HL Deb 13 December 1949 vol 165 cc1402-41

2.45 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of the Parliament Square (Improvements) Bill. The scheme for the improvement of Parliament Square has a rather long and involved history which your Lordships may not desire me fully to recount on this occasion. Therefore, I will deal with it briefly. In 1931 the Westminster House Real Property Company, who were acquiring a lease of Nos. 14, 15 and 16, Great George Street, proposed to erect a tall office building there. Their plans were approved, but in 1935 the Middlesex County Council promoted a Bill for com- pulsory purchase of the site. May I, at the outset, say that every credit is due to the Middlesex County Council for their far-sighted, public-spirited action? I do not say that because I have been a member of the Middlesex County Council. I was not a member of the County Council at that time, but I respect the integrity and ability of those who took far-sighted and public-spirited action to purchase that site compulsorily. Some time later that proposal was dropped in favour of an agreed purchase.

A demand then arose that the Government should contribute to the cost of preserving the site as an open space. Meanwhile, the Minister of Transport had prepared a radical alteration of the layout of Parliament Square to facilitate the flow of traffic. This was adduced at that time as an additional reason for acquiring the site. In the closing days of 1938, the Cabinet agreed to a Government contribution of £100,000, and there the matter rested throughout the war years. After the war, negotiations were reopened by the Middlesex County Council, and offers of further contributions were made by the Westminster City Council the London County Council, the Pilgrim Trust and the Institute of Chartered Surveyors. The land was finally purchased early in 1948. The plan to which I have already referred was adopted as a basis and has since been considered in detail. It has the approval of the Ministry of Transport and the Metropolitan Police. I should add here that the Police felt that, unless this scheme could be carried out before the Festival of Britain, it would be difficult to hold the Festival on the South Bank site.

Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that the legal position regarding the Square is also somewhat involved. With land so close to the Palace of Westminster and possessing so long a history, that is not difficult to understand. The land has been acquired for specific purposes over a very long period and, although the whole of it is now Crown property, certain obscurities in title and restrictions on use render this Bill almost essential. The Bill is not designed to authorise the scheme as a whole but is intended to remove any doubts about title to owner- ship and powers to carry out the scheme. The responsibility for the scheme is divided. The London County Council will be responsible for road works and the Ministry of Works for laying out and maintaining the two new garden enclosures. These works be carried out almost entirely under existing powers. The points covered in the Bill are the narrowing by a few feet of certain carriage ways, for which neither the London County Council nor the Ministry of Works have powers, and the extinguishing of certain rights of way. Authority is also sought to move statues and re-erect them, and to remove the Buxton Memorial Fountain.

During its passage through another place, the Bill received approval but was subjected to some criticism in regard to details, the most important being from Members speaking on behalf of Westminster City Council, insisting that the absence of pavements round the central island would be dangerous to pedestrians. My right honourable friend the Minister of Works readily agreed to consider this point, and since then consultations have taken place and agreement has been reached. The amended scheme provides for a pavement on the south and east sides of the new central garden. I may add that a plan of the amended proposals has been placed in the Library.

There was also some discussion in another place on the suitability of various statues for the site at the north-east corner of the Square. One suggestion is that the statue of Richard Coeur de Lion should be moved from Palace Yard to the Square and its place in the Yard be taken by the statue of the Burghers of Calais, at present in Victoria Tower Gardens. This suggestion will be discussed with the Royal Fine Art Commission, who have, I should mention, approved the scheme as a whole. As noble Lords will be aware, after the Second Reading in another place had been carried without a Division, the Middlesex County Council petitioned against the Bill to the Select Committee, asking that traffic should be kept at a greater distance from their Guildhall.

The Bill as it now stands consists of a preamble in which the scheme as a whole is outlined. Clause 1 provides for the incorporation of a portion of the carriageway of Great George Street in the new central garden, and widening of the pavement outside St. Margaret's Church. Clause 2 provides for the extinguishing of rights of way over the existing central carriageway and over those pavements which are to be incorporated in the new gardens. Clause 3 provides for the removal and re-erection of statues in Parliament: Square and the removal of the Buxton Memorial Fountain. It also seeks to clear up certain obscurities in land title. The Clause 4 refers to the Schedules which provide protection for the statutory undertakers and the British Transport Commission. These Schedules have been agreed with the parties concerned. Clauses 5 and 6 deal with the expenses of the scheme, the short title, the interpretation of the Bill and protection rights of the Lord Great Chamberlain and other officers of State in connection with the closing of footways for ceremonial occasions.

My Lords, that is all I have to say in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, except this, if I may be so hold as to make to noble Lords who are interested in this Bill a suggestion which may facilitate the orderly conduct of our business. As noble Lords probably know, it has been decided that the Committee and remaining stages of this Bill shall be taken after the Second Reading. As noble Lords will also know, two main Amendments have been put down, one dealing with the position of the Middlesex County Council and the other, in the name of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, dealing with the Buxton Memorial Fountain. I am entirely at the mercy of noble Lords, but it seems to me that it might be better that discussion on these two Amendments should stand over to the Committee stage—assuming the Bill is not opposed—which will be taken immediately after the Second Reading. I merely make that suggestion, with which noble Lords may agree or otherwise. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª. —(Lord Morrison.)

2.56 p.m.


My Lords, I quite agree with the concluding remarks of the noble Lord. Two specific points are raised, one of them being an Amendment in my name and the other in the narni! of my noble and learned friend Lord Simon. Our attitude on these Benches is much the same as that of our friends in the House of Commons—namely, to give general approval to this Bill, but to draw attention to some specific objections to its detail. That leads me to make this protest. Noble Lords may not know that the scheme, almost as it appears in the Bill, was agreed between the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Transport, the London County Council and the Commissioner of Police, as far back as May of this year; and it comes to this House at such a time in the Session—indeed, it did not come to the other place very much earlier —that there is little One to consider it. Your Lordships were asked last week to pass an alteration to the Standing Orders in respect of this Bill, limiting the time for petition against it.

All this is done on the assumed basis —because it needs an assumption that I personally do not think I can accept—that the traffic for the Festival of Britain will be completely disorganised unless there is some alteration to Parliament Square. The two parts of the Festival of Britain are on the south bank of the Thames, and communication between the two of them—we heard a great deal about it on the Second. Reading of the Festival of Britain Bill—is hoped to be mainly by water transport up and down the river. That was one of the reasons why Battersea Park was selected for the amusement park site. In any case, there are roads south of the river which afford better communication to get from one part of the Exhibition to another than do roads on the north. It is rather farfetched to say that the traffic arrangements for the Festival will be completely upset if this Bill does not pass into law this Session. I think the Government ought to have introduced the measure much earlier. I do not wish to raise the particular point about the Middlesex County Council now, because I shall do that when my Amendment is called. I agree with the noble Lord that it would be much better to confine the debate on that subject to that Amendment, and I have no doubt my noble and learned friend will agree that the debate on the Buxton Memorial Fountain should be kept to his Amendment and should not delay the Second Reading.

There is one item of news that the noble Lord has given to the House this afternoon—namely, that the equestrian statue that is to be erected in the middle of Parliament Square is to be the one we know quite well, that of Richard Coeur de Lion. There was some rumour that a new statue was going to be made; that at some future date perhaps we should see the Lord President of the Council sitting on a horse in the middle of Parliament Square—as my noble friend behind me suggests, "riding his high horse." I think we ought to protest against this somewhat "high horse" procedure of the Government bringing in this Bill so late in the Session, when agreement had been reached some time in May, and asking us to rush it through the House of Lords in a single afternoon. That course will be quite agreeable to us, I may add, if the noble Lord opposite and the Government will accept both my Amendment and that of my noble and learned friend Lord Simon.

