HL Deb 12 June 1945 vol 136 cc554-65

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Woolton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The LORD STANMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

3.10 p.m.

LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGHmoved, after Clause 1, to insert the following new clause: . If the Minister of Works shall certify that he is satisfied that in consequence of the present emergency the use of any portion of a Royal park or garden for temporary housing purposes is expedient in the public interest. Section one of this Act shall thereupon apply to that portion of the Royal park or garden as though it were an open space vested in the local authority for the area in which it is situated.

The noble Lord said: Before proceeding to explain to your Lordships precisely what would be the effect of this Amendment I should like to remind your Lordships, as was very patent from the debate yesterday, that in passing this Bill at all we are resorting to an expedient which nobody likes. It is an expedient which has been forced upon us by the circumstances of the case. I yield to no one in my opinion that temporary houses are very undesirable. In fact, I always have thought that temporary houses were an abomination. I still think so, and I am quite prepared to add that if temporary houses are an abomination, then temporary houses in open spaces are the abomination of desolation.

The justification for the Amendment which I am going to submit to your Lordships is found in the remarks which my noble friend the Lord President made in moving the Second Reading of the Bill yesterday. I want with your Lordships' permission to read just three sentences from what my noble friend said yesterday, because they are very germane to the Amendment. He said: The position in the County of London illustrates the matter very well. The London County Council and the Metropolitan Borough Councils have found sites for 10,301 temporary houses out of their allocation of 12,000. Two thousand of these sites are on London County Council housing sites outside the county, so that 8,301 have been found within the county.

There remains, however, a balance of 1,7oo sites which cannot be found in London without blocking some other development and these sites accordingly will, if your Lordships pass this Bill, have to be found on parks and open spaces. If your Lordships turn to Clause 1 of the Bill, you will find that the open spaces at present included in the Bill are those which are vested in or at the disposal of the local authorities. And that, of course, excludes the Royal parks.

If your Lordships will bear with me for a moment, I wish to explain exactly why I have been driven to bring this Amendment before you to-day. It happens that I am, at the moment, Chairman of the Housing Committee of the Royal Borough of Kensington, and we have been very anxious, in Kensington, to find sites on which to place our quota of these temporary houses. Our trouble is, of course, that Kensington is a very, very closely built-up area. It is almost entirely without open spaces— and I do not even have to say "without open spaces, except Kensington Gardens." The statement is true without qualification, because Kensington Gardens, generally speaking, surprising as it may appear to your Lordships, are not in Kensington. Only a little bit of Kensington Gardens which is west of the Broad Walk— familiar to your Lordships— is in Kensington, and the whole of Kensington Gardens to the east of the Broad Walk, that is the great bulk of the gardens, lies in either Westminster or Paddington. A small bit is in Paddington, but the great bulk is in Westminster. It may be surprising to your Lordships to learn that such noted landmarks as the Round Pond and the Albert Memorial are not in Kensington at all, but are actually situated in Westminster.

The position is that Kensington is completely built up, and we have had the greatest difficulty in finding anywhere to put our quota of temporary houses at all because, of course, it is essential that we should not interfere with sites which are needed for the rebuilding of permanent houses, which we hope will be got on with as soon as possible. The situation in Kensington, so far as the need for houses is concerned, is just as desperate as it is anywhere else. We have had our share of bombs and rockets. Indeed, I am grateful to one, in particular, of the rockets because it helped to demolish a slum area which I have been wanting to get rid of for a long time. I only wish that I could have directed the rest of the bombs and rockets. I think I could have made a better job than was done by Hitler. But anyway, as I say, we have had our share of these missiles, and we have therefore got our share of bombed-out people, who are anxiously waiting for new homes. I can assure your Lordships that in these conditions the duty of the housing department officials in any of these areas, in dealing with applications and correspondence, is indeed heartbreaking. We have very little to offer, and we have an enormous demand. We all feel that there lies upon us the duty to do the utmost in our power to give at least some hope to the people who are waiting, in circumstances of very great difficulty, to be rehoused.

We combed the whole borough to try to find sites, but we succeeded in finding sites for only just about one hundred bungalows. Then our eyes fell upon the tiny corner of Kensington Gardens to which I have referred. This has already been alienated from its use as an open space because it is occupied by air raid shelters. It is that little bit of the gardens which lies near Kensington Road, at the extreme south side, among trees. The shelters were dug, I think, about the time of Munich. They were found to be extremely wet, as you would expect, and consequently they had to be drained. A sewer was put in. My noble friend Lord Woolton yesterday made a particular point— a very good one— that open spaces have the incidental advantage that in some cases they are fringed by roads which have the necessary services under them. In this case, not only are the necessary services under the road, but they are under the very site which is, as I say, at the moment, occupied by air raid shelters. Now if we could get the use of that tiny corner of the portion of Kensington Gardens which lies in Kensington we could add to our one hundred sites another fifty. I do not say that that is going to make a very substantial contribution to the solution of London's rehousing problem, but it is going to be a tremendous earnest of our real endeavours to rehouse the more difficult and the more urgent of the cases which are pressing upon us day by day and week by week.

