HL Deb 31 January 1951 vol 170 cc96-130

3.44 p.m.

LORD MOTTISTONE rose to call attention to the recent expressions of public opinion in favour of retaining, as an open space, the site of the old Westminster Hospital; and to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will consider erecting the new Colonial Office on some other site unless, by replanning, the frontage can be set back to accord with the strong representations of the Royal Fine Art Commission; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, at the outset of this, my maiden speech, I earnestly beg your Lordships' indulgence and ask your forgiveness for the many shortcomings that will be apparent in the design and presentation of my remarks. It is an architectural subject upon which I am about to speak, and I hope that the fact that I am an architect may favourably incline your Lordships' ears. During the process of acquiring the site of the old Westminster Hospital by Act of Parliament in 1947, many reasons were advanced in favour of erecting upon it, and upon the adjoining site of the Stationery Office, a new building to house the Colonial Office. It was, however, only the other day, when the site was cleared, that many people were able to realise what the consequence of that proposal would be, and they therefore began to reconsider these previously advanced reasons.

The first of these is the view, widely held, that as the site was bought by Act of Parliament for the purpose of building the new Colonial Office, the work must proceed as proposed, unless a new Act of Parliament is introduced. But, my Lords, there is no mention in the Act of the Colonial Office. How can it be said that it is obligatory upon us to build the Colonial Office on that site? Let it not be thought, in drawing attention to this fact, that I want to relegate the Colonial Office to any unworthy site. Filial piety alone would militate against that, because I realise to the full that my father was at one time Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, and therefore I should be the last to belittle that Office and its invaluable work for our great Colonial possessions. I only wish to make it quite clear that there is nothing in the Act which compels us to adopt the course now proposed.

A second reason in favour of the scheme was advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, in your Lordships' House on November 21 last, when he said that the proposal commanded general approval and that no vote was taken in either House. But the proposal was only to acquire the site—a proposal with which I believe everyone agreed, and still agrees. During the Second Reading of the Bill in another place, the then Minister of Works made it quite clear when he said: All I am asking for now is the power to acquire the site. Of course there was no vote against that, although even at that time voices were raised in doubt about the appropriate development of the site—notably the voice of the honourable Member for West Middlesbrough, who said at that early stage, in the first part of his speech on May 2, 1947, exactly what I feel now.

A third argument, a most cogent argument in favour of building over the whole of the site, is the very great cost of acquisition. It is indeed a most regrettable thing that a site which was sold, I understand, by the Treasury in 1831 for £6,000 should cost them £400,000 to buy back in 1947. I agree, therefore, that the best possible use should be made of the site, from every point of view. Even an architect must believe, however, that there are some pieces of land which can be better used by not building on them. In my opinion this small area is of incalculably greater value to us all as an open space than as a portion of a Government office. Noble Lords must not overlook the fact that even if no building use is made of the greater part of the Westminster Hospital site, it was still necessary to acquire it if the Stationery Office site behind was to be developed to the full and the roadway between the two sites absorbed and built over.

Fourthly, it is argued in the Press and elsewhere that large open spaces are not necessarily æsthetically desirable around our great abbeys and cathedrals. But the space about which I am talking is not large. If the new Colonial Office were set back so as to leave the greater part of the old hospital site vacant, the total width of Broad Sanctuary from north to south would still be only about 110 yards; it is now 80 yards. From east to west (that is from the West Door of the Abbey to the start of Victoria Street), it is only 90 yards. It is also said that the beauty of a great abbey is enhanced by a huddle of roofs jostling against its walls. I agree that this can make a very attractive composition, but surely no one could possibly contend that the new Colonial Office, much as one may admire the design—and I wholeheartedly admire it—will even remotely resemble a huddle of roofs. A hundred feet high for the most part, and flat-topped, it will reach up almost to the level of the coping of the Abbey nave, and will be 10 feel above the base of the dome of the Central Hall.

Fifthly, my Lords, we are told that it is too late; that we ought to have had sufficient imagination to realise earlier what the result of this proposal would mean. The fact must be admitted that it takes a lot to stir our imaginations in an architectural sense. Something dramatic has to happen before we begin to sit up and take notice. Unless St. Paul's Cathedral had been miraculously saved amid the surrounding devastation, would the imaginations of the City Fathers have been stirred to preserve the view of the Cathedral from the south-east by the laying-out of a garden on valuables building land? Similarly, in this case, it was only when the old Westminster Hospital vanished before our eyes that we realised what possibilities would be lost for ever if we did not take advantage of the open space revealed. I am sure that there would have been a very different story to tell if the Hospital had been demolished first and then, after that, we had been asked to approve the proposal now put forward.

The new model is now on exhibition in your Lordships' Library. I do not know how many of you have had an opportunity of seeing it, or whether arrangements will be made for its public exhibition. I am very grateful to the Ministry of Works for having given me last week a preview of it, and for their great courtesy in thus helping to stir my sluggish imagination. With its aid we can now see the new building in relation to its surroundings. We can see how it projects forward, spilling its huge bulk into Broad Sanctuary and, just by that projection, ruining what would otherwise be a seemly lay-out with its neighbours. If your Lordships could spare the time to go to St. Margaret's, Westminster, and on coming out through the West Door of that beautiful church, would look straight before you, you would find most clearly demonstrated this seemly lay-out, with the Abbey on your left, Middlesex Guildhall on your right and the Central Hall symmetrically placed in front of you on the axis. If your Lordships then look at the model from the same relative position, you will see at a glance how deplorable is the projection of the new building.

All this leads me to advance some reasons in favour of retaining the greatest possible amount of open space at this most historic spot. In this small Square are set the entrances to two great buildings, the first of which is the most venerated and beloved structure in the whole of the British Commonwealth—namely, the Abbey. At its doors assemble on occasion great and solemn concourses and processions. How absurd that, at this point, of all points, we should perpetuate that constriction which has repeatedly occurred between the Coronation Annex and the corner of the Westminster Hospital site, so that manoeuvring there is impossible! Even narrower is the roadway at the entrance to the other great building adjoining Broad Sanctuary, the Central Hall. Here again, no manoeuvring space will be possible at this point if the new building is erected as proposed. The hall will continue to have a hole-in-corner approach, although it is a hall seating 2,700 and is used for gatherings of a national and even an international character.

Mention of the Central Hall brings me to the crux of the whole matter. Although noble Lords may find it difficult to imagine at the present time, I think there is no doubt that one day this building will be acclaimed as a splendid example of the architecture of its period. We should not let the fact that its period is out of fashion now blind us to the lasting merits of a building such as this— now seen for the first time from the Parliament Square approach. My Lords, if the new building is erected on the line proposed, half the Eastern façade of the Central Hall will again be tucked away down a side street, and all the dignity and seemliness of the Western approaches to the Abbey destroyed, perhaps for ever.

