HL Deb 15 May 1919 vol 34 cc692-709

THE EARL OF MEATH rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will take speedy steps to remove the temporary buildings at Burton Court, Chelsea, which entirely obliterate the famous view of Chelsea Hospital, and have destroyed much-needed playing fields and air space, now that the conditions under which the consent of the. Commissioners of the Hospital was obtained to the erection of buildings on this open space—viz., as a temporary measure of emergency necessitated by the existence of a state of war—have come to an end; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, Burton Court, the subject-matter of my Question, forms part of Chelsea Hospital, which, as your Lordships know well, is one of London's Most interesting archæological, historical, and architectural monuments. Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of the stately pile of buildings that we know as Chelsea Hospital, designed that a noble approach, worthy of this great national tribute to the debt owed by the nation to its gallant soldiers broken in wars, should pass through the lands of Burton Court. The road which now divides Burton Court from Chelsea Hospital, called Hospital Road, did not exist in these days and was not made until 1846. Burton Court is therefore part and parcel of the original land which a grateful nation purchased in order to provide a fitting setting to the noble building erected by its greatest architect.

During the recent war buildings have been erected on this open space by the Ministry of Pensions. No one can reason ably object to the erection of temporary buildings for the use of the Government in time of war, as long as the buildings are removed and the ground restored to its original owner or owners within a reasonable time after the conclusion of peace; but in this case there are indications that the Government do not intend to remove the buildings for some considerable time. Sir Alfred Mond says, in reply to a query, that he proposes to retain the buildings and land for "some years," and the substantial character of some of the buildings justifies, in some degree, the fear lest the Government should contemplate retaining the ground for some considerable time.

The contention of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, and of other Open Spaces Societies, on behalf of whom I am speaking to-day, is that the action of the Government is not in accordance with law. In the course of my remarks I hope to prove this to your Lordships, and in order to make the legal position quite clear I propose to give a very short resumé of the past history of Chelsea Hospital, which includes Burton Court. Chelsea Hospital, founded by Charles II and built by Sir Christopher Wren, accommodates at this moment 558 in-pensioners, all of whom are old and disabled soldiers who have spent their lives in the service of the country and been broken in its wars. It is built on ground, including Burton Court, which was purchased from Lord Cheyne by the Crown in 1687.

In 1706, owing to Lord Cheyne having died before he signed the deed, it was thought necessary to pass an Act of Parliament vesting the land in the Crown. We now pass over about 170 years. In 1875 Chelsea Hospital and Burton Court passed by Act of Parliament from the Crown to the Commissioners of the Hospital. I should like to impress upon your Lordships that at this moment it is the Commissioners of the Hospital (and not the Government) who, by Act of Parliament, are responsible for Chelsea Hospital. This fact is most important. It has, consequently, not been in the hands of the Crown for forty-four years. By this Act the Chelsea Hospital Commissioners held the buildings and land in trust, and these are the words of the Trust— For the benefit of the Hospital for ever and for the purposes of the said Institution. My contention is that the "purposes of the said Institution" do not include the payment of pensions, because, as I will show you later on, that was got rid of in February, 1917.

Until 1889 the public were admitted free to the ground. That is a. very important point. It is, moreover, not unworthy of note that until the buildings were erected the ground was also open to the public on Sundays. That is since 1687. In 1887 the ground was let to the Guards. This constitutes what I shall call the first encroachment on the rights of the in-pensioners, though these in-pensioners were permitted to witness cricket matches. The ground, even during this period, was always open to the public on Sundays. Therefore it was always open to the public some time or another, either on Sundays or on week-days, since the passing of this Act in 1706 until the present Government took it over and took it into their own hands to close it. In February, 1917, the Commissioners were relieved of responsibility for the payment of pensions to discharged soldiers. It was to that fact that I was alluding just now. That duty was passed over to the Minister of Pensions. By this act the Government entirely severed their connection with the Commissioners, except as regards their appointment.