If we got permission to do this we should be able to lay out in that garden fifty bungalows, in better circumstances, I think, than will be done in many cases. Our intention would be to put there a careful selection of tenants. The tenants selected would have to be people who could be depended upon to keep up their standard of tidiness. It is going to be a very difficult thing to maintain such standards in these temporary houses. In this instance, quite obviously, bombed-out tenants would have to be, and could be, selected from among the hundreds who are waiting, who could, really, be relied upon to look after the place and keep it tidy. We should have flower beds, and of course no trees would be destroyed. Lest anyone should fear that it would mean the disappearance of the flowers or trees, I can give the Committee the assurance that the trees would remain, and that there would be more flower beds rather than fewer.

I should like to add that this, proposal has been discussed, as is only proper, in the Kensington Borough Council itself. That council, if I may say so (I am a member of it), is devoted to Kensington and to the interests of Kensington, and to the wider interests of the Empire. The great majority of the members live in Kensington, and as children have played in Kensington Gardens, and have seen their own children play there. We are very well aware of the great importance of that open space. The result of that debate in the Kensington Borough Council was that by a majority of two to one it was decided to make the effort to go in for this temporary housing scheme. The result was a tribute to the feeling of duty which animated the council; they are so impressed by the urgent need for houses that they feel that if this thing is going to be done they must not be backward in making their contribution.

I want to turn to the wider aspect of the matter which was touched on yesterday by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who said, in words with which I am certain every one of your Lordships will agree, as I do profoundly, that there is another consideration which comes in which is of very great importance, and that is the dignity and the seemliness of Lon don as the capital of Great 'Britain and of the Empire.

No one could agree more whole-heartedly than I do with that. I have told you exactly what the proposal is so far as the Kensington Borough Council is concerned, and that will, I hope, remove from your minds any idea of vast stretches of these huts occupying Kensington Gardens. The rest of the Gardens, so far as local authorities are concerned, are in either Paddington or the City of Westminster, and those authorities have no less care for the public interest than Kensington. Behind them stand the two great Departments, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning; and your Lordships can rest assured that nothing will be done which would detract either from the dignity or from the seemliness of London.

Finally, there remains this great argument, which has influenced me more than any other. I loathe these temporary houses. The great danger in going in for them is that they will not disappear at the end of ten years. What better safeguard could we have to ensure that they do disappear than this constant reminder before our eyes from one day to another, urging us to get on with the job of the permanent houses of the people of this country? I feel that with our open spaces occupied even to this tiny extent by these temporary houses, it will be a reminder that we have our duty to do to ensure beyond a peradventure that these houses really are temporary and do disappear within the ten years. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 10, after Clause 1 insert the said new clause.—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)

3.24 p.m.


Perhaps I may be allowed to explain to the Committee what I conceive to be some of the difficulties in passing this Amendment, which has been put before the Committee in the most persuasive and attractive manner. If it were merely a question of some small part of Kensington Gardens, situate in the Borough of Kensington, being treated as is proposed by my noble friend, I think that there would be very strong grounds for entertaining the proposal, and perhaps for voting in favour of it. What we have before us, however, is not a proposal with regard to an acre or two of a corner of Kensington Gardens. The Amendment which is before the Committee relates to the use of "any portion of a Royal park or garden for temporary housing purposes." The phrase "Royal park or garden" is one which has a somewhat wider significance than I at first supposed. At first I was not quite sure to what it would extend, but I have ascertained, by reference to the Act of 1851, that the "Royal parks, gardens and possessions" which were then handed over to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests (as they were called at that time) extend to twenty Royal parks, gardens and possessions, beginning with the four great parks— St. James's, Hyde Park, Green Park and Kensington Gardens— and going down to Holyrood Park in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh. It is a very wide extent that is referred to, and it relates to a great many parks in respect of which the cogent arguments that my noble friend has put before the Committee do not apply at all, because there are such places, for instance, as Hampton Court Park, and in Hampton Court, I feel sure, there is no difficulty in obtaining open spaces for the purposes of housing.

The Amendment refers to "any portion," and "any portion" might extend to the greater part of these parks and gardens. It is not limited in the way in which my noble friend would seek to limit it, with regard to a little bit of Kensington Gardens, and accordingly we have to sec whether we can properly give this very wide power to the local authority, with the consent of the Minister of Works, and presumably the Minister of Health, without any further reference to Parliament, to do something which may seem to them to be very much in the public interest but which, on the other hand, may not be in the opinion of the country as a whole in the public interest at all, if it were applied in a very sweeping manner. The first consideration which I think will spring to everybody's mind with regard to that is that the Consent of the Crown has to be obtained before the measure is passed, and that the advisers of the Crown should have an ample opportunity of considering whether a number of safeguards is not necessary. I can imagine such advisers saying "There must be a limit to the proportion of the Royal park concerned, and such-and-such parts of these parks must be sacrosanct" (to use a word employed here yesterday); and other conditions may well be thought to be necessary.