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, I venture to express the hope that His Majesty's Government will not be in too much of a hurry to decide the question of the equestrian statue. There are very few sites in London which are now suitable for the erection of statues of heroes of the future, or even of the present day, and there seems to be no need to move the statue of Richard Cœur de Lion. It is perfectly appropriate in its present position, and it would be extraordinarily out of place in a garden devoted to the commemoration of nineteenth-century Prime Ministers. If His Majesty's Government must have an equestrian statue in the Square, I suggest that they move there the only equestrian statue of a Prime Minister that exists in London—I refer, of course, to the statue of the Duke of Wellington. I would further beg His Majesty's Government in their gardening operations to preserve the dignity of Parliament Square. I understand that it is proposed to have some flower beds there. If that is so, let the gardening be kept as formal gardening. People do not go to Parliament Square in order to see quaintness or to delight in floral beauty; they go to be impressed by the majesty of the centre of the British Empire. Therefore, I hope the Office of Works will not give rein to a passion for rusticity which I have observed in some of their recent works, and I hope that in the Parliament Square of the future they will give us nothing which will be quite so offensive as that miserable little "pocketful of posies" which has stood there during the lifetime of the present Government.

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, as a Londoner I am much interested in this Bill, but I could not understand how it was that my noble friend Lord Llewellin, an ex-Minister of Transport, failed to see any connection between the traffic problem in Parliament Square and the Festival of Britain. Surely, the difficulties of London traffic in recent years have shown us how a traffic block starting at an isolated point anywhere can travel back in all directions and bring a great area of London almost to a standstill. The trouble is that this Exhibition is to be held in the centre of an over-trafficked city. As I said during the debate on the Second Reading of the Festival of Britain Act, I am extremely anxious about the traffic problem, which I do not think will be solved by the proposals which have been put forward up to the present time. The normal traffic problems, accentuated as they are by the difficulties arising from the emptying of such great termini as Waterloo, we already know. What it will be like when the Festival of Britain gets well under way, I cannot think.

I am certain that Parliament Square, amongst other places, will play its part in any scheme proposed. I would submit, however, with regard to this Square that what is suggested is merely tinkering with the problem. Your Lordships will be only too painfully familiar with the difficulties of getting access to the House of Commons in present traffic conditions. You come along Great George Street from St. James's Park, for example, and you are held up by a tremendous stream of traffic coming from Victoria Street and Millbank. In present conditions, an absolute standstill occurs at certain times of the day. If the increase in traffic which is anticipated as a consequence of the Festival of Britain actually takes place, I cannot see how traffic will get through London at all.

Many of your Lordships will be aware of the experience of other countries, such as France, and will know what has been done in Paris. In that city there are points of great traffic congestion, and they have dealt with the trouble by constructing tunnels. What especially complicates the problem in Parliament Square is traffic coming out of Whitehall and desiring to go straight across the Square to Milibank. In Paris, I submit, a problem of that kind would have been tackled by the construction of a tunnel starting somewhere in the middle of Whitehall, where the centre stream of traffic is going more or less southward. That tunnel would have to dive under the traffic coming from Victoria Street and George Street and would come up, presumably, in the vicinity of the entrance to the House of Lords. If the Government intend to deal properly with the traffic problem of Parliament Square, I do not think they can afford to ignore such a proposition. It is a method which has been found of great advantage in whatever country it has been tried. In Paris, as your Lordships; know, at the bottom of the Avenue Foch and at the bottom of the Avenue leading to the Bois, traffic tunnels now exist, and some of your Lordships will recollect the traffic jams that used to occur before those tunnels were built. They were exactly the same sort of jams as we shall experience. The present plan, so far as I am able to understand it, will not actually solve the traffic problem; that will still remain, and I believe that the resultant chaos which will he caused will certainly extend back to the south bank of the river. There is very great danger of traffic in this area being brought to an absolute stop unless something really drastic is done on the lines which I have ventured to suggest.

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself drawn into this debate, against my previous intention, because of the surprise I received when Lord Morrison stated that it is proposed to place in the centre of Parliament Square, the heart of the British Commonwealth, so incongruous a statue as that of Richard Coeur de Lion. Nothing could be more out of tune—


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount to point out that I did not say "it was proposed." I simply said that the suggestion had been made. It is not the policy of the Ministry, for no such decision has yet been made.


if the noble Lord had added that the suggestion had been immediately stamped upon, I should not have felt it necessary to rise.


My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister one question. I have examined the plan which has been in our Library, and I should like to know whether Lord Morrison was correct in saying that the proposal was that this equestrian statue should be placed in the middle of the Square. I understood from the plan—I think a little inquiry will show that I am right—that it was suggested that it should be put in the north-east corner of the Square, looking down Whitehall. I share the views of the noble Viscount who has just spoken, but I think we had better know where this hypothetical equestrian statue may appear.

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, I must have expressed myself badly. I find on reference to my notes that I did not say it was proposed to place the statue in the middle of the Square. I said that one suggestion was that it should be moved from Palace Yard to the Square. What I was referring to—and perhaps it was my own fault for not making myself clear—was the fact that in the considerable discussion in another place a number of suggestions were made, that being one of them. I was endeavouring to convey to the House that that, along with any other suggestions, would be considered in due course by the Ministry and the Royal Fine Art Commission. May I thank noble Lords for having so readily accepted the suggestion I made? There is only one further point that I need make now, also for the purpose of getting the record correct. I hope that. I did not lead any noble Lord to think that, if this scheme wee not carried out, the Exhibition traffic would result in absolute confusion. What I said was that the Metropolitan Police were of the opinion that considerable traffic difficulties would arise if this scheme were not carried out before the Exhibition. With regard to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who is always interesting on these matters, I would point out that there could not be a traffic tunnel under Parliament Square because the Metropolitan Railway already runs below the Square.


My Lords, before we leave this matter, I have always understood—and I believe it to be true—that the reason the statue of Richard Cœur de Lion was placed where it is was that when the King was dining in Westminster Hall he received a message from the King of France which irritated him very much. He rose and said, "I will never turn my back upon France. I am going straight there." He had the window below which the statue now stands pulled down, and when he set out for France he rode through it. That is the reason why the statue is in that place.


My Lords, if the statue of Richard Coeur de Lion is moved from its present position to Parliament Square there is no possible place for it but in the centre of the Square, because the statue is out of proportion to any of the other statues. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that when the proposal was made the Government ought to have stamped on it. It would be most unsuitable that this one great statue should appear in the centre of Parliament Square, out of proportion to all the statues which are already there.

On Question, Bill read 2ª; reference to a Committee under Standing Order 121 negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of December 8), Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House forthwith.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair] Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

3.13 p.m.

LORD LLEWELLIN moved, after Clause 2 to insert the following new clause:

Restriction on use of Canning enclosure . No part of the Canning enclosure within a distance of 65 feet from the existing main entrance to the Middlesex Guildhall shall be used as a public carriageway.

The noble Lord said: In moving this Amendment, may I say a few words in regard to the part played in this scheme by the Middlesex County Council and also to recall what the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, said on Second Reading. Both the noble Lord and I happened to be members for Middlesex at the time when the County Council acted, and acted with great promptitude, in this matter.

In 1934 the London County Council had given planning permission for a large office building to be erected at the corner of the Canning enclosure, after an existing building had been pulled down, near the building of the Institute of Chartered Surveyors and opposite the Treasury buildings. Hearing of this scheme and being themselves the occupier of the Middlesex Guildhall and near neighbours, and also partly to preserve their own amenity (though I think more largely because they took a wide outlook on what should be the future of Parliament Square), the Middlesex County Council introduced a Private Bill to acquire the site. They obtained powers under that Bill, but found they did not have to effect a compulsory purchase, because they made an agreement with the owners of the site to buy them out. The Council trusted that they would persuade His Majesty's Government, the London County Council and other people interested in Parliament Square to come in with them in the general improvement of the Square. At the start they did not receive much encouragement. though oddly enough they received a grant £50,000 from the Pilgrim Trust! say "oddly enough" because though they are a proper and generous body, they are the most remotely concerned with Parliament Square. In the end a settlement was arrived at whereby the London County Council contributed £50,000; the Westminster City Council £45,000, and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, £10,000. There was the £50,000 from the Pilgrim Trust; the Government contributed £145,000; and the Middlesex County Council contributed £100,000, also paying the interest on the loans on the remaining part of that money over the years in which they had to lay out the purchase price before the other contributions were made.