I should like you to understand that, if you go through the list of Commissioners, you will find that almost all of them are more or less under the Government and have to do what the Government tell them. In October, 1917, the Commissioners first became aware that it was the intention of the Government to erect temporary buildings for the accommodation of the Ministry of Pensions. The buildings were actually commenced in February, 1918. That is what I shall call the second encroachment on the rights of the in-pensioners. Please remember that the ground did not belong at that time to the Government, and that the Commissioners in the previous February had been relieved of the payment of pensions, and that, therefore, the erection of such buildings in no way carried out the trusts committed into the hands of the Commissioners by Parliament in 1875—namely, to act for the benefit of the Royal Hospital and for the purposes of the said Institution. On the contrary, by the erection of buildings the in-pensioners were naturally deprived of the amenities of a garden, and, if you remember that these are men who have been maimed in the service of their country, you will see it is absolutely necessary that they should have some ground, not far distant, in which they would be able to enjoy fresh air and the beauties of nature.

The Government appear to have been well aware that they possessed no legal right to build upon this ground, and, therefore, they would seem to have endeavoured to persuade the Commissioners to accede to their request by appealing to their patriotic feelings and, apparently, by giving them an assurance that the ground would be returned after the war. When Sir Alfred Mond was asked in the House of Commons on Friday, February 27, 1919, whether he would give a pledge that the buildings would be purely temporary ones, he replied "Certainly." The House will observe that this was a distinct pledge, without conditions, and one which I trust Parliament will require to be honourably kept. It may be asked, in the face of such a distinct pledge, Why do I bring this question to the notice of the House? My reply is this. In a letter written to me, as Chairman of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, in answer to one from me, Sir Alfred Mond on February 19, 1919, said— In view of the large sum of public money involved in the erection of these temporary buildings and the ever-growing demands of the Pensions Ministry and large staffs to deal with their ever-increasing work, I fear there is little prospect of the site being cleared for some years. As recently as Tuesday last Sir Alfred Mond is reported in The Times to have corroborated this statement by saying in the House of Commons that he hoped to evacuate Burton Court in a few years. He added that he could not pull down now a building on which £150,000 had been spent.

In reply to enquiries as to the nature of the consent to the erection of the buildings, which Sir Alfred Mond, in his letter to me of February 19, 1919, stated had been received from the Commissioners, General Bird, Lieutenant-Governor of the Hospital and Secretary, whom I interviewed, informed me by letter on March 20, 1919, that— ''the consent of the Commissioners was obtained to the erection of accommodation on Burton Court as a temporary measure of emergency which they understood— Mark that word!— to be necessitated by the existence of a state of war. He also informed me that the buildings were erected as the result of correspondence between the Commissioners and the Government.

General Bird was, of course, not at liberty to show me this correspondence, which, I understand, took place between October, 1917, and March, 1918. It is for the production of these papers, which might throw light on the intentions of the Government and on the arguments which led to the qualified consent of the Commissioners, that I move for the production of Papers. I would desire to draw your Lordships' attention to the following points which are of importance. First, the Government have given a distinct pledge that the land has only been taken temporarily from the Hospital and must, consequently, be returned to it in statu quo ante some day. Next, under the Defence of the Realm (Acquisition of Lands) Act, by Section 13 subsection (1), open spaces—this was an open space—are covered, and the land of grounds of any ancient monument (mark that, not only open spaces but the land of grounds of any ancient monument). Is not Chelsea Hospital an ancient monument, and as such expressly excluded from encroachment? The words are as follows— Nothing in this Act shall authorise the acquisition or any interest in any open space or the site of any ancient monument or other object of archæological interest, or of any interest in such lands or ground. Is not Chelsea Hospital of archæological interest? If it is asked, "What is an open space?" I would reply that the words "open space" are defined by the Open Spaces Act of 1906 as meaning— Any land whether enclosed or not on which there are no buildings or on which not more than one-twentieth part is covered with buildings, and the whole of the remainder is laid out as a garden or used for purposes of recreation or lies waste and unoccupied. Burton Court, I submit, falls within all these definitions.

Finally I would draw your Lordships' attention to Section 13, subsection (2), of the same Act, which enacts that— Nothing in this Act shall authorise the retention or possession for more than three months after the termination of the war of (c) land held by or on behalf of any governing body constituted for charitable purposes which at the commencement of the war was occupied and used by that body for the purposes of that body. Is not that the case of Chelsea Hospital? I respectfully submit to the Government and to the House that these sections exactly apply to Burton Court and Chelsea Hospital. If my construction be correct Burton Court cannot, therefore, legally be retained by the Government longer than three months after the termination of the war, and not "for some years" as Sir Alfred Mond threatens in his letter to me of February 19, 1919.

