HC Deb 07 December 1949 vol 470 cc1901-4

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Sir Harold Webbe (Westminster, Abbey)

I should like to say a word or two about subsection (5) of this Clause. Since the Bill received its Second Reading, substantial amendments have been made and the scheme has been very considerably altered. I think it will be generally agreed that the new scheme covered by the Bill, as it is now before us, is a great improvement on the old one. Certainly the objections which were raised to the original scheme by the Westminster City Council have, generally speaking, been quite fairly met.

One of the principal improvements which has taken place is that the new scheme provides for the retention of the footways facing the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, footways which the original scheme proposed to absorb into the garden, access to which would have been denied to the public. I am quite certain that that is a great improvement. On ceremonial occasions in Westminster those two footways represent about the best grandstand, or one of the best grandstands, in London. I am certain it is right that their use should be preserved for the public, and I am convinced that from the point of view of traffic danger it is a great improvement that there should be a footway there instead of the proposed 18-inch kerb.

The definition of the footways which are to be retained is, I think perhaps necessarily, rather vague. In line 11 on page 4 it is stated that the pavement to be provided by the London County Council, and subsequently maintained by the Westminster City Council, shall be round part of that garden. The definition of what part is to be pavement and what part is to be garden is to be determined later. The present plan shows the whole of the pavement stretching from the entrance on the corner at the bottom of Whitehall to the entrance round the corner at the corner opposite the doors of the Abbey, but there is no precise definition of where the pavement is to end and the garden to begin. The Westminster City Council would have liked to have that settled by a signed plan. Instead, subsection (5) provides that it shall be determined by an order to be made by the Minister.

Frankly, after a few years' experience, we are suspicious of any orders made by any Minister on any subject, but I am prepared to accept the position which has been represented to me by the Minister and his officers, that the purpose of this definition is to determine the respective responsibilities of the Minister of Works for the garden and the local authorities for the pathways, and that it is not possible until the scheme has proceeded a considerable way and a considerable amount of constructural work has been done to lay down precisely, as it must be almost to an inch, where the responsibility of the one authority ends and the responsibility of the other begins. Therefore, I have not put down an Amendment to this Clause.

I understand that the Minister is prepared, as I now invite him to do, to give me two assurances in regard to the order which it is proposed to make. The first assurance for which I ask is that the order will be limited to defining strictly the line at which the responsibility of the local authority ends and the garden for which the Ministry is responsible begins; I wish to be assured that it will do no more than that, and that it will in no way modify the scheme which is now agreed between all the parties, at any rate in such a way as to restrict at all the space which it is now proposed should be left as a public footway over which the public will have a right of way.

The second assurance that I should like the Minister to give me is that in framing the order, which of course cannot be done until the scheme is fairly well advanced, he will consult with the Westminster City Council so that there may be no misunderstanding when the order is made. I am given to understand that the Minister is prepared to give those assurances, and in view of that understanding I have not put down any Amendment.

Perhaps before I conclude I may be allowed to thank the Minister for the readiness with which he has met the objections which have been raised by the City of Westminster and the criticisms which have been made in this House, and through him also to thank the architect of the scheme and the officers of his Department for the trouble they have taken and the help they have given in bringing about agreement on what I am sure the whole Committee will regard as one of the most important improvement schemes which has been before Parliament for a considerable time.

Mr. Key

I should like to thank the hon. Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) for his remarks about myself, the architect and my officers. I have always found that negotiation with local authorities is the best way to settle any difficulties which there may be.

The subsection to which the hon. Gentleman referred deals only with the specific point of defining the extent of the pavement that has to be provided by the London County Council, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be nothing in the order that will go outside that limit. Secondly, it was our intention in framing this subsection that when we came to make the order we should first consult the local authority which will be responsible for the maintenance, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall definitely do that.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I support the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir H. Webbe). We have been very satisfied with the improvements proposed by the Minister. But before we leave this Clause, I should like to press the right hon. Gentleman to give some indication of where these pavements will be, if he can do so. The geographical situation of the pavements compared with the original 18-inch kerb is not clear, at any rate to my mind.

Mr. Key

They will be in the position of the pavements which are now on the south and the east part of the island, and, according to the plans that have been drawn, they will be 12-feet wide in place of the 18-inches mentioned in the Bill. They will face the Houses of Parliament and also face St. Margaret's and Westminster Abbey.

Mr. R. A. Butler

And on the other side?

Mr. Key

Not on the other side, because the pavements for the other side will be inside and not outside the garden. That has been arranged in the plan and has been held to be adequate for the purpose.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 3 to 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.