HL Deb 15 December 1949 vol 165 cc1618-26

After Clause 2 insert the following new Clause:

Restriction on use of Canning enclosure

(". No part of the Canning enclosure within a distance of sixty-five feet from the existing main entrance to the Middlesex Guildhall shall be used as a public carriageway.")

The Commons disagree to the above Amendment for the following Reason: Because the Amendment would make it impossible to carry out the improvement scheme to which the Bill relates; and because there is insufficient time, before the beginning of the Festival of Britain celebrations to prepare and carry out a fresh improvement scheme.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House do not insist on their Amendment to page 4, line 30, and do agree with the Commons in the Amendment proposed by them in lieu thereof, to page 4, line 29.


My Lords, the noble Lord has not called us to consider the first Amendment of the Commons.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House do not insist upon the Amendment to insert the new clause after Clause 2.—(Lord Morrison.)

Moved, That this House do not insist upon the Amendment to which the Commons have disagreed.—(Lord Morrison.)


My Lords, if I may say so to the noble Lord opposite, I think it is always better to deal with first things first, and with the first Amendment before the second Amendment on the Order Paper. Having got that right after some hesitation, the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, gets up and gives us no reason whatever for the Motion which he has moved in the House to-day, that we do not insist on our Amendment. I take it, therefore, that we revert (a) to the Reason given by the Commons for disagreeing with what we did in this House, and (b) to what the Minister of Works himself said yesterday when this matter was before another place. The Commons say they disagree with the Amendment: Because the Amendment would make it impossible to carry out the improvement scheme to which the Bill relates; … In fact, that contention has no substance at all. Back in 1936 an exactly similar improvement to that proposed by your Lordships would have been effected. The scheme then proposed was approved by the Commissioner of Police and also by the Minister of Transport. It is therefore putting it a little high to say that this Amendment of ours would have made the scheme impossible to fulfil. All it would do would be to shift the existing road nine feet further one way. It would leave exactly the same width of carriageway, and would have no other effect on the improvement of this Square.

The Commons Reason for their disagreement to the Amendment goes on: and because there is insufficient time before the beginning of the Festival of Britain celebrations to prepare and carry out a fresh improvement scheme. If there is the will to make a new scheme, it does not take very long to shift an existing scheme nine feet one way or the other—that is quite clear. One of our complaints in this House was that, through some dilatoriness on the part of the Ministry of Works, this scheme, although it was all being settled, if it was not completely settled, in May, did not come before another place till within a fortnight of the end of this Session, and not before your Lordships until within three days of the conclusion of the Session. So that first of all we were faced with the position that we had to pass an Amendment to our normal Standing Orders of the House to limit the time for the presentation of Petitions. Secondly, we had to acquiesce in a proposal by His Majesty's Government that we should take all the stages of the Bill on the same day.

It is not our fault, it is not Parliament's fault, that this matter was not referred to it before. If the matter was settled in May, I should have thought we could have had this Bill in sufficient time to allow for further negotiation; then, if there was a difference of opinion between the two Houses, it would have been possible to arrange the usual kind of consultations. By running it to this very last moment of the Session, such consultations are made impossible in this case. We feel that we as a House have a substantial complaint in being placed in the position of receiving this Bill only within the last two or three days of the Session. I have been reading in the House of Commons OFFICIAL REPORT the Minister's speech made yesterday. Fortunately, he made it just in time to have it included in that part of the REPORT; we do not find all the speeches made on this Bill, or the result of the Division, in that same part of the OFFICIAL REPORT. The Minister said that the shifting of the road by nine feet: would have very serious consequences in two ways. First of all, the statues would have to be re-sited. It is over-straining it a bit to say that it is a "very serious consequence" to have to re-site statues which are to be re-sited in any event. To describe that as a "very serious consequence" of your Lordships' Amendment to this Bill was, I should have thought, a slight exaggeration of phrase. He went on: However, a far more serious consequence would be that certain of the trees that are being preserved in the scheme according to the way in which we have presented it, would be destroyed, and the life of the other trees would be seriously endangered. Actually, when you look at it, the difference is one single plane tree! That is the other "very serious consequence" which your Lordships would have caused if our Amendment had been accepted.

