HC Deb 23 November 1949 vol 470 cc464-85

Order for Second Reading read.

8.43 p.m.

The Minister of Works (Mr. Key)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill deals with improvements to Parliament Square, formerly known as Garden Square, and one result of the Bill will, I hope, be to enable the Square once again to live up to its old name. The land comprising it was purchased by the Special Commissioners of Improvements at various times throughout the eighteenth century under statutes for the purpose of improving the approaches to the Houses of Parliament. It was laid out in its present form in 1868 to the design of Mr. E. M. Barry, son of the architect of the Houses of Parliament. It was sadly mutilated by the removal of Baron Marochetti's railings and lamp standards during the war.

In 1935 a row of houses along Little George Street was purchased by a building firm who intended to erect a very tall block of offices there, and demolition of the houses was begun. The Middlesex County Council, who were anxious to preserve the amenities of their Guildhall, purchased the site from the building firm. The Government then agreed to buy the site from the Middlesex County Council at the price paid, assisted by contributions from the Pilgrim Trust, the London County Council, the Middlesex County Council, the Westminster City Council and the Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Transport drew attention to the necessity for improving the traffic conditions in Parliament Square. They suggested that a larger central island was necessary to allow traffic more room in Great George Street. If the northern side of the central island were lengthened it was expected that the frequent traffic blocks at the junction of Parliament Street and Bridge Street with Parliament Square would be greatly reduced.

The scheme, however, was held in abeyance during the war, but was brought up again by the London County Council, who produced a revised scheme which was submitted to the Ministry of Works in 1947. The Ministry of Transport and the police approved those proposals as being very necessary for improving traffic conditions in a very congested part of the capital. It is a scheme which would in any case have been put forward as a part of the London County Council programme of road improvements, but the proposal to hold the Festival of Britain on the South Bank site gave special urgency to the problem. The police felt that unless the Parliament Square scheme could be carried out before the Festival it would be very difficult for them to agree to the choice of the South Bank site for the Festival of Britain.

Parliament Square lies on one of the main approaches to the Festival site from the northern bank of the river, and it was finally decided that the road improvement should be completed by the time the Festival opened, and arrangements were therefore made to proceed with the scheme. I would point out that in the annual Estimates of my Department the House approved expenses for that part of the work which will be done in the present financial year. As might be realised, when dealing with land so close to the Palace of Westminster, and possessing so long a history, the legal position regarding the square is somewhat involved. As an example, I would mention that when my Department asked the Public Record Office to provide the documents relating to land titles in and around Parliament Square, the Public Record Office sent over to the Treasury Solicitor 42 boxes containing some 600 documents. Examination of these documents suggested that difficulties might arise if the scheme were carried out without statutory authority, and it was therefore decided to introduce this Bill.

The land had been acquired for specific purposes at different times, and although the whole of it was now Crown property certain obscurities in title and restrictions on use rendered this step essential. This Bill is designed to deal with these problems and to clear up certain other small points in connection with the scheme. It is not designed—and I want to emphasis this—to authorise the scheme as a whole, but is limited to removing any doubts about title to ownership and to powers to carry out details of the scheme.

The responsibility for the scheme is divided between the London County Council and the Ministry of Works. The London County Council will be responsible for road works and the Ministry of Works for laying out and maintaining the two new garden enclosures. All these works will be carried out almost entirely under existing powers. The points covered in the Bill are the narrowing by a few feet of certain carriage ways for which neither the Ministry of Works nor the County Council have powers, and the extinguishing of certain rights of way.

It would have been possible to extinguish these rights of way without a Bill, but since a Bill was considered necessary for other purposes they have been included as a matter of convenience. Authority is also being sought to remove statues and to re-erect them. Plans and a model of the scheme have been available for inspection, and a revised plan is now in the Library of this House. Briefly, it is intended to enlarge the central existing island to include the present carriageway on the western side and a portion of the Canning enclosure. The new carriageway will run through the centre of what is now the Canning enclosure with a footpath on its western side.

At the urgent request of the police, no provision has been made for a footpath around the new enlarged central island, and it is hoped thereby to discourage pedestrians crossing to the central island and thus to reduce the accident risks. There will, however, be two entrances to the garden, one at the north and one at the south, for which special pedestrian crossings are to be provided.

