THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE)
My Lords, with reference to the first Bill on the Order Paper I beg to move that Standing Order No. 91 be considered in order to its being dispensed with in respect of the said Bill. Your Lordships are aware that this is the Standing Order which lays down certain dates within which a Bill has to be read a second time. This Bill has been delayed for two reasons. We were waiting for the Report from the Government Department, and I desired to consult the convenience of my noble friend who desires to move an Amendment to the Second Reading Motion. I beg to move the first Motion which stands in my name.
§ Moved, That Standing Order No. 91 be considered in order to its being dispensed with in respect of the said Bill.—(The Earl of Donoughmore.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Donoughmore.)
§ THE EARL OF MEATH had given notice to move, as an Amendment, That this House, having regard to the policy of Parliament as declared by the Disused Burial Grounds Act, 1884, and the Open Spaces Act, 1906, is not prepared to entertain a Bill authorising the erection of buildings upon a disused burial ground in contravention of such Acts. The noble Earl said: My Lords, no attempt has been made by the promoters of the St Mildred's Churchyard Bill to conceal its objects, which are quite apparent. I may therefore pass these over and explain why the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, of which I am the representative, opposes this Bill. The City of London Corporation, I understand, also oppose it, but I leave to other speakers the 479 explanation of their reasons. The Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, which was formed by me in 1882 and which since that date has laid out, or has assisted to lay out, over 200 places in the Metropolis, was largely concerned, forty-one years ago, in the passing of the Disused Burial Grounds Act of 1884, which rendered it illegal to build on the sacred soil of these grounds.
§ The Midland Bank, which occupies a palatial building overlooking the last small remnant of this ancient burial ground, has, since the passing of the Act of 1884, cast covetous eyes on this small protected spot and the Bill asks your Lordships to alter the law of the land, to remove your protecting shield, and to allow money to override reverence for the dead, sentiment, historic authority, the law of the land and the interests of the living, to scatter in every direction the bones of the ancient inhabitants of St. Mildred's and even to erase the recollection of this particular church and parish; for remember that this small resting place is the very last vestige of this historic church and burial ground. The Church of St. Mildred's, Poultry, was pulled down and part of the site and enclosure sold for secular purposes under the Union of Benefices Act, 1860, and St. Mildred's, Poultry, became part of the present united rectory of St. Margaret, Lothbury, with St. Christopher-le-Stocks, St. Bartholomew by the Exchange, St. Olave, Old Jewry, St. Martin, Pomeroy, and St. Mary, Colechurch. Nothing now remains, therefore, of St. Mildred's, Poultry, but this small burial ground with its ancient tombs and decaying bones.
§ Its position opposite to the present Mansion House is a proof that in former days the inhabitants of this City parish were important citizens of London. Their bones are now to be removed to cemeteries with which they had no connection, and which did not exist in those days. Why is Parliament invited to give authority to such violent action? Forsooth, to enable the Midland Bank to add to its already magnificent offices and increase its business by giving to the public eye a still further visible proof of its financial stability. Who besides the bank will benefit if this burial ground is built over? Will the citizens of London in any way benefit? Certainly 480 not. Will the congestion of population be diminished? No. Will those who now can find no roof under which to sleep be accommodated? No.
§ Who then, if this Bill be passed, besides the Midland Bank, will be benefited by the £5,000 which under the Bill this wealthy corporation undertakes to pay to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners through the hands of the Lord Bishop of Stepney, the present rector of the united parishes? The answer is that the rector, the churchwardens for the parish of St. Mildred's (which does not materially exist) and the parochial council of the parish of St. Margaret, Lothbury—which is about an eighth of a mile distant from St. Mildred's burial ground—and the scanty congregation of St. Margaret, Lothbury, are the only people who will benefit by this large sum of £5,000' proposed to be paid by the Midland Bank in order to override Acts of Parliament. £2,300 are to go towards paying off debt incurred in the restoration of St. Margaret, Lothbury—not St. Mildred—and the balance of the £5,000 is to be invested for the future repair and upkeep of the Church of St. Margaret, Lothbury. £5,000 is a large sum to be given for a diminutive spot of earth which at present is valueless. How is it that that which is valueless to-day can be worth so large a sum to-morrow? It can only be made valuable and worth £5,000 if you pass the Second Reading of the Bill. I feel assured you will not permit yourselves to become accessories to such a transaction.
Since the passing of the protecting Act of 1884 Parliament has three times upheld its decision. The first was in May, 1903, when the House of Commons, in rejecting the Bridewell Disused Burial Ground Bill, passed the following Resolution:—
That this House declines to sanction a Private Bill in contravention of general public Statutes concerning open spaces for the express purpose of enhancing the value of a private estate.
That applies word for word to what is being done to-day. Secondly, in April, 1910, in rejecting the St. James Vestry Hall Bill for building on Piccadilly Churchyard, the House of Commons again successfully defended the Open Spaces Acts and passed a Resolution which is identical with the Resolution
which I submit to your Lordships this evening. Thirdly, in March, 1918, on the Second Reading of the St. Olave's Church Bill, the House of Lords successfully secured an open space equal in area to half the church site and half the churchyard.