In viewing the Central Hall with a critical eye, noble Lords should bear in mind that the building has never been completed. When Mr. Lanchester and Mr. Rickards won the competition, their design showed twin towers flanking and supporting the dome on the Eastern side; and one has only to look at the late Mr. Rickard's fine drawing to see how essential to the whole composition these towers are. They were never built, owing to difficulties over rights of light with the Hospital. But now, at last, if only the Colonial Office can be set back sufficiently, the opportunity offers to repair that which in this very context was described nearly forty years ago as "the unsightliness of the incomplete." I therefore asked the Trustees of the Central Hall what are the prospects of thus embellishing the London scene, and their agents replied to me as follows: We are authorised on behalf of the Trustees of the Central Hall to advise you that in the event of the old Westminster Hospital site being retained as an open space, the Trustees of the Central Hall would, when labour conditions and the financial position permit, proceed with the erection of the towers as proposed in the original plans of the building, subject to any architectural modifications deemed advisable. But, my Lords, can these improvements and embellishments be carried out and the Colonial Office still find a home here?

We know, because the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, told us so in this House on November 21, that the Royal Fine Art Commission strongly represented that the new building should be set back so far as to leave the old site almost entirely vacant, and he stated that this would have made the building too small to house the Colonial Office, I feel, however, that this view needs very careful consideration, because I do not believe that the building would be too small. We do not know of course, what are the detailed requirements of this Department, but there are sure to be many of a very special nature, differing greatly from the normal requirements of an ordinary office block. Nevertheless, one has only to make a few calculations to realise that it would be easily possible, on the reduced site, to house to the most comfortable standard of modern office accommodation all the required staff—1,300 of them—while leaving at least a whole floor free for ceremonial and special purposes. As a comparison for your Lordships, this free floor area, which is one whole floor of the building, would be at the very least more than twice the floor area of Westminster Hall.

When the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, said in this House, in the same speech from which I have just quoted, that over a third of the site had been surrendered, I was full of hope. I thought that much had been accomplished, and I dare say that many of your Lordships who were here felt the same. But when I went to look at the plans, and saw the model, I realised that the third was not at all the third that I had envisaged, but was made up of strips at the East and West sides, and only quite a small setting back on the all-important South front. In fact, the pavement line on the South front appears to be hardly varied at all. I maintain that if that area of land which the Government have already agreed to surrender is applied, with a bit added for good measure, to the all-important setting back of the South front, the Colonial Office would get all it needs and we should have a dignified square. But if we are still told that the requirements of the client Department (and do not let us be misled by the use of that insufficient term in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, in November; in a matter of this importance the whole country is the client), the accommodation needed for the Colonial Office cannot be found by replanning, then let a smaller Department be housed in the new building which must replace the old Stationery Office, and let another sit: be allocated to the Colonial Office where there may be room and to spare without disservice to neighbouring buildings.

We have been accused of lack of imagination in not appreciating at an earlier stage the effect of the Government proposals in the area of Broad Sanctuary. But on this question of sites for Government offices it is, I suggest, the Government who have been so lacking in imagination, although they have in other ways helped forward admirably the cause of the visual arts in this country. It seems that they can now envisage the provision of offices for their use only by building, where a vast improvement would be attained by a measure of clearance or where, thanks to our forbears, we already possess a seemly layout. Of the former, the site we are considering is alas! perhaps to be followed by the obliteration of even more noteworthy aspects of the Abbey from the South-east- in the redevelopment of Abingdon Street. Of the latter, Carlton House Terrace has already attracted their attention for the uses of expediency. Surely the wise landlord, when he is obliged to extend his premises, employs the opportunity to raise the standard of less favoured parts of his own or adjoining property, rather than to misuse or spoil that which is already good.

If, then, the Colonial Office need more room than can be found by a more modest use of the Westminster Hospital site, then let us turn our eyes to those areas, not too far distant, where the demolition of obsolete or derelict buildings, and their replacement with a fine new Government building, would be a benefaction in itself. We have seen what can be done in the way of clearance for so transitory a purpose as an Exhibition—and that is not the only part of the South Bank which is due for a major overhaul. I do not propose, however, to examine in all detail the many alternatives which offer, until it has been proved that the reasonable requirements of the Colonial Office cannot be adequately met without engulfing the site of the old Westminster Hospital. My Lords, cannot we by some means keep this blessed plot free from building? Cannot we accept the strong representations of the Royal Fine Art Commission, instead of the dismal compromise to which they afterwards regrettably agreed? Rather than the latter, I think that another site could and should be found for the Colonial Office, but I strongly urge, and firmly believe, that this will not be proved to be necessary. I beg to move for Papers.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, it is my pleasant duty to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, on his first speech in this House. For that speech he has chosen a subject upon which he can speak with the knowledge and authority of one who has risen high in his profession, and I know I am expressing your Lordships' appreciation of his words. Many of your Lordships will have a lively and affectionate remembrance of his father, who was for so long a member of this House. I am tempted to say that in this case we have yet another example of the argument in favour of the hereditary principle—or perhaps noble Lords opposite would prefer the phrase "in extenuation of the hereditary principle" —for once more we see the old dictum justified: Uno avulso non deficit alter. It is quite true in the case of the noble Lord. The noble Lord's scheme seems to me to go far to meet the views of the Ministry of Works and certainly of the Royal Fine Art Commission, and to go far also to assuage public feeling on the subject. I do not think he will ask the Minister to give a definite reply to-day, and I believe it would be unfair to do so, but I do hope that the Minister, whatever happens, will be careful to give close attention to the arguments that have been adduced.

The noble Lord has dealt with the scheme so thoroughly and, if I may say so, so competently, that I should only be wearying your Lordships if I went over the same ground again. I propose, therefore, in the few remarks that I am going to make, to deal with the idea that emerged towards the end of his speech— and I know I shall be batting on a very sticky wicket—and that is the question of an alternative site. As germane to that, I would ask your Lordships to consider what is taking place in London today. It is obvious that one of the major headaches from which the present Government are suffering is that caused by the necessity to find accommodation for the vast family of civil servants which they have created. There is really only one remedy for that, and that is to put some curb on—I do not quite know what to call it but, shall we say, the prolific paternity of the Government in this direction. That, of course, may be in contemplation, because from a glance at the Annual Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General I see that no less a sum than £72,000,000 is going to be saved on services. Let us hope that some of that will be achieved by diminution of the Civil Service. Without such a diminution, without that curb on the Government's paternity, I see no possibility of alleviation of the Government's headache.

