HC Deb 17 July 1957 vol 573 cc1274-300

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

9.55 p.m.

Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)

I understand, Mr. Speaker, that it would be for the convenience of the House that the debate should take place on the Second Reading and that subsequently, if it is agreeable to hon. Members, the Instruction which stands in the name of my hon. Friends and myself should be moved formally; that would be after the Second Reading has taken place, or after a Division on the Second Reading, if necessary.

I shall not mention the Motion about the Instruction now because that may have to be moved later this evening—it may be tomorrow morning—but I say at the beginning of this debate that we have no objection whatever to the construction of underground garages and car parks in Finsbury Square. If those car parks are thought to be necessary by the local authority and the Ministry of Transport, we shall not oppose that part of the Bill.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

Can the hon. Member tell us to whom he is referring when he says "we"? Does he mean the whole of the party opposite?

Sir C. Taylor

No, certainly not. I thought I had make that clear, but perhaps as there was so much noise the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) did not hear me. I refer to my hon. Friends and I who are named as due to move an Instruction after the Second Reading of the Bill as "we." I hope I carry with me my hon. Friends when I use that word. It is not meant to be in any way a Royal "we."

Perhaps at this stage I should declare what interest I have in the Bill. I have no personal interest in the Bill now. There was a time when for a number of years I had an office overlooking Finsbury Square. Various brothers of mine and my father have offices overlooking Finsbury Square at present, but I have not. I should disclose that very remote interest.

I should point out that all the time when I had an office overlooking the Square, or when I have visited Finsbury Square since, there has never been any traffic congestion in or around the square, and I know the square very well. I wish to make a few observations on the question of the desirability or otherwise of a car park under this square. If there is an underground car park provided there, unless parking is prohibited in surrounding streets, not only around Finsbury Square but also in the City, it is most unlikely that anyone will use that car park, because it would be far better and cheaper to park one's car in the street without having to pay, provided, of course, that it caused no obstruction, than to pay a fee for parking the car underground.

Therefore, I submit that if this underground car park is provided it will be patronised by additional owners of cars who cannot get their cars parked in the streets at present. I suggest that that will lead to a great deal of traffic congestion to and from Finsbury Square and to and from the City in the morning and evening. We take a very serious objection to the provision of petrol pumps and other erections above ground in and around the square.

Mr. E. Partridge (Battersea, South)


Sir C. Taylor

Many of my hon. Friends have told me that they have not had time to study the Bill and so they have been misled by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. E. Partridge) as to what is and what is not in the Bill. I feel, therefore. that it would be desirable to draw the attention of hon. Members, because this is a very important debate, to the Clauses in the Bill.

It is not a very long Bill. For the benefit of those hon. Members who have not had an opportunity to study it, I should like to draw attention to one or two of the Clauses, in fact to all the Clauses, of the Bill.

The Preamble to the Bill is: To authorise the provision of garages and parking accommodation for vehicles beneath the surface of Finsbury Square in the metropolitan borough of Finsbury;… I ask hon. Members to pay attention particularly to the end of the Preamble, which says: to make further provision for the improvement and development of the said Square"— "and to note the word "improvement"— and for other purposes. From that Preamble it would appear that this is a very harmless Bill. Because so many of my hon. Friends have asked me about the Bill I must, however, go into it in some detail. The Bill commences: Whereas— (1)The garden closure bounded on all sides by the roadway of Finsbury Square (hereinafter referred to as 'the gardens') is an enclosure in the metropolitan borough of Finsbury (hereinafter referred to as the Borough') to which the provisions of the London Squares and Enclosures (Preservation) Act, 1906 and the London Squares Preservation Act 1931 apply: Here I pause because I am sure that one of my hon. Friends is better able to elucidate the legal position about the London Squares and Enclosures (Preservation) Act, 1906, and the London Squares (Preservation) Act, 1931. I hope that he will have an opportunity to deal with the Bill and the way in which those Acts apply.

Paragraph 2 of the Bill reads: By a conveyance made the twenty-first day of August one thousand nine hundred and fifty-six"— I ask hon. Members to note very carefully the date, "21st day of August, 1956," which is less than twelve months ago: between the Church Commissioners for England (hereinafter referred to as the 'Commissioners') of the one part and the mayor aldermen and councillors of the borough (hereinafter referred to as 'the Council') of the other part the gardens were conveyed to the Council in fee simple except and reserved as therein mentioned for the purposes of the Open Spaces Act 1906…—

Mr. Victor Collins (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

On a point of order. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) to make his speech merely by reading the details of the Bill? The Bill is available in the Vote Office. Hon. Members are in a position to read it and need not have it read to them by the hon. Member. He is wasting time in this way.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

Certainly wasting time is not in order, but on the Second Reading of a Bill it is admissible to quote freely from it.

Sir C. Taylor

Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am reading the Bill only because certain hon. Members came to me and said that, due to Parliamentary pressure of business, they had not had the opportunity to study the Bill in the way it deserves and that they had been canvassed quite unreasonably by various hon. Members in support of the Bill. I want to make perfectly clear to the House what the Bill contains and what it provides. I think I reached paragraph 2, and I think I reached the words for the purposes of the Open Spaces Act, 1906. I ask hon. Members again to pay special attention to these words: and the Council covenanted that they would perform and observe certain stipulations and restrictions therein set forth". That is under twelve months ago, in August, 1956.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

I understand that tonight we are to have an unopposed Second Reading and that the arguments against the Bill are to be argued on the Motion for an Instruction. With very great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may we have your assistance? It is a weird and wonderful argument on a Bill which is supposed to be unopposed that we should have the Bill read in detail. Would it not be more in accordance with our proceedings if the arguments against the Bill were discussed on the Instruction which is to follow after the Second Reading?

