HL Deb 14 July 1958 vol 210 cc957-65

3.0 p.m.

Amendments reported (according to Order).

Clause 7 [Supplemental provisions as to acquisition of land]:

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH moved, in subsection (2), to leave out "fourteen days" and insert "two months". The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not think it will be necessary to trouble your Lordships at length with this Amendment, or to reiterate all the arguments I used on the Second Reading and Committee stage of the Bill. Your Lordships will remember that Clause 7 (2) gives the London County Council the right, within fourteen days of this Bill becoming law, to take possession of property, and turn out the tenants who are at present enjoying the rights of that property, in Park Lane and Knightsbridge. My argument on the Committee stage was that this was far too short a notice, particularly in view of the fact that the London County Council had stated that they did not want the property at the earliest until next October.

I put down an Amendment to extend the period from fourteen to ninety days. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in his usual accommodating manner, rather agreed with my argument as to the fourteen days—in fact, he had to make the plaintive statement that he was a rather reluctant advocate in the matter—but did not quite agree to my ninety days. We have had conversations since then, and in my desire to meet the noble Lord I have come down from ninety days, and he in his turn has come up from thirty days. The result is this Amendment, which seeks to alter "fourteen days" to "two months." This, I understand, unless the noble Lord has been persuaded otherwise, will meet with the acceptance of the Government. I hope that my thanks to the noble Lord are not premature. If they are not, I can tell him that the concession which he has granted, by seeing the force of the arguments and the justice of the case that was presented, will be greeted with satisfaction by all the tenants concerned. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 10, line 11, leave out (" fourteen days ") and insert (" two months ").—(Lord Lucas of Chilwarth.)


My Lords, think the House would wish the Government to accept this Amendment, but lest your Lordships should think that it is merely a matter of horse-trading between the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and myself I think I should explain briefly (because this is an important matter) why we think this Amendment should be accepted. We are accepting it for one reason, and one reason only. Your Lordships will remember the famous words of the late Lord Hewart: It is not merely of some importance, but it is of fundamental importance, that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done. This Amendment is a classic illustration of the late Lord Hewart's dictum. What we had put in the Bill for notice of entry was fourteen days. We believed, as we still believe, that with all the time for consideration and debate, with the opportunities for objections by private individuals and for hearing those objections, and all the publicity which a Bill of this kind provides, when the time eventually came to take over the land everyone affected would have had an ample period in which to settle his affairs.

Because of the Bill everyone concerned has already had six months' warning, and the London County Council have also told occupiers that their property will probably be wanted between October and the end of this year. In other words, nearly a year will have passed between the time when our intentions were first made known and the time when the London County Council take over. I had hoped that your Lordships would have considered that this was an arrangement fair to those affected and fair to those who have to carry out the scheme. Some of your Lordships clearly feel, however, that, although this may be so, it is not right for owners and occupiers to have any cause for anxiety at all about whether the period of notice to quit will be long enough. I have no doubt that all will be well, but I am anxious to do anything reasonable to remove any doubt in the minds of others.

May I mention one reason for extending the period of notice which I think is not valid. It is that, so far as acquiring land and property goes, this Park Lane improvement scheme is special or different from other schemes. Once Parliament has decided that a man has to give up his land, I do not think it will interest him very much whether it is to be used for a £2 million underpass or for a bus shelter for the proverbial Clapham omnibus. In fact, the only special thing I see in this scheme is that great pains have been taken to give those affected ample warning of what is likely to happen, and it was for this reason that we felt justified in putting in the Bill a minimum of fourteen days. Fourteen days is, indeed, a customary period. It is, for instance, what is prescribed in the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946; and it may interest your Lordships to know that in nine London County Council Acts passed between 1930 and 1948 Parliament allowed fourteen days in sections similar to this one. In more recent London County Council Acts the minimum time has been one month, and at the Committee stage of this Bill the Government were prepared, despite the special care I have mentioned, to give a month here instead of fourteen days.

My Lords, I could continue to expound the justice of prescribing either fourteen days or a month, but, however persuasive I might be, if your Lordships did not think that either period looked right in this particular case, it would be the Government's duty to consider what would. If I interpret the feeling of your Lordships correctly, your Lordships believe that the minimum of two months, which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has put down, is enough to make it perfectly clear that no injustice will be done. That being so, I am happy to accept the Amendment.