I should like your Lordships to consider for one moment what has happened. Whitehall has long since ceased to be the headquarters of Government offices or, at any rate, of the majority of Government offices. They are cropping up now all over London. Kensington has been invaded, Mayfair has been invaded. Take, for instance, Berkeley Square. What chance would the unhappy nightingale have to-day of making its voice heard against the noise of transport activities in the neighbourhood? A few hundred yards further on the almost sacred sartorial grove of Savile Row is now almost entirely overshadowed by the gigantic building of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. One almost feels diffident about creeping into one's tailor's establishment to get a patch put on a favourite garment. Further South it is almost worse We find the splendid façade of Carlton House Terrace threatened by an extension of the Foreign Office. Worst of all, perhaps, in Whitehall itself, from the ruins of Montagu House, so close to those glorious buildings of the Horse Guards, the Banqueting Hall and Gwydir House, we see a huge erection rearing its head, designed, I am told, to house an enormous number of civil servants—a building remarkable only for that crude nudity of architectural design which seems to characterise so many of these modern utility models. As the noble Lord said, do let us keep, as long as we can, some of the remaining beauty in this land.

The point I come to now is the question of another site. I see the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, almost settling down in comfort, knowing, no doubt, that his mind is made up on this point. One of the objections which he will probably raise to the building on the smaller scale which has been proposed by my noble friend is that it will be too small for the requirements which it has to meet. That may be so. But there are a good many Government Departments scattered not only over London but over the whole country. Take, for instance, the Inland Revenue. I have had correspondence on matters relating to income tax from places as far apart as Liverpool, Cardiff, Worthing, and Thames Ditton. Surely convenience and economy would be effected by some coordination of these various branches under one roof. Then there are a number of other smaller Government Departments. The suggestion I have to put to the noble Lord is that the building as curtailed by the suggestion of my noble friend might be quite large enough to contain one of those smaller Government Departments, and then a new and dignified building could be erected for the Dominions and Colonial Office. No one for a moment would question the desirability of having such an office. The Dominions and Colonies are, after all, probably of greater value to us now than they have ever been.

The site I would suggest is one in respect of which admirable precedent has been set by the Ministry of Works themselves. It is on the South Bank of the river. Many of your Lordships who use Waterloo Station will have seen the huge ruin of Messrs. Doulton's porcelain works. They have been neither restored nor demolished. If that ruin were removed, it would provide a space for a really fine building with an approach far more dignified than anything that could be obtained at Westminster. Access to Westminster is easy, and the frontage and approach could, with a little clearance, be made very good. And for neighbours, what could be more respectable than Lambeth Palace and the Ministry of Works? I can see no objection to that site, though others may have something to say about it. The great objection to it, I have no doubt the Government will say, is that of expense. One can understand well in these days, when such enormous demands are being made upon them, that it is impossible to ask the Government to spend a large sum of money on an entirely new project. But would it not be possible to house the Dominions and Colonial Office in some other large building which the Government may consider more respectable than the present establishment, and to defer the building of the new office on the site until the financial stress has lessened? One point upon which I wish to dwell for a moment is this. We have the opportunity now of saving a site which to the hearts of Englishmen is probably one of the most dear. If we lose it we shall not get it again. After all, this is the time to beautify where we can instead of disfiguring as we do.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support very strongly the speech which has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and to join in congratulating him upon it. His speech was not only closely reasoned but it was persuasive, both in matter and manner. I hope that we shall often hear the noble Lord speak in this House. If I had on this occasion to do what I have to do when I give addresses in other places —that is, to take a text—I should take some words which during the war were inscribed over ticket collectors' offices in the railway stations—" Is your journey really necessary?" I want to base three questions upon those words to the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government.

First, I would ask him: Is it really necessary to have this extension of the Colonial Office, either here or elsewhere? There is quite a modern craze for putting up vast buildings for all Government Ministries. But we are told that this is a time when there ought to be national economy. Is this a time when money should be spent on this building? We also know that it is necessary to build as many houses as possible for the working classes of the nation. I wonder how many houses could be built with the money and labour which is to be devoted to this building. I know that it is often said that the size of the staff of the Ministry is so great that a large building is required to house them. But often it is, in fact, the other way round: a large building is put up, and then the Ministry concerned feel that they must live up to that building, and fill it with staff. The larger the building the greater the temptation to have a large staff. So that is my first question to the noble Lord—is it really necessary to have this great extension? If, to my sorrow, he gives an unfavourable answer to that question I shall go on to the second.

If we are going to have this new building, is it really necessary to have it in this particular place, of all places in London or in England? At certain hours of the clay there is a great deal of discomfort through congestion. People pour out from the surrounding offices and crowd the buses and Underground. Now, if this building is put up, there will be several more hundreds of people pouring out; and in days to come, when, as I have no doubt will happen, every civil servant has his own car, the congestion will be even greater than now. But the real objection to having the building on this site is that which has been pointed out by the noble Lord who has raised this question— namely, that it will obscure some really remarkable views which we have at the present time of Westminster Abbey and of Central Hall.

I must bear testimony that a few weeks ago I underwent a sudden conversion. I know that psychologists say that no one over fifty can undergo that experience. I had always looked upon the Central Hall as a building which was dull and ponderous. That was because usually I had seen only the lower part, with a number of unattractive advertisements. But the other day when walking from this House in that direction, quite suddenly I saw the Central Hall in its true proportions, unobstructed by any other building, and I agree, with what the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, said from an architect's point of view, that it is a very striking building of that period. We have that view at the present moment, as well as a much finer view of the Abbey. Surely we should do what we can to keep it. I do not know whether there is any discussion about a war memorial in connection with this last war, a memorial to our great deliverance. I wonder whether there could be any better or finer memorial than the preservation of this open space, and its use for various national memorials as occasion may arise. Here again, I am not confident that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, will give a favourable answer to the question: Is it really necessary to have these offices in this place?

So I go on to my much more modest question: Is it really necessary to have a building which by its height will dominate the surrounding buildings, conceal the Central Hall and, at the same time, take away from us this new unrestricted view of the Abbey? Is it really necessary to have a building of the proposed height and projection, so that it shuts out all these views? That is the main point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. Like myself, he is not over-hopeful of a Government Department being so suddenly and completely converted that they give up all idea of having a building in this place, but I think there is some hope that the Government may be prepared to make such adjustments in existing plans that some of the worse of the dangers now threatened may be removed. Therefore, I join the two noble Lords who have already spoken in urging in the strongest possible way that the Government should reconsider these proposals and preserve an outlook which, if it is lost now, will be lost for ever.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that I may be allowed to say a few words on this subject, as it was I who first brought it to your Lordships' attention some three or four months ago. I am particularly happy to follow my noble friend Lord Mottistone in the admirable maiden speech which he has just made, and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, because they have both strongly taken a view I ventured to take then—namely, that the question of allowing a proper view of Central Hall was more important than the problems of proximity to Westminster Abbey. I was also very happy to hear the most reverend Primate supporting me in what I think to be the principal argument for not building on this site—namely, the question of traffic congestion.

