HL Deb 22 May 1924 vol 57 cc620-45

VISCOUNT BURNHAM rose to call attention to the proposed erection of a bridge over the Thames in the neighbourhood of St. Paul's Cathedral, and to move that it is desirable that the Fine Art Committee which has recently been constituted by His Majesty's Government for the express purpose of advising on the artistic aspect of public works and buildings be consulted before further steps are taken.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I ventured to place this Motion upon the Notice Paper because I wish to recall to the recollection of His Majesty's Government the existence of the Fine Art Committee, and because I hold it to be inconceivable that in connection with the greatest public work that has ever been undertaken in the City or the County of London by any local authority or by the Crown, the Government should not have sought the advice and counsel of the Committee so far as the scheme affects the amenities and the attractions of the Capital of the Empire, which were Lever more emphasised than they are to-day. As your Lordships know, the Committee is merely a consultative and advisory body, but it is a very distinguished body. It is presided over by my noble friend Lord Crawford, and one of its leading members is the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. It numbers among its members men of such artistic reputation as Sir Aston Webb, the President of the Royal Academy, whose grave illness, owing to a terrible accident, the whole country deplores.

It may be said, of course, that this is a question of local government. That this House is not averse from considering questions of local government was shown by your Lordships on Tuesday last in regard to the tramways. Apart from that, however, the Thames is pre-eminently the national river and the greater bridges that are provided in the Capital for crossing that river are matters of national concern. Therefore, I do not think that anybody will consider the question of the construction of this bridge to be merely a local one. The Government cannot possibly divest itself of responsibility in the matter seeing that it has proposed to contribute out of the Imperial Exchequer nearly £1,000,000 to the approaches and thoroughfares which are rendered necessary in carrying out the scheme. I scarcely think the Government can say that they have no responsibility for a project which seriously threatens, if it does not endanger, St. Paul's Cathedral. I know that the authorities of the Cathedral regard the matter not only with anxiety but with apprehension.

It would not be helpful to go at length into the archæology of the London bridges, though, of course it is as interesting and varied as the history of Old London always is; but most of the bridges were constructed where the old fords existed in early days. They were constructed on no exact system but as the necessities of the time seemed to suggest. There is certainly no question of town-planning involved in the way that the bridges of London have been provided. Some of them have owed their undertaking to curious considerations, for I believe it is true that when Blackfriars Bridge was built by the City of London and opened in 1769 under the name of Pitt Bridge, it was done largely because of the jealousy and emulation induced among the City Corporation at the unexpected success of Westminster Bridge which had just been rebuilt and re-opened for public use.

However, I am not here to suggest or to insinuate—it would be a strange thing to do at the present moment—that the accommodation afforded to the people of London, or really to the people of England, for crossing the River Thames in this area is either sufficient or suitable. That is not part of my case. I have no intention of going into alternative schemes, because although they may have to be considered, or have already been before both Houses of Parliament at various times, it would delay your Lordships too long and I do not think it is essential. All I wish to say in moving that the opinion of the Fine Art Committee be taken on this matter is that, so far as I can see, St. Paul's Bridge is the worst of all the proposals that have ever been made for bridging the Thames. It has very few friends. I believe it was adopted only by a bare majority of the City Corporation. Two of the city aldermen are sitting behind me and will, no doubt, address your Lordships later. But it is primarily a matter for the City Corporation and the actual cost of the bridge is to be defrayed out of what is known as the Bridge House Estate.

The proposal was first brought forward in 1905. The Common Council then instructed the Bridge House Committee to report upon the best means of providing further accommodation for the transport of London traffic across the Thames. Eventually, after the Bill had been adopted in the City, it came before Parliament, was passed and received the Royal Assent in 1911 and, I believe, subsequently, in 1920. During the war period nothing was attempted and nothing was done.

All along, however, this proposed bridge has been the subject of acute controversy in the City itself. I have read in the report of the big debate in the Common Council that a man whose name is generally revered—Sir William Treloar—said: "Do let us get rid of the idea of any horrible viaducts." The whole scheme, of course, rests on the viaducts which are to provide for the traffic on the north side of the river and will create, it is said, new insanitary areas in the City—a thing which we hoped we had got rid of. Generally speaking, there is a great body of opinion in the City of London which is entirely opposed to the making of this bridge. There is, however, a natural reluctance, which is not surprising considering that the City has had a good deal to put up with in the way of added charges on the County Account of recent years, to making the new contribution to Metropolitan traffic by way of a fund, it may be, for rebuilding and improving the bridge at Charing Cross or elsewhere.

There was the City patriotism, which has impelled the City to seek another bridge within the area of the City itself, although, as a matter of fact, it seems very doubtful whether it will afford much relief to the commerce and bartering of the City. Southwark Bridge, which is, I think, only 300 yards lower down, is not largely used, and it is stated by those who can speak with authority that this bridge will greatly increase the congestion when it reaches the point of the traffic branching off in the middle of the City, and that instead of relieving our present difficulties it will rather add to them. That additional accommodation for transport is required is evident not only from the state of the streets to-day, but from what we may anticipate when the full power of motor vehicles has been developed and has taken a good deal from the old lines of communication by rail and by tramway. That is the matter as it affects the City Corporation. They can, of course, speak for themselves, but I suggest to my noble friends who represent the Corporation that they are so divided among themselves, and so uncertain as to the wisdom of the course they have taken, that they ought to be the first to welcome a national inquiry in which considerations of art will have their full weight.