The garden will be surrounded by a narrow curb and a low wall, and the interior will be laid out with paved walks and with lines of flower beds. A small garden will also be laid out in what is left of the Canning enclosure on the western side of the new carriageway. The statues of Lincoln and Canning will be sited in this small garden, and the statues of Derby, Palmerston, Disraeli and Peel will be arranged along the western side of the island. Provision is also being made in the design for the erection of an equestrian statute in the north-east corner of the central garden looking out on Parliament Street. No decision has as yet been reached as to the nature of this statue, while certain details of the layout remain to be discussed with the Royal Fine Art Commission who have, however, approved the scheme as a whole.

Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)

Can the right hon. Gentleman say if it has been decided what equestrian is to be on the statue?

Mr. Key

No. As I have said the nature of the statue has not yet been decided. Examination of this Bill will show how little of this scheme which I have tried to explain has in fact to be authorised by it. For convenience, the scheme as a whole has been set forth in the Preamble, both the parts to be enacted and those to be carried out under existing powers.

The first Clause of the Bill authorises the London County Council to carry out the narrowing of the carriageways. The three works involved are a portion of Great George Street which is a few feet wide, which will be incorporated in the new central garden opposite the end of Parliament Street; the widening of the pavement outside the Middlesex Guildhall, and the widening of the pavement outside St. Margaret's Church. The second of these works has been included to meet, as far as possible, certain objections on the part of the Middlesex County Council to the scheme. They felt that traffic would be brought much nearer to the windows of their Guildhall than at present. The pavement, therefore, has been extended as far as possible at the corner of Broad Sanctuary and Little George Street to minimise any nuisance to them from noise.

Clause 2 deals with the extinguishing and creation of rights of way. As I have already said, we have considered it convenient to deal with this in the Bill, although we could have done it without it. The new road is being made by the London County Council under their powers as highway improvement authority, and for that no new powers are included in the Bill. The rights of way on the pavements of the existing central island will be extinguished under the new scheme, and a portion of the pavement on the eastern side of Little George Street will be incorporated in the new Canning enclosure. The Clause provides for this, but it is so worded as to insure that no rights of way will be extinguished until the new road is open to traffic. It also provides for the handing over of maintenance of the new carriageway and pavements to the highway authority, the Westminster City Council, when the work is completed.

Clause 3 provides for the removal and re-erection of statues in Parliament Square and the Canning enclosure, and for the removal of the Buxton Memorial Fountain. All the existing statues will be re-erected in the new Central Gardens or the new Canning enclosure, but the future of the Buxton Memorial Fountain is still under discussion—it is not proposed to re-erect it in Parliament Square. The Clause also seeks to remove any doubts as to the title of the land in the Square, which will henceforth be vested in the Ministry of Works. The sewers, cables, mains and other apparatus under the Square, and the District Railway, will not be affected by this Clause, as their rights are being specifically reserved in the last paragraph.

Clause 4 refers to the provisions set out in the Schedule for the protection of the statutory undertakers and of the British Transport Commission in regard to the possible effects on their apparatus and property resulting from work in the Square. The Schedule provides for the protection of the British Transport Commission, and is modelled on the protection accorded them in the Public Office (Site) Act, 1947. It has been drafted in consultation with the legal advisors of the British Transport Commission, and agreement in principle has been reached with them.

Part II of the Schedule deals with the protection of the statutory undertakers. In order to save expense and time, it has been agreed by all interested parties that certain of the mains, cables, and pipes belonging to the Metropolitan Water Board, the North Thames Gas Board and the London Electricity Board should not be moved. They are at present beneath the public highway, but after the completion of the work some will be underneath the new Gardens. It was clearly necessary to offer them adequate access to their apparatus, and this is designed to safeguard their rights.

The remaining Clauses of the Bill reserve the rights of the Lord Great Chamberlain and other officers of State, deal with the expenses of the scheme, the use of the Square on ceremonial occasions and matters of interpretation. The Ministry of Works are responsible for the new gardens and for the expenses involved in laying them out; it is estimated that the cost will be £60,000. The London County Council will be responsible for all road works, and they will be assisted in defraying the cost of these by a 75 per cent. grant from the Ministry of Transport. The cost of removing the statue of Lincoln and the Buxton Memorial Fountain has been accepted by them as being part of works being properly chargeable as road works. I understand that the expenditure involved is approximately £46,500, of which £1,500 will be required for work authorised under Clause 1.