Sir C. Taylor

I do not know who gave the hon. Member the impression that the Second Reading would be unopposed.

Mr. Mellish

The trouble with the hon. Member is that he does not speak very clearly. I understood him to say that the main argument would be on the Instruction and not on the Second Reading. I am beginning to wonder what the arguments are. We have had the hon. Member reading out the Bill. He would be surprised to know that hon. Members, at any rate on this side of the House, can read.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think that what would be most convenient for the House would be to have the main debate either on the Second Reading or on the Motion for an Instruction but not to have it on both. It is equally convenient, as far as the Chair is concerned, to have it on either, but at present the argument is proceeding on the Second Reading.

Mr. Collins

Further to that point of order. We were quite clear when we started that the Motion before the House is, "That the Bill be now read a Second time." Since then the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) has said that he would discuss the Second Reading and the Instruction as well. I should be glad if we could have a clear Ruling whether we are debating the Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time", and if so, and if there is a Division, whether we shall have the Division on that Motion and not on the Instruction.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It is quite clear that the Question before the House is, "That the Bill be now read a Second time", and it is equally clear that, whatever is agreed, it would not be out of order when we reach the Instruction for further speeches to be made and a further Division to be taken, but it is not necessary to have two Divisions unless the House wishes it.

Mr. Partridge

On a point of order. I do not know what my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) is doing, except talking. He is doing exactly what he threatened to do, and that is to read the Bill at great length. I would ask you to take note of this, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. This is what he threatened to do and this is what he is doing.

Sir C. Taylor

After that interruption I can hardly describe the hon. Member for Battersea, South as my hon. Friend I do not know where he obtained his information that I would read out the Bill. I have explained that hon. Members have said that they do not know what is in the Bill. I am determined that before the Bill is given a Second Reading tonight every hon. Member who is interested in it shall have his attention drawn to its Clauses and to the observations which I wish to make.

I come to paragraph (3) of the Preamble, and I would again ask hon. Members to pay particular attention to this, because it is important. It reads: The said stipulations"—

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I seriously submit to you that this is an abuse of the procedure of the House. I should be the last person to wish to stifle debate, but I really think that this is a shocking performance.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I have heard nothing that would be out of order on a Second Reading speech, which this is. Sir Charles Taylor.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

Further to that point of order. The hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Partridge) has told the House that the hon. Baronet stated earlier that he intended deliberately to read at length from the Bill. Is it in order for the hon. Baronet to decide, before the Bill is brought to the House, that he will read the Bill at length in order deliberately to prolong the debate?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I have no knowledge of a private conversation.

Mr. Collins

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. This is not a private conversation. The hon. Baronet himself, when he first rose, said "I shall speak about this tonight—it may be tomorrow morning". That is within the recollection of the House. That was a clear indication that he intended to filibuster in this matter in a way which would be a breach of the Rules of this House.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member may be sure that if I detect a breach of the Rules of this House I will call the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) to order.

Sir C. Taylor

Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I do not want to detain the House longer than necessary, but many hon. Members have told me that they have not had the opportunity of reading the Bill—[An HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Member said that before."] Perhaps hon. Members were not listening and that is the reason for these constant interruptions. I only want to read certain parts of the Bill for emphasis and for better information.

I have again to ask hon. Members to pay particular attention to paragraph (3), which reads: The said stipulations and restrictions include a covenant by the Council"— a covenant— at their own expense to remove the existing air raid shelters on the property and fill in the excavations and lay out the surface of the land as a public garden"— and I underline the words "as a public garden": for a public open space in accordance with a scheme to be first approved by the Commissioners the said works of removal filling in and laying out to be commenced forthwith and proceeded with continuously until completed: In paragraph (4) appear these words: There is a proviso to the said covenant"— covenant, again; that if the Council are unable to obtain all necessary consents for the removal of the said air raid shelters the Council shall lay out the surface of the land as a public garden for a public open space in such manner as shall have regard to the existence of the said shelters and as shall first be approved by the Commissioners: In both paragraphs there is the constant repetition of the word "covenant."

Paragraph (5) reads: The said stipulations and restrictions include a further covenant by the Council to keep and maintain the said land in good order and condition for all time as a public garden for a public open Space"— and again I underline the last words: and not to use or permit the same to be used for any other purpose whatsoever.

Mr. Mellish

On a point of order, May I, through you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, make an appeal to the hon. Gentleman? It may well be that there are some hon. Members who are genuinely against this Bill for one reason or another. May I, through you, appeal to the hon. Member to realise that what few friends he has he will lose by what he is now doing in reading out every detail of the Bill and boring everybody present, including yourself, as well as making his own case ridiculous?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That seems to me to be an appeal to the hon. Member who has the Floor of the House rather than a point of order for me.