Then I come to the County Council. The London County Council gave a grudging support to the scheme in the first instance, of which, I gather, it has since repented, because it now proposes a Commission—I will speak of that in a moment—to examine the matter afresh, and they did it, so I am told, in the belief that they would be able to bring their tramways across the new bridge into the heart of the City. That the Corporation of the City refuses to contemplate, and so the motive which led the London County Council to agree to the scheme in the first instance has largely disappeared.

In the third place, we come to the authorities of St. Paul's Cathedral. There is no doubt that they have all along opposed this scheme. It has no aesthetic attractions so far as the Cathedral is concerned, because, instead of making the end of a long and magnificent vista which might add a new beauty to London, the road will abut on the east end and detract materially from the grandeur of St. Paul's Cathedral as we know it to-day. They are alarmed—and I am permitted to say so with authority—by the risks from vibration, and also by what I suppose will be called the desiccation of the clay on which the piles rest. This fills them with very genuine doubts as to the further shifting of the building. As your Lordships know, at the present moment the scaffolding is kept in St. Paul's because of the variations, which are very serious, and which necessitate to-day, and will necessitate, the expenditure of a great sum of money in order to strengthen the foundations against their further shifting and slipping away. Therefore, the Government knows that those who can speak for the Church in this matter—and I commend this to the noble Lord, the Lord President—are against the scheme altogether.

Lastly, I come to the art societies and architectural bodies of the country, and I shall only read a short paragraph from their memorandum, because I prefer that they should speak for themselves. They include the London Society, the Town Planning Institute, the Architecture Club and the Royal Institute of British Architects. They say: The choice of the east end of St. Paul's-churchyard as a space for the encouragement of additional traffic appears to us singularly unfortunate, and it appears likely that the arches carrying the approaches between viaduct and viaduct may produce an embarrassment of street planning and of hygienic arrangement in a crowded area which is not yet fully considered. Quite apart from questions relating to the stability of the Cathedral—questions which we believe are sufficiently grave—it is clear that the introduction of a north and south highway at this part of the City must lead to a serious obstruction of the existing cast and west streams of traffic, both that in Cheapside and that in Cannon-street. If there is, as it seems to us, any chance of the proposed bridge and its contributory roads becoming a definite impediment rather than an improvement to existing traffic conditions, it is clear that funds spent on it will be funds spent amiss. All these opinions tend in the same way, and I venture to suggest to your Lordships that this House should take a serious view of the matter.

There is naturally a great amiability on the part of His Majesty's Government to agree to any vicarious benevolence which will afford employment to the people. They may very likely think that this work, like other public works which are now being subsidised, will do something to relieve the state of unemployment, but I think the objections in this case are 30 grave and important that they should regard the matter from another point of view. It is always said that your Lordships' House exists for second thoughts. I think this is a case where second thoughts are salutary, and even necessary. For that purpose, and with that object, I have set down the Motion which stands in my name. Although it only covers the question of the Fine Arts Committee, it of course goes further in its real significance.

At their last meeting the London County Council recommended that a Commission should be formed, equally constituted of the County Council and the City Corporation, to consider the general question of traffic across the bridges and the provision of further facilities of the same nature. I think that this matter goes altogether beyond the area of local government. I hardly think Commission is the right term for a body set up by two local authorities, however important. What I should like to see myself would be a Royal Commission appointed to examine and report to Parliament on the legislative proposals which no doubt have received the sanction of both Houses, but which ought to be examined in the fresh light that we have to-day, when we know that there is not a single public body of importance which is really in favour of the proposal to construct the bridge and spend this huge amount upon its approaches and its thoroughfares. We shall then be in a better position to give a considered judgment that will be for the public welfare, as I think, not only of this City, but-looking at what it involves and what it means, and considering what the City is—of the whole country as well, I beg to move.

Moved, That it is desirable that the Fine Art Committee which has recently been constituted by His Majesty's Government for the express purpose of advising on the artistic aspect of public works and buildings be consulted before further steps are taken in connection with the proposed erection of a bridge over the Thames in the neighbourhood of St. Paul's Cathedral.—(Viscount Burnham.)


My Lords, I think we ought to. be grateful to my noble friend who has just sat down for having brought this national question to your Lordships' attention. His speech was, indeed, directed, as he himself not only admitted but claimed towards the end of his observations, to a much wider issue than that which is contemplated directly, and in terms, by the Motion which he has placed upon the Paper. His Motion is confined to a Resolution asserting the propriety of calling in the service of a body which was quite recently constituted, and asking them to offer an opinion upon the merits of the scheme. This body, the Fine Art Committee, is, as its very name implies, confined in its activities to purely æsthetic considerations. Æsthetic considerations alone come before it, and on æsthetic issues alone are they qualified to offer an opinion.