Protests against the continued occupation by the Government have been made not only by the Metropolitan Public Garden Association and the Commons Preservation Society, but also by private individuals in the Press, including Lord Plymouth, Lord Stuart of Wortley, and Lord Stern-dale, and also by the Metropolitan Borough of Chelsea, the town clerk of which in a letter to the Metropolitan Public Garden Association, dated December 16, 1918, says— Burton Court is an open space which has until recently been used by the children of the neighbourhood.… Up to the present I have been fighting the battle of the in-pensioners. Now the Town Council is fighting the battle of the children. The town clerk, in his letter, goes on to say— The Council fully recognise that ample accommodation must be provided for dealing with the pensions of our sailors and soldiers, but they submit that as soon as the present urgent necessity has passed the buildings should be removed and the ground revert to its former use. I am communicating with His Majesty's Government, and I am directed by the Council to express a hope that your Society may see their way to support the action taken by them in the matter.

I confidently leave in your Lordships' hands, and in those of the other House of Parliament where I am glad to see the question has already been raised, this encroachment by the Government on the amenities of the gallant veterans of His Majesty's Army and Navy, and of the inhabitants of Chelsea, especially of the younger generation and children—amenities which have been long enjoyed without challenge, and some of which date as far back as 1706. Is it not a reflection, and a serious reflection, on the boasted humanitarianism of the present century and on the boasted advance of progress in social matters when we remember that it has been left to the present Government, in the year of grace 1919, to be the instrument to curtail amenities granted in the reigns of Sovereigns which are not always spoken of in the highest terms—Charles II., James II., and William and Mary. I beg to move.


My Lords, I should like, in a sentence or two, to offer my most hearty support to the plea which has been put forward by the noble Earl. I do not propose to follow him into the legal aspects of the question. No doubt the Government will be able to hold their own in that respect. I would rather base the support I wish to offer on the broad and general grounds of the importance, wherever possible, of promoting the recognition of the value of open spaces. I venture to congratulate my noble friend on the manner in which he has been. the champion of this movement year after year, and done so much to educate public opinion in regard to what is now recognised as one of the essentials and fundamentals in connection with the promotion of public health, namely, the provision of open air spaces in our cities. One must admit that the statement he made, that £150,000 has been spent on buildings, is somewhat staggering, especially when the proposition of their destruction is made. We are told that it is the intention of the Government to dismantle or remove this building in a few years. If it is a matter of a few years, one would suppose that a better price for the materials could be obtained if the removal takes place quickly rather than if the building is allowed to deteriorate. With that in view, and having regard to the last and most forcible argument of the noble Earl—consideration for the children of the district; and that nothing should be done to delay the restoration of this space, which is practically a playground for the children—it is a strong case in favour of the earliest possible adoption of what is contemplated by the Government namely, the restoration of this space to its former condition.


My Lords, the noble Earl who raised this question referred to the "user" which has been granted of this land to the Brigade of Guards. I wish to say a few words on that subject. In granting that privilege to His Majesty's troops, who have very few means of getting exercise and recreation, great care has been taken not in any way to infringe upon the privileges of the pensioners living in the hospital. Leave was granted, I believe, by the Commissioners—and, therefore, whatever encroachment there may have been was committed by them—on the understanding that at any time it might be withdrawn. But it has been found to be highly appreciated by the dwellers in the Hospital. It has brought the young soldier into constant communication with the old soldier, as many of them are actually connected with the same regiment. More than that, the old soldiers have from time to time taken part in the sports which have been organised. I wish to urge upon the noble Lord who replies for the Government the very great necessity for having some place of recreation for this large number of young men who are in the Brigade of Guards or the Household Cavalry. I am quite sure that none of the public would wish to withdraw from them the privilege that they have been granted, and it certainly has in no way interfered with such right as the public had over the ground. I know that the officers and men of the Brigade of Guards were dismayed when they heard that what they had regarded for many years as their playground was to be covered with Government buildings for several years to come. I urge on His Majesty's Government, in the interests and welfare of these men who have fought and done their duty during the past years, that they should consider them before any final determination is come to.