Mr. Wilfred Fienburgh (Islington, North)

Further to that point of order. Although it may not be within your province, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to prevent an hon. Member from making a fool of himself, it is surely within your province to prevent him making a fool of the House of Commons. No doubt everything that the hon. Baronet is now doing can strictly be fitted within the brackets of Erskine May or Standing Orders, but it still leaves you some latitude to preserve the decencies and proper conduct of debate in this House. When a speaker is reading a Bill, and reading it badly in a mumbled way and repeating himself over and over again, that is surely an abuse of the good sense of this House.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am not entitled to rule anything out of order unless in fact it is out of order, and I cannot rule the hon. Member out of order on what he has said so far.

Sir C. Taylor

I am sorry if the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) does not like the way I am reading these Clauses of the Bill. I should like to read them better. If the hon. Member does not like the way I am reading them, perhaps he will go and get a copy of the Bill.

Mr. Fienburgh

I have already read it.

Sir C. Taylor

There are many hon. Members who have not.

Mr. MarLipton (Brixton)


Sir C. Taylor

Quite a number.

Mr. Lipton

who are they?

Sir C. Taylor

Now I come to paragraph (6). It would be of public and local advantage to provide garaging and parking accommodation for vehicles beneath the surface of Finsbury Square and to authorise the use and development of the gardens as in this Act provided: This is the view of the Finsbury Borough Council. I want to be as quick as I can in dealing with these points in the Bill. I do not want to delay the House any longer than I have to do in order to make my case, but hon. Members must allow me to make my case in my own way.

I will now skip to paragraph 7, which states: In order to enable such accommodation to be provided and such use and development to take place"— and again I ask the House to take note of these words— it is expedient that the covenants stipulations and restrictions hereinbefore referred to…should be extinguished"— and that the two Acts referred to in the Bill should be overruled, as far as this Bill is concerned.

Mr. Philip Bell (Bolton, East)

Would my hon. Friend like to read those Acts? I am sure that hon. Members opposite are well informed, but probably have not read those Acts. Would my hon. Friend like to read them?

Sir C. Taylor

I do not want to go at great length into these Acts, and I think I can now turn to page 3 of the Bill. I do not want to go through the whole of Clause 2. I want to save the time of the House, so I will now turn to Clause 3, which states: As from the passing of this Act— (1) the Council shall be released discharged and freed from the covenants by them in the conveyance to perform and observe the stipulations and restrictions set out in the second and third paragraphs of the Second Schedule to the conveyance… This borough council is now asking for covenants into which it entered as late as August last year to be washed out by the House under Clause 3 (1) of the Bill, Clause 3 (2) says: The provisions of the London Squares and Enclosures (Preservation) Act 1906 and the London Squares Preservation Act 1931 shall cease to apply to the gardens. If the Bill is passed tonight we shall create a precedent for [...]venor Square and Parliament Square and many others. It will create a precedent for garages, petrol pumps and so forth to be erected on some of the most beautiful squares in London.

Clause 4 is very remarkable in that it says: … the Council may within the Square—(a) provide equip maintain and manage garaging and parking accommodation for vehicles beneath the surface of the Square… That is all right. We do not object to that. Clause 4 (b) says: … the Council may construct and provide roads paths ramps steps lifts and hoists… Within reason we do not object to that, but we object to the next subsection of Clause 4 which says: … provide and maintain two petroleum filling stations cloak-rooms waiting-rooms shelters offices information bureaux and displays lavatories and conveniences and such other facilities as the Council think fit… In addition the Council may … keep petroleum spirit subject to the provisions of the Petroleum (Consolidation) Act 1928 and any licence granted thereunder. This is entirely contrary to the covenants into which the Council freely entered less than twelve months ago. Therefore, almost before the ink is dry on the agreements it now has the effrontery to tell the House that obviously it was considering putting an underground garage there and putting petrol pumps on top of the Square and had to enter into these covenants in order to get the price of £50 and in order to satisfy the Church Commissioners that it was right and was free to service this land. I believe that the Bill was conceived long before the Council had even bought the land in the Square. Our other objection to the Bill arises from Clause 5.

Mr. Collins

Does the hon. Member realise the gravity of what he has said? He is accusing Finsbury Borough Council of extremely dishonourable conduct in suggesting that it conceived this whole scheme before it dealt with the Church Commissioners and before it introduced the Bill. The hon. Member is accusing the Council of fraud. Does he really seriously mean to make that suggestion?

Sir C. Taylor

I was not saying that at all. I was saying that obviously these sort of things had been in mind. If the hon. Member will refresh his memory, he will remember that there was a report in 1952 or 1953, about the possibility of underground garages in London and Finsbury Square was specifically mentioned.

Mr. Collins

If it will help the hon. Baronet, I can assure him that the Finsbury Borough Council discussed with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners as long ago as 1937 the possibility of having a car park under Finsbury Square.

Sir C. Taylor

That does not alter my argument. I am merely saying that the Council must have thought about having garages and parking places under Finsbury Square, and it must have known about the possibility of providing car parks under Finsbury Square when it freely entered into the covenants with the Church Commissioners, and freely signed them, saying that it would keep it as a garden for all time. I am not saying that is fraud. I am merely saying that in the minds of the officials and the aldermen and the councillors there must have been some idea that there might at some time be a possibility of having garages and parking places under this open space, which was meant to be kept as an open space for all time.