When I raised this matter previously I pointed out that we should be importing some 1,500 civil servants, with their visitors and transport, to clutter up the roads, buses and tube stations during rush hours. But surely the offices they vacate however, said that these civil servants would be vacating premises in the neighbourhood, and that they would not add to the total of the traffic during working hours. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, will be seized upon in a moment by other people, and the traffic will only be increased. Furthermore, we are already putting up an enormous block of offices behind the United Services Museum, as the noble Lord, Lord Badeley, has remarked, and another huge block is going up behind the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The traffic situation in two years within 300 yards of Parliament Square is going to be indescribable. It is bad enough as it is. We have all suffered from the No. 11 bus—perhaps I should say "No. 11 buses," instead of No. 11 bus in the singular. There is no such thing as one No. 11 bus. London Transport breed and train No. 11 buses to work in teams. The transport situation is going to be absolutely chaotic.

I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the model which the noble Lord. Lord Morrison, has kindly put into the Library for us. When looked at by a man of average height, it gives an impression of the actual site as seen, not from the ground hut from the roof of Westminster Hall. One has to bend down a little to see the real damage that is going to be done to the façade of Central Hall. I agree with what my noble friend Lord Mottistone and the most reverend Primate said, that Central Hall is a first-class building. It has been said that the Middlesex Guildhall was built to block out the sight of the Central Hall from Parliament. I do not believe that to be true or kind. There are two things to do: either block it out or leave it uncovered, but to leave it half uncovered by the jutting proportions of the new Colonial Office seems to me wholly wrong.

As to leaving the whole site open, I realise that great financial difficulty presents itself. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, will say that, and that it is a very difficult argument to counter. For reasons which the noble Lords, Lord Mottistone and Lord Badeley, have given, and which I will not repeat, I should like the site left open. I am not one of those who think that a great building should automatically be surrounded with an open space. There are buildings which are designed to be surrounded by smaller buildings. St. Paul's Cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren to have houses round it. The Minster of the most reverend Primate at York was designed to be surrounded on two sides by buildings, and to be left open on the other sides. Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals were designed to be left open. The great French Cathedrals, Beauvais, Chartres and Amiens, on the other hand, were designed to be surrounded. I have looked into this matter fairly carefully, and on the evidence it seems to the that Westminster Abbey was designed to be left open. That appears to add to the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone.

The matter comes down to this: the site should be left open, but we believe we are going to get an unfavourable answer. We should, therefore, as the next best thing, try to cut back the Colonial Office to open up a view of Central Hall and avoid crowding in upon Westminster Abbey. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, whether he has studied the plan which Mr. Philip Cundle, the architect, produced in an attempt to solve this problem and which is now in the Ministry of Works. This Government have not a good record for a Government who boast so much about their planning capabilities. There was the plot for Carlton House Terrace, which I must say I regard with the greatest suspicion and about which the vigilant Westminster City Council expressed similar views. The Ministry have attempted some very odd things with the Nash terraces on the North side of Regent's Park. Fortunately, an equally vigilant and suspicious Marylebone Borough Council pointed out their forebodings.

Now there is this proposition. I think it is high time the anti-planners started to plan their anti-planning. This debate is a good attempt. I was always in favour of the old Westminster Precinct idea put forward in the Architectural Review before the war, which left the whole of this area free from traffic and to be treated as one whole precinct. That was an excellent idea. It has now become a little more controversial because, quite apart from the immense problems of money and labour involved, I understand that if it were implemented, now the first thing that would have to be done would be to demolish the Conservative Central Office. I know that Parliament has already decided this matter, but let us admit frankly that we made a mistake— never mind whose fault it was. We did not see what would be the effect upon this vastly important site if we allowed this rebuilding of the Colonial Office to go forward. Before it is too late let us reconsider and see whether we can do something to correct our mistake. The model in the Library shows clearly what an incongrous jumble the heart of the Empire is going to look if this plan goes through. I do not believe there is any other country in the world which would allow this to happen, and I beg of your Lordships to join in pressing upon the Ministry the need for reconsideration of the whole matter.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure all noble Lords are grateful to my noble friend Lord Mottistone for bringing this matter before this House, and for giving us an opportunity of expressing our views about it. Indeed, the number of those of your Lordships who have already taken part and who desire to take part in this discussion is evidence of the public interest that it has aroused. I do not think there is any need for long speeches, as your Lordships have shown, because the matter is not one to be settled by long and weighty argument. You either feel it, or you do not, and no amount of argument will convince the noble Lord on the Government Front Bench unless he is prepared to be convinced. However, I am inclined to be more hopeful about his reply than was my noble friend Lord Mancroft, because I have watched Lord Morrison on the Bench, and I have observed him move, as I thought, some way along the road of assent as the previous speakers were speaking. I therefore have great hopes that by the time we reach the end of the debate he. although not giving a decisive answer to-day, will find it possible to give those of us who take this view a considerable measure of hope.

The Westminster site that is under discussion has a double interest at the present time. As has been noticed, there is, first of all. its effect on the view of the West end of the Abbey and, secondly, on that of the Central Hall. On both those points I find myself in complete agreement with what has been said by those who have preceded me in this debate. I find myself recording in my mind a certain element of hesitation in agreeing with what fell from my noble friend Lord Mancroft, when he said that he was not convinced of the general desirability of having space round large and noble buildings, because some were obviously designed rather to be clustered than to stand alone. He may be right technically—I would not set myself up as a judge or authority on that point—but I would assert that almost every place I know gains in dignity and power from being set in space. It may be that not many of us are qualified to judge of design on any technical standard—and certainly I am not—but I am competent to say that for me and, I think, for most people, one of the elements of beauty is just that extra space that will lend size and dignity to any building. As has been emphasised in the debate, here we have an opportunity of doing something, an opportunity that comes all too seldom and one which, in this particular locality, may never recur, in this capital city of London, which, I venture to say, of all the capital cities of Europe that I know, is the worst showman of its things of beauty. We have many beautiful, historic, traditional and distinguished buildings for all sorts of reasons, but owing to congestion of space we are unable to show them; and the world passes them by almost unconscious of their existence. To-day we have an opportunity to remedy that situation.

I should like to mention one other thing that I think lends general support to what I have been trying to say, and to what other noble Lords have said more successfully. Those of your Lordships who have visited India will not have failed to be struck by many of the ancient and beautiful monuments of that country, and will have admired both their preservation and their setting. Your Lordships will no doubt be aware of how much of that is owed to the particular work discharged by the late Lord Curzon, when he was Viceroy, and of how much he did to secure for all time, in so far as was humanly possible, those treasures of beauty from the past. I believe that it is true to say that the bulk of his achievement was not in any restoration—though that was also included in his work—but consisted for the greater part in clearing the sites, in order that people could see them. Over and over again, if one looks at the great monuments of India, one realises that most of what Lord Curzon did consisted in widening the space and making a clear view for the spectator to appreciate. Lord Curzon once said that he anticipated that, when a record of his work in India was made, he was much more likely to be remembered for what he had done in the way of making possible that reconstruction of beauty than for any political or administrative reforms to which his name might be attached. Even though this scheme may cost a little money, I still submit that where in London you have a little space offered to you it should be. snatched with both hands, and it is short-sighted to allow such an opportunity as this to go by. For those reasons, I would appeal to the noble Lord who is to answer for the Government to use his influence with his colleagues, and to recommend one or other of the possible solutions to which the speech this afternoon of my noble friend Lord Mottistone has opened the way.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Earl has just said, there is no need for long speeches on this subject: indeed, the opening speech of the mover, Lord Mottistone, was so thorough that there is now little left for any of us to say. I rise for only a few moments, first, to add my small tribute to the congratulations of your Lordships to Lord Mottistone on his speech, and secondly, as a friend of his who works with him in various oilier capacities, to express my strong support of his Motion this afternoon. It is also my duty as Chairman of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association to state in public that that Association are most strongly behind Lord Mottistone in his proposal, and that they hope sincerely that the Government will accede to it.