My Lords, I should not be dealing candidly with your Lordships if I did not tell you at the outset that my interest in this question is as a dweller in Chelsea. I am also in a position to say that the amenities of my own house are in no way affected by this question. I have knowledge of it because I naturally pass this place on my way into town every day. But after all, if those who have the opportunity of becoming cognisant of the facts do not speak up for what is right and against what seems to be wrong, there is all the more danger that the cause of the right may seem to go by default.

This is indeed not a Chelsea question at all, and, much as one sympathises with the Brigade of Guards, it is not even a question of the rights of the Brigade of Guards, pleasant and charming as was the scene when the cricket matches used to go on, and the bands play and large numbers of the public were admitted. Even a restricted user of this great space, even the enjoyment by the public of its amenities, subject to the right of the Brigade of Guards, is a great deal better than the hideous accumulation of temporary buildings which are supposed to have architectural extenuations in the shape of disgusting ornament plastered on to the outside. I do not know how many of your Lordships are aware of the size of this great space. I do not know whether it is as large as Lincolns-Inn-Fields, which itself is said to be as large as the base of the great Pyramid, but, large as it is, its chief object is its harmony with the design of the beautiful buildings erected by Sir Christopher Wren. Not only does it lead on the north side to the avenue intended by Charles II to have brought into view the gardens and buildings of Kensington Palace, to which it leads straight, but on the other side it forms a natural part of what may be called the emplacement of these beautiful buildings which thus remain for all time an example of dignity, repose, and proportion in architecture which it is unthinkable should suffer either sacrifice or disfigurement.

I am afraid that the public are in danger in this case, because we are going to be told that it is possible that the Pensions Ministry may have an existence of half a century in length. That may well be if we have no renewal of war. My fear is that we are going to be made a victim of the clamant demands of Departments which we think are justly distrusted—Departments which do things that upon the face of them are ludicrous, if not worse than ludicrous, Departments which cannot give a reason for their ludicrous acts, or at any rate never do give a reason for them. We fear that we are going to be made the victims of the saving of the mere amour propre not of Ministers but of subordinate officers whom Ministers do not dare really to repudiate. In this ease it looks as if the decision was sought to be jumped upon us—we are obliged to use familiar, colloquial words because the thing proposed to be done is so unbeautiful—by the policy of what is called the fait accompli. There is no need for this Pensions Department to be near Chelsea Hospital because of the existence of King Charles' foundation. To say so is mere pedantry. It is also bad history, and at the very time when these buildings were put up on this space there was at a place called Flood-street, by no means a long way off, a very large open space in consequence of the recent demolition of slum dwellings, a space which any of your Lordships may still see, an area where the space available is larger than the actual cleared ground, because it is fringed by buildings which have been standing vacant since the beginning of the war, probably having been condemned before that time. I quote this as showing the want of any really serious effort to see if space could not begot in some other place. What I. am indicating is a space on which buildings could have been put to a height of two or three storeys, and thereby probably even a larger staff be accommodated.

But I put this objection, not upon the grounds of the rights of the inhabitants of Chelsea, nor upon the rights or amenities of the Brigade of Guards, with whom every one sympathises. I put it on the grounds that in committing an act like this it is like saying to foreign nations that we do not know our best possessions when we have got them. Those of your Lordships who have to pass through St. James's Park every day would say how unthinkable it is that the temporary buildings there should be allowed to become permanent, and to be left upon their present sites, or in Hyde Park.


Hear, hear.


When I had the honour of being one of those to receive foreign Members of Parliament in London, I remember walking with some French Deputies and Senators in the direction of Buckingham Palace on our way to be received by His Majesty, and they then expressed themselves timidly, but still with some vigour, as to the appearance of our beautiful park in the early spring, disfigured—abimé, as they said—by these temporary buildings. Fortunately in that place one was able to say it was an evil which luckily would not be of long duration. What would your Lordships think if it were proposed to make them permanent? I say that the case of Chelsea as a national possession is less nationally important only than that of St. James's Park. What would your Lordships say if any of the beautiful converging avenues from which Hampton Court could be seen were proposed to be obstructed or disfigured by permanent wooden buildings covered with stucco? Chelsea Hospital is beautiful. It is only an example of the architecture of one period. Hampton Court gives you an early Tudor Palace, and an Elizabethan Palace, and a William III Palace, all on the same site, with garden grounds laid out with the greatest possible charm. Chelsea Hospital is only less beautiful than Hampton Court. Just think what a reproach you would incur amongst foreign artists and lovers of the beautiful of all kinds if you were to allow possessions of that kind to be so disfigured. I hope that the noble Lord—we do not yet know what Department he represents—will tell us whether this iniquity is being perpetrated by the War Office. I hear whispers that it is not the War Office.