Again we wish to delete from the Bill subsection (1, b) of Clause 5 which reads: … make provision for the siting design and external appearance of the two petroleum filling stations and of any roads paths ramps and steps; Subsection (1, c) is to: … determine whether any other building conveniences or facilities proposed to be provided under the last foregoing section or any other enactment should be constructed on the surface of the gardens and if so shall make provision for the siting design external appearance and lumber thereof: In addition we want to delete the remaining lines on that page.

That is all I wish to deal with in the main part of the Bill, but I think hon. Members will agree that I should refer to certain parts of the Schedule which set out the covenants freely entered into by the Finsbury Borough Council as late as August last year, less than twelve months ago. In line 15 of this Schedule, in page 7, the Bill reads: AND WHEREAS the Commissioners have contracted with the Purchasers for the sale to them of the said property for the purposes of the Open Spaces Act 1906 at the price of Fifty pounds"— Fifty pounds for this very valuable square— subject as and in manner hereinafter appearing. Now THIS DEED WITNESSETH that in pursuance of the said Agreement and in consideration of the sum of Fifty pounds … paid by the Purchasers before the execution of these presents into the Bank of England … Unto the Purchasers in fee simple for the purposes of the Open Spaces Act, 1906 Now I turn to page 8: AND the Purchasers to the intention that the covenant hereinafter contained shall bind the said property into whosoever hands the same may come for the benefit of adjoining and neighbouring lands belonging to the Commissioners or any part or parts thereof… The covenant which the Finsbury Borough Council entered into was a covenant with the Church Commissioners. The Church Commissioners, I understand, are the freeholders of quite a number of the properties around the Square. The covenant into which the Borough Council entered with the Church Commissioners was not only for the benefit of the Church Commissioners themselves but, I submit, also for the benefit of the leaseholders and, if there are any, also the freeholders round the Square.

Mr. George Isaacs (Southwark)

Now we are getting at it.

Sir C. Taylor

That is so. I disclosed my flimsy interest at the very beginning. The right hon. Gentleman must agree my interest—my personal interest—is a very flimsy interest.

I would read one short passage from the Schedule to the Bill, from para- graph 2 of the Second Schedule to the conveyance: The Purchasers shall at their own expense remove the existing air-raid shelters on the property fill in the excavations and lay out the surface of the land as a public garden for a public open space in accordance with a scheme to be first approved by the Commissioners the said works of removal filling in and laying out to be commenced forthwith and proceeded with continuously until completed.… This is a covenant—though I hate to keep emphasising this—entered into less than twelve months ago by the Finsbury Borough Council, although we have had an assurance from the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) that the Council was considering underground car parks before the war—in 1937, I think he said.

The only other part of the Schedule to which I wish to refer is paragraph 3 of the Second Schedule: The Purchasers shall keep and maintain the said land in good order and condition for all time as a public garden for a public open space and shall not use or permit the same to be used for any other purpose whatsoever. So much for the Bill. Now I come to the document of which most hon. Members, I think, have received a copy. It is a statement on behalf of the Finsbury Borough Council, which is promoting the Bill. The first page looks grand. The first page merely says the Council wants to provide underground car parks, that it wants to provide parking accommodation for the benefit of humanity at large, that it wants to do this, that and the other, and that it tried to remove the air raid shelters but the Home Office would not allow it to do so, and so forth.

But then there is page 2. I do not want to keep the House by reading the whole of the document—

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

Hear, hear.

Sir C. Taylor

—though I think in fairness, even if hon. Members will allow me not to read it, that I should read it, because it is a statement on behalf of the promoters, and I would not wish hon. Members to think I was misleading them in any way by not reading the document. If hon. Members wish me out of fairness to read it—

Mr. Mellish

We do not wish the hon. Member to do so at all.

Mr. Nabarro

We can bear it if my hon. Friend does not read it.

Sir C. Taylor

My hon. Friend says he can bear it if I do not read it. I will quote briefly from page 2, because it is not until one comes to the bottom of page 2 that one really gets at the meat—what to me seems to be the meat—of the Bill. I am quoting now from paragraph 4 of the statement on behalf of the promoters: It is understood that the Bill is objected to on the grounds that it involves the erection of certain structures on the surface of the square and, particularly, two petrol filling stations. To make the scheme an economic proposition, it is essential to have two petrol filling stations and there must be means of access to the car park from the surface. Who said so? We understand that the Finsbury Borough Council has made an agreement with Lex Garages. Do we know—

Mr. Collins

It has made no such agreement. It has made no agreement at all.

Sir C. Taylor

I am very glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say that no agreement is being entered into. Would it not be advisable to get some sort of draft contract or agreement subject to confirmation before such a Bill is produced? Is the House being asked to provide powers for the Finsbury Borough Council to deal in any way it likes with this open space which it has covenanted to keep as an open space for ever?

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

It is not in any way that it likes.

Sir C. Taylor

Surely it can approach anybody to put up—or can itself put up—two enormous petrol filling stations and desecrate—a word used by another hon. Gentleman—Finsbury Square, which used to be a garden. We have too few open spaces left in London for any of them to be laid out as petrol filling stations.

The only other part of the statement of the promoters to which I wish to refer is paragraph 5, which says: It is submitted that the proposals in the Bill are more advantageous to the public than the scheme contained in the conveyance. That is nonsense. It is a matter of opinion, an opinion expressed by the Council.