In 1936, having acquired this site, the Middlesex County Council got into touch with the Ministry of Transport, and the Ministry at that time agreed a new plan which would meet all transport require- meats. It was then of help to the Middlesex County Council to get contributions from others who would be interested in Parliament Square, so they held on until May of this year when, at very short notice, the Council were invited to send a representative to a conference held at the Ministry of Works to meet representatives of the Ministry of Transport, the Commissioner of Police, the London County Council and the Westminster City Council. When they got there the Council found that there was a more or less cut-and-dried scheme, although they were the only people who had made this scheme possible. I should like every noble Lord to get this into his mind: the present proposed alteration of Parliament Square would not have been possible if the Middlesex County Council had not bought the site and prevented the erection of that large office building. If the building had been erected, it would have been necessary to buy it, at a cost which would probably have run into £1,000,000, in order to make possible the present scheme of alteration. Therefore I should have thought that the Middlesex County Council should have been consulted at the very outset. They Were not consulted and, indeed, they have not been listened to at all.

When the Bill eventually came before Parliament the Middlesex County Council submitted a Petition against it. But the promoters of the Bill, rather cunningly, withdrew one clause which, in the opinion of the Select Committee of the House of Commons, was the only clause which gave a proper status to the Middlesex County Council. They were thereby deprived of their status and so precluded from putting their case in detail to the Select Committee. The Middlesex County Council are anxious for this scheme to go through, in broad outline. But the present scheme takes the new carriageway much nearer to the Middlesex Guildhall than the original scheme of 1936, and, in their view, much nearer than is necessary for the improvement of traffic conditions in Parliament Square. After May, they had talks with the Ministry of Transport, the Commissioner of Police, the London County Council and the Westminster City Council. They were all prepared to accept the Middlesex County Council's idea of this road, although it is fair to say that the Com- missioner of Police preferred the scheme which is at present proposed by the Ministry of Works.

The Amendment which I am moving to-day has been put down in a great hurry, and if the wording is not right I would ask your Lordships to excuse any failings. I heard about this only on Friday. I wrote at once to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, and I do not think he could have received my letter until Monday morning. What my Amendment suggests is that this road should be taken back another eight or ten feet from where it is now designed, to the line where it was acceptable to the Ministry of Transport in 1936, and that no pant of the main carriageway to the Middlesex Guildhall shall be used as a public carriage- way—I am not referring, of course, to what I believe is a private road which goes past the front of the Guildhall, giving access into the Guildhall itself. The Amendment refers only to the road carrying the main stream of traffic round that part of the Square.

I feel that this Amendment may be favourably received on several grounds. First, the Middlesex County Council made this scheme possible by putting up the money originally. If they had not done that, back in 1934 or 1935, the road could not be constructed as is now proposed. For that they are entitled to our gratitude, not only in words but also in deeds. Secondly, under the original scheme of 1936, this road was approved by the Ministry of Transport. There are no great objections to it at the moment, except that it is said that it would mean a new layout of the plat A third reason why I feel the Government should accept the Amendment, or give an undertaking for the road to be constructed further back (if the noble Lord could give that undertaking, I would withdraw my Amendment), is that it was in the power of the Middlesex County Council only yesterday to put down a Petition in your Lordships' House, along with that which they put down in the other place. Had they done that, then the ordinary Standing Orders of this House would have meant that there would obviously have to be some days for tie setting up of a Select Committee, and to enable the parties to prepare for it; and in that event this Bill could not possibly have got through your Lordships' House this Session.

In view of the reasonable attitude of the Middlesex County Council, starting in 1935 and extending right down to yesterday, I hope the noble Lord will be prepared either to accept my Amendment or to give an undertaking that this main carriageway will not come nearer than sixty-five feet to the main entrance of the Middlesex Guildhall. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 2, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Llewellin.)


I was pleased to hear the last point mentioned by the noble Lord—namely, that the Middlesex County Council had deliberately refrained from putting in a Petition yesterday, which, as the noble Lord said, would have resulted in the Bill being lost so far as this Session is concerned. It is only a further example of what I referred to as the far-sightedness and public spiritedness of the Middlesex County Council, that while they are (if I may use the word) disgruntled at the present scheme, because of the point which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, mentioned, they are still in favour of the scheme as a whole, and are prepared to give it their support. The noble Lord recalled the early history of the matter which, to my knowledge, as a Middlesex person who has done all his public work in the County of Middlesex, is absolutely correct. In the circumstances, it seemed strange to me—and probably it seemed strange to the noble Lord, as an exMiddlesex M.P.—that when a matter like this came before the other place no Middlesex Member of Parliament took part in the debate, with the exception, I think, of the Member for Twickenham, who did not refer to the position of Middlesex at all. If I may put it another way, no Middlesex Member of Parliament referred to the position of the Middlesex County Council in this connection. There might have been good reason for that, in that a Petition was about to be launched. Perhaps they held back in those circumstances. As the noble Lord has said, the Petition was dismissed.


For lack of status.


Yes. With regard to the point made by the noble Lord, that the Middlesex County Council have not been fully consulted throughout, all I can do (I have been away from my office for some time) is to express my deep regret that such a thing should have happened, although I have made inquiries and no one knows why any discontent should exist on that score. Certainly, no discourtesy was intended, and those who know the Ministry of Works will know perfectly well that, especially so far as important public bodies like the Middlesex County Council are concerned, the Ministry would not be guilty of discourtesy.

This is not a question of gratitude for what the Middlesex County Council have done—we have already expressed that. I propose to tell the Committee what will be the consequences of accepting this Amendment, and to let your Lordships decide.


It will be a free vote?


This Amendment would make it quite impossible to carry out the scheme as at present planned. It is in effect a negation of the scheme as a whole, and cannot be accepted. The effect of building the road at a distance of sixty-five feet would be to destroy most, if not all, of the trees which it is proposed to retain. It would reduce the value from the point of view of traffic improvement, and would require new negotiations with the consultant architect, the Royal Fine Art Commission, the Metropolitan Police, the Ministry of Transport, the London County Council and the Westminster City Council. From the point of view of time alone, it would be quite impossible to carry out these negotiations and still complete the improvements scheme before the Festival of Britain.

The effect of accepting the noble Lord's amendment would he to set back the western boundary of the new road by about nine feet. This would involve narrowing the road, or setting the whole road in its present alignment back nine feet, or re-aligning the road at an angle with the southern end nine feet farther east, the northern end remaining where it is. The first alternative—that is to say, the narrowing of the road—would be wholly unacceptable to the police and the Ministry of Transport on traffic grounds. The second alternative would bring the line of statues within seven feet of the kerb, and to set the statues farther to the east would bring them right under the trees. This would probably involve the complete redesigning of the Square. Added to this, the large tree at the southern end, which balances the corresponding tree on the opposite side of the road, and another large tree at the northern end, would have to be removed. The other trees would be brought within thirteen feet to seventeen feet of the road. The cutting of the tree roots which would result would seriously damage them and might even make them dangerous. The third course would also result in the loss of the tree at the southern end, and cause damage to the roots of the other trees. In addition, the Square would cease to be a rectangle and the western boundary would cease to be parallel to the paved path which is sited axially on the northern door of the Abbey, and as under the second alternative it would involve the redesigning of the Square.