In preparing the scheme every effort has been made to consult every interested party. The architectural design is the work of Mr. Grey Wornum, and the scheme as a whole has been accepted in principle by all concerned with the sole exception of the Middlesex County Council. To accept the alterations required by the Middlesex County Council would have involved the complete reworking of the scheme, to which I could not agree. When plans and models were exhibited to Members of the House during the summer no adverse criticism was received from any quarter, so I trust that hon. Members will find no difficulty in giving the Bill a Second Reading and supporting this important improvement of the traffic of London and the amenities of Westminster and its Palace.

Mr. Haydn Davies (St. Pancras, South West)

Did I understand my right hon. Friend to say that all the statues would be put back and no new ones brought in at all? Must the scheme be confined to those which are there already?

Mr. Key

All the existing statues in Parliament Square will be re-erected and re-sited. The scheme envisages a new equestrian statue on the north-east corner, looking up Parliament Street. So far as I can see there is nothing to prevent additional statues being put there in future, if they are felt to be essential.

Mr. Davies

Could we have in this new conception of Parliament Square the finest piece of statuary in London "The Burghers of Calais," which is lying neglected under the Victoria Tower?

Mr. Key

No, Sir, but I have other ideas of what may be done with it.

9.4 p.m.

Sir Harold Webbe (Westminster, Abbey)

I am sure the House will be grateful to the Minister for the clear explanation he has given of the content and purpose of the Bill and the circumstances which have lead to its introduction. It is, of course, in a sense a small Bill, but I am sure hon. Members will agree that it is a very important Bill. After all, Parliament Square is not merely an important site in the City of Westminster; it is the site of the very heart of the Empire and its development and future are, therefore, the concern not only of the people of Westminster but of every hon. Member and indeed the whole of the people of this country.

It is because of the importance of the Bill that I am sorry, and I think others are sorry, too, that it is introduced in conditions which involve a rather speedy handling of this piece of legislation, and in a form which will not give some opportunity on the Committee stage to hon. Members generally to make their comments and criticisms on detail. I hope I shall not be out of Order in what I have to say, but I feel it is desirable that one should say something about the broad details of the scheme.

The Bill refers to a scheme which is shown on a deposited plan. I assume that the plan, which is now in the Library of the House, is intended to be a deposited plan. I should like to make one or two general comments on that plan and on the scheme which is outlined. As a traffic improvement, I am personally satisfied that it is a most valuable scheme, and I hope very much that the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill without any dissension. But when one looks at the detailed working of it, I must confess I am not by any means as satisfied. The proposed arrangement of the garden is almost a monstrosity. I do not know whether those who have drawn this plan of gardening arrangements are gardeners. I very much doubt it, because no gardener could obtain satisfaction in the planting of some of the beds.

The whole scheme is terrifically modern. It offends against all canons of gardening development and design. It is extraordinarily restless. It avoids in a studied manner any attempt at symmetry. There is nothing symmetrical in it even where there is an opportunity for symmetry. In the paved portion with the beds inside, symmetry is deliberately avoided by placing two of the L-shaped beds in the same direction instead of facing one another to frame the statue between them. So far as I can see, the only explanation is that this is to be a space in the centre of a traffic roundabout, and quite clearly the only underlying idea of the design is that the whole of the features in the garden should chase one another round in the same direction as the traffic moves. It is shockingly restless, and I hope that before the Ministry are committed to this particular design for the gardens, they will at least look at it again. The only restful thing in the whole of that site is the statues of the dead Prime Ministers.

There is a much more serious feature about the design which must be looked at very closely indeed. The Minister has explained that at the request of the police it is proposed to make this an island site, which can only be entered at two points, and round which there will be no pathway and nothing but an 18-inch kerb. The intention is no doubt admirable. It is to discourage pedestrians from crossing dangerous lines of traffic at other than specified points. I am quite sure that the Minister, with his knowledge of London and all the attempts that have been made to stop street accidents by providing safe crossings, will realise how completely hopeless it is to assume that that intention will be realised. He has only to take as an example the death-trap crossing at the County Hall end of Westminster Bridge, where a subway has been provided for many years and nobody ever uses it. It is certain that people will not be discouraged from attempting to get on to the island from points other than the two corners where entrances are provided.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, West)

Has the hon. Gentleman observed what happens now at the traffic island at Mill-bank which is circular? Precisely the same will happen in Parliament Square. Pedestrians do not go across the lines of traffic.