Whether it is the Ministry of Pensions or the Office of Works, which is supposed to look after our artistic interests, I do hope that that is not going to be done.


My Lords, in view of the interruption that fell from my noble friend, the Under-Secretary of State for War (Lord Peel) I hope that we may be able to claim his support, and I do so on the ground of its being a playground for the troops. Officers and men have got cricket grounds there, and there is also a football ground; and these, of course, are immensely valuable. It is the only possible site, as far as I know, in the West End of London, and if that playground is taken away the men who are necessarily quartered in London will have no opportunity of taking part in games which (I am sure you will agree) are so necessary for their health, and indeed for their military efficiency.

Really this is an outrage. It was all very well at first to put up temporary buildings, but that has been followed by great holes dug in the ground, and concrete foundations were made. At first the actual cricket pitch was preserved; now I understand that leave has been given to deal with that also, and those of your Lordships who are cricketers—and I am not—know far better than I do what the effect of that is going to be in restoring those pitches to a condition in which they can be used.

I venture to hope that your Lordships will express most strongly your objections to these buildings being put on this historic site, not only because of its historical value, but because of the great good that it does to the troops who are necessarily quartered in London, and who are feeling bitterly disappointed at the way in which their playground is being treated on their return from the war.


My Lords, I will say at once that I shall be very glad to consent to the Motion put on the Paper by the noble Earl. I am sure that every member of your Lordships' House must sympathise with the noble Earl in his wish to restore Burton Court as an open space and also with the many arguments from a legal, historical, and artistic point of view that he has brought forward in support of his contention. But there is, I think, one argument which is perhaps more powerful than any that he has used, on which I must rely for keeping the buildings in their present state. That argument is the imperative necessity for economy. Over £100,000, as we have been told, has been expended on the building; to obtain another suitable site and to re-erect the buildings would cost as much as £200,000, besides delaying the work of the Ministry of Pensions.

I should like to give your Lordships some idea of what has actually happened in the negotiations. The idea of building on this site was originally considered in October, 1917. It was at first suggested that there should be a stipulation that the building should be evacuated within a year of the declaration of peace. But the Financial Secretary to the War Office objected to this undertaking being given, and it also became apparent that the building would be much larger and much more expensive than had been expected. In these circumstances the First Commissioner of Works did not feel justified in giving any pledge as to a date for the demolition of the building. And in writing to the War Office on December 20, the Office of Works said— It is, of course, understood that no pledge can be given as to the date upon which it will be possible to evacuate the ground. The House is aware that the War Cabinet has decided that hotels and museums are to be evacuated before other buildings. I fear, therefore, that there is little hope of the buildings being removed until the great pressure for accommodation has decreased, or until the Ministry of Pensions is in a position to diminish its staff.

The First Commissioner is, I know, in complete sympathy with the noble Earl in his very valuable activities in regard to open spaces, but he cannot undertake to promise any early evacuation of this ground. All that he can do is to undertake that if the Ministry of Pensions, owing either to a decrease in staff or to a decentralisation of business, is able to evacuate the building it will not be allotted to any other Government Department. Various arguments have been brought forward by other noble Lords. Lord Treowen and Lord Stanhope spoke of the lost playing fields of the Brigade of Guards, but accommodation has been provided for them on the other side of the road between Chelsea Hospital and the river. The Commissioners have provided accommodation for cricket and football.


Is it not a very much smaller space?


I do not know what the acreage is.


And that also at the expense of the public.