I am convinced that the limited scope of the Amendment which my noble friend really desires would not be open to objections of that kind, but that would not be the position of the advisers of the Crown when they are asked to consent to this. The Royal parks are, I think, with one or two exceptions having regard to recent legislation, still Crown lands. They are, therefore, matters which constitute a part of the Royal Prerogative, and any interference with them affects the Royal Prerogative. The result is that, although the Bill will be one which only relates in a clause or two to the Royal Prerogative, nevertheless the Consent has to be obtained before the Motion for the Third Reading. Your Lordships will find an interesting account of the Consent of the Crown where the Royal Prerogative is affected on page 63 of the useful little Companion to the Standing Orders of the House of Lords, which most of your Lordships find it very hard to remember. But there it is. There is a very elaborate account of the way in which and the cases in which the Royal Consent is necessary.

Then I ask myself, would it be fair to the advisers of the Crown to suggest that the whole matter must be considered— the wide extent of the proposed Amendment and the necessity for safeguards, which they may very well think are necessary— in the very few days that lie before us before the Prorogation, which I understand takes place next Friday? I am afraid that it is really sufficient ground for inducing the advisers of the Crown to say "It is too late to consider this." If there were some definite and very limited object, which could not be carried out in any other way but by taking some unimportant part of a particular Royal park, the whole position would be completely different. But, as I look upon it, this Amendment as it comes before us is one which has a very wide operation; and although every one of us must be deeply urged by the considerations which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh has put before us, I am afraid we cannot help him on the present occasion.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Samuel, who is unfortunately detained by a public engagement, I have to say that, as far as those noble Lords who sit on these Benches are concerned, we find ourselves unable to support the Amendment. My noble friend yesterday advanced one very cogent argument, to which Lord Balfour of Burleigh has already referred, in opposing the idea before it had actually taken shape in this Amendment. That was that by introducing these temporary houses into the heart and centre of London you were doing something— perhaps a good deal— to destroy the splendour and dignity of the capital city of the Empire; and that in itself is a powerful argument against the Amendment. The noble and learned Viscount who has just spoken has indicated the legal objection. I am anxious to approach the question as far as possible on the broadest grounds of the greatest balance of public advantage. Can that balance be best obtained by allowing the erection of temporary dwellings in the Royal parks, or is the balance in the other direction— in favour of those very numerous citizens of London a ad of the country as a whole who make such frequent and grateful use of the parks?

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, has with his hand on his heart pledged the respectability and the restraint of the Royal Borough of Kensington, but that, after all, is only one of a collection of Metropolitan boroughs which abut on one or other of the Royal parks; and I do not imagine that, even if the Royal Borough of Kensington held its hand, such moderation would necessarily extend to the clutching fist of the Borough of Paddington, the City of Westminster, or, when you get up to Regent's Park, to the demands of the Boroughs of Marylebone, St. Pancras and others. You may start with a very small encroachment, but an example of that kind rapidly breeds imitators; and once you have admitted the principle you will undoubtedly see further sustained and extended attempts to encroach upon the parks. There was a strange attempt, not from the noble Lord but from Lord Latham who spoke yesterday, to infect this discussion with some element of the class struggle. It was suggested that it was unfair that places like Victoria Park should be available for temporary buildings but that the parks in the centre of London should be protected. Really, if one walks through the parks in the centre of London, are the people that one sees frequenting the bandstands, disporting themselves on the lake, using the refreshment places, the inhabitants of St. James's and Mayfair? Or are they the people who have come in from outlying districts of London, from the Colonies and Dominions, and from foreign countries to make use of this unique amenity which exists in the centre of London and cannot be equalled in any other capital in the world? To suggest that this reservation of the parks is being placed there in the interests of a privileged class really does not bear a moment's serious consideration.

Moreover, take it from the point of view of those people to whom the noble Lord referred, the people who unhappily in places like Stepney, Bethnal Green and so forth are urgently and pitifully in want of houses. Are those people going to be happily settled in houses put down in the middle of Mayfair? Is that the neighbourhood in which they will be comfortable dwellers— not because a sort of bar of class ostracism would be applied to them by the original inhabitants, but because in that part of the world they will not find the kind of shops which they want, which they are accustomed to and which cater for their tastes? They will not find the amenities of daily life which they are accustomed to; they will be thoroughly out of place, and will probably wish that the noble Lord had never persisted with his Amendment, and that they were not in the unfortunate situation of finding themselves miles away from the kind of neighbourhood they are used to and the society of the friends with whom they desire to live.