In one sense, the æsthetic issues, and the purely æsthetic issues, raised by the proposal of this new bridge are in themselves of national importance. They are of national importance because, in the first place, they deal with one of the most wonderful rivers and urban prospects in the world—that of the Thames, its bridges and surrounding buildings; and still more because it touches the very existence, or is alleged to touch the existence, of one of the greatest buildings of which London can boast, undoubtedly the greatest modern cathedral, post-mediæval cathedral, which exists in the world, and a perpetual source of pride not merely to the City of London, not merely to the great urban area which surrounds the City, but to the whole Empire. St. Paul's is a national possession. I had almost said, and I am prepared to say, that it is an Imperial possession, and we cannot in this House, or in Parliament, treat anything which undoubtedly concerns the safely of that great fabric as if it were an affair either for the City, or the London County Council, or for Greater London, or London in its more restricted sense. Therefore, the noble Viscount is amply justified in saying that this should come before this Fine Art Committee.

But it is not merely, or I think chiefly, a question for this advisory body to direct the policy of the country. I am perfectly ready to admit that circumstances may arise, and do arise, in which æsthetic considerations, strong and unquestionable, point in one direction and the hard interests of utilitarian policy point in another. While admitting that, and admitting also that we cannot allow questions of mere picturesqueness or beauty wholly to guide the policy we adopt, I think questions of æsthetics might arise, and in this case do arise, of such transcendent importance that a great deal of the coarser and cruder form of utility must be sacrificed lest these greater and higher interests should be destroyed. Surely if ever there was a case for care and caution in any procedure for which we in this House are responsible, a policy which certainly and unquestionably profoundly affects the beauty of London as a City, as well as being a question which profoundly affects the safety and security of one of the greatest ornaments of that City, comes within the category I have described.

Nevertheless, it is quite evident to everybody who has considered the question that merely to refer this subject to the Fine Art Committee, and to say that their verdict is to be conclusive, would not satisfy, and cannot satisfy, the general public opinion of the Metropolis or the country. We must know what is the answer to a great many questions which are not æsthetic at all. There are two paramount and particular questions which must be determined, so far as I can see, by competent authorities before we proceed further. One of these questions is an engineering problem, or in the main is an engineering problem, and the other is a question of traffic, of town planning; and both the traffic question and the engineering question seem to me, so far as I have been able to study the subject, to be of extraordinary complexity and difficulty.

Take the engineering problem first—the safety of St. Paul's. As my noble friend has pointed out, the authorities of the Cathedral, the architect of the Cathedral and the engineers connected with it, are profoundly anxious about the present condition of the structure. Work is even now being done within its walls, done with great caution and with a careful examination of the effect from day to day, almost from hour to hour, of the engineering operations which are undertaken, and I do not think anybody, be he architect or engineer, or the instructed amateur, would venture to offer a dogmatic, strong and unqualified opinion either as to the present state of security of the building or as to the best method of dealing with it. You may say, and say with perfect truth, that apparently we are very remote in this debate, and in the Resolution before your Lordships' House, from these questions of the actual structure of St. Paul's, and if that consideration enters, as I think it does, into the problem which has to be decided in connection with the proposed new bridge, it is evident that you are travelling far beyond any æsthetic question. I am sure that my noble friend would be the first to admit that, and, indeed, it is quite obvious. Nevertheless, it is curious to note how this question, which seemingly is purely a question of engineering, touches the vital æsthetic interests of the community.

Unfortunately, engineering is not an exact science. It often, indeed, has to deal with problems every element of which is known, and when it is in that fortunate condition the judgment of a competent engineer may be accepted as an absolutely secure guide to practical action. If you know the materials which you are using, if you know their strength, if you know all the strains and stresses to which they are to be subjected, and if all those elements of the problem are submitted to a competent engineer, undoubtedly he will be able to give you an answer upon which you can build your policy with a perfect security that you will meet with no serious disappointments in the future. But unfortunately engineers are constantly faced with problems of which they do not know and cannot know, and, if they knew, could not accurately calculate, all the consequences. When, for instance, you come to questions of dredging great water ways, the ultimate result has always, or almost always, an element of doubt, and when you are dealing with such problems as are presented by St. Paul's, where you have a structure into which a great deal of rubble was originally introduced, probably for economic reasons, which has a foundation, not upon rock, not of a simple or elementary character, but highly complex in its constitution—when you are dealing with those problems, and when you are dealing with them for a length of time, the closest examination, the most anxious and hesitating forecasts, are almost all that you can expect to obtain.

Take one simple example of that perhaps very obvious proposition. A building may stand perfectly secure on foundations apparently adequate. You bring close to it heavy traffic (and the tendency of modern traffic on modern roads is to get heavier and heavier), the traffic sets up a vibration in the structure which appears to stand so firmly, and day after day, year after year and, in cases like that of St. Paul's, century after century, you subject that structure to these uncalculated and incalculable vibrations—you cannot prophesy with security that this vast edifice on its apparently frail foundations is capable of meeting these new conditions. It is clear, therefore, that while this Committee can, without doubt or hesitation, explain or attempt to estimate the loss that would come upon the community if St. Paul's were to perish before our eyes in consequence of some error in the calculations of the engineers, while they could tell us what the magnitude of our loss would be, it is quite evident from the very constitution of that Committee that they are quite incapable of telling us how those evils can be avoided.