§ Here are three instances where attacks on the Open Spaces Acts have been successfully repulsed by Parliament, twice in another place, and once in your Lordships' House. I hope your Lordships will to-night add a fourth repulse, thus making your total of victories equal to those in another place. No money passed in any of the cases I have mentioned. In addition to these three victories there was a fourth occasion, in 1889, when the Midland Railway Company sought to obtain powers to utilise a part of the disused churchyard of Old St. Paneras parish church. The Bill was opposed, and an arrangement was made by Section 20, and embodied in the Act, that in return for the ground taken the company should acquire and lay out other grounds adjacent to the burial ground, as an open space for the use of the public, and in addition should pay £12,000 to the London County Council for securing other open spaces in the parish for public recreation.
§ I represent to-night the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association of which I am the Chairman, and I only speak in regard to the Metropolitan area, but your Lordships are well aware that these Acts apply to the whole kingdom. Previous to the passing of the 1884 Act some 115 disused burial grounds in London alone had been built over for lack of protection. One hundred and fifteen grounds have disappeared altogether from London. Since that date, that is to say during forty-one years, my association believe that this Act has been the means of preserving some 320 disused burial grounds which still remain unbuilt on. My contention is that if you pass the Second Reading of this Bill you will find that a great many of those 320 burial grounds will be attacked by speculators and others. As far as the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association knows only one disused burial ground, on which is partly built the General Post Office, has been lost during those forty-one years. And why was that lost? Because the Government of the day required the site 482 of this burial ground for national purposes for the building of the General Post Office. And although it was opposed by our association we did it simply, like the Spartans at Thermopylæ, in order to give an example of what we believed ought to be done.
§ So long as the Disused Burial Grounds Act and the Open Spaces Act exist and are maintained by Parliament intact these grounds are valueless, and gradually the London County Council, the local authorities and our Association and others, as funds permit, are able from time to time to transfer them into spots of beauty and joy for the benefit of the living and to protect and show reverence to the ashes of the dead. But if it be known that money can influence the future of these grounds, there are hosts of speculators who will tempt the local ecclesiastical authorities to accept large sums which they may use for the maintenance of churches or for other purposes.
§ It should be observed that none of the grounds or portions of grounds taken or proposed to be taken in the instances I have given were open to the public, and that in all cases the church authorities wore assenting parties, whilst in the case of St. Olave's, Southwark, they were actually the promoters of an attempt to make money out of the sale and conversion of a disused burial ground. In the one case in which money passed—namely, that of a part of the churchyard of Old St. Paneras—the money did not go to the Church authorities, as is claimed in this case, but had to be utilised by a public body for acquiring other open spaces in the parish. I trust that my life's record may exonerate me from any accusation of hostility to the Church. I cannot believe that the Church as a whole desires that its edifices should depend for their erection, restoration or repair on the sale either of churches or of churchyards.
§ As I have, already said, the area of the remaining portion of St. Mildred's burial ground is small, but not so small as to be useless. I use that word because it is the word used by some of the promoters of the Bill. The Metropolitan Public Gardens Association at present undertakes the maintenance of two such churchyards which are as small as, if not smaller than, that of St Mildred's, and I can assure you that in the summer time you 483 would be astonished to see what spots of beauty they are. The City Corporation have petitioned against the Bill and intend to oppose it, I am told, in every way. I am informed by one of their officials that although the City authorities have not yet considered the question of maintenance, there is reason to suppose that should the Bill be rejected by your Lordships, and should the ground be handed over to the Corporation, they might be willing to consider the matter if they obtained the co-operation of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association. This co-operation I can, as Chairman, take on myself to promise under these circumstances. There is therefore no reason to suppose that there is no alternative to the destruction of the burial ground. It might easily be made into a beauty spot in the heart of London.
§ I appeal to your Lordships on behalf of these still-existing 320 grounds. If there had been no principle to defend which affected these grounds, I might not have considered the matter of the maintenance or destruction of such a small burial ground as that of St. Mildred's of sufficient importance to occupy your attention, but the case is one of extreme importance in regard to the future health of the Metropolis. The value of City and town property is so immense that these 320 lungs of London are really the only areas which are capable of being gradually converted into resting places for the living, quite irrespective of all sentiment as regards the protection of resting places of the dead. It is as much in the interest of the living as of the dead that I entreat you to take no action that may encourage speculators and corporations, companies or rich individuals, to tempt ecclesiastical authorities to endeavour to rid themselves of heavy financial burdens connected with their churches, selling their rights over these disused burial grounds, which at present under the law are practically valueless.
§ Surely the interests of the public cannot be entirely neglected in this connection. Parliament, by passing these Open Spaces Acts, clearly demonstrated that they were of this opinion. If public opinion has changed, and Parliament considers the Acts to be unnecessary, let them be abrogated and erased from the Statute Book, but, until this be done, surely it should not be possible for 484 money, and money alone, to be able to obtain a relaxation of the law. For remember, no voluntary organisation, such as the one I represent, can possibly hope to find funds adequate to fight continuously Private Bills supported by powerful moneyed organisations. Let us remember that "health is the second blessing that we mortals are capable of; a blessing that money cannot buy." Might I add to these words—"Though it can destroy it." I beg to move.