The noble Lord has not mentioned the point that the Middlesex County Council have been pressing throughout—it was, I thought, one of their most important points—namely, the noise which would be caused. In that regard, I am advised that the acoustic experts who have examined this problem state the difference in the volume of sound between the entrance to the Guildhall and the present road on the one hand and the road in the new position on the other, would be only just perceptible. For those reasons, I must repeat that, as advised at present, I am not prepared to accept the noble Lord's Amendment, and the responsibility for doing so must rest with the House as a whole, with the consequence which will arise therefrom.

3.34 p.m.


I suppose, we all want to reach a satisfactory solution to this problem, which is obviously a very complicated one. The noble Lord who has just spoken gave us a full account of the difficulties of almost any solution, and certainly of the solution which we have suggested. So far as I was concerned, he gave us almost too full an account, and I found myself utterly bewildered as to what from the point of view of the Ministry of Works, would be the effect of the proposal which we put forward.


The complete redesigning of the whole scheme.


He gave us an extremely interesting account of what the effect would be, but it was impossible, without a detailed map in one's hand, to visualise the tenor of his argument. The point which surprises me, and which I think must have struck other noble Lords listening to this debate, is this: Why is it vital to have this alteration made for the Festival of Britain? London has gone on a very long time without it, and the Festival of Britain—although we all hope it will he an immense success—is not going to make that astonishing difference which makes this alteration essential at the present moment. If I may say so, I feel that the Government are to blame in having brought this question up at such a very late moment. My noble friend Lord Llewellin told the House this aftrnoon—and it was not denied by the Minister—that the decision between the police, the Ministry and everybody else was taken as far back as May, at, a time when we were occupied, in my view far too much, with the nationalisation of steel Surely one day might have been allotted by the Government to enable Parliament to understand what was their intention in regard to this particular scheme.

I would suggest that if there are these difficulties, it would be far better to delay this Bill—I know we have given it a Second Reading—in order that the Government may consider further whether it is vital to have this carried out before the Festival of Britain. My inclination would be to advise my noble friend Lord Llewellin to press his Amendment, not with a view necessarily to having it in the Bill as a permanency, but to create a situation in which the Government will have to think again. The London County Council, who after all have a considerable say in this matter, are deeply worried about the matter, and if this Amendment were passed and we could have further negotiations to see whether some solution acceptable to all parties could be found something would be gained. If it turns cut that the problem is too intractable to be dealt with immediately, then I would suggest that it would be better to postpone it and try to arrive at a proper solution.

This is a redesigning of what is really the hub of the Empire. It is an important matter, and I do not like, as I am sure other noble Lords do not like, its being hustled through. Therefore, I suggest that your Lordships should pass this Amendment, and then, if the Government think that it is quite impracticable, they should discuss with the other bodies concerned some alternative solution which would be satisfactory to everybody. If they cannot find that solution, then I suggest it is better to postpone the matter until we can give ourselves time to look at something which, after all, we hope will last for a great many years.


May I add a word, to tell the noble Marquess that only yesterday a discussion of some length took place between representatives of the Middlesex County Council and my right honourable friend the Minister of Works, and no agreement was reached at that discussion. I have no authority at all to accept this Amendment, for the reasons which I have given to the House. They may be complicated, but I would sum them up in two sentences: first, it means the complete redesigning of the whole scheme, and, secondly—the reason I gave on Second Reading —the police feel that unless the scheme can be carried out before the Festival of Britain it will be very difficult to hold the Festival on the South Bank site. For those reasons, I have no power to accept the Amendment.


The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, mentioned that it would make a complete redesigning of the scheme necessary, but I am given to understand—and I believe my information is correct—that the Middlesex County Council's engineering adviser is definitely of the opinion that if my noble friend's Amendment were passed it would have little effect on the plans already prepared, and would cause very little delay. It seems to me that there is a definite conflict of practical views on this, which gives all the more justification for the matter to be reconsidered later.


The noble Lord mentioned a conference which took place yesterday. Can he tell the House whether at that conference the Middlesex County Council representatives conceded the position which the noble Lord has outlined to-day: the absolute impossibility of their point of view being met without a re-designing of the whole scheme. Did the Middlesex County Council concede that yesterday or did they not?


Nobody conceded anything.


But did the Middlesex County Council agree that the whole scheme needed redesigning in the way the noble Lord has outlined to-day?


No; there was no agreement on the part of the Middlesex County Council. But I am not representing the Middlesex County Council, and it is for them to say what their attitude is on that point. I believe that if their idea were adopted some trees would have to be sacrificed; but I do not want to commit myself.


I do not feel at all satisfied with what the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, has said. In regard to these trees I am told that the position is that, until the digging of the foundations of the new road is begun, nobody knows what roots of what trees are likely to be found, and what trees may ultimately have to come down. It is a pity that the Committee cannot see this plan which I have in my hand. The present scheme, which means going back only sixty-six feet, makes the road go only about four feet nearer to these trees. That is far enough away from the trees, and it would not be necessary to take down a single extra tree by altering the plan in that regard. It is news to me that the statues were to be placed on that particular side of the trees. That would mean that these statues, representing former Prime Ministers, would be turning their backs on the House in which their subjects were great orators. I should have thought that that was wrong, and that the statues ought to be on the other side of the Square, facing the Houses of Parliament. I think the noble Lord's explanation is highly unsatisfactory, and I ask the House to support me in this Amendment.

On Question, Whether the proposed new clause be there inserted?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 57; Not-Contents, 28.

Reading, M. Swinton, V. Hawke, L.
Salisbury, M. Templewood, V. Kenilworth, L.
Llewellin, L. [Teller.]
Carlisle, E. Lichfield, L. Bp. Lloyd, L.
Fortescue, E. Luke, L.
Howe, E. Ailwyn, L. Mancroft, L.
Iddesleigh, E. Amulree, L. Mendip, L. (V. Clifden.)
Lindsay, E. Baden-Powell, L. Milverton, L.
Macclesfield, E. Balfour of Inchrye, L. Monson, L.
Munster, E. Blackford, L. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Perth, E. Brassey of Apethorpe, L. Newall, L.
Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.) Broughshane, L. OHagan, L.
Carrington, L. Polwarth, L.
Allenby, V. Charnwood, L. Rochdale, L. [Teller.]
Elibank, V. Cherwell, L. Rockley, L.
Hailsham, V. De L'IsIe and Dudley, L. Schuster, L.
Long, V. Denham, L. Stanmore, L.
Marchwood, V. Derwent, L. Waleran, L.
Mersey, V, Gifford, L, Webb-Johnson, L.
Monsell, V. Hampton, L. Wolverton, L.
Simon, V.
Jowitt, V. (L. Chancellor.) Calverley, L. Marley, L.
Chorley, L. [Teller.] Morrison, L.
Addison, V. (L. Privy Seal.) Crook, L. Mottistone, L.
Darwen, L. Noel-Buxton, L.
Hall, V. Hare, L. (E. Listowel.) Pakenham, L.
Stansgate, V. Henderson, L. Pethick-Lawrence, L.
Holden, L. Rea, L.
Amwell, L. Kershaw, L. [Teller.] Rochester, L.
Archibald, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Shepherd, L.
Badeley, L. Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, L. Winster, L.
Bingham, L. (E. Lucan.)

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

Clause 3:

Supplementary provisions as respects the new gardens

3. —(1) The Minister may remove the memorial fountain near the north-east corner of the Canning enclosure and any of the statues in the existing garden in the centre of Parliament Square or in the Canning enclosure, and shall re-erect such of the said statues as are removed by him either in the new central garden or in the new west garden.

3.50 p.m.