If I have succeeded in indicating to your Lordships the sort of difficulty that meets us when we try to estimate the effect upon an old structure like St. Paul's of new engineering works devised on a great scale and constantly bringing—as it is supposed, at all events—vast and heavy traffic within the smallest possible distance from its walls, if I have succeeded in convincing your Lordships that this is a matter of extraordinary difficulty and of extraordinary perplexity, which cannot be left, I think, to purely local treatment, and certainly has not yet been decided satisfactorily by anything that has been done in the course, of the many years which have elapsed since this project was first started, if I say that this problem, in its complexity, goes beyond the Resolution of my noble friend, may not the same commentary be made upon the other question which must be raised by this project—namely, the question of traffic?

I am quite incapable of speaking to your Lordships as an authority upon these traffic problems. They are growing in intensity and, if the prosperity of this country continues to augment, they are destined to grow still further. They are problems which attack every great city whose streets were originally contrived for a small population and a small traffic, and which constantly apply to the streets at their very centre, at their very heart, at the spot where all the nerves of commerce, of manufacture and of trade meet. It attacks them all. All are faced with it. Some are faced with it in a form of extraordinary acuteness, as in New York, where expansion is rendered difficult or impossible for the present owing to natural causes. But you cannot escape it even in London, which does not suffer under that difficulty, because, so long as your City is an organisation whose chief work is carried on at the centre, so you will surely find that the streets and the lanes—we should call them lanes now, though they are dignified very often by the name of High-street or Broad-street—that were quite adequate for previous generations cannot suffice for the modern circulation of the life-blood of a community, but have at immense cost to be widened and altered.

If you bring across a system already suffering from the evils which I have described another thoroughfare which is not intended to serve the centre of the City but intended to give a power of movement across the main lines of traffic to and from the centre of the City, you greatly aggravate a difficulty which, without that aggravation, is already, I will not say almost insuperable, but the cause of great anxiety and perplexity to those interested in town planning. Are you sure that this bridge which you propose to build is only going to be a great disfigurement to your river and a great danger to your Cathedral? Are you sure it may not aggravate this very problem of transport which it is intended to relieve? I know that some very competent observers hold that it will aggravate that difficullty. I am personally quite incapable of offering an opinion upon the subject. Evidently it is one which has to be considered, and most carefully considered, before this scheme of St. Paul's Bridge is gone on with.

Now that really is the case that I wish to submit to your Lordships on the Motion of my noble friend. I admit that it goes far beyond the scope of the Motion, but if I rightly interpret his speech he is not likely to object to that or to treat it as irrelevant. If, then, I am right in the. indications I have given of what the problem for us is, can there be a more complicated problem? It deals with questions widely divergent, and on which you have to deal with authorities widely different. An engineer qua engineer knows nothing about beauty, and so far as my observation goes his practice does not show that he has largely, as a rule, trespassed in the region with which my noble friend is concerned. On the other hand, the artist foams at the mouth if you tell him it is so much cheaper to build a hideous thing than a beautiful thing, and that he must consent to waive his love of the beautiful for narrowly utilitarian methods.

You have again problems not merely of an engineering kind. You have to consider what the slow effect of a process of destruction may be, when it touches the foundations of so weighty a structure, built under such different conditions, as St. Paul's. Now there are three great departments of investigation, all of which should be included in any inquiry which is going to settle the problem before us, and I earnestly hope that the Government will not—I will not say shelter themselves, because I know they mean to do the best they can—will not quote the fact that all that is going to be done now is to be done under a Bill which has twice received the assent of both Houses, for I believe that that assent was given without adequate consideration of the arguments that I have brought before your Lordships, which are really the result of recent experiences, which were not within the scope or wisdom of those who originally assented to this project.


My Lords, I rise on behalf of the Corporation of the City of London, merely to tell the House what steps have been taken by that body since this bridge was first contemplated. The fact is that they, as one would naturally expect, consulted the very best architects available, and I am going to relate a short history of what has taken place. In 1911, when the Corporation of London (Bridges) Bill was before Parliament, it was re-committed to the Select Committee of the House of Commons to whom the Bill had been referred, with instructions to satisfy themselves that the scheme, both in respect of architectural design and convenience of traffic, was the one best adapted to the public needs and the character of the site. The Bridge House Estates Committee, when promoting the Bill, stated that it was their desire and intention to enlist the services of an architect to assist them in the scheme.

On the re-committed Bill the Corporation asked Sir William Emerson, who had been President of the Royal Institute of British Architects three times, Mr. T. E. Colcutt, Past President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and Mr. (now Sir) John Burnett, to report on the proposal. They submitted a joint report stating:—

  1. "(1) We are of opinion that the line of route proposed by the Corporation is best adapted to the public needs, and to the fulfilment of the objects of the Bill.
  2. "(2) We are of opinion that the alignment proposed by the Corporation is the one best suited to the character of the site.
  3. "(3) That an architect or architects should be appointed to collaborate with the engineers as to the general design of the bridge and approaches—that in skilled hands the bridge and its approaches can be made a magnificent addition to the river scenery about the City."
The three architects gave evidence in support of their report before the House of Commons Committee. The Chairman of the House of Commons Committee stated that he had invited the Royal Institute of British Architects to appear before the Committee. They did not appear, but wrote saying that "the announcement of the Corporation's appointment of three eminent architects who would advise them upon their proposals entirely meets the views of the Royal Institute. Now that these gentlemen are appointed, the Institute has no further views in the matter." The House of Commons Committee reported that they were of opinion that the scheme for the construction of the proposed new bridge, including the approaches thereto, was both in respect of architectural design and convenience for traffic the one best adapted for the public needs, and best suited to the character of the site.