The Minister continues later: Moreover, the traffic authorities tell me that even doing it in that sort of way would have serious consequences upon the interweaving of the traffic in the Square, and would therefore not be so effective in making traffic movement easier, as is required if we are to get the proper movement of traffic there. The lay-out and the technique of roads have not greatly altered since 1936, and there was not that serious objection when the Ministry of Transport agreed to the old plan. Here again, the Minister has thoroughly over-stated the position. The j Minister goes on to say, in the next column: If we put it back in order that a new scheme might be worked out, it means that the whole of this scheme is to be lost, and the benefits that would come for traffic purposes for the Festival would be lost as well. Quite frankly, I just do not believe that. To get an architect to alter this scheme again by shifting it nine feet, unless they work even more slowly in the Ministry of Works than one might suspect, should not make this scheme one which "would be lost."

Then one comes down to the position: What advice are those of us who were responsible for this Amendment to give to those of your Lordships who supported us on that occasion, as to whether or not we should insist on this Amendment? Despite the "heavy weather" (as one of the Minister's own supporters in another place described his speech—the supporter's words also, fortunately, are reported in this part of the OFFICIAL REPORT and as he happens to be an old constituent of mine I read them carefully) made by the Minister over this Amendment, we have to choose whether for the sake of nine feet we will prevent the possibility of this Bill becoming law in the present Session. It is not our fault that we are put in this position. But, as your Lordships realise, we on this side of the House always—as I think will have been recognised during the last four years— try not to raise pernickety small points. Therefore, [feel that we should be unwise to place the House in the position of being asked to have a clash with another place on this small matter of nine feet one way or the other in the alteration of Parliament Square.

We have made our protests, and properly made our protests, about two things. I think we were right to register that protest. We have protested, and registered it by our vote, that in our view it was wrong that the Minister of Works and those working with him on this scheme should not have taken the Middlesex County Council into their confidence earlier in this scheme, especially when the Middlesex County Council had been the body who had bought that part of the site at considerable cost to themselves and but for which this scheme would have been completely impossible of fulfilment. In any event, a wise Minister does not ignore a great local authority such as the Middlesex County Council obviously are.

The second protest which I think we were right in making was that, whereas all these negotiations and the original meeting deciding on this proposal had been called in May, and had reached a conclusion in May, Parliament gets the Bill only within the last week or ten days, and this House within only three days, of the end of the Session. In those circumstances, I do not think we could have been blamed if we had insisted on our Amendment to-day. We have made our protest. I hope that as a result the Minister concerned will in future take early consultation with responsible and representative institutions, such as the Middlesex County Council, and will show rather more respect for Parliament by bringing in his Bill at the proper time.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in the protest against the procedure that has been adopted by the Government in this instance. I cannot see that there was any justification whatsoever for bringing this Bill before this House on the very last days of the Session, requiring all its stages to be taken on one day and not giving an opportunity for the examination of points such as those which have been raised in respect to this Bill. So far as I know, the Government have given no explanation of why they should put this House in that position. We were asked to decide. The noble Lord in charge of the Bill, Lord Morrison, stated all the facts with regard to the alignment of the particular road and said, "Now let the House decide." How can a legislative body such as your Lordships' House decide on the merits of the case after half an hour's discussion, whether a particular road should be sited here or whether it should be sited there? We have a proper procedure for dealing with technical and controverted matters of this sort, through Committees which should examine the facts of the case and which should decide on proper consideration, after hearing witnesses and examining plans, where the alignment of such a road should be. To ask the House on the last day of the Session to decide, perhaps after a Division, as between the view of the Middlesex County Council and the view of the Ministry of Works, seems to me very unfair to the House, and I really think the Government ought to apologise for putting us in that position.

With regard to the merits of the case, I do not agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken. Like many of your Lordships, I am greatly interested in what is to happen to Parliament Square, and also in what is to happen with regard to the Festival of Britain. I do not attach any importance to the question of the trees. If the trees were destroyed it would be a pity, but new trees would grow in thirty or forty years, and we are dealing with matters which are to be of importance for probably centuries. But what is important is that the design, which has been most carefully drawn after prolonged consideration, would be upset by moving part of the road nine feet from where it was intended. I have had the advantage of the opinion of an architect who was not directly concerned but who has closely examined the plans. He tells me that it would make the Square lop-sided. I gather that it would make the design of Parliament Square rather absurd to have a part of the road thrown nine feet out of true, with no obvious reason for such a thing in the general design of the buildings and lay out of the Square. Consequently, all the roads would have to be re-sited, and that would involve a serious undertaking.

