HL Deb 16 June 1925 vol 61 cc604-12

My Lords, I beg to move, That Standing Order No.91 be considered in order to its being dispensed with in respect of this Bill.

Moved, That Standing Order No. 91 be considered in order to its being dispensed with in respect of the Bethlem Hospital Bill.—(The Earl of Donoughmore.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.


My Lords, I now beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Donoughmore).


My Lord, I do not rise to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, but to state, at the request of my old friends in Southwark, that the space concerned is such a valuable open space that it must not be considered there is no opposition on their part to the Second Reading. In 1901 a similar Bill was before Parliament. It was then stated that the Hospital was situated in the Borough of Southwark, and that the buildings and grounds covered an area of about 15 acres and formed a most valuable breathing space in the neighbourhood. There was a conference between the governors of the Hospital and the Corporation of London and the Borough Council of Southwark, and as a result an agreement was reached. Those for whom I speak now are only anxious that this Bill shall receive the same friendly treatment as that to which I have referred. I do not wish to do more now than to state that this Bill is being opposed in Committee in the ordinary way. I hope it will not be necessary when we come to a later stage to press that opposition, but that in the meantime a friendly arrangement will be reached. I thought it necessary that I should make this protest against doing away with what is regarded as a valuable open space. It is essential in the interests of the health of the borough that a large open space should be preserved at the site of the Hospital.


My Lords, I would ask your Lordships' indulgence in saying something on the Second Reading of this Bill, not because I either want to oppose its Second Reading or to anticipate by debate here what may be matters for consideration in the Committee to which it may be sent upstairs, but because I am anxious that a certain feature in this Bill to which the noble Lord, Lord Southwark, has alluded may not be lost sight of in the Committee. There is no particular reason why their attention should be called to it, since, for reasons which I may presently state to your Lordships, no Petition with regard to this Bill has been presented by the London County Council.

Your Lordships are aware that this is an old charity, dating from the days of King Henry VIII. It was moved to Southwark from the City of London in 1810, when it received money provided by Parliament, public authorities and private individuals. The Lord Mayor and Corporation of the City of London are the trustees. The trustees have now bought a new site for this Hospital in Surrey. This is no doubt a most excellent arrangement for the inmates, the borough of Southwark and everybody concerned, except for one particular feature, and that feature is this. In 1901 the Bridge House Estates trustees came before Parliament, and in the Bill they presented there was inserted a clause which prevented the governors of the Hospital from demising or sub-letting or otherwise dealing with their land at Southwark. The land at Southwark is 14 acres in extent. It is mostly an open space and it is of great importance to London that it should be kept as an open space. Mr. Charles Booth, in his report on London, stated that this particular part of Southwark needed open spaces more than almost any other part. My point is that this Bill would, in effect, repeal that most important clause to which I have referred, with the result that if the London County Council, or the Borough of Southwark, or any other body, came along and wanted to make an open space they might have to pay a prohibitive price. They might have to pay as if they were buying building blocks, whereas if the clause of the Act of 1901 stands, that particular difficulty would not occur.

The trustees under the Bill will be able to do what they like with this property and it is to that point that I desire to call attention. I ought to state why the London County Council have not petitioned against this Bill in your Lordships' House. They have not had the time; at least, they have not had the time to formulate, as they would have to do, their proposals as to what should be done with this space. The Bill was only in print for the first time on May 30, and it takes a public body some little time to decide how they shall formulate the proposals which they have to make if they petition. Another reason is that, through intermediaries, they have been in official conversations with representatives of the Bridge House Estate trustees, and they had hoped that something would eventuate. But it has not. Therefore I have felt it my duty to put the general situation before your Lordships as well as I can.

Now I would ask your Lordships to allow me to put it in a more definite form. I think it is important that what I do say should be the exact view of the London County Council. They consider that the proposals in this Bill, if carried into effect, would lead to the covering with buildings of the Bethlem Hospital estate in the centre of a densely populated area in South London. In 1901, when the governors of the Hospital promoted a Bill in Parliament at the instance of the London County Council in conjunction with the Southwark Borough Council, a clause was inserted to safeguard the position as regards building over this important estate. The proposals in the present Bill will, in effect, abrogate the saving protection of the section put into the 1901 Act. Owing to the fact that the present measure is introduced rather late, and in view of the importance of the questions to which it gives rise, the Council have not had a satisfactory opportunity of going fully into the matter and considering what proposals they would think proper either to put forward or to support as an alternative to the arrangements provided for in the Bill. The Council are, however, of opinion that at any rate a portion of the estate mentioned should be reserved in perpetuity as an open space and, having regard to the urgent need of housing accommodation in the district affected, they consider that some part of the estate should also be available for housing purposes. The Council is giving very earnest consideration to these matters, but, as indicated, owing to the late period at which the Bill has been put forward, it has not been possible to formulate definite suggestions at present which would justify the Council in petitioning against the Bill in your Lordships' House.