The Corporation invited designs by open competition, and Sir William Emerson was asked, and agreed, to act as the assessor in connection with the competition, when he awarded first premium to the design sent in by Mr. G. Washington Brown, U.S.A., the Treasurer of the Royal Scottish Academy. The second premium was awarded to the design sent in by Mr. Charles Barry, F.R.I.B.A. There were certain prominent features in Mr. Barry's design which the Committee thought, with Sir William Emerson's approval, might be incorporated in the final design for the bridge. They therefore asked Mr. Washington Brown and Mr. Barry to confer together with a view to the salient features of the two designs being associated in one. These two gentlemen conferred together and the design, as now approved by the Committee, is the one prepared by them. It can be dealt with in three stages without interfering with the architectural treatment of the whole: (1), for the bridge; (2), for the bridge with covered footways added; and (3), for the bridge with the covered footways and the architectural treatment of the abutments with ornamental pylons. That is the position to-day so far as the architectural treatment of the scheme is concerned. It would be most unfair and unjust to the Corporation of the City of London to assume, as has been assumed, that they did not take every reasonable precaution from the architectural side.

But there is another point that has been raised, and I agree that it is as grave a point as could possibly be raised. Again it is inconceivable to suppose for a moment that the Corporation of the City of London have not considered that—the question of St. Paul's Cathedral. It has received the most careful attention, and will continue to receive that attention. It has been somewhat premature to bring this matter before your Lordships to-day. The attitude of the Corporation is, as might have been expected, that they are always open to hear considered opinions, and, in consequence of the lapse of time since this Bill was first considered, they have referred the whole question to the Bridge House Estates Committee, who are to bring up a report to the Common Council within a very short time. The Lord Mayor has rightly arranged for a special meeting for the consideration of this report, when it is quite certain that the fears entertained by many of your Lordships will receive attention.

I wish to be very frank with your Lordships and to say that, so far as I am personally concerned, I have an open mind on this question. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Burnham, one of the best friends that the City could have, that the question ought to be considered when it comes before the Council from all the points of view that have been put forward to day, and especially that advanced by my noble friend Lord Balfour, who was the honoured representative of the City in Parliament for a very long time. I hope that after hearing these explanations your Lordships will agree that the matter is not ripe for a decision by this House to-day, and that we may well await the report of the Committee of the Common Council who are considering it. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, is very hostile to the project altogether, but, as far as I am concerned, as I have said, I have a perfectly open mind.


My Lords, I represent a section of the Corporation of the City of London which feels, as your Lordships may be aware, that this projected bridge is in the wrong position. It is perfectly true, as the noble Lord, Lord Bearsted, said, that this matter has been referred back to a Committee, but it was referred back because the opinion of the Court of Common Council, was so strong that the proposed bridge was in the wrong position. That opinion is very widely entertained in the City of London. I am not in a position to speak as to the artistic or architectural features of the bridge, but I rather welcome to-day the noble Viscount's Motion, because it gives expression to a feeling widely entertained that this bridge should not be placed in the position in which it is proposed to place it. Some of us who have traffic problems to deal with know something of this question, and we feel that another bridge in this position would be detrimental to the public interest.


My Lords, it will perhaps be convenient if I answer for the Government now, because some very remarkable speeches have been made which require the most careful attention. As regards the remarks of the two noble Lords who represent the views of the City of London, I think that their speeches are of great importance, for this reason. Although I regard this as in every sense a national matter, yet as matters now stand under the Act of 1911—whether rightly or not, is not for me to say—the authority to take further steps as regards the construction or non-construction of what is called St. Paul's Bridge rests entirely, as I understand, within the discretion of the Corporation of the City of London. I think the noble Earl spoke of two exhaustive inquiries on this subject, although I think that on the second occasion it was only an Extension of Time Bill, and therefore, to put it fairly, I think there was only one exhaustive inquiry. But still, after an inquiry in which the most eminent engineers took part, an Act was passed in 1911 vesting the authority to proceed with this bridge in the Corporation of the City of London, should they, in their discretion, think it right that the construction of the bridge should be further proceeded with. So far as I know, whatever resolution this House might come to, there could be no interference with this power which the Corporation have at the present time.

I think it is a matter of gratification to hear that again, as I understand, the question is to be fully considered, having regard to the different views which have been expressed in the Corporation, or the Committee of the Corporation, which is dealing with this matter. But I am going to make a suggestion a little later that it may be that in a great national question of this kind some further safeguards should be suggested, so that the national interests should be fully protected, although I do not for a moment suggest that the Corporation are not fully alive to the considerations which were addressed to your Lordships by the noble Viscount and the noble Earl.