Sir H. Webbe

Surely that is quite a different case. Here is a garden to which people are invited, with features in it which people wish to enjoy. Very many more pedestrians desire to cross from one side of Parliament Street to the other than try to get across at Millbank. People simply will not do it. I know that I am by no means alone in this conviction that this kerb will become a positive death-trap. Old ladies who will try to get across there will measure more than eighteen inches, even if you take them sideways, and the plight of pedestrians who are marooned at these spots when they are trying to find holes into which they can bolt for safety is one which no one can seriously contemplate. I hope that that feature, which I regard as of the utmost importance to pedestrian safety, will be reconsidered. I know that I am by no means alone in this view.

Apart from comments of that kind, I support the Bill. I wish it were possible—and that guidance could be given—for hon. Members in one way or another to convey their criticisms to the Select Committee which will examine the Bill. I am not expert in Parliamentary Procedure, but I am afraid that it is difficult for that to be done. The matter is of such general interest to hon. Members who desire that the development of Parliament Square should be on proper lines so as to be worthy of the importance of the site, that I feel sure that many hon. Members will want to convey their ideas about the design which is before us. I have no further criticisms to offer. I hope that the House will agree to the Second Reading and that there will be opportunities for further consideration of details which, from my point of view, are by no means satisfactory.

9.13 p.m.

Mr. Gibson (Kennington)

I do not propose to detain the House very long and although I would like to follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Westminster, Abbey (Sir H. Webbe) about gardening, I am not expert enough to decide whether he is right or wrong. This Bill seems to me to propose a first-class traffic improvement which we ought to have done many years ago and therefore I support it wholeheartedly. I have no right to speak for the London County Council but I think I can say that the Ministry of Works will have their wholehearted co-operation in carrying out this scheme.

There is one point that I wish to make. The Minister explained in some detail that all the statues were to be put back. I regret that. Those statues are by no means a credit to London or to the artistic sense of London, except perhaps in the case of one: I would exclude the Lincoln monument from my criticism.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)

Keep the Disraeli statue, too.

Mr. Gibson

I am a bit dubious about putting back the statues in the middle of this very great traffic improvement. Apart from that, I wish to put forward some points of criticism about the Bill, which I regard as a traffic improvement urgently needed in that part of London. I hope that we shall avoid the idea of a completely grass area and that there will be some flower beds properly and beautifully laid out. I have no doubt that the Ministry of Works will be able to find people who will give us an English garden, not too extravagantly modern perhaps, but one which will at any rate add to the beauty of that part of London. As a traffic improvement, this is a wise and appropriate Bill, and like the hon. Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster, I hope that the House will give it a unanimous Second Reading.

9.16 p.m.

Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)

I should like to add my tribute to that which the Minister paid to the Middlesex County Council, who acquired the land without which the Square could not have been made a square in Tact as well as in name. Their public spirit is all the more commendable because their Guildhall is not, and for many years has not been, in Middlesex, and so their ratepayers are contributing to something which is quite a long way from their own county. I am very glad that the new road has been laid out in a fresh way so that it will not go. immediately under their windows.

Because the Bill makes traffic easier and also improves the appearance of the Square, the Council of the ancient City of Westminster give their general approval to it, but there is one serious defect to which my hon. Friend the Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) has referred. As the Minister pointed out, there is to be no pavement but only. an 18-inch kerb and a dwarf wall around the central garden. I agree with my hon. Friend that whatever may be the intention of the promoters of the scheme, it is certain that people will cross the carriage-way to the garden from every point in the Square, and if there is no footpath but only a narrow kerb between the dwart wall and the carriage-way there will be a grave risk of accidents. In eliminating the pavement the Government, who have been persuaded by the police, are being very unrealistic and are increasing the danger and not reducing it as the police suggest.

A further point is that on any occasion which may attract sightseers—there are many such occasions in Parliament Square—if no footway is provided, people are sure to stand on the dwarf wall, with danger to themselves and to the wall, and in so doing they will block the view of the people who are standing in the garden itself. People ought to have facilities for seeing processions from a pavement round the outside of the garden.

I am sorry to inform the Minister of Works that the Westminster City Council are going to petition against the Bill because that is the only course they can take in the very short time allowed them. It is the only way in which they can draw attention to the need for an alteration which they consider vital. However, I believe I can say that if the Government will meet us on this and on any other outstanding point, the petition will be withdrawn.