Then a good deal was made of the fact that children had been excluded from their playing ground, but there is plenty of open space here. There is Ranelagh Gardens and the Chelsea Hospital Gardens, in which the children have been accustomed to play, while, as a matter of fact, the public have been excluded from Burton Court. There are few places in London so well supplied with open spaces. The buildings, I admit, are of very solid construction, but the reason of this is that they have had to be built of concrete and steel, because the price of wood has been so enormous that to erect ordinary temporary buildings would have been more expensive than to put up buildings of the construction which is now being employed.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has replied on behalf of the Government assured the noble Earl who introduced this subject of the deep sympathy felt for him and for his Motion by the First Commissioner of Works. I think that those who heard or have read the statement of the First Commissioner of Works made in another place yesterday will feel that he, too, is an object deserving of some sympathy. The First Commissioner of Works adopted an attitude of something like helpless despair owing to the conduct, not of any members of the Opposition or of any people outside, but of, his own familiar friends, his fellow-Ministers and heads of Departments. He expressed himself as most unhappy that it was not possible to meet the wishes of those who made strong protests of the same kind to which we have listened this afternoon, and once more we had a remarkable instance of the absence of mutual information or collective responsibility among different members of His Majesty's Government.

The noble Lord to-night has made the best defence he could of what I confess appears to most of us to be absolutely indefensible. He explained that the solid construction of these buildings was due to the shortage of timber at the time, so that the necessity arose of erecting these buildings somewhat in the manner of a Norman castle. I cannot believe that, by the use of slabs or some cheaper method, it might not have been possible to erect these buildings in a far cheaper and more temporary way. It is very difficult to suppose that those who were responsible for their erection did not foresee at the time when they were put up that there would be an attempt to leave them for an unknown number of years in their position; and, if you please, an argument in favour of doing so was to be supplied by the very fact of this solid construction. We have the remarkable fact before us that for the first time (I think I am right in saying) His Majesty's Government have called to their aid the immortal principle of public economy in order to avoid doing what most of your Lordships ask. It is really not easy to comment on that attitude when we think of the millions that have been expended not merely in the erection but also in the almost immediate destruction of buildings and of public constructions of all kinds.

One is astonished that, in this comparatively minor case—because we were not, I think, told that the £150,000 which the buildings cost to erect would be a dead loss; I suppose it must be assumed that the materials would produce a certain portion of that sum—the Government appeal to us, who from time to time have urged them to be more economical, and ask us to support them. I do not think that, even wedded to economy as we are, your Lord ships will be prepared to support this particular instance of its exercise. What makes most of us uneasy is that when the First Commissioner of Works speaks of years, before the lapse of which these buildings cannot be removed, we have an uncomfortable feeling that it may well be a considerable number of years. I am bound to say that this appears to me to be one of the cases—of which there may not be so very many, although there are undoubtedly some—in which the Government would be wise, in the public interest and for a great number of reasons, to cut its loss and remove the buildings at once.


My Lords, I waited until my noble friend Lord Stanmore had replied to the discussion opened by the noble Earl; Lord Meath dealt so thoroughly with the subject that I did not wish to waste the time of the House. I rejoiced when the noble Lord began his speech by consenting to produce the Papers asked for by the noble Earl. I wish the noble Lord had stopped at that point, because after that he went on to deal with economy, and put forward certain explanations which I am sure were most unsatisfactory to your Lordships. He took an interest in Chelsea Hospital, Burton Court, and their surroundings. I had the honour of sitting upon the Board of Commissioners at Chelsea Hospital for eight years, for five years of which I was chairman; therefore you can imagine that I take a very deep interest in this question. When I went there a day or two ago I found that building was continuing and expenses still being incurred.

There was a time, as has been said to-day already, when the Chelsea Commissioners dealt with pensions. They performed this duty admirably, and one of the greatest mistakes of the Government was to take that duty away from them. They have now added insult to injury by stealing their ground. I hope that the noble Lord will produce these Papers very shortly because I think we had better deal with the subject while it is hot. When the Papers are produced I trust that the noble Earl will bring the question up again so that we may have it thoroughly threshed out, and then we may be able to get a vote so decisive—if it is necessary to take a vote—that the Government will be compelled at the earliest moment to make other provision for the Pensions Ministry. I may mention in passing that I was glad to hear the noble Marquess who has just sat down say that this was one of the losses which the Government ought to cut. I am of the same opinion.