It is said that it is desired to place only temporary dwellings in the parks. I do not quite know what the definition of a temporary dwelling is, or how long a temporary dwelling may be calculated to exist. I do not know whether any of your Lordships have explored a building which has very recently sprung up in the Victoria Gardens adjacent to this House. That is a temporary building; it has all the appearance of being the early stages of a historical monument, and closer investigation reveals it as the prototype of a plumber's paradise. It is said to be a temporary dwelling, but if that is a specimen of the kind of dwellings which are to make their appearance in the parks, there will be very little left of the parks, not for ten years but for generations, for the enjoyment of the people of the metro- polis and of the country at large. The parks form so valuable a centre that unless, by passing this Amendment, we can really make an extended and otherwise quite unobtainable addition to the housing space required for London, it would surely be a betrayal of our trust, not only for ourselves but for succeeding generations, to allow dwellings of any kind to interfere with the amenities which have meant so much to us all.

3.41 p.m.


As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, moving this Amendment, I found myself all the time wishing that I could agree with him, because it is so clear from the way in which he has spoken to your Lordships this afternoon that he speaks from a life-long interest in the people of Kensington and a very great desire to see that they are going to be properly rehoused. On those grounds, I wish I could agree with him, and if I could find any way of meeting his particular circumstance, then I should indeed be willing to do it. But the proposition that he has put to us is that, in order to deal with his particular and— he will forgive my saying this— comparatively only, small problem of Kensington, he is going to open a very wide door— a door I could not be party to opening. Let us get one or two things clear in our minds. In the first place this is no class question, as the noble Marquess has just indicated. Neither, at this stage, does the question of the Royal Prerogative arise. I am quite certain that His Majesty would rely in this matter on the advice of his Ministers and I can say, without hesitation, that His Majesty's present Ministers would not be able to advise him to take this action and place the Royal parks at the disposal of the local authorities.

The Bill which I introduced to your Lordships yesterday was a Bill for a quite specific purpose, and that was to amend certain Housing Acts in order that local authorities who have land in their possession for the purposes of open spaces should be able to use that land for the purpose of putting up the temporary houses. I cannot go any further than that with this Bill. I do not want to go any further, because I believe—and I am so advised— that it is probable that by the exercise of those powers local authorities will be able to find all the sites that they need. I am not going to advise you that the local authorities will always be able to find within their own boroughs the amount of land that they want— and that is the proposition that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, has really put to us to-day. He has suggested that it should be this land, which is adjacent and so convenient for this particular borough, which should be used for this purpose. I hope that convenient land may be found, but it may indeed be that land will have to be found a little distance away and the people in that borough, like so many other people in the country, will have to submit themselves to that inconvenience.

I am going to ask the noble Lord not to press this Amendment. I cannot accept it. Your Lordships have been, if I may be permitted to say so, extremely cooperative with me in the somewhat difficult task I have had during this last fortnight of trying to hasten legislation through this House, and I am glad to say we have not yet lost any of these Bills that are so important regarding social conditions. Now what is going to happen, supposing the noble Lord succeeds in persuading your Lordships to-day to accept this Amendment? It is contentious. Your Lordships may divide, and supposing he succeeds in persuading your support against the Government, then the Bill will go back to another place who will find the Amendment equally contentious. And the sands of this Parliament are running out with great speed. I have great fears that in those circumstances we may find ourselves without this Bill and thereby, for the sake of a small part of the Metropolis, preventing the whole of the country from being able to use the services that this Bill has designed for them. I do not think I need detain you longer. I greatly regret to have to tell the noble Lord, with whom I am so much in general sympathy, that in those circumstances I cannot walk along with him, and I hope he will be good enough to walk along with me and to withdraw his Amendment.

3.48 p.m.


I have no fault whatever to find with the reception my proposal has had, although it results unfavourably. I should like to thank your Lordships for the debate we have had. In particular, I would like to thank my noble friend opposite for the extraordinarily good way in which he dealt with the remarks that fell from a noble Lord on the opposite side of the House yesterday. I admit that they made me very uncomfortable. I would have liked to have dealt with them but I had not the ability of the noble Marquess, or possibly not the night's reflection which does assist in these matters—I say that without in any way derogating from the ability with which the noble Marquess dealt with it. I wish to thank your Lordships for the debate. The speeches we have had in answer to mine are, of course, speeches of great force and substance. I have always recognized the objections, and had it not been for the overriding neccessity I should never have felt it my duty to bring such a proposal before your Lordships. In view of the reception it has had, however, I think my proper course is not to press the Amendment to a Division.


I am very much obliged to the noble Lord.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended (in pursuance of the Resolution of May 29), Bill read 3a, and passed.