I should like to say a word about the statues. The hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson) expressed the hope that some of the statues which have been moved would not be re-erected. I am very glad to see that Clause 3 (1) makes no provision at all for the re-erection of the Buxton Memorial Fountain, which has no artistic merit whatever. I am very glad that it is to be removed from the Square. I hope it will also be destroyed, unless somebody comes forward with an offer to take it away and re-erect it.

Mr. J. Hudson

What about Disraeli and the primroses?

Mr. Keeling

While the Minister of Works is improving the precincts of the Abbey and Palace of Westminster, would he turn an eye on that horrible red granite Indian Mutiny and Crimea War Memorial, that depressing and discordant monolith, at the west end of Westminster Abbey, which has been there for nearly a century? It would be a great improvement to the amenities of the precincts of Westminster if that could be removed too.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)

I think that memorial is outside the plan. Therefore, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman does not go on to suggest re-planning the whole of the City of Westminster.

Mr. Keeling

I have made my point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am sure I shall be in Order in reverting to the proposal to remove the Buxton Memorial Fountain. I would remind the Minister that only the other day the Westminster City Council quitely, one night, without any statutory powers, removed the so-called "Poetry Fountain" in Park Lane, with great advantage to traffic and to the amenities of Westminster. If that can be done, I am sure nobody would complain if the Buxton Memorial Fountain were seen no more.

9.22 p.m.

Mr. Shackleton (Preston)

The main point to which I wish to refer has been fully made by the hon. Members for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) and Twickenham (Mr. Keeling). I must confess to being an inveterate square hopper. I have succeeded in avoiding annihilation on so many occasions that I believe I shall continue to do so, but if I have to take a small wall in my path, the situation may be more damaging for the flower beds on the other side—

Sir H. Webbe

And the hedge on the top of the wall.

Mr. Shackleton

There is a further point that we are also concerned with as hon. Members of this House. We want to avoid the dreadful experience that nearly befell the hon. Member for Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory), and the thought of him or some of the other hon. Members of similar distinction and years having to endure this tremendous danger in a desire to see a little pleasant rural scenery or to smell a flower, is something which we cannot contemplate lightly. The two hon. Members who have spoken on this subject have not provided any solution, and I do not know what the solution is unless we can fix up some aerial crossing.

I want particularly to refer to the matter which has so deeply aroused the interest and curiosity of the House. The Minister of Works referred to an unspecified equestrian statue. We take it that the horse will not be of the kind which recently has been associated with such distinction with the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), but we would like to know who will sit on its back. Is it to be Richard Coeur-de-Lion? I take it that it will not be Lady Godiva. I wonder whether we might not break new ground and have a distinguished monument to the creator of so much that is magnificent in London, namely, a statue of the Lord President of the Council—on horseback, of course. With that suggestion, which I feel to be most constructive, I commend the Bill to the House.

Sir H. Webbe

Would the hon. Member consider adding to his suggestion that the statue should be made by the gentleman who did the three so-called human figures in Battersea Park, and whose name, I think, is Ward?

9.25 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

I can agree with all the hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken on the very great importance of the Parliament Square site, and this occasion gives one an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon its development. I live in the hope that I will one day find something upon which I can agree with the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) but I am bound to say—and I cannot let this opportunity of saying so pass—that I am in entire disagreement with him about the Buxton Memorial Fountain. I take the view that this fountain possesses great merits. I regret that Clause 3 of the Bill, which empowers the Minister to remove and re-erect the statues, only empowers him to remove the fountain.

This fountain has a considerable interest to hon. Members of this House. It was designed and built by an hon. Member of this House, Mr. Charles Buxton, in 1864, as a memorial to the emancipation of the slaves. It celebrates and serves as a memorial of that event and of the work of Mr. Charles Buxton's father. Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, and of Brougham, Wilberforce, Macaulay and others who fought for emancipation. It represents a very great event in our history and I regret that in any sort of Welwyn Garden City frame of mind there should be a desire to discard what is, I think, in many respects an admirable and interesting monument.

I would be prepared further to defend the Buxton Memorial Fountain upon æsthetic grounds. I think that the revulsion against Victorian taste and design, which undoubtedly persisted throughout most of the first half of this century, has expended itself and is now on the wane. Here we have a structure which is of the quintessence of Victorian design, which fits admirably into its surroundings and is an extremely representative structure of its time. I should like to see it remain where it is, and I wish that the Minister was empowered under the Bill to remove it by all means but also to re-erect it in the Square.