VISCOUNT SIMON moved, in subsection (1) after "by him" to insert" of the memorial fountain if removed."

The noble and learned Viscount said: I rise to move an Amendment which is down on the Marshalled List in the names, not only of myself but also of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, and the noble Lord, Lord Winster, so that I may fairly claim that this Amendment has prominent support from all sections of the House. Clause 3 of the Bill is a clause which makes a remarkable distinction. It begins by authorising the Minister of Works, in carrying out this important scheme in Parliament Square, to remove the memorial Fountain … and any of the statues. It then goes on to say that the Minister shall re-erect such of the said statues as are removed by him either in the new central garden or in the new west garden. Your Lordships, therefore, see that in fact, whether or not it was intended, the clause draws a distinction. Whereas we are invited to say by Statute that the Minister must put back into Parliament Square the statues the position of which may be shifted, as regards this Memorial Fountain, about which I shall say more in a moment, we are invited to give the Minister the right to remove it, and Parliament is not expected to include in the Bill any provision or direction of any kind as to what he is to do with it. I do not suspect the Minister of intending to sell it as rubbish. No doubt, what is contemplated is an executive act by which this memorial shall be put somewhere else. Where, according to this Bill, is not for Parliament to decide. We are to leave the whole thing to the discretion of the Minister.

I think that is a significant and, as it seems to me, a very unfortunate way in which to word the clause. Therefore, the noble Lords who have been moving in this matter—and I believe I am largely supported by other noble Lords—desire to insert in Clause 3 words which will require the Minister to deal with this Memorial Fountain as the statues are dealt with—that is to say, if its position be moved. In point of fact I think it will be agreed that it ought to be moved because, if the roadways are to be improved it is necessary to round off the corner where it now stands, and therefore it would have to he shifted. But the important questions for your Lordships—and I deem them very important—are these: First, is it right that we should leave in the hands of the Minister and his officials the destiny of this Memorial Fountain? Secondly, is it not rather the duty of Parliament itself to take the decision as to whether or not it should be replaced in Parliament Square? I must be forgiven if I spend a few minutes in reminding your Lordships what this Memorial Fountain represents. The noble Lord in charge of the Bill earlier this afternoon described it as the Buxton Memorial Fountain. It does sometimes go by that name, but in fact it is the memorial put up in Parliament Square to the efforts and the ultimate success of a body of British statesmen who at length succeeded in carrying an Act of Parliament which abolished slavery under the British flag. As such, it appears to me to be exactly the sort of memorial which ought to be found in Parliament Square—the place which, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said just now, is really for this purpose the hub of the Empire.

I hope I shall be forgiven if I remind your Lordships for a few minutes of the outline of a piece of history. I would fain believe that the language of Clause 3 may be due to an oversight on the part of those who drafted it. If it is not, I am afraid I must say that I feel that those who are responsible for its present form have completely overlooked the pre-eminent importance of the Parliamentary efforts which this monu ment records. Wilberforce and his colleague Clarkson carried on a campaign against the slave trade, in the face of the bitterest opposition, for a whole generation. At length, the abolition of the slave trade was carried in the year 1807. From that time forward, slave trading was a crime. But that Act did not in the least release the hundreds of thousands of slaves claimed to be the property of their masters in various British Colonies, and from 1807 until 1833 the campaign was carried on to establish what I see in a letter printed in The Times to-day is called "the first and greatest of human rights"—namely, that in the British Empire, under the British Crown, slavery, the ownership of one man as a piece of property by another, cannot and shall not exist.

Nobody who has the slightest regard to our historical traditions and to the great achievements of our British Parliament ought ever to forget the magnificence and the effect of that sustained effort It was most bitterly opposed, Parliament after Parliament, Session after Session, year after year. Wilberforce, who had been the principal author of the Act of 1807 which abolished the slave trade, fell ill. He actually retired because of ill-health in 1825, and when he did so he handed over the second part of his work—the greater part, the final part, the part which meant the abolition of slavery in British Colonies—to his colleague, Sir Thomas Powell Buxton. But he was not the only person who carried on the campaign. I have recently re-read a few of Buxton's speeches, and they are a magnificent example of sustained argument. He was assisted by people like Lord Brougham and Mr. Clarkson. He was backed by Denman, an ancestor of one of my noble friends here: by Lushington, who was in his day a very famous Member of Parliament and a great international lawyer and by Mackintosh, who did so much to reform our institutions in many directions.

At length, after the carriage of the first Reform Bill, in the year 1833, the Statute abolishing slavery was carried through both Houses of Parliament. At midnight on July 31, 1834, 800,000 slaves, who until that moment were lawfully owned by other people in the territories over which the Sovereign presided, were freed. Beyond all question, that is one of the greatest Parliamentary events in the whole of our history. This monument in Parliament Square records it. And now we are asked to accept Clause 3 which, as it stands, says: "If you want to remove the statue of Sir Robert Peel or of Mr. Disraeli you must put it back in the Square. But if it is a question of this monument to the statesmen who for so long struggled to abolish slavery in the British Commonwealth, well, we will leave it to the Minister of Works to remove it and to decide what is to be done with it."

I do not wish to delay the Committee, but I venture to put this side of the argument in two quotations. The historian Lecky, who was a fairly cool judge of cur historic affairs, has written of the story of Parliament's abolition of slavery, that it may be regarded as among the three or four perfectly virtuous acts recorded in the history of nations. In that connection I would remind the Committee that Parliament, in order to carry through the release of these slaves, voted a sum of no less than £20,000,000, found by the British taxpayer, in order to compensate existing slave-owners. It was the most wonderful, the most disinterested and virtuous act that you can imagine, for £20,000,000 at that time was one-third of the whole of the national revenue.

I venture to offer one other quotation, and then I will not further embroider the theme, which I must confess moves me as I think it ought to move everybody who is sincerely interested in the development of Human Rights. The other quotation is from a Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery, the father of the present Earl. Lord Rosebery wrote: This country, when it stands before history, will stand when all else has passed away, not by her fleets and her armies and her corn coerce, but by the heroic, self-denying exertions which she has made to put down this iniquitous slave traffic. Are we in this House really going to say: "Let us leave it to the Minister of Works to remove this monument. We are not concerned in our Act of Parliament with what he does with it"? That appears to me, especially in contrast with the reference to the statues, to be a monstrous proposal. Therefore, I submit to the Committee (and shall be very willing to accept their decision) that we ought to require that this monument should be, perhaps not in the same place, but somewhere, restored to Parliament Square.

I am authorised by my noble friend, Lord Hailey, who is detained elsewhere, but may get here before this debate finishes, with his quite exceptional knowledge of Africa and of the tribes of Africa—and the Committee know that in the last few years he has devoted himself to a study of the subject—to say that he cannot exaggerate the importance which he attaches to securing that here, in the huh of the Empire, we do retain a monument so significant in the history of the influence of our Parliament on the natives of Africa. I venture to think that it would be very odd if we, by Statute, should require the statue of Abraham Lincoln to be preserved in Parliament Square, but should be indifferent to Parliament giving directions as to this monument to a far greater, because a far earlier, achievement, thirty years before, in the face of every sort of resistance and obstacle. Wilberforce was the abolitionist of the slave trade. Buxton and his friends were the emancipators who succeeded in 1833.

I know that what I am saying now is felt by many members of the House, one of whom has written to me regretting very much that he cannot be here to-day —namely, Viscount Cecil. For many years he took a very important part at Geneva in endeavouring to get rid of the remains of slavery in this world. He writes to me to say how warmly he supports this proposal, to which indeed he has put his name, and how he wishes he could come and speak in the debate this afternoon. I must say that I think those who are prepared to accept this clause as it stands, with this comparatively casual treatment of this monument as compared with the treatment of these statues, show a very poor sense of the importance of our Parliamentary history. When, as many of your Lordships do from time to time, I take visitors from abroad or from the Commonwealth round our precincts, I do not want to feel that they can go there and admire the statue of Mr. Abraham Lincoln, the emancipator of the slaves in the United States, and that we have said to the Minister of Works, "As for this other monument of British emancipators, you may deal with it as you and your advisers think fit."