Leave out all words after ("That") and insert "this House, having regard to the policy of Parliament as declared by the Disused Burial Grounds Act, 1884, and the Open Spaces Act, 1906, is not prepared to entertain a Bill authorising the erection of buildings upon a disused burial ground in contravention of such Acts."—(The Earl of Meath.)
§ LORD RATHCREEDAN
My Lords, I desire wholeheartedly to support my noble friend in his opposition to this measure, and for this reason. Having lived in London for more than thirty years, during the greater part of which I represented a London constituency in another place. I know that there is nothing the Londoner resents more than any interference with the open spaces which he is fortunate enough to possess. He resents it rightly because it affects him in his health and his amenities. On the question of health, how comes it that London is distinctly healthier and has a lower death-rate than Paris? Those best able to judge—the municipal authorities, the medical profession and the sanitary officials of Paris—declare that it is due mainly to three causes. Firstly, to the fact that London is closer to the sea than Paris is; secondly, that London has a large tidal river bringing large volumes of ozone daily; and thirdly, and more important still, that London has large open spaces which act as lungs for the City. It is an established fact that in the poorer parts of Paris it is the exception for a child to be born and, continuing to reside in Paris, to arrive at maturity. In London children are successfully reared and brought to maturity in the poorest parts of the town.
Those are reasons why the Londoner attaches importance, so far as his health is concerned, to these valuable open spaces. But there is another reason—the amenities of the place. I know from 485 some experience that large numbers of the most industrious and the poorest of London citizens, many of whom dwell in the outskirts of London, use these three hundred and odd places of which the noble Earl has spoken, more especially during the summer, in their dinner hour in order that they may get a little ease and rest from the turmoil of London and the dust and noise of the places in which they work. Many of those people snatch their scanty meals in these open spaces. For those reasons I object to this measure.
But, most important of all, is the question of principle. If it is right to take this space, be it ever so small, there is no reason why the three hundred other spaces throughout London should not be dealt with in the same way. Because it happens to be a particularly small space there is no reason why it should be treated in the way suggested in the Bill, and I hope your Lordships will not be influenced by the Jesuitical plea that the funds which are to be derived from the sale of this piece of land are to be used for a good purpose. That is no reason why it should be carried into effect. I entirely agree with my noble friend that if funds are needed for the Established Church in this country there is plenty of money to be obtained for the purpose. We have had an example in what has happened in reference to the condition of St. Paul's. Is it right that citizens of all denominations who now enjoy the amenities of this open space should be deprived of those amenities in favour of one particular sect or religious community? Again, is it not the fact that the majority of these churches were at one time in possession of the Roman Catholic Church? And if those who now derive benefit from these open spaces are to be deprived of the amenties it is certainly unjustifiable that the money should be used for the benefit of one particular religious community.
There is a stronger reason still for opposing this measure. Is it right that a Private Bill should be introduced to override two important Acts that have passed through another place into your Lordships' House and have given complete satisfaction to the community at large, because, forsooth, some particular industrial concern sees this little 486 Naboth's Vineyard and is anxious to annexe it? If this piece of ground, small though it be, were placed upon the open market immediately it would fetch much more than the sum which I understand is to be given for it. Therefore, viewing it from every standpoint, I hope your Lordships will not be parties to depriving the people of London at large of something which is extremely valuable to their health, on the one hand, and to their amenities, on the other.
§ LORD MARSHALL OF CHIPSTEAD
My Lords, I rise to support the noble Earl's Amendment and to oppose this Bill on behalf of the Corporation of the City of London. From whatever angle the Bill is regarded, it seems to me to be opposed to the public interest and to definite enactments of Parliament. The fact that we have the Disused Burial Grounds Act of 1884, the Open Spaces Act of 1906, and the Corporation of London (Open Spaces) Act of 1878, together with various Resolutions of both Houses of Parliament, should be enough to protect this open space from being used in the manner suggested by the Bill. As recently as 1918, on the Second Reading of the St. Olave's Church Southwark Bill, your Lordships' House passed an Instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill was referred that the Bill should be amended so as to preserve the disused burial ground unbuilt upon in compliance with the Act of 1884. In another place the following Resolution was passed without a Division on the Second Reading stage of a Bill concerning the old Bridewell Burial Ground in the City of London—This House declines to sanction a private Bill in contravention of public general Statutes concerning open spaces for the express purpose of enhancing the value of a private estate.Why, it may be asked, should there be such objection in respect of so small a piece of ground? The objection is to the precedent and the principle. It is for this very reason that the citizens of London in this most congested district fight jealously for every cubic-inch of air space that may serve them as a lung. This particular spot may be only a thousand square feet, and if a building is erected on it there will be perhaps 80,000 cubic of air space occupied. But there is a principle involved. The Corporation 487 considers that this Bill should not be sanctioned. Once fritter away the principles laid down by the Statutes and weaken the authority of those Statutes, and the door will be open to other business institutions to seek leave to encroach upon other burial grounds, of which the City has many. I know a case in which another great institution has an eye on another burial ground in the City of London, and once you admit the principle that these burial grounds may be built over, it will be most injurious to the City of London.