The only other point I wish to emphasise is the desirability of curtailing expenditure on buildings which may not be necessary. In private conversation with Lord Mottistone I ascertained from him that the computed or estimated 1,300 officials in the Colonial Office could be comfortably housed—including a whole floor for ceremonial occasions—on the site of the old Stationery Office, without impinging at all on the site of the old Westminster Hospital. If that is so, it surely appeals to all of us that it would be wrong to erect unnecessary buildings when the site is so urgently required for the æsthetic purposes which have been argued. I suppose it is true to say that if we are to retain our Colonial Empire, taking a long view it can only be by the granting of more and more self-government to its constituent parts. Therefore, it would seem that the Colonial Office is one which would tend to shrink in size rather than otherwise. If that is not considered a cogent argument, then, as has been put forward by other speakers, cannot a smaller department be allocated to this site and the Colonial Office be housed elsewhere? One wonders, for instance, how the old India Office is now used. I am not aware to what use it is now put, but it is, as we all know, an enormous building and cannot be required for its original purpose.

Finally, I should like to express agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, in his optimistic view of the likely reaction of this debate upon the noble Lord, Lord Morrison. A year or so ago I had occasion to contact Lord Morrison in connection with a proposal which would have been very deleterious to the aspect of the Tower of London, and I found him a most amenable personality to deal with and very sensible of the importance of preserving the beauties of this great city. I feel sure that the cogency of the arguments which have been put forward this afternoon will have impressed themselves upon him, and I look forward, with the noble Earl, to a favourable reply —perhaps not a reply which will give us all we expect and hope for, but one which will lead to what we desire in the ultimate result.

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, my observations on the Motion before your Lordships' House have been ticked off one by one during the course of the debate, and therefore I shall not detain your Lordships for more than a minute or two. I welcome this opportunity of congratulating sincerely the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, on a most remarkable maiden speech. In congratulating him, I am under the impression that he is probably, with me, full of partiality and prejudice about this particular part of London, because approximately forty years ago, when the cluster of houses round the Abbey on its South Side was reclaimed from a rather disreputable century, he and I at approximately the same time entered as inhabitants, and we have this district very much at heart. There I spent five very formative years of my life in a school which claims with pride Westminster Abbey as its School Chapel. Now I find myself in your Lordships' House, which has a similar treasured relationship with Westminster Abbey. Thus I am full of prejudice and partiality about anything which affects the Abbey in any way at all.

I should like to refer to the Motion itself, which I wish had stopped at the words "some other site," and not gone on to suggest merely that the present plans should be modified. I cannot support too strongly the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Badeley, that there is available great opportunity on both sides of the Thames—I think he mentioned only one—particularly that stretch between Vauxhall Bridge and Lambeth Bridge which, I suggest to your Lordships, could become a fine civic centre of Governmental buildings. Now is the time to plan for the future in that way. It is to me a very important thing that the precincts of the Abbey should not be further impinged upon either by buildings or by people. The grey and green majesty of the Cloisters, the charm of Jerusalem Chamber Steps and of Little Cloisters are in jeopardy from people who now frequent those places, and who are not so much archaeologists or people with an artistic appreciation of these buildings, or even genuine sightseers, but persons who use the Abbey precincts to enjoy an alfresco lunch, to do crossword puzzles or fill in football coupons. If there is another Government office built within a few yards of the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, the Dean and Chapter will have a great problem with which to deal.

I would refer to the first line of this Motion, which calls attention to recent expressions of public opinion. I submit that public opinion on this matter, not only in Westminster and London or even in the United Kingdom, but throughout the Empire and, indeed, in all civilised countries of the world where the word "Westminster" up to now has certainly been a magic word, runs far more strongly and deeply than has been publicly expressed. I would therefore beg the Government not to plan something for 1951 or 1961, but to take an infinitely broader view and plan for centuries ahead as well as in homage to the centuries which are past.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by most sincerely congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, on his excellent maiden speech, and to say that I do not think he could have chosen a more apposite subject than that of the area round about our Houses of Parliament. I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Rea, in suggesting that there should be no compromise at all over this matter, and I feel we ought to be adamant that both the Westminster Hospital site that has been cleared, and the old Stationery Office site, should be kept as an open space. It is not, after all, so small a site, when one considers how much has yet to be brought down to ground level. I myself would humbly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, as an architect, that the proposed new Colonial building is a good one. But if it is to be placed where at present planned, nobody will be able properly to see it; it will become, like so many other buildings, far too closely surrounded by others; and will be a loss to itself, as well as to the Abbey and the area generally. On that, I find myself in the same difficulty as other noble Lords, that all the fine and sound things have mostly been said. The obvious suggestion is for some site on the other bank of the Thames. After all, it is the policy, rightly, of the Government to give the South Bank increasing status vis-à-vis the North Bank, and obviously there are places on the South Bank where the building could well be placed.

In this debate I cannot help acknow-ledging that my fire over this issue is largely connected with the reading of certain books about Westminster—for instance, Dean Stanley's Memorial of Westminster Abbey, with which I am sure many noble Lords are familiar. One cannot help seeing the very earliest origins of Westminster in Thorney Island, and I think it is right that, as much as possible, we should recover its natural sense of precinct, both the natural sense of precinct and the precinct that first came along in connection with the Abbey and the Benedictine Monks who founded it. In that sense, rather interestingly do we also regard as sacred to us the frontiers of this Thorney Island. These Monks took the whole island, and the frontiers fit with the Architectural Review's plan, "Westminster Regained," for deflecting wheeled traffic altogether out of the area. The Northern sacred frontier is along Great George Street. As the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said, when regarding this idea of unity it must be in the far future, but if we can have this hospital site issue cleared up now, it will be a start. The northern stream that made Thorney Island went along Great George Street. In fact, it went under the present Home Office, and that makes one consider that the very erection of the Home Office building—wh.ch occurred at about the turn of the century I suppose—was the beginning of a form of rot, as regards the presentday atmosphere of Westminster.

The other frontier is along the front of the Central Hall, and so down to the back of the Abbey where the old wall itself exists to-day. My suggestion is that the Westminster Hospital site ought to be brought into the same mood as that of St. James's Park and its lake. Why should there not be small ponds here, where we could see the Abbey most beautifully reflected in all its moods, of grey days and sunny days, and it would be possible to link it with the spirit of the Park?