Having referred to the case put up by the promoters, I must obviously, out of fairness, refer to the case which has been put up by the objectors. I do not want to delay the House unduly, and so I will not read it, but I must draw attention to one or two points in the case of the objectors.

Mr. Partridge

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. If we are to have these items read in extenso, would it not be more honest to read the whole thing and not pick out sentences here and there, the assumption being that everything is being read when my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) is leaving out every word which is disadvantageous to his case, such as it is? Are we not to have a little equity and reasonableness in this matter?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member is entitled to read quotations from a document without reading the whole document.

Mr. Partridge

Further to the point of order. I suggest, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it is not a matter of quotations and that my hon. Friend is reading great paragraphs in extenso, but when he comes to a point in the case of the promoters which defeats his case completely and absolutely he says, "I do not think I need read this." I should have thought that was a complete abuse of the rules of the House.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That point may be brought out in debate. It is not a point of order.

Sir C. Taylor

Hon. Members said that they would be perfectly satisfied if I merely drew attention to the points which I wished to emphasise, and that is what I have done. I drew attention to the points which I wished to emphasise in the promoters' case, and now I come to the petition against the Bill. Again, I shall not read out the whole of the document, although after the interjection of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South I am sorely tempted so to do. I shall refer only to one or two of the salient points in the objectors' case.

They draw attention—and this is also recited in the Preamble to the Bill—to the stipulations and restrictions contained in the covenant by which the Council, at its own expense, inter alia agrees to lay out the surface of the land—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member is getting perilously near repetition.

Sir C. Taylor

I feel that your criticism is right, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but, of course, the Petition against the Bill obviously has to contain some repetition and has to repeat some of the words which are used in the Bill. In page 4, the Petition says: Your Petitioners humbly submit that there can he no justification for allowing the Council to rid themselves of covenants and restrictions freely entered into…to use for commercial purposes land which is conveyed to them for a nominal consideration on the understanding that it would be used for certain public purposes. On Clause 15, a very important Clause, the Petitioners wish me to draw attention to this part of their Petition: Your Petitioners understand that it is proposed to erect on the surface of the Gardens two petroleum filling stations with entrances thereto and exits therefrom, a cafe, changing rooms, cloakrooms, lavatories, a bowling green and a tennis court and that part of the surface of the gardens will be used for the purposes of ramps for entrances to and exits from the proposed underground garage. A tennis court is not the right sort of thing for Finsbury Square, because, unless one plays "hit and scream" with six-a-side, a tennis court caters for only four people. The gardens are for all the people who work in the offices around the Square and who take their sandwiches, their lunches on sunny summer days—

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

Does not my hon. Friend agree that, to judge from pictures and plans which have been supplied and which are on exhibit in Committee Room 14 upstairs, there will be plenty of room for people to sit in the gardens around the tennis court, to have their meals and enjoy the sunshine in the square?

Sir C. Taylor

If the hon. Member knew Finsbury Square as mil as I do, he would know that it is a very small Square. If the hon. Member will have a look at Finsbury Square tomorrow, provided that it is a sunny day, between twelve o'clock and two o'clock—because some people have their lunch between twelve and one and some between one and two—he will find that the square is crowded with people who are enjoying the facilities there.

The other matter to which I wish to draw attention is the statement on page 5 relating to Clause 19, that two addi- tional garages and filling stations in the square will attract an even greater flow of traffic, stopping and starting, and a greater number of cars in the square than ever before.

I have two letters which I should like to read. One is from the City of London Garages, Ltd. with premises in Worship Street which is half-a-minute away from Finsbury Square. The letter says that it is a scandal that within a year of acquiring the square from the Church Commissioners of England at a nominal price, the Finsbury Borough Council should seek to have the covenant deleted which provided that the Square should be maintained for all time as a public garden or a public open space and not used or maintained to be used for any other purpose whatsoever. What are the Church Commissioners saying about this?

Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)

They are agreed.

Sir C. Taylor

The letter goes on to say that the firm will gladly join in any opposition to the Bill and assumes that many firms in the area of Finsbury Square will do likewise. It says: Apart from the damage to the amenities of the neighbourhood, we have two main objections to the proposal. Our garage business is only about a hundred yards from the Square. We have six petrol pumps… The right hon. Member for Battersea, North may laugh, but he would not laugh if it was his business and his livelihood depended on it. If I may continue, the letter states: We have six petrol pumps and a large repair and work shops. About a hundred yards away is the Paul Street Garage with even larger facilities than ours. There are filling stations at various streets"— It goes on to name the streets— all within half-a-mile, and it is ridiculous to suggest there is any need for one in Finsbury Square. The neighbourhood is quite amply provided for. In any event, there are plenty of vacant sites quite close which are more suitable for such a purpose. So far as the garaging of cars is concerned, the proposal would merely touch the fringe of the trouble. Neither we nor the Paul Street Garage are more than a third full in the daytime. The plain fact is that motorists will not pay garage charges so long as they can leave their cars in the road free of charge. There is no reason to believe that the proposed underground car park will do anything to relieve the congestion. It will rather add to it. But our main objection to the scheme is that the Finsbury Borough Council propose to open business with the ratepayers' money in com- petition with firms such as ours who have spent our capital over many years in building up a business which provides the town with much needed services. It may be argued that someone else is providing the capital, but as we understand it the Square, which is public property, is to be leased to a commercial firm at a nominal rent.