Mr. J. Hudson

It also provides water.

Mr. Irvine

As my hon. Friend reminds me, it also provides water, but I regard that as the least of its attractions. It will come as no surprise that an hon. Member from this side of the House should speak in favour of the retention of a memorial of this kind, because although we on this side are all committed to important changes in the economic and social structure of the country, we yield to none in our desire to preserve historical monuments. Not all monuments represent so effectively and accurately as does this fountain the spirit and aspiration of a very important period in our history.

I support the Bill in its general terms. I only wish that the small change to which I have referred could at some stage be effected in it. If what I have said reaches the ears of my hon. Friend the Minister, and of those who are responsible for the development of the plan for Parliament Square, to enable the Buxton Memorial Fountain to be preserved in the Square, then I shall not feel that I have spoken in vain this evening.

9.30 p.m.

Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I only wish to reinforce the remarks of hon. Members on both sides of the House concerning our fear at the danger to pedestrians. The hon. Member for Ealing, West (Mr. J. Hudson) said that no one ever uses the crossing at Millbank. I can assure him that that is not correct. I often find myself cutting across, and I have watched other people doing it as well. I speak only as a motorist. I am terrified at the risks which people run in London when they take photographs. I know that my heart comes into my mouth frequently in various parts of London.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)

Ban the motorists.

Sir P. Bennett

People are always going across just a little way from the crossings, and stepping out at unexpected places. One drives with one's heart in one's mouth when driving round London. As to the particular area which we are discussing, I am certain that at some time if there is no safety ledge, an accident will happen. I agree that it is not certain where to put crossings, because wherever they are put people will find another place to cross the road. It is a terrible problem, but I urge that the scheme be considered in the light of some sort of safety ledge so that if people are caught they are not jammed.

I assure the Minister that the time will come when, if there are accidents, there will be an outcry and people will say, "Why did they not think of this at the time?" It is as well to think in advance. I should like to know that some thought is given to those foolish people who break all the rules in spite of all we do, and to whom we must give our protection so that they can be saved in spite of themselves.

9.32 p.m.

Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)

I rise only for a few moments to welcome the Bill as a long-needed Measure of traffic improvement, but at the same time, for what it is worth, to try to support what has been said by so many hon. Members on this side of the House. I suppose we all ought to have looked at the plans and the model of the proposed alteration when they were exhibited, so I am told tonight, in this honourable House. But most of us did not do so. Most of us only have time to look at these things immediately before we hear that they are coming up. I did that last week and this week. I found to my sorrow that there were no proper plans available, and certainly that the model was not available. If any hon. Member is interested, and if the Minister himself will go and look, I am sure it will be agreed that the presentation of these plans left a good deal to be desired.

There was a very small plan which practically no one could read; then there was a larger perspective, and the plan next door to it was upside down, which does not really make for helpful reading. Neither on the small plan, nor in the perspective was there any refuge at the end of Bridge Street. I do not know whether that was a mistake or an oversight; there was certainly no refuge at the end of Bridge Street for hon. Members coming down Whitehall to get to this House. As everybody knows, during the afternoon it is one of the crossings which is most frequented, where the police are always having to hold up the traffic to enable Members and others to cross. It seems to me astounding that there should be no provision for a refuge in the middle of that street.

So far as the centre garden is concerned, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir H. Webbe), and I do wish the right hon. Gentleman would have another look at the design. It may have been approved by the Royal Fine Art Commission. I have had some experience of getting things approved by that body, and it does not always result in the greatest common measure of agreement. All I can say is that if the Festival Gardens in Battersea are going to look anything like that, it will not come up to what the Leader of the House and hon. Members in general hope to see. I say to the Government: Do have another look at this. It is absolutely appalling. It is asymmetric. Why it should be inflicted on us in Parliament Square I do not know.

The other point which strikes me and which has been mentioned by my hon. Friends is the danger of having an 18-inch kerb. It is fantastic in these days to find, in a Bill passing through this honourable House, that the provision of an 18-inch kerb should be deemed to be a public footway. In my opinion it would be much better to have nothing at all, if we are not to have a proper footpath where people can actually escape—and one cannot escape on an 18-inch kerb.