In the City, where land is so fully occupied, the lungs of the City, inadequate though they are to-day, would be still fewer but for this Disused Burial Grounds Act. The principle involved is one on which the health and well-being of workers and citizens of London is much concerned, and I am sure the House will pause before it does anything to diminish that great boon to health which the City of London at the present time enjoys. I speak to-day as a member of the Corporation of the City of London, which Corporation is the local authority under the Open Spaces Act, and as the guardian of the citizens it strongly objects to this Bill, has deposited a Petition against it, and, through me, earnestly begs your Lordships to refuse a Second Reading to the Bill.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LONDON
My Lords, I would like first to say that it is a very great grief to mo to oppose anything that is proposed by my noble friend Lord Meath, especially after his splendid record with regard to public gardens. He and I have worked together on that matter for many years. I think he will remember Bethnal Green cemetery and how we turned it into one of the most beautiful public gardens you could possibly have, and how the poors' land in Bethnal Green of twenty or thirty acres has become a beautiful open space by our co-operating together.
What I want your Lordships to do, before you make up your minds, is to go and see this little bit of ground referred to in the Bill. You might imagine from the speeches that we have heard that we were going to take away some beautiful open space with a flourishing garden, and use it for building purposes. It is nothing of the kind. The size of this little place 488 is 40 feet by 25 feet, and it is shut in by large buildings all round. It is not as if it was at present open to the public. It is not, and never has been. I feel inclined to ask my noble friend why he has not made it a garden long ago, as he has made many others. I suppose it really means that it has not been found possible-to do that with it. I cannot imagine why, with all his enterprise, he has not long ago asked me and others to start subscriptions, as we are only too willing to do, in order to convert this into a garden. This piece of ground is not accessible to the public, and is, I think, unsuitable for a public garden. It is being left entirely in a derelict condition, with four or five old tombstones round about, and is really not fit for anything. The City might have done something before now if they are so keen about this place. As it is it has been left perfectly useless and a disgrace to the City.
As a matter of fact, I did not know until yesterday very much about the proposal. This is a noble church. People sometimes accuse me of disregarding the noble churches of our City. This is one of the finest churches that has been built in the City. A large sum had to be spent upon restoring it. £8,000 had to be raised for that purpose. My friend the Bishop of Stepney, the rector, raised £6,000, and there is still £2,000 to be raised. The City has not given that £2,000. In addition, there ought to be a fund to keep this beautiful church in repair. We love these City churches. We delight in them. This proposal did not occur to me, but it did occur to some one that this was a perfectly useless bit of land, 45 feet by 25 feet, and that it might be sold and money obtained, not to enrich any parson or Bishop, but to spend upon this church, and to provide a fund for future needs. £2,000 is to be spent in clearing off the debt on St. Margaret's, Lothbury, and £3,000 to be set aside as a fund for keeping this lovely church in repair. That is the whole thing, and what I would like to plead would be that your Lordships should pass the Second Beading of this Bill to-day, and then, before the Committee stage, go down and see the place. I am quite prepared, if you do that, to abide by your verdict.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, I think it would be convenient if at this stage I said a word recalling to your 489 Lordships, perhaps a little more fully than has been done up to now, what has been the practice of Parliament in these matters. At the same time, I should like to take this opportunity of at once, expressing the gratitude which I know all your Lordships feel to my noble friend Lord Meath for the consistent way in which he has greatly benefited the public through a long and useful life in displaying a utility which I hope may be long continued. My noble friend, the right rev. Prelate, has recalled you to the facts of the case. I find very little to disagree with in the generalities of the noble Lord, Lord Rathereedan, and of the noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Clipstead, but they must allow me to say, with all respect to them, that really those generalities have very little to do with the 40 feet by 25 feet piece of ground with which we are concerned this afternoon. I always like on these occasions to go down and see the site, and upon several occasions when similar discussions have taken place have done so. I am sorry to say on this particular occasion I have not found the leisure to visit the place, but I have seen a large scale plan, and I can confirm the description given by the right rev. Prelate.
May I say one word now as to the practice of Parliament? Parliament has very often departed from the policy of the Public Acts quoted by the noble Earl, Lord Meath. He mentioned to your Lordships three rejections of proposals in accordance with the policy of those Acts, and he mentioned that he only knew of one in London the other way against him, the case of the General Post Office. I cannot pretend that I have got an exhaustive list here. Your Lordships will understand that it is not a practical thing to go through the history of these matters ever since the year 1884, and identify every case, but I have here fourteen cases, some of them in London. I will go through them all very briefly, because I think it is my duty to do so. These are fourteen cases where Parliament has departed from the policy laid down in the Acts quoted. The conclusion I draw from this is that Parliament, wisely I think, goes into every case on its merits; and my recommendation to your Lordships is that you should do the same in this case this afternoon. I will go through the cases very rapidly, saying 490 only a word or two about the London cases as they are the cases with which we are more immediately concerned.