My Lords, I can only express my gratitude to the noble Lord. I am glad that, after all the arguments as to why he should not accept it, the reason given in your Lordships' House has prevailed. I do not suppose the tenants affected trouble whether it is a £2 million scheme or a 2½d scheme that causes them to be evicted; their interest lies in the fact that they will now have two months' notice and not fourteen days' notice. As regards the past sins of the London County Council, perhaps it would have been better if they had had a more belligerent opposition, as they now have.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

VISCOUNT STANSGATE moved, after Clause 23 to insert the following new clause:

Public Meetings etc. in Hyde Park

" .—() Nothing in this Act shall authorise the removal of any facilities for public meeting or procession customarily available in Hyde Park unless equal alternative facilities are provided."

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the subject matter of this Amendment, which is quite a simple Amendment, was raised in debate on the Committee stage. Its purpose is to protect the existing facilities for the right of procession into Hyde Park and for the right of meeting and free speech at a certain section of the park. The noble Lord who has charge of the Bill was good enough to say that he was of the same opinion as I was about this, and he gave verbal assurances. Those I have attempted to put into an Amendment. There are a series of clauses which give protection to a number of people such as the Post Office, statutory bodies, and so on, and I think we might easily include in the Bill protection for the right of public speech in Hyde Park, which is almost a historic demonstration of our outlook. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 23 insert the said new clause.—(Viscount Stansgate.)


My Lords, the Government have every sympathy with the spirit behind this Amendment. I hope, however, that what I have to say will convince your Lordships that it would be a mistake to include in this Bill a reference to the facilities for public meetings or processions in Hyde Park. The use of an area at the north-east corner of Hyde Park for public speaking dates from at least the early part of the nineteenth century. It is a right that rests upon custom and tradition; it is nowhere defined by Statute. It is not intended that this Bill shall make any change whatsoever in the rights of public speaking at Speakers' Corner. It would, in the opinion of the Government, be quite inappropriate for any such rights to be given statutory expression in this Bill. Even if it were so appropriate, I (like a number of your Lordships), as an upholder of the rights of free speech, should resist such definition. I should resist such definition because defined rights are limited rights. Undefined rights resting on tradition are rights subject only to the law of the land. The Government are therefore of opinion that to include in this Bill reference to such facilities might have exactly the reverse effect of what the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, intends.

I have said that the Government do not intend to alter in any way the rights of public speaking at Speakers' Corner. Unfortunately, it is impossible to carry out the improvements at Marble Arch without encroaching on a part of the space now known as Speakers' Corner. I have already stated in your Lordships' House that the Government intend to preserve the facilities traditionally enjoyed by speakers and their audiences in Hyde Park, though it may be necessary to move part of the area of Speakers' Corner a little further into the park.

What it amounts to is this. An area of 4,600 square yards will be lost. On the other hand, it is intended to gravel over an additional area of 6,500 square yards a little further inside the park behind the clump of trees by the present Speakers' Corner, and this new area will be available for use by speakers and their audiences. A further area of 1,200 square yards will be gained adjacent to the existing area by realignment of the road. I have put a map outside your Lordships' House to show this point more clearly. Your Lordships will see that on present plans the Government intend not only to maintain an equivalent area for public speaking but, indeed, to increase that area. The existing area is about 7,000 square yards, and the new area will be over 10,000 square yards, but split into two parts—one part near the road, and the other behind the clump of trees some fifty to sixty yards away. Furthermore, speakers will thus be able to choose between the somewhat noisy conditions which exist at present on that part of the area adjacent to the new road and the new area behind the trees, which will be further away from the traffic and, therefore, I think, more acceptable to the speakers, and at any rate kinder to their throats.

Now as to processions. It has been claimed that it will be more difficult for processions to enter the park and assemble at Speakers' Corner than it is at present. I agree that under the new scheme processions will either have to enter the park through the pedestrian subways—and I realise that in that case they may have some difficulty in avoiding breaking ranks, or at least breaking step—or through the new gates into the park, which will be placed across the North Carriage Drive at one end of the new gravel area of Speakers' Corner. I have no reason to believe that the police will be in any way less co-operative in seeing that processions safely reach the haven of the park than they are at present. I can see that processions coming from Trafalgar Square may have to march an extra 200 yards to reach the corner, but as I understand that one of the purposes of procession is to be seen marching, this may not be entirely a disadvantage. On the other hand, processions originating in the Paddington-Bayswater Road area will, in fact, be able to reach Speakers' Corner more easily than at present.