I cannot see the slightest indication that His Majesty's Government have ever considered this matter from what I may call the historic point of view. I have no doubt they have had opinions that are critical of the æsthetic merits of this fountain. On that matter opinions will differ. In fact, I notice that in the House of Commons opinions did differ. One, I think well-instructed, member of the Labour Party expressed an emphatic view that it was a good example of a particular style of architecture, and another Member used equally positive language the other way. But I would just make this observation, without claiming to be an authority on such matters, though I take a great interest in them. This particular fountain —as is stated in the letter from Lord Macmillan which appears in The Times this morning—is an example of what is sometimes called "Victorian Gothic." If you want another one, go to Oxford and look at the Museum there which was built under the inspiration of Ruskin, and which some people criticise very severely whilst others admire it. If I may say so respectfully, do not let us be too sure that we who live now, even the Fine Art Commission, necessarily express the last word in taste in matters of art.

I would remind your Lordships that the early English style and the Decorated style which are so splendidly exemplified in our old cathedrals were called "Gothic" styles, and when that epithet was introduced, it implied that it was barbaric. Where is the man of culture who will not say to-day that he greatly admires the Gothic style—the style of Salisbury Cathedral—and that he thinks it attractive. "Gothic" was the adjective first attached to that kind or style of architecture, in derision. It meant that it was a barbaric style, just as the adjective gothique in French to-day means barbarous and uncultivated—and just as we used to call the Germans "Huns." So, judgments change, and while I am not claiming more for this memorial than many people think it deserves, I submit that in the circumstances the historical aspects of this question are far more important that any judgment anyone may form now on æsthetic grounds.

What is proposed to be done? My noble friend, Lord Morrison, who is always so reasonable in these matters, tells me there is only the intention to put this memorial up somewhere else. I submit to the Committee that that is really not good enough. The question is: Is not this a matter for Parliament to decide? We are going to decide about the putting up of the statues in Parliament Square. Are we justified in saying that even the most accomplished of Ministers —I shall say nothing reflecting upon Mr. Key's historical appreciations—and his officials should be left to decide what should be done? I do not think that they should. Therefore my proposal is that we should insert this Amendment in the Bill. It seems to me to be utterly wrong that Parliament should leave the destiny of this memorial in the hands of a departmental Minister. It ought to be decided by Parliament. So far as I can see, there is no reason why it should not be dealt with in the same way as the statues of London. If there is any other suggestion, I shall be glad to hear it. I urge upon the Committee that it is wrong for us to leave the destiny of this particular memorial to the discretion, subject to the advice which is received by him, of the Minister of Works, whoever he may be.

I am the last to wish to quarrel about this business, and I add only this. I feel warmly about this question, as I know many others do. If it is thought that there is some other place close by which could equally well be used, I submit to the Committee that the decision ought not to be the decision of the Minister. It ought to be the decision of Parliament, and I should be quite willing to see added to my Amendment words like these: provided that if another site for the memorial fountain is agreed by Resolution of each House of Parliament within the next three months the memorial fountain should be re-erected on such site. My point is that this question should be decided by Parliament. I think that we tend in these days rather too much to get into the habit of thinking: "Oh, leave it to the Minister. The Executive will decide this. Parliament need not do more than give him discretion." I am not prepared to do that in this case. I hope that there will be other noble Lords who will join me and support this Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 30, after ("by him") insert ("and the memorial fountain if removed").—(Viscount Simon.)

4.15 p.m.


I think we owe a debt to the noble and learned Viscount who has just moved this Amendment, for I have some suspicion that had it not been for his vigilance the Bill might have gone through in the form in which it has been presented to the Committee. That, I think, in the opinion of many of your Lordships would have been extremely regrettable. From the aesthetic point of view, we may not all be struck with admiration for this particular memorial, but that is not the beginning and end of the matter. It may well be that if in place of a derided piece of Victoria masonry there were put there the latest creation of a sculptor of to-day that, in its turn, might not receive universal admiration, either from your Lordships or from the populace at large. When the Government propose—as it is proposed in this Bill—to replace in position statues which are to be moved, I wonder whether they are being put back on the instructions of the Royal Fine Art Commission because of their intrinsic beauty or because of their historical interest. But if it he, as I fear, having gazed upon them, largely for their historical interest, I can see little distinction in principle between them and the fountain which it is now proposed to cast into oblivion.

We have no indication where, if anywhere, it is proposed to re-erect this fountain. I submit, following the noble and learned Viscount, that the place for a memorial which commemorates so notable a chapter in the history of this country ought not to be left to the sole discretion of a Minister and ought not to be far removed from the precincts of Parliament. At this moment we, like people in many other countries of the world, and indeed those in the United Nations, are much concerned with a Charter of Human Rights. There can be no greater starting point for the assertion of the principle of human rights than the record of the work which was achieved by Buxton and his colleagues, whose memory is marked by this fountain which it is proposed to remove to some unknown destination. I hope the Minister will tell your Lordships that he is prepared to accept the learned and noble Viscount's Amendment; and if he is not prepared to take that course I hope the Committee will consider very carefully what action they propose to take upon his refusal.

4.19 p.m.


I wish strongly to support the opinions which have been expressed with such force and such feeling by the noble and learned Viscount. I entirely agree with the noble Marquess who has just spoken that we owe a great debt to the noble and learned Viscount for having perceived this matter which, but for his vigilance, might easily have gone unnoticed. I can only think that it is by an oversight that specific provision for this memorial has not been included in Clause 3 of the Bill. Really, if it were not an oversight it would indicate an ignorance of history and an insensitivity to history which I should be sorry to ascribe to anyone. We have many statues in London, many of them of mediocre men, and in one instance, of a rather vicious man, and I think we should take care before we erect any more statues. According to my reading of history, Richard Cœur de Lion was a thoroughly bad King. It. was said of him that he never lost a battle and never won a campaign, and I think he was absent from this country for all but a few weeks of his reign. I heard far more about Richard Cur de Lion while in Cyprus than I have ever heard about him in this country. This memorial is not a statue. It is a memorial fountain which commemorates a noble deed, the reversal of a system which was very negation of humanity. It is associated with the name of a great man, the name of Fowell Buxton, and with the names of the Gurneys, the Hoares, the Barclays—names which have always been honourably associated with philanthrophy and with the ideals of re form and humanity. It seems to me an extraordinary instance of our apathy to the part we have played in these questions that this Bill should provide specifically for the re-siting of the statue of Lincoln and forget the man whose act preceded the action of Lincoln.

Something has been said about the artistic merits or demerits of this memorial. I trust that this fountain will not he merely removed to a site in Parliament Square. I hope something may be done to set it off and give it more importance than it has to-day. Perhaps a screen could be placed behind it; perhaps an architect could be consulted about how to set it off. When we reflect on the tortures which the slaves suffered from thirst during their passage from Africa and the torments of thirst they suffered on the plantations in their slavery, I think we would agree that there could be no more appropriate memorial to the act of Fowell Buxton than the erection of a fountain of running water. I trust that this memorial will find its appropriate place in Parliament Square in memory of a great deed of statesmanship and of a great man.

4.23 p.m.