There was the St. Bartholomew Hospital Act of 1904, in which power was given to build on the burial ground, proper provisions being made as to the removal of human remains, just as they are made in the present Bill. Then, in the St. Mary Woolnoth Church Act, 1904, power was given to sell to the City and South London Railway Company. In 1905 there was the Nottingham Corporation Act; in 1910 the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Act; in 1911 the Merthyr Tydfil Corporation Water Act: the Grosvenor Street Chapel, Manchester, Trustees Act in the same year; the Manchester Corporation Act in 1914; and the St. John's Church Kingston-upon-Hull Act in 1916. Then, in 1918, there was the St. Olave's Southwark Church Act, and, perhaps through inadvertence, the whole facts in connection with that case have not been mentioned to your Lordships.
I see opposite my noble friend who presided over the Committee which considered the proposal, and by Section S of that Act it was enacted that:Nothing contained in this Act shall be deemed to allow any building to be erected on so much of the disused burial ground forming the churchyard attached to the old church and of the site of the old church being not less than one-half of the whole area.….Your Lordships will see that the Committee made what seems to be a wise compromise. I do not carry in my head the size of the ground with which they were concerned; but I can produce more recent precedents. There is the Bank of England Act, 1923, where the Bank was authorised to build on disused burial ground forming part of the Bank premises and again providing for the removal of remains. There is also the Westminster City Council Act, 1923, in which authority to do the same thing in Cleveland Street was given. Your Lordships will see that there are precedents both ways, and I suggest——
§ LORD CARSON
Can the noble Earl tell us whether in the cases to which he has referred the local authority who may have charge of the open spaces were opposing or assenting parties?
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
I cannot say from my own knowledge, but 491 I can ascertain the information if it is of any interest to the noble and learned Lord. I do not carry all the details of these cases in my mind.
§ LORD PARMOOR
The question is whether in any case the disused burial ground was regarded as a source of profit.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
I quite appreciate that point, but at the moment I am answering the point put forward by the Earl of Meath—that it is the policy of Parliament to forbid this. I do not want to put it any higher than this: that Parliament has frequently departed from this policy, doubtless for wise reasons in every case, and I think your Lordships will be wise to follow the same practice this afternoon. Your Lordships can be assured that the case will be heard. The Corporation of the City of London have deposited a Petition against the Bill. I have the Petition here. It raises the point which we are discussing this afternoon, and also the important point with regard to preserving anything of valuable historical interest. It is obvious that the Committee will give every consideration to a Petition of that kind.
I think I should also inform your Lordships of this. Bills of this kind are submitted to the Attorney-General, who makes a special Report to Parliament whenever he thinks fit. That Report has been made in this case, and it is only right that I should quote the opinion of the Attorney-General in the matter. He says:—I am informed that this disused burial ground consists of a small flagged space containing a few old tombstones stacked against a wall and confined within railings and a locked gate. The ground is too small to be of any use as an open space, and it appears to be really useless.He concludes by saying:—I see no objection to the Bill.This, I think, reinforces my claim that it would be wrong to deny to the promoters of the Bill the usual right to have their case heard in detail by the Committee 492 upstairs. That is my advice to your Lordships on form and procedure.
When I see the formidable array of speakers against the Bill I confess that I am tempted to say a word on the merits. This is a small open space, as your Lordships already know, with high buildings all round it. The public has no access to it now, and I cannot conceive that it ever would be that which Lord Meath describes—a beauty spot. If it has any value at all, it is to the Midland Bank who now have buildings on three sides of it. If the matter is pressed to a Division I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
My Lords, I do not know whether the House would like to hear why it is that this succession of deviations from the principle of the Statute of 1884 are upon record. It is for this simple reason. The Act of 1884 concludes with a section which has not yet been quoted by any speaker who has spoken against this Bill. This section runs as follows:—Nothing in this Act contained shall apply to any burial ground which has been sold or disposed of under the authority of any Act of Parliament.Parliament itself clearly contemplated, in 1884, that there might be cases in which the facts obviously require that some dispensation should be made. On the question of merit, if you are going to take the view that you would rather decide the case here and now at the instance of those who have locus standi to appear before the Committee, surely your Lordships can trust the Committee. Are you going to accept the balanced opinions and testimony even of eye witnesses, unfortified by the usual precautions taken in Committee?
Let me say that I visited this so-called open space yesterday. It has never belonged to the public, it has always belonged to the church, and it is a space for which nobody except the promoters of the Bill has ever proposed to give anything to the church. It is closed in on the south, and it is closed in on the west, a" well as on the north, and I doubt whether it ever sees anything of the sun, except, perhaps, in the early hours of the longest days. It is just in the opening of a little space called St. Mildred's Court, which itself is a cul de sac. The width of the opening which connects 493 it with the street called the Poultry is just wide enough, I should think, to admit one wheeled vehicle. If you think that an airless space surrounded by high buildings, a space into which the sun never shines, is either an amenity, a beauty spot or a source of health, I must say that there is room for great difference of opinion, and I think it is just that sort of difference which Parliament contemplated when it passed the fifth Section of the Act of 1884. It is clear that the present restriction of light and air is going to be even more accentuated by the action of the people who propose to reconstruct the buildings with which it is surrounded. These buildings are going to be demolished and reconstructed and, no doubt, those who do this work will go to the full length of their powers under the existing London Building Acts. Consequently, the sky line will be even higher than it is now, so that this spot, unhealthy as it is at present, will become unhealthier still.