May I pass from that to the national aspect of this question? Speaking on behalf of the Government, I have to say-that they fully concur with the view expressed by the noble Viscount and the noble Earl that we are dealing here with a question of very great national importance, and in no sense with a small matter. The only consideration which is directly raised in the Motion of the noble Viscount is the aesthetic consideration. I do not desire to limit myself to the æsthetic question, because the utilitarian and other aspects of the matter have to be considered as well as the æsthetic aspect. But so far as the Government have any authority in a matter of this kind—and, after all, their authority would be limited either to conveying the effect of a Resolution of your Lordships' House to the Corporation of the City of London or to giving advice to the Corporation—they feel that on the æsthetic side the Fine Art Committee, under the Chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, which was constituted recently by His Majesty's Government for the express purpose of advising on the artistic aspect of public works and buildings, should be consulted. I am not sure that the expression "before further steps are taken" is altogether appropriate, though that is a minor point. Further steps may have to be taken in order to get the æsthetic advice; but I understand that what the noble Viscount means is that no substantial progress shall be made, at any rate that no irrevocable step shall be taken of any kind, until the Fine Art Committee has been properly consulted. Speaking on behalf of His Majesty's Government, I am entirely in accord with that principle. In a great national matter of this kind one ought to have the advantage of the advice of the Fine Art Committee on æsthetic questions, and particularly, I think, under the conditions which prevail in connection with the proposed St. Paul's Bridge.

A second point of extreme importance was raised. I do not think that its importance can be exaggerated and, as the noble Viscount indicated, it appeals to me in a very special manner; that is, the safety of St. Paul's Cathedral. Nothing ought to be done in a matter of this kind until, so far as human foresight and expert engineering can make it certain-there may be some element of doubt, as the noble Earl said, in matters of this kind—it is made certain that there will be no damage done to the stability of St. Paul's Cathedral. It would be a national misfortune of the first importance, a national misfortune which could never be remedied, if anything were done which interfered with the stability of this great Cathedral which the noble Earl has rightly described, I think, as the greatest Cathedral built in modern times. I do not think those words are in any way an exaggeration and I am sure that they appeal very deeply to our national instincts. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Bearsted, assents to that statement.


The Lord Mayor is a trustee of the Cathedral, and it is one of the most sacred trusts that the City has.


Then we are all agreed as to that. I understand that when the Act was passed in 1911 the best expert opinion was placed before the Committee which considered the Bill. After hearing the best expert opinion that could be produced—although I agree with the noble Earl that you are dealing here with some incalculable conditions—the Bill was agreed to by the Committee in 1911. I do not go to the second occasion when what was really a continuation Bill was dealt with. If I understand the noble Earl—and I accept entirely a statement of this sort from him—doubts have arisen from further experience and from factors which could not have bee" before that Committee, as to whether the proposal can be carried out while ensuring the stability of St. Paul's Cathedral. A representative of the City of London has expressed the opinion, as I have already said, that the stability of the Cathedral ought to be ensured beyond all question.

We come now to the practical point. The Government have no authority to intervene in a matter of this kind where Parliamentary powers have been vested in the City of London after prolonged inquiry; but although, as has already been pointed out, these particular questions are not involved in the actual Resolution brought forward by the noble Viscount, yet I feel sure I can say on behalf of the Government that they could have only one desire—namely, to urge the City authorities not to take any step towards the carrying out of this project until they are absolutely assured from every possible authority that there is no risk whatever to the stability of St. Paul's Cathedral. I would like to convey that in the most positive way, and I am glad to say that two representatives of the City who are present assent to the proposition I am making. I hope that will satisfy the noble Earl, not only that we feel that this is a national question, but that we are desirous of doing all we can to protect a great national edifice which is of almost more than national importance. That, as I understood it, was the real point which the noble Earl pressed on the engineering side.

So far as the actual construction of the bridge or its approaches are concerned, I understand that there might be engineering difficulties but none of a special or unusual character; at any rate, they have not been brought to my notice. Therefore, the one point as to which I think the engineering difficulty must and should be given full weight is this question of the stability of the structure of St. Paul's Cathedral. I also understand—I think the noble Earl stated this—that the authorities of the Cathedral are anxious upon this point, and that those authorities are not satisfied that there is no risk to the stability of St. Paul's Cathedral. The matter is not down on the Paper, but I hope I may say, on behalf of the Government, that at any rate it would relieve them, and others, of great anxiety upon this national question to know that the authorities who are responsible for the stability of St. Paul's were satisfied before any proposal is proceeded with which might at any rate possibly risk the stability of our great national English cathedral.

I do not think I can say more on the engineering question. I entirely agree with what the noble Earl has said as to the difficulties of an engineering question of this kind. He will not mind if I say that I was almost reminded of arguments one has used in old days of the incalculable effects of traffic and vibration upon old foundations of this character, and the results which have sometimes followed, although it was prophesied with great certainty that such results could never take place. These considerations make one extremely anxious upon a point of this kind.

There is only one other question which arises, though it is one of great importance, and that is the traffic question. On an occasion of this kind, in discussing what is called this great national matter, it is impossible to go in any detail into traffic questions. Everyone who knows the situation feels the truth of what the noble Karl has said, that you may get increased congestion by the meeting of an east and west traffic with a north and south traffic. I think that is what the noble Earl said. I want to say this upon the traffic question. I can offer no opinion upon it. It is quite impossible as representing the Government that I could I have not the information before me. Rut I can say that it is proposed in the Bill which is now in another place to set up a London Traffic Advisory Committee. What will be the fate of that Bill I cannot prophesy. I believe it is nearly through the other House, and if it is passed there will be a London Traffic Advisory Committee.