The Council feel, however, having regard to the important issues involved and the fact that the Bill abolishes the safeguard which was imposed in the public interest in 1901, that it is necessary for them at the earliest opportunity to enter a provisional caveat against this measure being allowed to become law in its present form. Certain informal discussions have taken place with a view to ascertaining whether the City Corporation, who are owners of the estate and are also governors of the Hospital, would be prepared to agree to such modification of the arrangements provided for in the Bill as would meet the Council's views. In considering the Bill it is important to bear in mind that the present hospital buildings were erected, in part, out of funds subscribed by public bodies and private individuals and with the aid of Parliamentary grants amounting to over £70,000. The Council feel that this aspect of the matter affords strong evidence of the direct concern of the public in the future disposal of the hospital and the grounds.


My Lords, the speech that has just been made by the noble Lord opposite forces me to intervene, if only for a few minutes, in defence of the Bethlem Hospital, which has become one of the greatest and best equipped of those national institutions which provide for the care and treatment of the mentally afflicted in this country. Frankly, I do not want this Bill to be sent upstairs with the stigma of your Lordships' disapprobation. I am very sorry for the noble Lord opposite, because he is trying to make up for the forgetfulness of the London County Council. They did not petition against this Bill, and the noble Lord wants, at a later stage, to secure the same advantage by the method he has pursued. Far be it from me to say anything against the movement for providing more open spaces for the health and recreation of Londoners. There is no cause of public happiness that appeals to me more closely. Everyone regrets the fact that for a century and a half, when nobody cared for the welfare of Londoners, when local authorities existed only in the embodiment of vestries pursuing their own interests, nothing was done to secure the ring round the City such as Queen Elizabeth contemplated, or even that we might have the advantage of what the City of Paris is now to have, by the demolition of its fortifications.

The whole question is whether, because there has been neglect in the past, there should be injustice done now. The Bethlem Hospital exists for the treatment of the insane. The ownership of the estate which it at present covers and occupies is in the Corporation of the City of London, but the whole of the ground is let at a nominal rent to the governors and nothing that is done hero to-day will bring one penny by way of profit or gain to the Corporation of the City of London. The governors have decided, with the approval of the City—and I think we can well understand the motives and appreciate the reasons why it is advantageous and even necessary, with the different ideas of treating the insane which now prevail—to move this hospital from the crowded and congested parts of South-wark to the fresh air and wider opportunities of the County of Surrey south of Croydon. They have bought a large estate on which they will make all those experiments in mental treatment which are suggested and sanctioned by modern science, of which, perhaps, this country has not. up to the present been sufficiently aware.

Supposing that this kind of—I do not like to call it legislative blackmail because that is rather a rude term; this kind of interference with the ordinary processes of Private Bill legislation be adopted, it can only mean that the City will be forced to sell this area of 14 acres in Southwark at less than the commercial value. It is quite true, as the noble Lord has said, that in the Act of 1901 a clause was inserted preventing the City Corporation from leasing, or permitting to be used for the ordinary purposes of building, that part of the Southwark site which was not already covered, but this was solely for the protection of the welfare of the inmates of the hospital, who now number nearly 400. It had nothing to do with public enjoyment, and it is quite clear that unless the public had access to the ground the only argument that could be legitimately used—and I think that it is in its way a powerful one—is that this open space acted as a lung to that black spot: for a great deal of the district constitutes a black spot in the London area.

But the remedy is very simple. If the London County Council wants the land for an open space, then they must purchase it at a valuation price. The valuation must be at a commercial price. It must not be at a special and limited price, as if there were anything in the Acts already passed which limited the discretion and the authority of the City in this matter. Supposing that you force the City of London to accept less than the real value, what will be the effect? It will not affect the rates of the City of London, but it will prevent the money being used for the benefit of the insane. In those circumstances it strikes me that it would be a monstrous thing to give instructions here, or to accept as an instruction to the Committee to which this Bill must go a wish of your Lord ships to see some amending clauses inserted depriving the City of London of this property.

I should not make this claim if it were merely a matter of the interests of the ratepayers, but I do submit to your Lordships, as this concerns a class for the misfortunes of which we all feel and which has not yet received the attention that it ought to have had from the local authorities, that the Bill should be allowed to go through by its ordinary stages, not only without any amendment but without any indirect hints being given to the Select Committee appointed for its consideration that they are to make special provision for a special price being paid by local authorities, either the London County Council or the Borough Council of Southwark, for the purchase of this land, when, of course, it is open for them to purchase on the ordinary terms, and not by any favour or partial affection for them to the public detriment.