May I venture to suggest to your Lordships that I think, and have thought ever since I have been in Parliament, that it is rather unfair that parties, whether they represent local authorities, or whoever they may be, should think fit to come and try to defeat Bills upon Second Reading which they have locus standi to oppose before the Committee. That seems to me to be an extremely unfair procedure. What is my locus standi? The noble Karl who moved the rejection of the Bill said that this money was going to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and he said this without comment and without any sequel. It would at any rate be for a good purpose if it were going to go to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, because the Ecclesiastical Commissioners are a corporation In which, to use a sort of simile, the ordinary stock is held by the poor clergy of the country who have not living wages to subsist upon. At least that is a good purpose.
§ LORD CARSON
I will tell the noble Lord why I asked why. It is because, 494 if people value their Established Church, they ought to contribute the money themselves.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
If you want this open space, cannot you spare the Church the value of it? I was going to say that, if it be a question of the right of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to speak in such a matter, I can appeal confidently to their record in respect of village greens, open spaces, playgrounds and recreation grounds in large towns which they have either given or improved, or have contributed to their improvement, among the great estates which they administer. I think it fair that one of the Committees of your Lordships' House, which I think you have still reason to trust, should decide this case, at all events so as to give your Lordships a further opportunity of reviewing it when the facts have been really looked into.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I must admit that I am a little surprised at the speech which we have heard from the noble Lord who has just sat down. I do not share with him at all the view that people who desire to oppose a Bill that is contrary to existing Statute Law should be confined to the expensive course of proceeding before a Committee of the House. I quite agree that in ordinary circumstances Private Bills should be discussed in detail away from the full assembly of the House, but this is a Bill which proposes to do something that an Act of Parliament has deliberately forbidden, and before the Committee stage is reached I think it is right that this House should decide whether they should permit a Statute—it may be to a small extent, but at least to the definite extent that this Bill provides—to he overridden by this proposal. I must say that I see no reason at all why it should.
It has been pointed out that the space is small. I quite accept that, but if the space is small the principle is a very large one, and I am not at all easy upon the illustrations which the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, gave concerning spaces where the Act of Parliament has been interfered with. I say that for this reason. What happened in the case of St. Olave's I do not know, but I have here the Journal of your Lordships' proceedings, and I find that on March 14, 495 1918, a definite Instruction was passed in this House to the Committee to whom the Bill would be referred to amend the Bill so as to providethat the disused burial ground, described as the churchyard, attached to the church. …shall be preserved unbuilt upon in compliance with Section 3 of the Disused Burial Grounds Act, 1884.The noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Chipstead, was, at any rate, perfectly justified in the statement that he made that such was the procedure here.
How that Instruction was subsequently departed from so that the Act finally emerged in the form which the noble Earl quoted, I find it a little difficult to understand, but there is no doubt whatever either of the accuracy of this record or of the accuracy of that which the noble Earl has said. I should like to see more of these cases and to know a great deal more about the matter. For myself, I should doubt very much if Parliament was ever prepared to sanction, for the purpose of assisting a private venture by private persons in the direction of private building, the infringement of this Statute. Personally, I sincerely hope that your Lordships will not assent to the Second Beading of this Bill nor allow a space in the City of London which, small though it is, is none the less an open space, to be built upon. I think that the more these spaces are preserved the better.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, stated the case of the Bank of England. What happened in the case of the Bank of England was that inside the Bank of England there was a small garden which was surrounded by the offices of the Bank. This garden was built over. I venture to say that this is a very different thing from taking an open space which adjoins a street and building over that. After all the Bank of England is more of a public authority than a private bank like the Midland Bank. My noble friend Lord Stuart of Wortley suggested that this ought to go to the Committee. While I had the honour of sitting in the House of Commons I have often expressed a similar opinion, but always provided that the question that went to the Committee was not the principle of the Bill, but the details of the Bill. In this case all that your Lordships have to decide is the principle of the Bill; there really are no 496 details. The only question is whether this open site shall be built over or not, and whether we are, by private Act, to override two Public General Acts. I think that if you were to sanction this particular Bill the result would be, as the noble Earl said, that you would have a large number of people coming down and offering to give certain sums in order to obtain these sites to build over.