Mr. Nabarro

Is my hon. Friend, as a Conservative Member of Parliament, really seeking to espouse the cause of a couple of little garages which are afraid of another garage firm, namely, Lex Garages? Is he afraid of competition between garages?

Sir C. Taylor

I should thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. I do not believe these people are at all afraid of competition, provided they find Lex Garages is to pay a reasonable rental for the land which was conveyed by the Church Commissioners for £50 to Finsbury Borough Council.

We have not been given any indication by the sponsors of the Bill of the rent that Lex Garages is to be charged. I understand that there has been a deal, a sort of "big horse deal," about this. I understand that Lex Garages is to get it for a very nominal rent and has agreed to share the profit with Finsbury Borough Council, if there is any profit. I am informed—again I do not know whether this information is correct—that there is a deal between Finsbury Borough Council and the Church Commissioners under which the Church Commissioners will release the Council from all the covenants signed in August of last year on condition that the half profit that the Council gets from this scheme is shared with the Church Commissioners. If that is true, it is not a very pleasant deal.

Mr. Nabarro

All these allegations are being flung about, but what business is it of my hon. Friend or this House even if a deal of that kind were made? Is not the local authority autonomous in a matter of this kind? Are not the Church Commissioners autonomous? Is my hon. Friend, as a Conservative Member of Parliament, running away from competition in commerce?

Sir C. Taylor

I regret to say that I did not see it before, but I can see now that my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is saying these things with a twinkle in his eye hoping to get some cheers from hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Nabarro

That will be the day.

Sir C. Taylor

He is suggesting that it is entirely right for Finsbury Borough Council to acquire this land at a ridiculously small price and that it should do a bargain with a particular firm to do down the private enterprise firms which are already in situ and already doing business.

There is one further letter I wish to read. It is from the other garage which is very close to the square and which is referred to in the other letter I have read, the Paul Street Garage. The letter says: If this is allowed to go through… that is the Bill— then there is no reason why the other squares in London should not become petrol stations. We, with our friends the City of London Garages Ltd., and other filling stations in the vicinity are more than able to cope with the petrol side of the business, and from the garage and parking side, we always have at least two-thirds of the park empty. Our greatest objection is that the Borough Council intends to go into partnership and competition with our trade. and on property which it has obtained under charitable circumstances, which was never the intention of the donors. Plenty of other sites remain in the district for development, which when acquired, would be fair competition to ourselves.

Mr. Collins

Will the hon. Member allow me to inform him that in the Paul Street Garage is my own van and for the last ten years we have waited to get it under cover and have not been able to do so?

Sir C. Taylor

I understand that the Paul Street Garage has plenty of parking space to deal with all the cars that appear in the neighbourhood and it is never more than one-third full. If I know more about the area of Finsbury Square than does the hon. Gentleman, I apologise. We will go along there together, perhaps tomorrow or next week, when the Bill has been withdrawn, and we will consider what can be arranged for the reintroduced Bill when it comes up next Session.

Mr. Speaker

I do not wish in any way to truncate the speech of the hon. Member, and, indeed, as long, as he keeps in order I have no power to do so, but in case he has become oblivious to the passage of time I would remind him that he has spoken for fifty-five minutes.

Sir C. Taylor

I thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for the congratulations which you obviously mean to extend to me. I had no idea that I was able to speak for such a long time. But the subject was so important and I felt that it was only right, having said that I would espouse this case in the House tonight, to draw attention to the iniquities which I believe are being imposed by the Finsbury Borough Council.

In conclusion, I wish to say that I think it is quite scandalous that within less than twelve months of entering into these covenants the Finsbury Borough Council should seek powers from this House to release itself from the obligations into which it freely entered.

10.57 p.m.

Mr. Victor Collins (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

For the last hour we have listened to one of those disgraceful exhibitions which, fortunately, are extremely rare in this House. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) has seen fit to disregard not only the truth, but, in so far as he could, all the best and most honourable traditions of the House, a procedure which hon. Members on both sides hold in contempt.

I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Eastbourne along the lines that he pursued, and I will be as brief as possible in explaining the Bill. I will truncate my remarks to a much greater extent than I had intended. I want to make it perfectly clear to hon. Members that just as the hon. Member for Eastbourne was quite obviously trying to wreck the debate in the sense of boring hon. Members so that they would go home, so the Instruction on the Notice Paper in his name is a deliberately wrecking Instruction. If it goes forward, then for all practical purposes it will be the end of the Bill.

It is not, therefore, as some may think a choice between a pleasant Victorian garden—

Mr. Gibson

Which it never was.

Mr. Collins

—which it never was, and a garden with petrol pumps. It is a choice between an eyesore, a wilderness with no amenities which has been in existence for twelve years. It is a choice between these wartime shelters which the Council has not been permitted to remove and what I submit could be a thing of beauty and utility.

The Finsbury Borough Council has been attacked because a few months after having reached an agreement with, as the hon. Member for Eastbourne said, the Church Commissioners to take over this two-acre Finsbury Square plot for a nominal sum and to transform it into a garden, the Council suddenly, as it were, put forward this other scheme which after very proper investigation with all the parties concerned it thought was a very much better scheme both in the local and the national interest. It therefore decided to come to this House, as it was entitled to do, and to ask the House to vary the covenants into which it had entered with the Church Commissioners and to vary the provisions of the London Squares Acts, 1906 and 1931, so that these arrangements could proceed.