There is a small point that came to my notice last week when I was in the Central Hall for three days running, as a journalist in connection with the annual meeting of the National Farmers' Union. One of the striking gains since the Westminster Hospital has been demolished is the very fine view of the Abbey from the long window on the staircase going up to the main hall. I think we should keep that view, whether the hall is used by farmers from all the counties or by anybody else.

Lastly, I cannot think that anybody coming from the Colonial Empire would be glad that this site is likely, or is not unlikely, to become a mere building haunted with the clicking of typewriters —which is now one of the largest industries in this country. I am sure that for every reason that noble Lords have put before the House, much better than I have, this site in its entirety must be kept open I should like once again to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, on his excellent maiden speech.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, I did not intend to speak when I entered this chamber this afternoon, but I feel that neither this House, nor my noble friend Lord Morrison, ought to be under the impression that the whole of the aesthetic sense of this House is confined to one section of it. I should like noble Lords opposite to feel that some of us on this side feel equally strongly about the desirability of preserving the beauty of this most historic site in Westminster, probably the most historic site in the world. I recognise that an Act of Parliament has been passed for the purpose of acquiring this site, and I am bound to say to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, whose maiden speech I very much enjoyed, and whom I should like to congratulate on it, that Parliament was certainly under the impression, when it acquired the site, that it was going to be built on. Although there may not have been anything specific in the Act, Parliament certainly understood that it was not merely buying an open space.

Nevertheless, I do feel that, if at the time representations about the importance of this size, and about the desirability of doing everything we could to preserve the beauty of its buildings, had been made to those responsible, those of us who had some responsibility for the selection of this site would certainly have hesitated and would have been impressed. The fact that those representations were not made at the time is something for which we must all accept some responsibility, but it is no discredit to any of as to say that our aesthetic sense has improved since 1947 —perhaps we are wiser to-day with the loss from time to time of beautiful parts of London and beautiful buildings—and that, if it is not too late, we would earnestly appeal to the Minister of Works to hesitate and to think again.

I am not one of those who would advocate that the whole of this site should be used as an open space. I think one can hardly go to Parliament and ask both Houses to pass a measure for the expenditure of £400,000 for the acquisition of a site to build on, and then say: "We are very sorry. We have bought the site. We do not want to build on it. We want another site." It would not be encouraging to go to Parliament for the purpose of a compulsory acquisition of land if there could be an accusation of some form of misrepresentation. Moreover. I would respectfully point out to the House that, if the Ministry of Works had not come along with this measure, the fate of this site would have been worse than it threatens to be at the present time. It was intended that this should be a block of offices, and if the Colonial Office is an unworthy neighbour of Westminster Abbey then a fortiori a block of offices would have been so. So at least the Ministry of Works must be thanked for having saved us from this even worse fate.

I have nothing to add to the arguments and the representations which have been so eloquently and forcibly made, but I should like to associate myself with the majority of them. I believe that it is possible to erect on this site a building which will meet many of the objections and yet give the Colonial Office what it needs. I would earnestly plead with my noble friend Lord Morrison to ask his right honourable friend to look at this matter again. I realise that that must involve a good deal of delay. It must inevitably mean the preparation of new plans, possibly a task which will mean deferring for some two years the erection of the Colonial Office. But I wonder whether, in the existing conditions, it really is the intention of the Government to proceed with the erection of this building straight away? It may well be—I do not know—that the rearmament to which we are now committed—


With regard to that point, may I say that, but for the discussion which arose within the last few weeks, the Ministry of Works were within ten days of calling for tenders for the excavation.


I appreciate that, but of course in the last ten days or so something else has happened, besides the raising of this matter in this House, and I imagine that there will be some curtailment of public building and public expenditure. In these circumstances, it may well be that in any case my noble friend may have had reason to postpone the actual beginning of the construction of the Colonial Office. If that were so, of course, it would mean that the delay would not be so great as it otherwise would, but, as I say, one must recognise that the preparation of new plans might put back the beginning of the construction of the offices for some two years— possibly longer. But, my Lords, I would plead that even two years is not a long time in the history of this country. Once this building is put up it is there for ever; and surely it is worth while hesitating for even that period, in order to do the best we can for this great historic area. I therefore hope that my noble friend will be able to tell us this afternoon that he will earnestly take into consideration the representations that have been made. I trust that he will not within ten days invite tenders for a start on this work, but that he will give serious consideration to the possibility of putting up an alternative building which will meet most of the objections that have been raised in this House.

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate but I have been greatly impressed by the strength of the case that has been made out by all the noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon. Therefore I feel bound to rise and, in a few sentences, to associate myself with the Motion that has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. The proposals in the last speech that we heard, which came from the former Minister of Town and Country Planning and a general supporter of the Government, must in particular carry great weight with us and with the public. It seems to me that probably the right solution would be to set back this building, to have a somewhat smaller building on the same site and to ask the Colonial Office to be satisfied with less commodious premises. I realise that we cannot waste the very large sum which has already been spent, and, much as one would desire to see the whole of this site kept as an open space, I fear that in present circumstances it is hardly practicable. However, I have looked at the model of the area, which is now to be seen in the Library, and it does appear that the area will be a terrible jumble if the present plans are carried out. Possibly the views expressed in your Lordships' House to-day may in a very large degree be met by a modification and not an abandonment of the plans. At all events, that is the suggestion that I would join in pressing upon the noble Lord and his colleagues.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, like the two noble Lords who have just spoken, I came into the House without any intention of taking part in this discussion, and I am afraid that the views which I am going to put forward will not meet with very much acceptance, because the model which has been placed in the library had rather the opposite effect on me to what it had on other noble Lords. Of course, these things are matters of taste, and we know that matters of taste are not matters to be disputed. When the question was raised some time ago and it was suggested that we should have an open space on this site, I felt, as one who has spent a good coal of his life fighting for open spaces, that that was an admirable idea. I must say, however, that, looking at the model, it seems to me impossible to leave an open space on this site with advantage. In parenthesis, I would say that I would not agree with the noble Viscount that we ought not to spend the money—that is, if it were clear beyond a peradventure that it was the right thing in the interests of the noble Abbey and of this historic site to clear the whole thing away and leave an open space. If that were agreed, then. I think, £400,000 is a mere bagatelle in relation to such an object.