I rise to my feet not because there is anything special to be said on behalf of those who sit on these Benches, though I might say that we are fully alive to the immensity of the moral achievement which is commemorated by this fountain. Nor have I anything to add to what has been said so eloquently by the three noble Lords who have spoken. I venture to speak because, with one other in your Lordships' House, my noble friend Lord Templewood, I have a family concern in this question. I cannot keep silent here, because I am a great-grandson of Elizabeth Fry and therefore mixed up with that clan of Buxtons and Barclays and Hoares and Gurneys to which kind reference has already been made. Families and relatives have a natural dislike to having their tombstones and memorials moved about hither and thither. I have had no opportunity to consult large numbers of the clan who live in East Anglia, and other parts of the country, and indeed, all over the world, but I feel sure they will agree with me that nothing could be less desirable or more untimely and unsuitable than to move this monument. I am sure I am speaking for all of them when I say that we should intensely dislike the idea of this interesting and highly significant memorial being carted off to some obscure spot in this Metropolis. I speak for these family reasons only, and I do not attempt to add anything. I hope that the Amendment will be passed.


My Lords, I should like strongly to support the Amendment. I should also like to point out that if the Committee pass it, it will have a marked effect on Clause 3 because it will mean that the whole layout of the statuary in Parliament Square as now planned will have to be replanned. I personally should welcome that—for one reason. It occurred to me during the Second Reading, and it strikes me even more forcibly now, having listened to the speeches just made, that we have to decide first, what is to be the nature of the equestrian statue, which will be the most important statue in the square. We must first decide whether it should be, for instance, Richard Coeur de Lion, or as my noble friend Lord Iddesleigh suggested, the Duke of Wellington or anybody else. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, for explaining to the House why Richard Cœur de Lion was placed here, and obviously he should stay. I was always struck by the fact that the only statues in the immediate curtilage of the Houses of Parliament were those of Oliver Cromwell, who spent the whole of his time trying to abolish Parliament, and of Richard Coeur de Lion, who spent the whole of his time trying to avoid summoning Parliament. Suppose that it is to be the statue of Richard Coeur de Lion. Obviously, for an equestrian statue of that size the layout of the other statues, garden and paths would have to be different, from that required for, say, the statue of the Duke of Wellington. Or suppose that a new statue were proposed —for instance, that of the same size as George III in Cockspur Street—that again, would throw out the whole balance of the Square. Until the Royal Fine Art Commission have decided what is suitable, it will be extremely difficult to plan where the fountain and other statues should be. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, to encourage the Fine Art Commission to think this matter out quickly and carefully.


Like the noble Lord, Lord Winster, I have served as a proconsul in a distant province of the British Empire. I can imagine nothing that would more profoundly shock the people of all classes and all political Parties in the Dominion of New Zealand than if Clause 3 of this Bill were allowed to stand as it is. There is no country in the whole world where the people glory in the freedom of the human race to such an extent as they do in New Zealand. They have put their own native people in a position of equality with the white man to a greater degree and in a more emphatic sense than any other people in the world. I am certain that if, after this discussion, it were to go out that the memorial to Fowell Buxton, one of the great English champions of freedom, was to he removed from the place where alone it ought to be, in the precincts of this Parliament, it would shock the whole of that nation which is so loyal to the British Constitution and for whom we have such a profound regard.

4.30 p.m.


At the risk of losing some of the friends I have in this House, I want to begin by saying that never in the short period during which I have been a member of your Lordships' House have I heard a case so over-stated as this has been to-day. Noble Lords who have spoken so eloquently have a good case, but there is no reason for over-stating it. What is the picture now in the minds of noble Lords who have not partaken in this debate? It is a picture of the abolition of slavery: of a great debate having taken place in the Houses of Parliament, with a resolution moved that a public statue be erected in Parliament Square to the people who were concerned in that abolition, and now many years afterwards a dastardly Government coming along and suggesting the upsetting of that position.



But what are the facts? I have spent a good deal of time on this question. I have even taken the trouble to go through correspondence that passed during the first ten years. I am going to read to your Lordships the letter which initiated this matter. It did not come from any persons we are now hailing as people to whom the country has been paying tribute even since for abolishing slavery. It came from a body called The Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountains Association. A gentleman called Mr. Wakefield, who was probably the Secretary of that Association, wrote a letter on November 16, 1859. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, pictured a great event, one of the greatest in the history of the world, taking place on July 3, 1834. It was some time after that, in 1859, that this gentleman wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Works of that time. The letter says: Sir, I beg to request on behalf of this Association "— that is, The Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountains Association— the liberty of erecting a costly and handsome fountain in Palace Yard, or some other site contiguous thereto, over which I am informed you have jurisdiction. The Association will feel much obliged if you will see the propriety of permitting the erection of a drinking fountain in this instance. There are few localities more in need of a fountain and few sites more adapted to one. Here is an extract which shows that even in those days a class war existed: Though it may be difficult for the rich to fully appreciate the extremity of the want which these fountains supply, and the great boon they confer on the poor, yet the Association beg to refer to any of the fountains which they have erected in the leading thoroughfares as evidence of the extent to which these fountains are used by the poor. Awaiting the favour of an early reply, I have the honour to be, Sir.

Your obedient servant,

E. T. Wakefield."

That is the first announcement. As your Lordships will now see, instead of there being a great debate and decision by Parliament to erect a memorial—


Nobody said there was.


I am saying that that is the impression created.


No, not at all.


As I say, I have been through the correspondence that passed during the first ten years (all the correspondence is still in existence), and in that correspondence there is no mention made of the abolition of the slave trade. I mention that to bring us back to a sense of proportiom of what we are discussing.


Was the monument erected before it was known that it was to be a memorial to the abolitionists?


I have been unable to find out from the correspondence whether it was known what inscription would appear on the fountain beforehand. Nor have I been able to ascertain whether there was any great ceremonial opening of the fountain. I do know there was some ceremony several years later. The inscription that is on the fountain now is not the same as was originally there, although it may be that the inscription did not last and was repeated in a new form later on.

I want to deal with this question, first from the æSthetic, secondly from the utilitarian (it is a drinking fountain, and it was obviously intended for that purpose), and thirdly from the historical point of view. With regard to the historical point of view, the noble and learned Viscount referred to speeches made in the House of Commons on this point. One of them I thought was a particularly well-informed speech by a Labour Member in favour of the retention of the fountain. The other speech was delivered by a Conservative Member who was formerly a mayor of Westminster and who certainly ought to know something about it. The Labour Member described the fountain as: a structure which is of the quintessence of Victorian design, which fits admirably into its surroundings and is extremely representative of its time. The Conservative Member for Twickenham, the ex-mayor of Westminster, expressed entire satisfaction that the Bill makes no provision at all for the re-erection of the Buxton Memorial Fountain which has no artistic merit whatever. I am very glad it is to he removed from the square. I hope it will be destroyed unless somebody comes forward with an offer to take it away and re-erect it somewhere else. I merely mention those two speeches to show that opinion is not unanimous from the esthetic point of view. I would say that the fountain—perhaps the majority of your Lordships would agree with this —can he described as a piece of distinctive architecture.

This new plan for the Square is not merely the result of traffic experts' designs for the roadway, with the intervening space filled with grass and pavements; it is, in fact, a piece of design executed by an eminent architect, which has been approved by the Fine Art Commission and the architectural profession generally. To place anywhere in this design a monument so architecturally distinctive as the Buxton Fountain would be to ruin completely the whole of the present scheme. A special setting would have to be created for it, and, in fact, a new scheme designed. The urgency of the reconstruction of the Square has already been stressed, and no revised scheme could be produced in time for the Festival of Britain in 1951. It is going to be rather difficult now, in any case, to complete the scheme by that time.

