House will have the opportunity to study it and to make up its mind on what is recommended by its own colleagues.
§ Mr. Maxton
We are setting a limit to its work.
§ Captain Crookshank
A limit with regard to the point of the actual rebuilding. With regard to the other things, I undertake to report to the Prime Minister what has been said for his consideration in the light of the Debate. I see that the Prime Minister is now present, and I am indeed fortunate that I shall not have to make this speech all over again to him. I must remind hon. Members that there is nothing irrevocable in taking the first vague, faltering steps along the road in order to get a new Chamber in which we are to work.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
From a purely practical and architectural point of view, does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman think it will be easy or possible for the Select Committee to plan the actual structural rebuilding without considering the shape and the functions and so forth of the rooms inside that building—the rooms, apart from the Chamber itself?
§ Captain Crookshank
I should not think there was any difficulty in knowing the shape and function of the House of Commons—the shape is oblong and the function is to deliberate. The Prime Minister, addressing the House earlier, did suggest that we should adhere firmly to the characteristics of the old Chamber, and by and large hon. Members who
|Division No. 28.||AYES.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P.||Brooke, H. (Lewisham)|
|Adamson, W. M. (Cannock)||Beaumont, Hubert (Batley)||Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Beechman, N. A.||Bull, B. B.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Benson, G.||Burden, T. W.|
|Apsley, Lady||Boothby, R. J. G.||Butcher, Lieut. H. W.|
|Assheton, R.||Bower, Comdr. R. T. (Cleveland)||Cadogan, Maj. Sir E.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Brocklebank, Sir C. E. R.||Carver, Colonel W. H.|
§ have spoken have agreed with that, and the noble Lord has endorsed it as being the view of the majority of the speakers. The hon. Member for Bridgeton says the old House had no great record of antiquity. It is true that it was only about 100 years old but it is also true that it came into use shortly after the Reform Act and saw very many changes, and it died in the battle which the democracy which that Reform Act had largely helped to shape is fighting against tyranny. If we are lucky in the forties of this century there will arise a new Chamber. What its future will be we cannot tell, but we do know that a House, any House, does not necessarily make an institution any more than clothes make men. It is the experience that surrounds it which counts for something. It affected the actions of men. After all, Parliament is built on custom, on history and on precedent, and yet new precedents are being made all the time as we move forward year by year. This Select Committee may wish, for all I know, to create precedents itself. On the other hand, it may not. All we can do, if the House is prepared to accept this Motion, and judging by the Debate it is, is to await the result of the labours of this Select Committee, which will certainly be much helped by this Debate. All we can do then is to hope that our colleagues who will undertake this job, an important, responsible, difficult and weighty job, will be given wisdom and understanding to solve the problem aright, to produce a report which then can go forward, and that we can build up not all that we have lost but something which will be equally valuable for the future.
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider and report upon plans for the rebuilding of the House of Commons and upon such alterations as may be considered desirable while preserving all its essential features.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 127; Noes, 3.
|Cary, R. A.||Heneage, Lt.-Col. A. P.||Rankin, Sir R.|
|Channon, H.||Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.||Reakes, G. L. (Wallasey)|
|Churchill, Rt. Hn. Winston S. (Ep'ing)||Hopkinson, A.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)|
|Cobb, Captain E. C.||Horsbrugh, Florence||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)|
|Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Hutchinson, G. C. (Ilford)||Riley, B.|
|Critchley, A.||Jeffreys, Gen. Sir G. D.||Rothschild, J. A. de|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Sanderson, Sir F. B.|
|Crowder, Capt. J. F. E.||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Scott, Donald (Wansbeck)|
|Culverwell, C. T.||Kerr, Sir John Graham (Scottish U's)||Selley, H. R.|
|Davidson, Viscountess (H'm'l H'mst'd)||Kirby, B. V.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Denville, Alfred||Leas-Jones, J.||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Drewe, C.||Leslie, J. R.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir D. B.|
|Dugdale, Major T. L. (Richmond)||Levy, T.||Southby, Comdr. Sir A. R. J.|
|Eccles, D. M.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. W. (Ladywood)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||McCorquodale, Malcolm S.||Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.|
|Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Macdonald, Captain Peter (I. of W.)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||McEntee, V. La T.||Sykes, Maj.-Gen. Rt. Hon. Sir F. H.|
|Evans, Colonel A. (Cardiff, S.)||McNeil, H.||Taylor, Major C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Everard, Sir W. Lindsay||Making, Brig.-Gen. Sir E.||Thomas, I. (Keighley)|
|Furness, Major S. N.||Mander, G. le M.||Thomas, Dr. W. S. Russell (S'th'm'tn)|
|Gammans, Capt. L. D.||Marshall, F.||Touche, G. C.|
|Glyn, Sir R. G. C.||Martin, J. H.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Comdr. R. L.|
|Gower, Sir R. V.||Mathers, G.||Viant, S. P.|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.||Walkden, E. (Doncaster)|
|Greenwell, Colonel T. G.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Ward, Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Gretton, J. F.||Nicholson, Captain G. (Farnham)||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Gridley, Sir A. B.||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Watt, Lt.-Col. G. S. H. (Richmond)|
|Grigg, Sir E. W. M. (Altrincham)||Petherick, Major M.||White, H. Graham (Birkenhead, E.)|
|Grimston, R. V. (Westbury)||Pethick-Lawrenee, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W. (Blaydon)|
|Guy, W. H.||Peto, Major B. A. J.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Hammersley, S. S.||Price, M. P.||Woolley, Major W. E.|
|Hannah, I. C.||Procter, Major H. A.||Wright, Mrs. Beatrice F. (Bodmin)|
|Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Pym, L. R.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Harris, Rt. Hon. Sir P. A.||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Headlam, Lt.-Col. Sir C. M.||Raikes, Flight-Lieut. H. V. A. M.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:—|
|Mr. Boulton and Capt. McEwen.|
|Brown, W. J. (Rugby)||Maxton, J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:—|
|Buchanan, G.||Capt. De Chair and|