I must make it plain that the Finsbury Borough Council has had the underground garage project in mind for many years—long before it acquired this land. Throughout the war and immediately after the war it was impossible to carry it out. The Council had requisitioning powers at the beginning of the war, but there were shelters right across the Square, and after the war the Home Office obdurately refused to allow those shelters to be removed. It was only at the point that the scheme for underground garages began to have a chance of fulfilment that the Home Office said, "If you put underground garages under Finsbury Square you may remove the shelters."

That was the condition. We cannot have a garden on top of the Square without the garages underneath, because we cannot remove the shelters unless we have the garages. It is true that, some time ago, there was a project for a valley garden—in other words, to cut right across the shelters by making some kind of a valley garden on either side.

Mr. Philip Bellrose

Mr. Collins

I must be as brief as possible, in all fairness.

Mr. Bell

The hon. Member should not become too excited, for I intend to take part in the debate. When the Council took the conveyance, why was it not possible to receive these powers which it had in mind? If the hon. Member would look at the 1931 Act he would see what powers all corporations have to construct underground garages, without introducing a Private Bill which seeks many other things as well.

Mr. Collins

I hope hon. Members will not think me discourteous if I do not keep giving way to interruptions. Not only will it take me very much longer if I do, but it will make my speech disjointed. As the hon. and learned Member asked me a question, let me tell him this: the Bill has, quite properly, been examined by all the public authorities concerned. The hon. Member for Eastbourne referred to the Church Commissioners, but he knows, although he did not say, that the Attorney-General in his report on the Bill on 15th May said that he had consulted both the Church Commissioners and the Charity Commissioners and that they had no observations to make on the Bill. In other words, they are quite satisfied with the position.

He could also have mentioned that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has also examined the Bill and has made some very important observations on it: The Minister believes that the operation of these facilities by a commercial operator having experience of the industry may prove beneficial to the Council and promote the maximum relief to traffic congestion. He therefore recommends that the Clause, at least in so far as it relates to the provision of garaging and parking facilities, should be allowed.

Sir C. Taylor

I am not objecting to it.

Mr. Collins

The hon. Member may say that he is not objecting to it, but I will not let him take refuge in that. His wrecking Instruction will wreck the Bill. It is a question of either this Bill or nothing at all except the shambles, and I do not think any hon. Member will go home tonight satisfied in thinking that he has been instrumental in contributing to that shambles when we could have struck a blow in helping to solve at least a part of the severe traffic congestion problem.

The hon. Member said that they could continue to pile up cars in the area, but every week-day 1,500 cars are parked within a quarter-of-a-mile of Finsbury Square, many for more than four hours. He says that he knows Finsbury. Why did he not tell the House that there is unilateral parking and very often bilateral parking all round the square and that it is the terminus of seven bus routes? Why did he not tell the House that the London and Manchester Assurance Company, of which his brother is chairman, and who are the only reason for the objection, may be in danger one day if their office catches fire and the fire engine cannot get round Finsbury Square because of the parked cars?

These are the real practical points, but, since I have been challenged, perhaps I may continue with what the Minister of Transport says: The powers sought, which are similar to those contained in section 32 of the London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1955, would enable the Council to provide services such as car washing and greasing and all the services normally offered by a garage. In the Minister's view such services are likely to prove essential if the parking facilities are to be provided on an economic basis. In view of the steady intensification of traffic problems on the streets of London in recent years, the Minister welcomes the Council's initiative in this matter. The Minister regards the provision of off-street parking facilities as a valuable aid to the relief of traffic congestion, and he is persuaded that the powers sought would assist in this direction. That he therefore recommends that the clause be allowed. The hon. Member mentioned the 1953 Working Party on Traffic Congestion. He may remember that that Working Party investigated 90 squares and open spaces in London to see whether underground car parking could be provided, and decided that it could be done in the case of nine—of which Finsbury Square was one. Nothing has been done, because of capital restriction, but here is a chance to proceed without a penny cost to the ratepayers or to the taxpayers. It is not for me to comment on the present financial situation, in which the local authorities cannot do these things simply because they cannot get loan sanction, whereas a private undertaking can, because it has the money.

I do not want to twit hon. Members opposite about that. I am merely talking facts. The Finsbury Borough Council could not get loan sanction for £¾ million for one project, or for £25,000 for the Valley Gardens—which would be a waste of money, anyway. It has been waiting twelve months for loan sanction for a street lighting scheme in a place where there have been fatal accidents, so do not let anyone say that the local council could do this. It could not, and it is absolute humbug to say that it could.

I have dealt with the Church Commissioners and with the Minister of Transport. The Minister of Housing and Local Government has examined the Bill and approved it, except that he says that it must come under the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. Three subsections were added to Clause 5 to meet his point. Two of those subsections, the hon. Member's Instruction seeks to delete—subsections put in at the express request of the Minister. I am empowered to say that the London Council has given full approval to the Bill. The Royal Fine Art Commission has been, and will be, consulted on all points.

