§ [SECOND READINO.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Marquess of Londonderry.)
THE EARL OF LEVEN AND MELVILLE
My Lords, I have been asked to oppose this Bill on the ground that the people in the immediate neighbourhood where the school is proposed to be erected—Hotham Road, Putney—object, I believe without exception, to its erection, and that they have not had that opportunity, which the Education Act lays down, of bringing forward their objections to the proposed site. By this Bill a cruel injustice is done to the people who live in the immediate neighbourhood of the proposed site for the new school. The houses are of a superior class and inhabited by people with incomes of £300, £400, or £500 a year, and have nice gardens. The leases of some of the houses have only five years to run, and, the ground landlord being willing to sell, the authorities have not considered the interests of the tenants at all, but are recommending this site, in preference to one which is more suitable in other ways, on the ground that it can be 167 acquired at a cheaper price owing to the shortness of the leases. In this matter not only the tenants affected, but the people residing on the opposite side of the road and in the immediate neighbourhood ought to be considered.
At a distance of from 200 to 300 yards from this site there are a large number of smaller houses; indeed, the whole of the surrounding district is covered with little houses inhabited by the working classes, and it may be that a site in that district is more expensive to purchase than the site in question, where the houses are larger and the leases have only a short period to run. But the authorities are not justified, in order to save expenditure, in inflicting a great injustice on the tenants of the houses scheduled. In Section 2, Sub-section 2, of the London Education Act it is laid down that the site of a public elementary school shall; not be determined upon until after consultation with the council of the borough. I am informed that this section has not been complied with. On October 20th the London County Council wrote to the Wandsworth Borough Council stating that they had decided to obtain compulsory powers to acquire this site, and that was the first intimation the borough council had of it. On November 11th the borough council formally objected and proposed other sites, and I am informed that the council still object to this site.
The body called the school managers, who are elected one-third, I think, by the London County Council, and one-third by the ratepayers—at any rate, they are a thoroughly representative body—have considered this site, and condemned it by thirteen to one; and I am told that over 300 ratepayers have opposed it. At the local public inquiry which was held by the Education Board, not a single witness residing or interested in Putney gave evidence in support of this site; such evidence was only given by the London County Council officials. The children in the immediate neighbourhood attend higher-grade schools, and it is contended that the site for a public elementary school should be chosen nearer to the houses where the children live who would use the school. While these things do not generally move speedily, the progress 168 of events on this particular occasion seems to have been extraordinarily rapid. The report of the Education Board Commissioner was dated April 6th. The advertisement inserted in the newspapers did not appear until May 5th—a month afterwards; but on May 9th, after the expiration of only four days, this Bill was put down in your Lordships' House for Second Reading. The persons affected urge that there has not been sufficient time given in this matter, and I appeal to my noble friend the noble Marquess at the head of the Board of Education to put the Bill off in order to give the inhabitants of the neighbourhood an opportunity of expressing the objections which they so strongly feel to it.
*THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL AND PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION (The Marquess of LONDONDERRY)
My Lords, I need hardly say that if I could meet the wish of my noble friend by postponing the Second Reading of this Bill, I should be delighted to do so, but it is impossible for me to accede to that request. Before the Bill was read a first time in your Lordships' House, the Board of Education had taken all the preliminary steps necessary under the Act of Parliament, and in the circumstances I do not think it is possible for me to postpone its further progress. My noble friend told a most pathetic tale with regard to the houses that are to be compulsorily taken under this Bill. I would, however, point out that the leases of the houses to which he alluded, and which are no doubt excellent houses, and occupied by well-to-do persons, have but a very few years to run. The houses were let on long leases, which, I am informed, expire in 1910 or 1911; and as the owner of the land on which these houses stand did not approve the proposal of the County Council, I do not think I should be justified in withholding permission. Moreover, many of the houses in the immediate neighbourhood are occupied by people whose children frequent the elementary schools.
I hope my noble friend will not think that I do not sympathise with those who occupy the houses adjoining the site. I do; but the County Council have pressed upon us the absolute necessity of 169 a school being built in that area, and the amount of land available for the purpose being very limited they have naturally fixed upon the site which they think most suitable for the purpose, and convenient for the children in the neighbourhood. Two sites are in question. There is the Hotham Road site, in the borough of Wandsworth, and another site, 300 yards off, known as the Bigg's Road site. I do not think in point of convenience or suitability there is anything to choose between the two; but one could be acquired a great deal cheaper than the other, and the County Council very wisely selected the cheaper one—the Hotham Road site. The rateable value in this case is £265 a year; whereas the rateable value in the other case is £786 a year; In addition to that, the Hotham Road site would involve no re-housing, whereas on the Biggs Road site, which the noble Lord said was a preferable one, there is so considerable a population of the working classes that, according to statute, the County Council would have to undertake the building of houses to replace those taken down, and in all probability the erection of the school would be thereby delayed. It is agreed on all sides that a school is necessary in that district; and the County Council fixed upon the cheaper site and the site on which they could build a school at the shortest notice.