Either we have to have a wide footpath or else nothing at all, so that, before they start, people will realise there is no possibility of a refuge. My own personal view is that if the gardens go through, as prescribed to us, the arrangement will undoubtedly prove the cause of fatal accidents. I was a little sorry to hear the Minister of Works say that the police had decided this and he would not tolerate any alteration. That is not the way to get the best out of a thing.

The great disadvantage of the procedure is that if we try an experiment of an 18-inch kerb we shall find, after a short time, when we want to put a footpath there, that owing to the shape of the gardens and the way the wall has been built we shall be faced either with pulling down the wall or else reducing the carriage way in order to get the width of footpath which I believe will eventually be found to be necessary.

Even if I am wrong, there are a large number of people who take that view. I venture to suggest that we should make the gardens in such a way that we can reduce the size if, after an experimental period of say one or two years, we find, as I believe we shall, that there is a necessity for a wide footpath. I think it will not only be found necessary in a case of every-day traffic but that it will be found even more necessary on days of processions and weddings and so on. After all, Parliament Square is a traditional place where the biggest crowds assemble—at the end of Whitehall, turning round to Westminster Abbey or St. Margaret's Church. I think this is a matter where the police have slipped up and the Government would be wise to say that this will be built experimentally in such a way that, if necessary, it can be altered later on without too much trouble. Subject to that point I think we have no objection to the Bill.

9.38 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works is much obliged to the House for the friendly reception which this Bill has received in principle, and I was glad to hear the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) join in the general approval, although there were those points he raised about the desired footway around the central feature. Dealing with the point about the crossing at the end of Parliament Street to the House; he need not worry about that, because it is outside the area of the plan and that, I imagine, is why the refuge did not appear—that is, the refuge for which he was looking. As far as I know there will be no change in that respect; in any case I think there ought not to be.

The next point was that about the central footway round the central feature, and that is a matter on which I know the City of Westminster is worried. Indeed, that has been expressed by the hon. Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) and the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), who is a member of the Westminster City Council. Both the Minister of Works and I are old friends of many members and officers of the Westminster City Council, differ though we do in politics, and the last thing we would desire would be to have a quarrel with that local authority. My right hon. Friend will be agreeable to meeting representatives of the City Council in order to hear their views and have a talk about the matter. Whether he can do anything I am honestly doubtful, so it must not be taken that I am giving any undertakings; but he would be agreeable to meeting members of the council and having a friendly talk about the matter.

I hope that the result will be that the City Council will not think it necessary to present a petition and persist in it. They have a perfect right to do so, of course. That is one of the rights of citizens and public authorities. However, as was said by the hon. Member for the Abbey Division, the Bill is late in the Session, and, in fact, almost any petition would mean the danger of killing the Bill, simply because of the time factor. It is not altogether a fair argument, and I cannot press that argument too far, because petitioners have a right to petition, but it would be a tragedy if this great public improvement did not come about, because it is very much needed so as to promote a quicker movement of traffic round the square, particularly in relation to the Festival.

I am stating only a prima facie case, so to speak, but my right hon. Friend is advised that if the changes were made that were desired by the City of Westminster they would involve all sorts of things—mains, public utilities, and one thing and another, working drawings, and new quantities—and these, with the discussions with the bodies concerned, would involve a delay of from four to six months, and the probability is, because the time now is very tight, that the new facility would not be working by the time the Festival started.

Sir H. Webbe indicated dissent.

Mr. Morrison

Well, that is what they say; and, of course, it is a difficulty.

I freely admit that one of the sights of London which I enjoy is that of the crowd of people, on the days when Parliament is opened, standing around that Square. This is very naughty of me, but I have told my right hon. Friend that my heart is largely with the City of Westminster, at any rate emotionally, on this point. That appeals to me more than the traffic point, because, as the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) so charmingly said about Londoners, we are a mad lot in the streets anyway; and there is nothing we can do about it. It is perfectly true. I do these things myself, and frighten the gentleman who looks after me out of his life sometimes by suddenly dashing off for the joy of getting past a motor car before it gets on top of me. We Londoners are a mad lot—and I expect that the people of Birmingham are now and again; but I am going there tomorrow and I do not want to say anything bad about Birmingham until I have got away again from the place. I love the sight of those honest people standing around there seeing His Majesty and the procession coming along to the opening of Parliament and other things.

However, the police are very apprehensive about the difficulty of people dashing across there. It will be tempting, of course, because otherwise they might have to go right round the Square to get wherever they wanted to. It is tempting for them to make the dash.