The noble Earl himself pointed out that owing to the congestion which has arisen from the enormously increased traffic having to pass through narrow and old-fashioned streets in many cases the problem has become one of immediate urgency. What I propose is that if this London Traffic Advisory Committee is set up. as I certainly believe it will be, an early opportunity should be afforded to that Committee of considering the proposed St. Paul's Bridge in reference to the traffic question, and of advising on the matter. I do not say that from any want of confidence in the views of the Corporation, who have naturally, in the first instance, to consider a matter of this kind, but I state it because I agree with what was said by the noble Viscount and the noble Earl, that we are really dealing with more than a local question. I hope therefore, that the Corporation of London will not resent a proposal of this kind, but-will welcome it as one of the factors which may help them in solving what is admittedly a very difficult problem.

Speaking, as we have been doing here to-day, not in a critical spirit but in a spirit which recognises the national importance of the question, we are apt to forget the care and caution which have been given, as well as the difficulties which have attached, to the consideration of this question by the City Corporation. Everyone knows that they have again and again considered and reconsidered the matter, and everyone knows that they have given the best of their knowledge in order to solve it, but we are told, and very rightly so, by the noble Lord, Lord Bearsted, and the noble Lord, Lord Marshall, that they have not yet really made up their mind as to what is the best method of procedure. I hope that this discussion in your Lordships' House will at any rate tend to indicate the view of His Majesty's Government, and bring out the really great questions which underlie this matter of St. Paul's Bridge.

There is one other matter to which I desire to refer, and it is this. It is true that a grant of £866,000 from the Road Fund has been definitely offered by this Government towards the construction of the approaches of the proposed St. Paul's Bridge, in continuation of their predecessors' policy. I want to say two things regarding that. It must not be taken that an offer of that kind is intended in any way to prejudge this great national question. The assumption in these national questions is that we first of all decide in favour of the project, and, if the decision is favourable, that then the contribution is one to which the City, in making a great public improvement of this kind, is entitled. I wish to say that although this Government—arid, indeed, all of us—are anxious on the question of unemployment, it would not for a moment entertain the idea of creating employment which at the same time might interfere with the great national interests of this country. It is only after every step has been taken in connection with this project that this sum would in the ordinary course be advanced, because the money would then be devoted to carrying out a great public improvement in the City. It would be assumed that these questions of national danger and national difficulty were not incidental to the project.

I hope that will make clear the position of the Government. All these questions were not raised in the original Motion, but I have endeavoured to make our position as clear as I can. As regards the Resolution itself we certainly do not oppose it in any way. On the other hand, the matter is not in our hands; we are not the governing authority. It is in the hands of the City of London, in whom I think all the members of this House place the greatest confidence in so far as concerns their care for the protection of great national institutions, and carrying out their public duties in a public-spirited way.


My Lords, the noble Lord, the Lord President of the Council, has made a speech which I venture to say has given great satisfaction to all sections of your Lordships' House. He recognised in a most emphatic way the national character of the project which is under examination this afternoon. He gave a succinct and correct history of the steps by which the matter has reached its present stage, and he gave advice which I am sure, in the opinion of your Lordships, will be looked upon as salutary and wise by the great authorities who are concerned with the future history of this affair. He has pointed out—and indeed it has been admitted in every speech—that, in common with a practice not unfamiliar to your Lordships' House, we have widely deviated from the Motion on the Paper. That Motion was restricted to a suggestion that on the artistic and æsthetic aspects of this case the opinion should be sought of the Committee recently instituted, of which my noble friend Lord Crawford is the Chairman and of which I have also the honour to be a member. I gather from what the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, has said that he accepts that Motion, though he is not certain as to the precise method of procedure in order to bring the Committee into action. But whatever be the method adopted, my noble friend at my side, who is our Chairman, is, I am sure, prepared to state, if it be necessary, that the Committee will at once meet as soon as it is charged with the investigation, and will proceed to devote its best attention to the matter.

I should like, before I sit down, to say one word upon that aspect of the case, but first of all I might perhaps just refer to the larger aspects of the matter which have occupied so much of our attention this afternoon. My noble friend Lord Balfour devoted a most minute and searching analysis to the engineering features of the case, the traffic features of the case, and the other large issues, whether they are in relation to employment or to finance, that are involved. I do not feel quite clear that we have made a great advance in those respects. What has happened in this debate has been the following. The noble Lord, Lord Bearsted, explained with great clearness the action which has been taken by the Corporation of which he is still a distinguished member, and of which he was once the head, and the only reference I would make to his remarks is that when he was referring to decisions taken and advice acted upon by the Court of Common Council I think he was referring to incidents that occurred many years ago, in 1911, since which time, it is admitted, new factors have come into view. At the same time he indicated a very proper willingness on his part to maintain an open mind, and indeed told us he had not made up his mind on the matter. In fact, in concluding, he said that he might conceivably in the future, upon the basis of future evidence, change the opinion on which he had hitherto acted. Then we have heard Lord Marshall who, I believe, does entertain strong views in a particular direction.