It seems to me that, with the Middlesex Guildhall on its present site, to have an open space where the old hospital used to be would be æsthetically to make a grievous blunder. That is the view to which I have come after careful consideration of the model. If the Guildhall could be swept away it would be another matter—and nobody this afternoon has said that the Middlesex Guildhall is going to be regarded in a few years' time as one of the most beautiful buildings of its time, and I am afraid that I have not yet been converted to the view expressed by the most reverend Primate in respect of the Central Hall, though it may, if its towers are completed, be a better place than it is now. But, as it stands, I do not feel that any great value has been added to this site by opening up the view of the Central Hall. I would agree that if it were possible to remove the Middlesex Guildhall (a project which has not, so far as I know, been suggested), and replan the whole of this open space, perhaps with some monuments upon it, so as to get a harmonious re-development of the area, that would be a magnificent scheme. However, I do not know that anybody has yet been prepared to come forward with a scheme like that. As the matter stands at he present time, I feel that it would be a mistake to leave an open space on the site of the old hospital and the Stationery Office. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, suggests that, in effect, we are on the point of desecrating the site; but surely we have all been brought up in a time when the old hospital was there, and our feeling of affection and love of the Abbey and its beauty was developed in surroundings of that sort.

Moreover, I am one of those who feel that a really fine and beautiful building is something which would be a good thing in itself, and especially in this particular part of London. I am not sure that I agree with the view of the proposed Colonial Office expressed in the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, which, like everybody else, I enjoyed enormously. It is difficult for the layman to judge from the elevation which is in the Library how good the proposed Colonial Office will be. My own reaction to it was not quite so enthusiastic as his. But I should like to see a really fine piece of architecture on this site. I believe there is a great deal in what the Fine Art Commission has said about it—namely, that its elevation is too lofty, and that it might be better if it were put somewhat further back. If the Government are prepared to do anything, I think it would be much the better way to proceed on those lines. We know that the Government have in fact been giving much attention to and are very sensible of the importance of this matter. I understand that the Prime Minister himself has within the last few days had more than one meeting about it, which shows that there is great feeling, sympathy and sensitiveness in the Government on matters of this sort. I feel, however, that if a compromise is to be reached, it would best be reached upon lines of the sort I have suggested and which I think will meet with the approval of my noble friend Lord Silkin.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I want to add just a few sentences. I feel sure that the Government can do æsthetic justice and practical justice and, at the same time, accept a compromise which I believe will satisfy the whole House, not just as a compromise, but on merits, because I believe it is the right thing to do. I cannot, for the life of me, think that the Colonial Office want a building to house 1,300 people. The Colonies become fewer and fewer. When I was Colonial Secretary—and we were not inactive in those days—I am perfectly certain that we could have accommodated the whole of our staff in a building onethird of this size. Certainly there should be no encouragement to proliferate Departments and sub-departments in this way. They cannot possibly require a building of that size. If they say they require it, then they should be taught a salutary lesson in these times, when we are all told, quite rightly, that we must make sacrifices. Let the Government set an example by sacrificing something in the magnitude—indeed, the megalomania—of the size of Government Departments. I am sure this Department could be satisfied completely, or, if you cannot satisfy them, they should be told that they must be satisfied with a building which is considerably smaller.

That being done, it would give ample opportunity to set the site back. I do not share Lord Silkin's view that it would be a reasonable thing to erect no building on this site, nor am I at all convinced that the beauty and the whole æsthetic conception of the area would be enhanced by making this an open site. After all, it is not a completely open site. It is true there will be an open space if you build nothing on it, but then the Middlesex Guildhall, which is an adequate but not a superlatively beautiful building, will be turned into an island in that open space. I believe that the result would be that we should end up not so much by enhancing the Abbey, but by enhancing the Guildhall. Certainly some other buildings which the destruction of the Stationery Office has uncovered would be much better concealed by a new structure.

Is not the practical thing to do in this matter to economise in expenditure? I certainly do not think the building need be started at once. I should not have thought it would take two years to redesign it. I bear in mind that Ministers of Town and Country Planning proceed gradually, like the late Lord Passfield. I have seen buildings erected in America a good deal more quickly than that, and, if I remember rightly, the I.C.I, building further down Millbank, which is quite a good building, was designed and erected in about two years. But I do not think it would matter at all if there were a little delay in erecting this building. Indeed, we must have a reduction in capital expenditure over the next two years and certainly this building need not have very high priority. Therefore I would join in what I believe is the general feeling of the House in appealing to the Government to adopt a solution which would give them the practical result they want—a building of adequate size upon this site. I believe that would be not a mere compromise, but the best solution to the problem of meeting the æsthetic requirements of the situation.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, after listening to something like a dozen speeches, no one could have failed, as Lord Samuel has just said, to be impressed with this debate. I must at once say, however, that I am almost as impressed, and a little confused, by the multitude of different suggestions that have emanated from the debate. I have only one complaint about this debate, and it is a very minor one; it was indirectly mentioned by my noble friend Lord Silkin. I thought that I detected in some of the speeches a faint suggestion that the present Government have a lower standard of culture in architecture and fine buildings than have noble Lords in this House. If that impression has gone abroad I want to contradict it immediately. I agree with Lord Silkin that we claim to have as high standards as anyone else in the community in these matters.

May I be allowed to join with others in congratulating Lord Mottistone? I thought that his speech was of more than ordinary interest. He spoke on a subject upon which he is well qualified to speak, and his speech, if I may say so, was also of great interest to many of us who have given lengthy service in one or both Houses of Parliament, and who have unforgettable memories, not only of personal friendship but of the valuable public services so generously given by his late father. As he reminded us (and I was thinking of it before he even mentioned it) I find it interesting to recall that his father was for some time an Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. I am sure that I am expressing the hope of every noble Lord here in saying that we hope that, if his professional work permits, we may have many opportunities of hearing Lord Mottistone again.

The subject which the noble Lord has raised is one which, as he said, and as your Lordships will remember, was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, just before the Christmas vacation. Lord Mancroft has again addressed us to-day, and while I am handing out compliments I hope that he will allow me to congratulate him, not upon his maiden speech but upon an announcement of almost equal importance which I read in The Times recently, and to wish his fiancé and himself good health, good luck, and a happy future. For the benefit of those of your Lordships who were not present on November 21, and did not happen to read the Report of our proceedings then, I thought it might be as well if I summarised briefly what I then said in reply to Lord Mancroft. My difficulty is that after such a long debate I do not want to weary your Lordships by dealing in detail with every point that every speaker has made. But there are one or two outstanding points.

Some noble Lords want this site cleared altogether. Others say, as the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has just said: "Let us have a compromise and build a smaller Colonial Office on that site." Therefore your Lordships will forgive me if I skim over the points, and try to present to you the situation as it appears to the Government to-day. In the first place. Lord Mottistone seemed to question whether, if an entirely new site had to be found for this building, it would necessarily mean new legislation. I can only say that I would draw his attention to the Public Offices (Site) Act, 1947, and he will see on the front page "An Act to make provision for the acquisition of a site for Public Offices in Westminster."


But it does not say for the Colonial Office; that was my point.


That is so, but I cannot see how it would be possible, with a direction like that in the Title, to assume that the Act refers to anything other than public offices of any kind. What the noble Lord and others have been arguing for is a public open space. Therefore the best advice I can give, out of my own somewhat lengthy experience, is that it would be necessary to have another Act of Parliament before we could turn this site into an open space.