We shall make this a beautiful place. We people who either represent or live in Finsbury are proud of the borough. It is not only a matter of people who live at Eastbourne and have lovely gardens. Why should they come here and seek to deny Finsbury the first tennis court it will ever have had? We have not a single tennis court for 30,000 people. We have not a bowling green, because our bowling green was destroyed in the war. Have not my constituents the right to say that perhaps one-tenth of the ground will be covered by these necessary buildings? They are not buildings in the ordinary sense, but ramps, covers to the exits, covers to the petrol station. It is true that, according to the plan, across the middle there are some buildings. They are lavatories, changing rooms, tea rooms—if we have a howling green—but that is a matter for discussion.

Surely my constituents are not to be denied that. I know that I must sit down, hut I make this appeal to the House. This Bill has been approved by every public authority that has considered it. and they have considered it on its merits. They think that it is in the public interest, in the interests of the people in my constituency, in the interests of the nation. This is a bold, pioneering effort. The Borough of Finsbury could, if it liked, have had a sneaking little job, waited two or three years and, perhaps, have got a nice little garden, but Finsbury Square is no longer a quiet Victorian square. It is one of the busiest places in London. Here is an opportunity to show that something concrete can be done towards solving the country's traffic problems. In our little area we shall try to do it. If it works, it will be an example to the country. It can be followed elsewhere and can make a real contribution towards solving our problems.

I hope that, having heard these explanations, hon. Members on both sides of the House will not allow the House to be held up unnecessarily but will honestly say that this is something worth supporting. I hope that they will go into the Lobby to give the Bill a Second Reading and send it to Committee, without any stultifying restrictions which are inspired only by unreason or by reasons which are not worthy of the House or of those who put them forward.

11.11 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Airey Neave)

The Government strongly support the proposals of Finsbury Borough Council, and the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) was quite right to draw the attention of the House to the support which my Department has always given to proposals for an underground car park in Finsbury Square. I ask hon. Members to understand that this is the first really worthwhile project for an underground parking scheme in London. It would be most unfortunate, therefore, if the Council were not able to bring it about.

I would remind the House that before the Select Committee in another place the promoter of the scheme drew attention to the fact—and here I refer to the objections of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor)—that it would not be an economic proposition at all from his point of view—and no public money is involved—unless he were able to provide petrol stations and associated services with the car park. That seems to me a commonsense point of view. It would not pay his company to do it. If this was the case, we should lose this opportunity to give effect to the Government's policy, which is to take as many cars off the roads as possible. It is thought that we can take at least 320 cars off the roads in the vicinity of Finsbury Square and, clearly, that would be a great convenience to everybody.

The House should be satisfied on the question of amenities, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne has referred. My information is that London County Council, which, under the Bill, will have to be consulted on this matter, by Finsbury Borough Council, in con- junction with the Church Commissioners, is content to accept the arrangements suggested, that is, for an underground car park with petrol stations. The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury has drawn attention to the fact that the Church Commissioners have taken no objection whatever to the scheme. That is a fair point and one to which I also should draw the attention of the House.

It is a matter entirely for the House to say "Yes" or "No" to the scheme, but, obviously, the details can be worked out by agreement between the various bodies, as set out in Clause 5. Those details can be considered by the authorities concerned, and if agreement is not reached the matter must be referred within 30 days to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. That provides certain very definite safeguards to the amenities, because surely London County Council, as the planning authority, ought to be the body that takes best care of the matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne said that other garage proprietors in the area had written to him and had objected. They never made any objection while these proceedings were in another place, and this is the first time that my attention has been drawn to the point. It is surprising that while these matters were being publicly discussed the objections were not raised before. My hon. Friend also made a point about the covenant, which is set out in the Preamble to the Bill. He made many references to the fact that the restrictions under the covenant would be removed by the Bill.

The point is whether it is in the public interest that that should happen. If it is in the public interest that this covenant should be varied—and it is a matter for the Church Commissioners to give their agreement about the future, although, in fact, they have not so far made any objection—then I suggest that it is proper that this covenant should be varied in the way in which the Bill gives Finsbury Borough Council power to do.

There is a great urgency about this parking question. From all sides of the House we have heard about it on many occasions, and my Department believes that this measure will give considerable assistance to the difficulties experienced to this part of central London. The point has been made that traffic will become considerable if this Bill is passed, but I understand that it is already considerable, and likely to increase. As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury has told us, this is the turning point for no fewer than seven services of London Transport vehicles. This takes place in the Square, so surely that is one good reason for parking as many cars as possible off the road.

The point which I wish to emphasise is that we have now the opportunity for a permanent scheme and not merely something temporary; and, with the safeguards in respect of the amenities, I commend the Bill to the House. My hon. Friend raised other points by way of objection, but I do put it to the House that the major point is that we should not stand in the way of the first really large project for an underground parking station in London.

The Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Gordon Touche) rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put—

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Standing Order 177 (Interval between committal of bill and sitting of committee) be suspended and that the Committee of Selection have leave to appoint the Committee on the Bill to sit and proceed on Monday next.—[Sir G. Touche.]

Major Sir Frank Markham (Buckingham)

Will this Motion mean that special facilities will be given to the Bill which we have just been discussing?

Mr. Speaker

It means that the interval which normally elapses between Second Reading and Committee will be truncated, but if the House agrees, then the Committee can get to business on the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. Gentleman the Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) wish to move his Instruction to the Committee?

Sir C. Taylor

With the agreement of my hon. Friends, Sir, I propose not to move the Instruction.

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