The right rev. Prelate the Bishop of London said that the site is only a little one. The argument has been used before that it was "only a little one," but I am not aware that this excuse was adequate, or that, because this is only a small site, it is right to disturb the bones of the citizens of London, who were put there by their relatives many years ago, merely because a private undertaking desires to add to a new building which it proposes to erect. As regards the advantage to the Midland Bank, might I very respectfully suggest to them that with the modern convenience of lifts it is quite easy for them to put on another storey and obtain accommodation, without moving the bones of the old citizens of London and without infringing two Acts of Parliament and setting up an extremely bad precedent. I hope that your Lordships will reject this Bill.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, I hope that the suggestion of the right rev. Prelate will be acted upon and that the Bill will be given a Second Beading to-day in order to give us time to go and view the ground. With great respect to your Lordships' judgment, I do not think that we ought to decide this matter under the stress of emotion. We have heard a great deal about the possible use of this site, but, if there is such a desire for more air, why do not the City of London, a great wealthy corporation, come forward and give the money to save it? I believe that we are under no great stress of time. The noble Lord, Lord Buckmaster, laid great emphasis upon not overriding the Act of Parliament, but Acts of Parliament cannot take cognisance of all the possibilities that may arise some years later. Great good has been done, as I think has been admitted, by different Acts concerning the conversion of burial grounds for recreation purposes, but there are exceptions to every rule. And surely, before we commit ourselves to giving no 497 permission for the use of this ground for one particular object, there should be given time for us to come to a clear understanding and knowledge of the case. Therefore, I hope your Lordships will give a Second Heading to this Bill.
§ VISCOUNT MILNER
My Lords, I venture to hope that an opportunity may be given to a Committee of this House to consider this question on its merits. I must make a confession at once, that I am not quit disinterested in this matter, because I happen to be a member of the board of the bank which is offering to buy this ground, but I can say most honestly that there is not a member of this House who is a keener supporter of the principle for which Lord Meath made so good a fight. I am almost a fanatic as a preserver of open spaces in our crowded cities, and as a defender of any ancient monument at all worth preserving. If I felt that this little bit of a burial ground—for, as I can explain to you directly, it is not a burial ground as a whole, but an accidental corner of a suppressed burial ground which still exists— had the slightest value as an open space, or felt that it had any interest as an ancient monument, or was an attractive thing to look at, and not, as it really is, rather an eyesore, I should not for a moment support the action of the board to which I belong in trying to obtain possession of it. I think the importance of keeping open spaces in these great, crowded cities is a vital matter.
Now, it has been argued that although this particular case may be an inconsiderable one, yet, if your Lordships approve the Second Reading of this Bill, you will be giving away a principle. Lord Meath made a strong appeal to your Lordships. He admitted that the particular case is not in itself important, but he said that if you allow the Bill to pass it imperils all the existing burial grounds in the Metropolis and other cities, which he says number 320. If I thought that, I would not plead in favour of this Bill, but it does not seem to me that, by giving this Bill a Second Beading, you do weaken any principle at all, because in spite of the Public General Acts to which reference has been made, it is perfectly clear that Parliament has always retained the right of considering upon its merits every proposal to appropriate a burial ground. 498 Since these Public General Acts have been passed there have been, I think, fifteen or sixteen cases in which Private Bills taking possession of burial grounds have been submitted to Parliament, and have been dicussed and decided upon their merits. The majority of those Bills have been approved and passed by Parliament, and therefore I cannot see that, if you approve this Bill, you will be doing anything to invalidate the principle for the protection of open spaces, because this House would be simply doing what has been done over and over again. Lord Donoughmore cited several such cases.
The real principle in this matter is that it is impossible to appropriate any disused burial ground for any purpose, however useful and however desirable, except after the matter has been submitted to, and has received the sanction of, Parliament. All that I plead for to day is that the proposal to utilise this piece of ground should be fairly considered; that it should go before a Committee who Mould be able to go into details. I am absolutely convinced that if a majority of your Lordships could see the spot which it is proposed to take there would be a great majority in favour of allowing this proposal to pass. It is perfectly valueless from the point of view of open spaces. You could no more lay out a garden there than you could lay out a garden in the area of any big house in London. You might just as well attempt to make a public garden m an area surrounded by big buildings in any big city. It is not even a place which could be seen. It is inside gates which could be closed at any time, and by the side of an alley which only leads into the bank building. Then I am told the Corporation objects to this proposal. If they can make out a good case against the proposal, they will have an opportunity of doing so if you give the measure a Second Reading; but the matter has been considered by the London County Council, which decided, by a great majority, not to make any objection to this measure. That being the case, I think there really is very strong grounds indeed for allowing the matter to be considered on its merits, as has always been done with similar proposals of the king during the last twenty or thirty years.
§ LORD CARSON
My Lords, I only desire to make one observation. I asked 499 Lord Donoughmore during his speech whether, in the particular cases to which he referred, the local authorities who were the custodians of open spaces as set up by Parliament had acceded to the proposal to dispose of the site, and he very naturally said that he was unable to give me that information. But that information is of importance.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
May I interrupt the noble and learned Lord? I do not think he put his question quite in the same way. I in fact quoted one or two cases where the local authorities actually promoted the Bills.
§ LORD CARSON
That is my very point. In some of these cases he now says that the matter was proposed by the local authority. How different that is from this case. What have you done by Act of Parliament? You have enacted that these disused burial grounds should be retained as open spaces. There is not a word in the Act, as far as I know, about the smallness or the largeness of them, or whether they might bring money to a church or a bank, or anything else. The point is that they are not to be enclosed or built upon, and that was the object of the Act. But you did more by the Act. You appointed a special local body to look after the carrying out of the Act, and to see that these open spaces are preserved, and here to-day we are asked entirely to disregard, not merely the Act itself, but the opinion of the City Corporation, whom you have set up as the proper custodians and advisers in relation to these open spaces. I venture to think that that is a very strong order.