I have already read the letter which initiated this scheme. In defiance of the strong language used in another place by an ex-mayor of Westminster, I can state, quite definitely, that it is not, and never has been, the policy of the Ministry of Works to destroy this monument, or even to remove it from what has been described by a gentleman in The Times this morning as the symbolic heart of the Empire. That is a specific and clear statement. Whatever its origin, if noble Lords insist that the fountain is of great historical importance—as they have done, and which I have suggested is doubtful—I am prepared to meet them and put forward two alternative proposals for the new siting of the fountain, both of which appear to me to meet the original request of the Association. The first is that the fountain might be re-erected in Victoria Tower Gardens. A new power house is now being built at the end of your Lordships' House, and when the Victoria Tower Gardens are cleared up there will be room for the fountain there. I suggest that, from the point of view of utility alone, apart from anything else, this would he a very suitable place. Those of your Lordships who have been about this neighbourhood for a good time will have seen the thousands of children who come down to see the Houses of Parliament, and will have been alarmed at the danger to these children in crossing one of the busiest thoroughfares in London, in order to get to a fountain. If the fountain were re-erected in Victoria Tower Gardens, they would be able to keep on the same side of the road.


Has the London County Council been consulted about the proposal to re-erect the monument in Victoria Tower Gardens? Surely it would be within the discretion of the London County Council whether that might be done or not.


I was putting forward two suggestions, and then I was going to say that both of them would be subject to the consent of the parties concerned, and also of the Fine Art Commission. The second suggestion I was going to make is that it should be re-erected on the north-east corner of St. Margaret's Churchyard, which may be said to be actually in Parliament Square. As I have already said, the first of these sites appears to have the practical advantage that it can be reached by school children visiting the Houses of Parliament without crossing the road, and is in surroundings where children might eat the lunches which they usually bring with them.


I should like to be clear whether the noble Lord has the authority to make this particular proposal, which I understand is for a site immediately in front of St. Margaret's Church I am not clear whether he is simply throwing it out as a possibility, or whether he has the authority of those concerned.


If I had not the authority, I would not put it forward. I am authorised by the Minister himself to put forward these two alternative suggestions, subject to both being submitted to the Royal Fine Art Commission. They have been consulted at every stage, and I think the majority of your Lordships' House would desire that they should be consulted. Subject, therefore, to consultation with the Royal Fine Art Commission, the Ministry are prepared to agree that this statue should be re-erected either in the Victoria Tower Gardens or in the north-east corner of St. Margaret's Churchyard, which would be more suitable than the Square. It has to be removed from where it is because the new road is going right through where it stands.


As my noble friend Lord Simon suggested, as these alternatives are now thrown at us, Parliament should approve the site. I think the fountain is revoltingly ugly, and I should not like to see it in front of a church. If we have to preserve historic continuity, surely we should have some chance of looking at the site. That would be met if there were an Amendment that Parliament was to approve where the fountain was to go.


My difficulty is that the noble Viscount is so quick, and I am so slow. I was about to say that the reason why I put forward these two suggestions—and here perhaps I misled the noble Lord, Lord Winster—was that both these sites are Crown properties. But in the event of the Royal Fine Art Commission agreeing with the Ministry, the Minister would then come before Parliament and seek the consent of Parliament to either of these positions A difficulty emerges here, Which I think the noble Viscount will see at once. Obviously before this can be done there will be a General Election and a new Government. Therefore, it is difficult for the Minister or for me, in my present capacity, to commit a Minister of Works of a new Government I do not know how to get over that difficulty, but I am prepared to give the definite assurance that so far as the Ministry of Works are concerned—


Would not a possible way out be to accept the noble Viscount's Amendment? It would then be in the Bill and, in the event of any Government wishing to set up this monument in any area outside Parliament Square, it would be dependent upon a Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. It would bind any Minister of any Government after a General Election. That seems to me to be the simplest way out; and since the Minister of Works and the Government, if they are returned at the General Election, are prepared in any case to consult Parliament I cannot see that they can have any objection to it.


It is difficult to deal with this kind of matter on the spur of the moment, and the only suggestion I can make—perhaps the noble Viscount may be willing to think it over—is that we postpone the Report stage of the Bill in order that the best way may be found of doing what the noble Viscount is putting forward. Perhaps he will inform me whether it is his intention to insist that the fountain should be erected in that particular Square or whether it should be erected in what is described as "the symbolic heart of the Empire."


I would like to make it plain to the noble Lord and to the Committee what I suggest. The Amendment which I, together with other noble Lords, put down provides that this memorial shall be re-erected in Parliament Square. I appreciate that the suggestion may be made that it should be put in some adjoining area. Therefore, I am quite prepared to move my Amendment with the additional words I read out in my, speech: Provided that if another site for the Memorial Fountain is agreed on by Resolution of each House of Parliament within the next three months the Memorial Fountain shall be re-erected on such site. I am saying that only because I understand that the Festival of Britain requires it to be done rapidly. If it is four months, I am willing to agree. I cannot agree that it is necessary within the next forty-eight hours.


I think we could accept the Amendment if the noble and learned Viscount would delete "within the next three months."


I am sorry to interpose again, but I think I am invited to do so. My idea was that the position in which this memorial was to be put should be decided by Parliament, and not by a departmental Minister. That is my respectful submission. If it be the case that there is a better place than what is known as Parliament Square in which to place the fountain, I am not saying that that is not possible. But I respectfully submit to the Minister and to the Committee that we ought to say that if it is not to be put in Parliament Square then it ought to be put in a place which is in accordance with a Resolution of each House of Parliament. The only reason I inserted the words "within the next three months" was because I understood this was regarded as pressing, and I did not want to hold up anything. But in any event I cannot believe that the re-erection of this memorial is going to take place in the next three months.


Perhaps the noble and learned Viscount would read his Amendment.


I am proposing that we should amend line 31 by adding these words: Provided that if another site for the Memorial Fountain is agreed on by Resolution of each House of Parliament within the next three months the Memorial Fountain shall be re-erected on such site. The effect of that would be that if the Minister of Works moves the present position of the memorial—which I know will probably have to be done for traffic reasons—Parliament itself would provide in this section that it should be re-erected either in the new Central Garden or the new West Garden. It seems to me that the position at present is that, as far as the statues are concerned, Parliament decides, and that as far as the fountain is concerned the Minister of Works is to decide.


Could we have the words of the Amendment read, set out as the noble Viscount is moving it?


If the suggestion which I respectfully make commended itself to the House the wording would be this: The Minister may remove the Memorial Fountain near the north-east corner of the Canning enclosure and any of the statues in the existing garden in the centre of Parliament Square or in the Canning enclosure, and shall re-erect such of the said statues as are removed by him, and the Memorial Fountain if removed, either in the new central garden or in the new west garden: provided that if another site for the Memorial Fountain is agreed on by Resolution of each House of Parliament"— I said "within the next three months"— the Memorial Fountain shall be re-erected on such site.


Could not the noble and learned Viscount leave out the words "in the next three months"? I am willing to accept the Amendment if the noble and learned Viscount will omit the words "within the next three months" but he repeated them just now.


I am quite willing to do that, and I am very grateful to the noble Viscount for accepting the Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I now beg to move to insert the proviso which we have been discussing.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 31, after ("garden") insert ("provided that if another site for the memorial fountain is agreed on by Resolution of each House of Parliament the memorial fountain shall be re-erected on such site").—(Viscount Simon.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses and Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the Amendments.


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

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Morrison.)


My Lords, I should like to be allowed to say one or two words—first, to thank Lord Morrison and the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for the very reasonable way in which they have met my suggestions and, secondly, to add a little to the history of the fountain. I am surprised that the noble Lord had not been better briefed. If he will look in the Dictionary of National Biography he will find that Mr. Charles Buxton, who was a well-known M.P., was a son of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton the emancipator.

The Dictionary of National Biography says: He was the architect of his own beautiful seat … He gained, a prize of £100 in the competitive designs for the Government Offices in 1856.… He was an admirer of Gothic architecture for modern buildings and he designed the fountain near Westminster Abbey built by himself in 1863 as a memorial to his father's anti-slavery labours.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.