Sir H. Webbe

They will.

Mr. Morrison

The hon. Gentleman says they will. Of course, there is more than one way of dying, and there is something to be said for that way—it is quick. However, I think it is a very difficult matter to meet these points, as things are, without getting into the mess that this facility will not be open for the Festival, and my right hon. Friend is in a real difficulty about it, although he is not unsympathetic, and understands the view of the Westminster City Council. I think we had better leave it that he will see the representatives of the Westminster City Council, have a talk with them, and then somebody will convert somebody—or he will not.

It is the case that the model and the picture have been on show, and that it would have been better if the point had been strenuously argued some time ago. I am not making anything of that point. It is one of the things we do. Let them have a talk, to see if anybody can convince anybody, or if an accommodation can be reached in some way—perhaps in the way of looking at the matter in the future at some time, to see if anything can be done. However, I do not want to go into details. Let us see what they can do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson) is an anti-statue man—

Mr. Gibson

Only the equestrian ones.

Mr. Morrison

Well, I love the equestrian ones. I remember when the sword on the statue of Richard Coeur de Lion was bent by the blast of a bomb in the war. I thought it was a great thing to leave it, but when I was not looking our tidy Ministry of Works put the sword straight again. I would not have had it put straight if I had had my way, because it was one of the war scars of London. However, the Ministry of Works are a tidy Department; they did not like it, and they put it straight. I understand my right hon. Friend has a plan to put the statue in a more prominent place, so I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is in for more trouble.

Both he and my hon. Friend the Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Hadyn Davies) always have views about statues and where they should be, but I think that we should leave things of that sort as much as we can. For example, if we played about with the statue of Lord Beaconsfield I do not know what the Primrose League would do about it. They would probably petition us. On the whole we had better leave it as it is, otherwise we shall have the statues themselves putting in petitions, and we shall never get the Bill at all.

Mr. Hadyn Davies

I am not concerned about the other statues. I am concerned about having the Burghers of Calais put into Parliament Square and made available to the people of London. That is the only one I am worrying about.

Mr. Morrison

My right hon. Friend has noted the point, but all the opinions he has taken on it seem to be thoroughly deprecatory of that suggestion.

My hon. Friend the Member for the Edge Hill Division of Liverpool (Mr. Irvine) wanted the Buxton Memorial Fountain retained in the Square. I am told that that could not very well be done, because a new road is to be cut right through where it now stands, and that it does not fit in with the architect's design. However, the question is being considered whether it could not be re-sited in Victoria Tower Gardens, just next door to the Palace of Westminster along the Embankment, where a good many people and their children forgather, and where it would be very nice and convenient for them. That is being considered by the Royal Fine Art Commission. It may have to be done that way.

Anxiety has been expressed about the Select Committee stage being the effective stage for detailed argument and discussion. That is true. It probably will not be easy on the Floor of the House; and, of course, Members could not very well appear before the Select Committee; they cannot petition unless a public authority does. I presume it would be open to hon. Members with views on certain details to forward them to Members of the Select Committee, if they so desired. I should not think there would be anything wrong about that.

It is always very sad not to be able to please everybody on these Bills, especially if it is a hybrid Bill. I am reminded of the old days, when the hon. Member for the Abbey Division' and myself were at County Hall, when we used to have a lot of fun either blocking other people's Bills, or petitioning against them, or getting them out of the way. This does rather seem like the good old times. Nevertheless, I think the House as a whole agrees that this is a worthy public improvement, that it ought to be done, and the only question is whether we can do it with that degree of general consent which is indeed necessary if the Bill is to go forward in time. We are, therefore, very much obliged to the House for the kindly way in which it has received the Bill.

Bill committed to a Select Committee of Six Members, Four to be nominated by the House and Two by the Committee of Selection:

Any Petitions against the Bill deposited in the Private Bill Office at any time not later than the fifth day after this day to stand referred to the Committee, but if no such Petitions are deposited, the Order for the committal of the Bill to a Select Committee shall be discharged and the Bill to be committed to a Committee of the Whole House:

Petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their Counsel or Agents, to be heard against the Bill provided that their Petitions are prepared and signed in conformity with the Rules and Orders of this House, and Counsel to be heard in favour of the Bill against such Petitions:

Power to report from day to day the Minutes of the Evidence taken before them:

Three to be the Quorum.—[Mr. Key.]