We have been told that we are to be at the mercy of the Ministry of Pensions. It has been said that this Ministry will last thirty or forty years. I think that it will be a wicked and cruel thing if the old soldiers who, after fighting for their country, have found a rest in this beautiful hospital at Chelsea and had the pleasure of looking at the cricket and football matches, and so on, are to be deprived during their lifetime of these amenities.


My Lords, the answer of my noble friend, who strove manfully to "defend the indefensible," was not only a counsel of despair but, as I hope your Lordships will realise, a counsel of despair in perpetuity. The noble Lord said that these buildings would remain in being until the Ministry of Pensions had adequate accommodation or was able to dispense with the present numbers of it staff. It is within your Lordships' knowledge that the Pensions Bureau of America had a longer roll forty years after the Civil War than it had immediately after that war. I am of opinion that fifty, sixty, and even seventy years after the war through which we have just come the Pensions Ministry will go on in its present strength; therefore there is no chance of the contingency anticipated by my noble friend coming to pass.

I rose for two reasons. First, I am well acquainted with the present Ministry of Pensions, and I can assure the House that their only hope is to get adequate housing where their work may be efficiently done away from their present surroundings. At the moment the Ministry of Pensions occupy the third floor of a building on the Embankment devoted to offices, and group their work into a number of compartments, divided by glass partitions, which certainly is not conducive to good work in that building, and the work spreads itself into tenement houses all round, where there is no possibility of good administration. It certainly is necessary that they should face the necessities of their work and obtain permanent offices, because it is certain to be a permanent Department of State for all time. If Parliament waits for that staff to be diminished, then Burton Court will be covered with buildings in a very few years.

I want to put another point. We are hearing now, in connection with the Housing Bill that is before Parliament, of all sorts of schemes of town planning, which are to provide for lung spaces in crowded districts. Here you have a great lung in a very crowded district, and you are going to shut it up. I cannot imagine anything more opposed to public policy than when you have a large space like this, in a crowded district, to cover it with buildings for the next hundred years. It seems to me to be a monstrous abuse. I do not think the noble Lord is himself responsible for what has been done, but when he said that he assented to the Motion on the Paper I was in hope that it was to the spirit of the noble Earl's Question that he gave his agreement, and not merely to leave to present Papers. I say most emphatically that it is a perfect farce to talk of social reform in the interests of those who dwell in the crowded parts of great cities, and then take deliberately an open space such as this and cover it with buildings which are an inconvenience to administration.

The Pensions Department cannot work in its present housing, and it is useless to be penny wise and pound foolish when you are spending £80,000,000 a year in pensions, apart from the added burdens which are being taken over every day by the Department. The War Cabinet ought to face what are the necessities of the case and allow that for good administration, as well as for public convenience, the quarters of the Pensions Department ought to be shifted from Burton Court. If the place of which Lord Stuart of Wortley spoke is not available, there are others which can be taken; and you will thus bring to an end a grave public scandal which cannot be justified by any canon of public policy or administration.


My Lords, it is not inappropriate that I should detain the House, because I was the author of the original obstruction. In 1887 I happened to be Under-Secretary for War, and Colonel Kenyon-Slaney asked me whether it was not possible to get a piece of ground between the Hospital and the river as a playground for the Guards. I stated that I thought there would be a great deal of difficulty, but I also pointed out that on the other side there was a practically deserted piece of ground, Burton Court. I hope the children of the present day take advantage of it, though certainly they did not in those days. Except by an occasional nursery maid with a perambulator, no use was made of it; and I am not at all ashamed that I was successful in encroaching upon the rights of the pensioners to that extent.

I endorse what has been said by my noble friend behind me. Here is the Garrison in London without any playground whatever, unless it be that a piece of ground is now being found between the Hospital and the river. However, I do not dwell upon that. I ask the noble Earl on the cross-benches riot to be satisfied with the production of Papers, but if those Papers show that there has been a breach—and it seems to me as if there may be two breaches: a breach by the Commissioners in departing from the terms of the trust, and an apparent intention to make a breach by the First Commissioner in not complying with the terms of the agreement—I ask him not to be satisfied with any pressure which Parliament can bring to bear, unless the First Commissioner shows signs of giving way, but to see whether, with the powerful assistance of the local authority and of the societies which he represents, the Courts may not have power to bring useful pressure upon the First Commissioner of Works.

On Question, Motion for Papers agreed to.

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