My Lords, I do not think that ray noble friend Lord Burnham need be in the least afraid of your Lordships giving any instruction to the Committee. We are all—for I believe that I am speaking for others besides, myself—very pleased indeed to know that Bethlem Hospital is to be removed to the country. That is a most excellent thing, and I am sure that we would all do everything that we possibly could to assist it. I intervene in the debate only because, as your Lordships possibly know, I am interested in public spaces, and I have sometimes to speak, and as Chairman of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association I am now I speaking, more or less on behalf of open spaces, but not in any way in connection with the two noble Lords who have already spoken, Lord Monk Bretton and Lord Southwark. I am very pleased that these noble Lords should be representatives of those two great powers, the London County Council and the Borough Council of Southwark. All that I have to say upon the matter is that there are, to my mind, three public interests to be considered. I will put first of all Bethlem Hospital and its interests; then I will put the interests of housing, for it is absolutely necessary that we should have more houses; and then there comes my own particular hobby, open spaces. Those three interests ought to be considered together.

I do not suppose that there is the least intention on the part of anybody to influence the Committee. All that we want to do is to draw public attention and also the attention of the Committee to the fact that these three interests have to be co-ordinated and looked after. That is really all that we want to do. At this moment, as your Lordships know, the cry for more open spaces is supported by very high authority and much journalistic ability. I do not grumble at this, but I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that this question of open spaces is now becoming a really public question, which has to be considered by statesmen along with the housing question. What is going to happen? I hope that the open space will be considered as well as Bethlem Hospital. It is no use building houses if the people who live in them are obliged to bring up their children without the means of exercising their limbs. These questions of housing and open spaces, to my mind, require the most attentive consideration from all Governments, and it is only with a view to supporting what appears to me to be a reasonable demand, especially after listening to the speech of my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton, that I ask your Lordships to consider these three interests together.


My Lords, before the debate concludes—for I gather that neither of the noble Lords who criticised this Bill desires to go to a Division—I should like to say a few words. We are in some difficulty, although we are not in so great a difficulty as we might be, because no official Notice has been given of this debate. Noble Lords are quite within their rights in deciding to discuss this Bill, but, of course, Notice could have been given of a Motion to reject the Bill—though I would not for a moment urge that the case of the promoters has not been very well argued by my noble friend behind me—and it would have been fairer to the promoters, if they were to be severely attacked, that Notice should be given, in order that their representatives in the House might be fully prepared to make an answer. At the same time, I make no complaint, because I think that this debate in its result will have been fruitful. I should like to enter one caveat, however. I think that it would be a bad precedent if we were to get into the habit of having Second Reading debates, especially without Notice, which might result in prejudicing proceedings in Committee, which I know your Lordships always desire to be as judicial as possible.

The first point I wish to comment upon is one on which I find myself in cordial agreement with Lord Burnham. We must not push this argument in favour of open spaces too far. If public authorities really consider open spaces to be essential, they must be prepared to put their hands in their pockets and buy them honestly. This leads me to what has been said by Lord Monk Bretton, referring as he did to Clause 21 of the Act of 1901. The statement which he made was a very forcible and powerful one, and he was good enough to give me notice of it this afternoon. I have had time to communicate, but very shortly, with the promoters of the Bill, but I have not had time to examine the Act of 1901 as I should like, or the answer which they have given me. I assure your Lordships, however, that there is an answer to the argument, although I am not in a position to say whether the noble Lord's argument or the answer to it is right. The answer supplied is this: that the Act of 1901 merely referred to certain leases granted by the authorities of Bethlem Hospital. Your Lordships will understand that there is certain land owned by them, but not used for the purposes of the Hospital. The land is let under certain conditions, and the result of that leasing provides an income which the Hospital enjoys. The Hospital authorities argue, in answer, that the Act of 1901 was merely brought in to validate certain things done in connection with the leases, and has nothing whatever to do with the main site, with which your Lordships are concerned this afternoon. I think it fair to mention this point, but I repeat that I am not yet in a position to arbitrate between the two parties, and to say which is right.

But there is one thing which I wish to emphasise, and it is this. We recently had a debate about open spaces on the St. Mildred's Churchyard Bill, on which I ventured lo take the view which your Lordships took, which was not the view taken by the City Corporation, who are after all, the main public authority concerned in this matter. Therefore, I am glad to be able to congratulate myself that the London Corporation are behind this Bill. We can safely trust to their vigilance, and I hope your Lordships will allow this Bill to go through to Committee in the ordinary course.

On Question, Bill read 2a.

House adjourned at a quarter to five o'clock.