When I am told by the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of London that I had better go down and look at the place. I think the Corporation are quite as good judges of it as I am. They know as much about the City of London and its necessities as I do, and, so far as I am concerned, I decline entirely to consider as the principle that arises on the Second Reading of this Bill the question, first, whether it is a very small space or a very large space, or, secondly, whether it will be of benefit to a particular denomination for the property to be sold. I think neither of these issues has anything whatever to do with the Public General Act that was passed. It is said that you 500 would be enabled to pay off a debt on the church, and I am sure I hope the debt will be paid off, but all I can say is that, if you have an Established Church, as I hope you always will have, I trust that people will value it sufficiently to subscribe the money for making these necessary alterations and improvements without having to go to Parliament, as a private commercial matter, to try to raise money in breach of an Act of Parliament which has been passed for the public good.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT CAVE)
My Lords, may I be allowed, not on behalf of the Government, but on my own behalf, to say a few words to explain why I propose to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. These debates in the House on Private Bills are very often difficult because we get statements on one side or the other and we have really little chance as members of this House of testing them. The present case is very simple. This little piece of land is the property of this church. The church desires to sell it for what seems to most of us a very large price, in order to use that money, not for any private benefit but for purely church purposes. That is the interest on one side. On the other we are told that this is at present an open space and comes under the Disused Burial Grounds Act. Of course it does, but that Act says that disused burial grounds shall not be built over unless Parliament otherwise determines: in other words, the power is left to Parliament to consider in each case whether there is or is not a ground for making the case an exception.
Though there is an open space here, does it really come to anything at all? Forty feet by 25 I think. A Law Officer of the Crown has gone into the matter and he says the land is perfectly useless as an open space and he sees no objection to the Bill being passed. Between these statements I cannot judge, and I do not think your Lordships can judge. The right thing, it seems to me, is to send the Bill to a Committee where the promoters will not only have to prove the details of the Bill but also to make good the Preamble of the Bill. I would much rather take a verdict of that kind than go into this matter and determine it to-day.
§ LORD SOUTHWARK
My Lords, I should like to make a few observations, because when the Bill dealing with St. Olave's Church was before the House I took an active part, unfortunately only at the latest stage. I was not in the House before the Bill went to a Committee, but it went with an Instruction, and that Instruction, I think, was a great disaster for the Committee which had to investigate the matter. The Bill came down, and the noble Lord, Lord Muir Mackenzie, was not satisfied with it, and a number of noble Lords, including Lord Crewe, discussed whether the recommendations of the Committee should be adopted. They were opposed to the form in which the Bill came down, and when it went to a Division we had a very small number of supporters, but among them were the noble Marquess, Lord Curzon, the noble Earl, Lord Crewe, Lord Lamington, Lord Hylton, Lord Denman and myself. Those who voted in the majority voted because they said: "Unfortunately, we have come to an arrangement, and we are bound to stick to the arrangement we have made." With regard to this Bill, certainly let it go to a Committee, but without any Instruction, so that the hands of the Committee shall not be tied.
In the case of the St. Olave's Bill I thought the site an absolutely unsuitable
§ one for the purposes of an open space. If that arrangement had not been carried out, and the Committee had not been tied by an Instruction, a new church could have been built, or the church would have been removed, a splendid site would have been provided for an open space, and the money would have been at the disposal of the authorities to pay a proper stipend to a clergyman. All those advantages were lost through having an Instruction sent to the Committee, and now nothing can be done in regard to St. Olave's. If noble Lords would refer to the debate on that occasion and read the speeches made by the noble Earl, Lord Crewe, the noble Marquess, Lord Curzon, and others, they would spend a most interesting half hour. As I said in that case the passing of that Instruction ended disastrously. In the case of the present Bill it may be right or it may be wrong to preserve this open space, but I consider that the Bill ought to go to a Committee, as the Lord Chairman advised, so that the matter can be properly thrashed out.
§ On Question, Whether the words proposed to be left out shall stand part of the Motion?—
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 59; Not-Contents, 28.503
|Cave, V. (L. Chancellor.)
|London, L. Bp.
|Southwark, L. Bp.
|Lamington, L. [Teller.]
|Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.)
|Mildmay of Flete, L.
|Muir Mackenzie, L.
|Balfour of Burleigh, L.
|Monk Bretton, L.
|Oranmore and Browne, L.
|Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clan William.)
|Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)
|Desart, L. (E. Desart.)
|Stewart of Garlies, L. E. Galloway.
|FitzAlan of Derwent, V.
|Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.)
|Stuart of Wortley, L. [Teller.]
|Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)
|Gage, L. (V. Gage.)
|Hunsdon of Hunsdon, L.
|De La Warr, E.
|Bertie of Thame, V.
|Ashton of Hyde, L.
|Fairfax of Cameron, L.
|Banbury of Southam, L. [Teller.]
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.
|Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)
|Marshall of Chipstead, L.
|Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.) [Teller.]
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, Motion agreed to, and Bill read 2a accordingly.