The announcement that the Government proposed to acquire the site of the old Westminster Hospital, and to build on that site and on the adjoining Stationery Office site a new building for the Colonial Office, was made as long ago as October 11, 1946. There has never been any question but that a new headquarters for the Colonial Empire is urgently needed, and I am sorry that the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of York, having put some very direct questions to me, has not found it convenient to wait to receive the answers. That is the answer to his first question: that a new Colonial Office is urgently needed. The present Colonial Office is scattered over three different buildings.

When the Public Offices(Site) Act, 1947, which gave the Government power to acquire the Westminster Hospital site for this purpose, was debated in your Lordships' House and in another place the proposed use of the site commanded general approval. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said a few moments ago, and Lord Halifax agreed with him, that we were all to blame for that. There was no opposition at all to the proposal. Lord Mottistone eloquently pointed out, as an excuse for the failure of everybody to recognise what the view would be when the Stationery Office was pulled down; "Well, how were we to know?" I do not know: with the number of people who are experts in this sort of business we should expect them, I think, to have a little more imagination than they evinced over this matter in 1947. The matter was debated not only in your Lordships' House but in another place, and the plans commanded general approval, without question or dissent. There was ready acceptance of the statement made in your Lordships' House by Lord Henderson that:— There is no more worthy use for this fine position than as the Headquarters of the Colonial Empire. I well remember sitting here next to Lord Henderson, when he spoke, and hearing the general applause and approbation with which that sentiment was received. At the same time, the fullest consideration was given to the limits which should be imposed on the size of the new building, and it was open to any interested party, by petitioning one or other of the two Select Committees which considered the Bill, to make their views known.

In 1948, a distinguished private architect, who had been commissioned by the Minister of Works to design the new building, prepared his sketch plans, and they were submitted for the advice of the Royal Fine Art Commission. Just before the war this body had signified their approval to the plans of a proposed commercial office block on the site which covered it to the full extent permitted under the Westminster Hospital Act, 1913. Subsequently, however, the Commission altered their view as to the proper development of the site, and pressed that the front of the new building should be set back so far as to leave the old site, which had by then been acquired at a cost of over £400,000, almost entirely vacant. A further result of this would have been to make the building too small for the Colonial Office, and thus to prevent the Ministry of Works from using the site for the purpose for which Parliament had authorised its acquisition.

In these circumstances, after consultations between the Ministry of Works, the Treasury, the Colonial Office, the Royal Fine Art Commission and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, a compromise scheme was evolved; the elevations were re-designed, and the building was set back so as to surrender land, worth about £150,000, for public amenities, and to enable important road widening to be carried out, both in Broad Sanctuary and in Princes Street. The size of the building was somewhat reduced, though still large enough to accommodate the Colonial Office, and the Royal Fine Art Commission, while still adhering to their former view that a lesser develop-ment would have been desirable, approved the compromise design as such.

Your Lordships, I am sure, will appreciate that there is a proper time for suggesting important alterations to a major project of this kind. Once the sketch plans have been agreed, much time and money has to be spent on the preparation of the working drawings and bills of quantities, so that a substantial change after the sketch plan stage is bound to involve a good deal of waste of money, as well as delay. With the greatest respect, I suggest to those of your Lordships who are in favour of the replanning or re-siting of the new Colonial Office that the proper time to make these recom- mendations was in 1947, when the Public Offices (Site) Bill was before your Lordships' House.


My Lords, before the noble Lord passes from that topic, may I ask him a question? He said that it would cost a great deal more money if we now altered the plans. But would hot one result of altering the plans be that there would be a smaller building which would cost less money, and that this saving would have to be set off against the extra expense incurred in architects' fees and so on?


If there were a smaller building, I would agree to the noble Viscount's proposition, provided that the whole of the staff of the Colonial Office could be accommodated in that smaller building.

With regard to the suggestion in the Motion that another site should be chosen, I would only point out, first, that having been authorised by Parliament to acquire this site for the purpose of providing public offices, my right honourable friend the Minister of Works would—as I have already pointed out—require fresh legislation if it were decided to use the site entirely as an open space; and, secondly, that His Majesty's Government have at present no suitable alternative site in view. A great number of sites have been suggested in the debate this afternoon. Some have already been examined, but have been rejected on various grounds. Others have not been examined. I will bring these suggestions to the notice of the Government so that attention can be given to them. To change the site at this late stage would mean a complete replanning of the whole project, involving some years of delay— it has taken four and a half years from the decision to use the Westminster Hospital site to reach the present stage when a contract can shortly be let—and would, of course, involve the Government in the expense of acquiring two sites for one building. The noble Earl, Lord Halifax, made the comment that he was hopeful as to what the decision was going to be because he thought that I looked hopeful. I must learn to control my features better.

May I say, with regard to the suggestion that the frontage line of the new building should be set further back, that there are a number of points of view? It has been suggested, for example, that this setting back should be done not so much to afford a more spacious view of Westminster Abbey as to disclose the frontage of the Central Hall, but against this there is another school of thought—or, perhaps I should say, of dissentient opinion. Lord Mottistone said he thought that one day the Central Hall would be acclaimed as an excellent example of the architecture of the period. I am sure he knows that there is another school of thought which does not hold such an elevated opinion of the Central Hall. Indeed, I have heard it said that as an example of good architecture the less one can see of the Central Hall, the better. I am not taking sides in this matter, but merely pointing out that: there are experts on both sides. All I can say on this subject at present is that, in view of the wide public interest shown in this question, His Majesty's Government are at present giving their close consideration to the matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Badeley, said that he and his friends did not intend to press for a definite answer to-day. I accept that. I can say only that I will draw the attention of the Government to the suggestions that have been made. I cannot give any hope at all that the Government will look favourably upon the idea of abandoning this site altogether. I can, however, say that the important speeches which have been delivered this afternoon, together with, the new suggestions made, will be brought to their notice. I think I can also say that questions of height, frontage and accommodation are at present under active consideration, and noble Lords well know what that expression means. As soon as a decision is reached by the Government it will be announced.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I must not detain you any longer now, because the hour is late. I should, however, like to take the opportunity of thanking all noble Lords who have received me so kindly, and have spoken well of me. I hope that I may do more to deserve your Lordships' kindness. I should like particularly to thank Lord Badeley for speaking about me in such kindly terms. I wish, also, to express my gratitude to Lord Morrison for his courteous reply to my Motion. There are one or two points in his speech with which I do not agree, but I do not think that this is the time to go into them and to seek to answer them, in view of his remark that the Government would like more time to reconsider the matter in detail. That, I think, is the most important point. If they will do that, and will reconsider the matter, I will gladly ask leave of the House to withdraw my Motion now, on the understanding that the model will be exhibited so that everyone can see what we mean, and that there will be an opportunity to discuss the matter again when the Government have their proposals ready.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.