When I said I was not quite clear what advance we had made in those respects I meant this. So far as I understand, what the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, suggested, is this, that the Corporation in considering, or reconsidering, the matter, or in considering the opinion of the Committee which I understand is about to be set up, should re-examine the case in its largest aspects in relation to all the questions that have been raised, whether they be with regard to traffic, the stability of St. Paul's, or otherwise. It amounted to this, that they should have another examination of the whole case in the light of the expressions of public opinion. My noble friend Lord Parmoor further suggested that when the Traffic Advisory Committee is set up, as it is likely to be in the course of the present summer, their attention should be directed to the traffic aspect of the case. So far so good. But that is likely, I understand, to be some little distance in the future, and what we have hitherto been afraid of—I hope we need no longer entertain any fears after the debate this afternoon—is that some step might be taken at an early stage by the Corporation of the City of London which might prejudge the decision of this question That is a point on which I still feel a little anxiety. I am not suggesting that the noble Lord could have gone further in the matter than he has this afternoon, and I hope the debate itself will have the effect of suspending judgment, inducing a re-examination, and enabling all the points of view to which expression has been given here this afternoon to be carefully examined and considered by those who are responsible.

May I add one word about the aspect of the case in which, as a member of Lord Crawford's Committee, I am naturally concerned? The æsthetic side of this matter has been comparatively swept aside in view of the much larger practical, technical, economic and scientific considerations involved, but I hope your Lordships will not for a moment imagine that it is unimportant. To my mind it is one of the most important. Look at the position. The noble Earl, Lord Balfour, remarked that we have here in our capital City of London that which is an object of pride to ourselves and to the world. We have this great City with its amazing contrast of the old and the new, the beautiful and the ugly, with its history, its magnificent open spaces, its wonderful streets or lanes which recall the history of the past, and, running like a thread through the heart of this wonderful City, we have the Thames. It is always a matter of astonishment to me that London and the people of London do not realise their Thames. In the old days, not one hundred years ago, the Lord Mayor of London did not drive through the streets in a fantastic chariot on Lord Mayor's Day. He deposited himself in a barge and was propelled through the water in a procession which recalled that of the Doge at Venice. All that has gone, and even the penny steamers, which, though not very beautiful, were at any rate useful, have disappeared. We make no use of our river at all. But I do not speak only of the river, although our river is one of the finest in Europe. Our river it is true is not as fine as the Neva at St. Petersburg, or the Hugli at Calcutta, but it is far than the Seine at Paris; it is finer than the Tiber at Rome, finer than the Spree at Berlin, and I think finer than the Elbe at Dresden.

But not merely have you the gorgeous sweep of this magnificent stream but you have also the prospect of erecting over it, if you are wise, bridges which will add to the beauty of the river scene and which may be architecturally structures of extreme loveliness and elegance. But where are our bridges? The poet Wordsworth, standing on Westminster Bridge in the early years of the last century, wrote: Earth has not anything to show more fair. He was not standing on the present Westminster Bridge or he could never have made that remark. I do not deny that it is a respectable, but it is a thoroughly uninspired structure. Nor had he at that time the joy of looking at the great beauty of Waterloo Bridge. I think Rennie's structure was built later. But ho had the full sweep of the river stretching right away up to St. Paul's Cathedral, with its magnificent dome floating in the air. Those were the circumstances under which he could say, "Earth has not anything to show more fair."

Anybody standing on Westminster Bridge now, with the hideous succession of bridges spanning the stream, can only look at the situation with dismay. Are we going, if a bridge is built, to add to the aesthetic horrors or to confer on the Metropolis something which will be a source of pride? I delight to know that the Fine Art Committee is going to be allowed to advise on the matter, because putting wholly on one side the question as to whether it is consistent with the safety of St. Paul's Cathedral that there should be another bridge, putting on one side the question as to whether traffic should cut across the river and run at right angles to the Strand, putting aside the question as to whether it will give employment to people, and putting aside also any question as to the cost, I do think it is of supreme importance from the æsthetic point of view, that no bridge should be built across the Thames at London unless it adds to the beauty of the landscape.

When I speak of the beauty of the landscape I am not using a mere general phrase, I am speaking of the beauty of the landscape in relation to the dome of St. Paul's. That is the dominant feature the London scene, which everybody coming from abroad into this country puts his face out of the railway carriage window in order to see. It is just like when in India we go to Agra and strain our eyes to catch a sight of the dome of the Taj floating like a great silver bubble above the Jumna, Anything you build across the Thames must be subordinate to, must fit in and harmonise with that beautiful erection. That is the æsthetic side of the case. You must excuse my being an enthusiast on this subject. If I have wandered from the question of foundations, of traffic and omnibuses, and all those horrible concomitants of modern life, and have for a moment lived in an empyrean of my own, it is, at any rate, one to which I attach some importance. In conclusion, I have only to say that I was gratified to hear from the noble Lord that in accepting this Motion he would see that one of the most important aspects of it is referred to the Committee over which my noble friend Lord Crawford presides.

On Question, Motion agreed to.