In the debate on the Committee stage of this Bill the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, asked me either that the Government should accept an Amendment on the lines of the Amendment he now proposes, or that the Government should make a carefully worded declaration to similar effect. For the reasons which I have given—this is an important matter, and it is for that reason that I have taken a long time over it—the Government feel impelled to resist such an Amendment. But they have no hesitation in meeting the point made by the noble Viscount by saying categorically that they intend to provide for the benefit of speakers at Speakers' Corner an area not less than that which they now enjoy. Your Lordships realise that the area proposed is considerably larger and that other facilities will remain exactly the same.


My Lords, I must confess that I regard the answers which the noble Lord has given for not accepting this Amendment as completely unconvincing. I recognise that at present this right is enjoyed by tradition and custom, but this right is being interfered with. Admittedly the Government are recognising the right, but they are removing the venue, and removing it to a place which may be less convenient for speakers and not so satisfactory for processions. There is no reason to believe that, if it suited any future Government, they would not try to do the same, or even, in spite of the assurances of the noble Lord, who can speak only for his Government and not for the future, to withhold the concession altogether. If it should be thought necessary in the interests of traffic, there is no reason why a future Government should not do away with this particular facility. At least, if they wanted to do so it ought to be necessary for them to come and seek the repeal of this provision, and everyone would be on notice.

I cannot see why the proposed clause cannot be incorporated in the Bill. The noble Lord tried to say that it would be inappropriate, but he did not explain why. May I just read the clause—it is very simple: Nothing in this Act shall authorise the removal of any facilities for public meeting or procession customarily available in Hyde Park unless equal alternative facilities are provided. That is exactly what the Government are proposing to do. But we feel that, having been disturbed once, we are entitled to have a definite statutory assurance this time that if we have to be disturbed again we shall get something as good as we have at the present time. I hope that on further consideration the Government will feel that they can give this satisfaction which will be greatly appreciated by all those who use Speakers' Corner, either for speaking or for coming and listening to the speakers. There would be at least an assurance that it is safeguarded in an Act of Parliament.


My Lords, I should like also to support this Amendment. If I understood the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, aright, I think he took the point that we were trying to insert in the Bill some protection, whereas in fact the wording is merely that nothing shall authorise the removal of certain facilities. This is a purely negative clause for the protection of the public. The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, mentioned at a previous stage of this Bill that certain facilities granted in respect of Trafalgar Square are in fact being arbitrarily withdrawn. We understand that there are to be movable railings which can be taken up when certain processions go into the park. It is possible that some authority, perhaps not well advised, might consider that a certain procession was not a suitable procession and refuse to take up these movable railings. Whilst that is unlikely to happen, I think protection should be given in case such an incident were to arise.


My Lords, I cannot quite understand the case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that some future Government may do away with the right of speaking in the park. This Amendment does not deal with that matter at all. It says merely that those rights, or customary rights, shall not be done away with under this Bill. But if a future Government intend to do away with the right of public speaking in the park, they will do away with it. This does not authorise public speaking in the park. It merely says it shall not be done away with under this Bill.


May I interrupt the noble Lord? I think he is mistaken. We are asserting, and the Minister agrees, that there exists a certain right; but it is a right by use and custom. In this Amendment it becomes a statutory right and, therefore, cannot be removed without legislation.


My Lords, with respect I suppose that my noble friend Lord Mancroft will reply, but the Amendment does not read like that to me. It reads to me that any rights that exist shall not be taken away under this Bill. It does not give those rights. Those rights are there by custom, and if any future Government want to do away with them they will take other steps to do so. It seems to me that this Amendment is entirely unnecessary.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord if he is taking a technical point on the wording of this Amendment, or is he objecting merely to any statutory protection for Speakers' Corner? If it is merely a technical point, I am sure that he and I can get together and frame a more suitable form of words.


What I am saying is that this Amendment does nothing, because it gives no statutory right.


My Lords, every speaker so far has assumed that this clause deals with rights. I find no mention of rights in the new clause, and I have never known a clause give rights if it did not mention the word, or some word front which a right could be inferred. I do not think the removal of facilities has anything to do with rights.

On Question, Amendment negatived.