My noble friend contended that the objections of the inhabitants of Wands-worth had not been sufficiently heard. I do not for one moment deny that there has been considerable feeling against the compulsory purchase of this site, and I regret that we had to give our sanction to a site the acquisition of which caused such an amount of heart-burning; but I must take exception to the noble Earl's statement that the objections of those opposed to the purchase were not properly heard. The Board of Education, acting in acordance with the section which my noble friend quoted, sent down a Commissioner to inquire into the whole matter, and full notice was given of the inquiry, so that anyone who wished to object could attend and do so. The borough council were heard at the inquiry, and though I am bound to say they strongly objected on technical 170 grounds at the commencement, they withdrew those objections during the proceedings at the public inquiry. As I have told your Lordships, the owner of the property did not oppose the grant of compulsory powers, and, after all, I think he is the most important person to be considered. I regret extremely that any action on the part of the Department, of which I am the head, should be the cause of heart burnings among the people whose property is taken, but, as your Lordships know, there is considerable difficulty in finding sites for schools in the various districts of London, and, when it is decided that a site has to be taken, I am afraid it will seldom happen that there will not be objections from some quarter. I regret that I cannot see my way to comply with the request to postpone this Bill.
THE EARL OF LEVEN AND MELVILLE
I must ask your Lordships' indulgence in order to move the rejection of this Bill. If I am correctly informed, over 300 ratepayers were represented by counsel at the local inquiry in opposition to the acquisition of this site, and not a single witness residing or interested in Putney gave evidence in support of it. In those circumstances I beg to move the rejection of the Bill.
To leave out the word 'now' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—(The Earl of Leven and Melville.)
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
My Lords, I hope my noble friend will not persist in the objection he has raised to the Second Reading of this Bill. After all, it is absolutely necessary that these schools should be built, even though they may cause a certain amount of inconvenience to the people who live near them. This seems to be a case where a school is to be erected on the cheapest, and, apparently, the best site, and so far from there having been any want of inquiry, the inquiry seems to have been an extremely full one. No doubt the residents round about the particular site proposed for this school do not wish the school to be built in that particular place. That is a thing we quite sympathise with; but it 171 does seem to me that the public advantage is to be considered and should weigh against the individual wishes of a certain number of residents. The real point which my noble friend Lord Leven has made is that the wishes of a certain number of people who live round this particular site should carry weight against the advantage of the whole district. I think the noble Marquess, the President of the Board of Education, made out a perfectly clear case that it is to the advantage of the district as a whole, and also of the ratepayers, that this particular site should be taken. I quite understand that the residents living near would prefer that the school should not be erected there, but, as I have said, the wishes of individuals must give way to the advantage of the district as a whole. I therefore hope my noble friend will not persist in his Amendment, for I think the case made out by the Education Board is one that will command the general assent of those who consider it from an impartial point of view.
*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of LANSDOWNE)
My Lords, I wish to join in the appeal that has just been made by my noble friend opposite to the noble Earl who moved the rejection of this Bill. If he had been able to show that there had been any omission or any irregularity in the proceedings, I think we should all of us have been inclined to entertain his proposal favourably, but I cannot learn that there was any such omission or irregularity. He has told us that the evidence taken at the local inquiry did not do entire justice to the feelings of some of the residents in the neighbourhood. That may be the case, but I am assured on the best authority that the inquiry which took place was an extremely full one, lasting two days; and I understand that the borough council was represented at that inquiry with great ability. I have no doubt that the erection of a school of this kind in the proximity of villas of the type which the noble Lord described may be regarded as an inconvenience by some of the residents in those villas, but surely that is not to be pressed as a reason for either not having the school at all or driving it to some less convenient site. 172 I am told that the only alternative site was considered, and that that site was not only less convenient, but also, for the reasons given by the noble Marquess the President of the Education Board, much more expensive. With regard to the question of evidence, I am also told that evidence was in fact given in favour of the site by an alderman of the Wands-worth Borough Council. In these circumstances, I must say I think it would be a very strong order that this Bill should be rejected by your Lordships simply because some of the residents in the neighbourhood of the proposed school would prefer that the school should be built elsewhere.
THE EARL OF LEVEN AND MELVILLE
My Lords, after the statement which has just been made by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, that an alderman of the borough of Wandsworth was in favour of the acquisition of this site, I am bound to say my case is very much weakened. But this is the first I have heard of it. I was informed that there was not a single inhabitant in favour of this site. After what has been said, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment, but I hope that if anything can be done in Committee to lessen the hardship on the persons in question it will be done.
§ Amendment, by leave of the House, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a.
§ House adjourned at five minutes before Five o'clock, to Monday next. Eleven o'clock.