Furthermore, the Commissioner of Police has advised Parliament that the completion of the new layout of the Square will be of great importance in dealing with the enormous traffic which will come in 1951, in the shape of millions of people who will be attending the Festival of Britain—residents in this country and people from the Dominions and from foreign countries. The south bank site which has had to be chosen is in many ways a very unsuitable site. I held the view that London ought to have been ready to sacrifice the use of Hyde Park for two or three years in order properly to display the Festival of Britain or the International Exhibition. As it is, the site is very small, and the traffic may become exceedingly congested owing to the great number of people who will attend. From the traffic point of view, access to the site is very inadequate. The access from this side of the river through Westminster and the neighbourhood is a matter of great importance, and we are told by the traffic authorities that they attach importance to this work being completed before the Festival of Britain is opened.

Frequently, in different countries, Exhibitions are not ready when they are opened. Your Lordships will remember the Paris Exhibition of, I think, 1938, which reflected considerable discredit upon the French Government in that it was not really completed until the time had almost come for it to close, and in the first stages obviously everything was not ready. We do not want that to happen in London, and it would be a great pity if there were a scurry in preparing the approaches to the Festival during the last months and weeks, and if it were perhaps still not adequately completed at the date of opening. Therefore now is the time, a year or so in advance, when we have to be careful that the opening is not hampered and delayed.

For all these reasons, this being an important matter, I think the House would be ill-advised to insist upon our Amendment, even if it could be made consistently with the passage of the Bill. Those of us who have been acquainted with this matter from the beginning are sorry that a difference should have arisen with respect to the Middlesex County Council, for undoubtedly they have rendered immense service and undertaken great financial responsibility and risks in dealing with a matter with which they are only incidentally connected from the fact that their own Guildhall is situated in the Square. Parliament and the country are greatly indebted to them for making a Bill of this importance possible by the action which they took at an earlier date. They are going to be inconvenienced by this rearrangement close to their building, largely on account of the greater noise that will be heard inside. It is, however, denied that the additional noise will be serious. In any case, that is not a matter that should govern the issue.

I have said that the Middlesex County Council are only incidentally concerned. The two local authorities who are directly concerned are the London County Council and the City of Westminster. They have statutory responsibility with regard to the Square. Both have approved the plan as it stands and neither of them, so far as I am aware, has expressed any approval of the view taken by the Middlesex County Council. For all these reasons I feel sure that your Lordships would not be wise to insist upon this Amendment at this stage, and I was glad to hear from the concluding observations of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, that he and his friends did not propose to advise the House to do so.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, may I say one word in regard to this matter, as I was the Minister at the Office of Works when the Middlesex County Council saved this site? It was only because they were willing to put up a considerable sum of money that we have the open space where it is now. The Middlesex County Council have been much more interested in this site than either the City of Westminster or the London County Council, who until now have been neglectful of any interest in that part of London. I say that, because I regret that steps were not taken to endeavour to meet, even if not to the extent of nine feet at any rate a little more than the Government have met, the feelings and the real interest of the Middlesex County Council.

I should not have risen except for one dreadful remark of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who stated that he is not much interested in the trees because you can always plant new ones by way of replacement. Plane trees are slow growing trees. Looking at The Mall, I grudge the disappearance of every big plane tree from London, and certainly when I was at the Office of Works anybody who wanted to cut down trees in the Royal Parks was met with most strenuous opposition from me and had to prove to me that the tree was a real danger before it could come down. Plane trees take a very long time indeed to grow to full size. In fact, I have recently been to the town of Lucca, in the country from which they come, and there the ramparts are planted with plane trees 300 years old which are just getting to their best. It is a tree with a very long life. Therefore I hope that in all these matters we shall be careful before we destroy the finest trees that are left to us anywhere in the streets of London. I want to enter a warning that if any Government tries to remove them, I shall be "at them."

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I rise only to say, in view of what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that I unreservedly express our sincere regret that this Bill has been brought to the House so late in the Session. I cannot profess to be fully cognisant of all the negotiations and difficulties which have arisen in connection with it but I share with noble Lords opposite—I am sure we all do—regret that we have not had more time to deal with it. I would also like to express sincere thanks on behalf of the Government for the recommendation which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has made on this matter. We recognise with gratitude that, notwithstanding objections which have been mentioned by the noble Viscount, noble Lords have been good enough to subordinate their sentiments to the general wider interests of the Bill as a whole.

On Question, Motion agreed to.