HL Deb 25 June 1959 vol 217 cc255-96

3.56 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. Your Lordships will readily understand that if the suggestion made by my noble Leader ever comes to debate he will have no more fervent supporter than I, because I am most unhappy that I have to make a speech, and should much have preferred that this Motion could have gone through, as I believe is customary, without a Division. Although I am obliged as it were, to hold up the remainder of the Business, it is certainly not my wish, nor the wish of the Promoters of the Bill.

Your Lordships will recall that two weeks ago, when I made my first essay to move this Motion, the noble Earl the Leader of the House intervened to suggest that the debate should be postponed as there was no notice of opposition on the Paper and your Lordships might not have been aware of what was intended. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, who confirmed that he proposed to make a statement which amounted to opposition, agreed to this course. On that occasion the noble Earl expressed some sympathy with me in my position—which was quite understandable—as a "new boy" confronted with a situation which, so far as I know, has had no precedent or at least has not happened for a long time. But I feel more in need of sympathy to-day, because I have become aware of activities against this Bill which I regret. For example, the well known City paper, the City Press, last Friday published what I regard as a garbled and misleading account of the proposals in this Bill. Mentioning that a Petition was being organised, it said: The Bill was to have had a Third Reading in the House of Lords a few days ago, but in view of the amount of opposition it was decided to postpone it until next Thursday, June 25. The opponents of the Bill hope by that time to have aroused enough opposition to have the Bill thrown out. That is something far more serious than a "statement which amounts to opposition".

So far as I am aware, there is virtually no other opposition to this Bill. There is no opposition from Government Departments or public authority, and so far as the Finsbury citizens are concerned I received a letter only this morning from Finsbury Town Hall which reads as follows:

"I am sorry to learn that the Finsbury Square Bill, despite passing the Select Committee, was meeting opposition in the House of Lords. As you know, the Opposition has always supported the Bill during its preliminary stages, and as far as I know there has been no opposition from any ratepayer in the borough.

"With all good wishes and may your efforts to keep the Bill be successful.

Yours sincerely,

D. W. Bromfield,

Leader of the Conservative Party Finsbury Borough Council."


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, I should like to make it absolutely clear that my request to him to postpone the Bill a week or so ago was nothing to do with the opposition at all. In fact, I did not know whether there was opposition or not. It was purely to conform to the procedure of the House and to give noble Lords adequate notice.


I am grateful to the noble Earl for making that point clear, but in view of what I have read out he will agree that there might have been some misunderstanding.

Had I spoken two weeks ago my speech would have been very popular because it would have been very brief. Now, having, out of my duty to the people on whose behalf I have agreed to move this Motion, and indeed out of necessity, looked thoroughly into the matter, which has involved, among other things, reading the Reports of Proceedings of four select Committees, six days' sittings, 224 pages, and many other things, I feel that I must make a longer speech and explain the whole circumstances; and I hope your Lordships will agree this should be done.

In the short time I have had the privilege of experiencing the courtesy and methods of your Lordships' House I have been happier than I ever thought it was possible for anyone to be in politics, because however much you may attack or defend policies or principles you never single out individuals; and if, perforce, I appear to do so now it is because I am relating the facts as I see them and for no other reason.

The situation is that the Petitioners against the Bill, two great insurance companies, having with great skill availed themselves of every Parliamentary opportunity to defeat the Bill, have thus far lost the decision. Normally, the matter would have been at an end, apart from a purely formal Third Reading. That it is not yet at an end is, according to one's point of view, either a comedy or a tragedy. In any case my task is one that I would rather not have had, especially as I am in conflict with noble Lords whose sincerely 'held views on amenity I share, but whose attitude on this occasion think is wholly mistaken. This Bill, which is strongly supported by the Ministry of Transport, who regard it—I quote: as the first really worthwhile scheme for underground parking in London", proposes merely a mathematical amendment to the Finsbury Square Act, 1957. This alteration is necessary if the intentions expressed in that Act are to be carried out. I hope that that main, basic, indeed only, factor of the matter is really borne in mind.

The Square, about two acres in extent, is on the edge of the City and bounded on one side by the very busy City Road. It is also the terminus for seven bus routes, so that, permanently ringed as it is with double-deckers, we are not dis- cussing any sylvan retreat. The Square itself, now a public Square, has lain virtually derelict since the war, largely because the Home Office refused, and still refuse, to permit the removal of two rows of underground air-raid shelters which disfigure it. Those of your Lordships who have looked at the pictures exhibited in the last few days will agree that the word "disfigures" is no exaggeration whatever. This basic fact about the non-removability of the air-raid shelters is mainly responsible for the outcome we are discussing to-day. In 1956, through 'the good offices of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for which we are very grateful, the Finsbury Borough Council acquired the Square at a nominal cost from the Church Commissioners and covenanted to convert it into a public garden. Their idea was at it were to camouflage the air-raid shelters into a sort of valley garden, at a cost of some £15,000 or £20,000. Then if, in later years, the Home Office relented, and said, "Yes, you can remove the air-raid shelters ", the Council would dig it all up again, so that, at a total cost of some £50,000, we should have a public garden—not an ideal solution, but the best in the circumstances.

A month after they acquired the Square the Finsbury Corporation received an offer from a firm known as Lex Garages to rent the Square and to provide, at their own cost, an underground car park for 323 cars, and also to make a garden, with trees, flowers and walks, bowling green and tennis court, the necessary changing rooms, and, at the suggestion of the London County Council, a tea room. They also offered to pay the Corporation £1,000 a year towards the maintenance of the garden and, if and when they made any, 10 per cent. of the net profits. Those amenities that I have mentioned are not in the Bill; they are not an essential part of the Bill; and that is still a matter for discussion with the various authorities. It can be all garden, and the Finsbury Corporation are most anxious to please everybody they can in that matter, but because there are no such amenities in Finsbury as a bowling green and tennis court the citizens of Finsbury would like to be permitted to have them there. The Town Clerk, naturally, as a lawyer, did not think this scheme feasible. His legal training had told him that any practical scheme which apparently had so much to commend it was bound to arouse the maximum opposition. But his Council, having considered the matter, said, "Well, why not?"

So they went and consulted the Government Departments and other authorities concerned in the matter. The Home Office said that if, but only if, the underground car park were erected, they would agree to the, removal of the air-raid shelters. Obviously, if the car park was made it would provide much better protection from the hazards of nuclear radiation than the horrible things your Lordships have seen in the photographs. The Ministry of Transport also warmly supported the project as a welcome step for the relief of traffic congestion in an area where, in a day, as many as 1,500 cars are parked in a radius of a quarter of a mile and also because this particular scheme is in accordance with Government policy not to provide public funds for off-street parking.

Just how welcome this scheme was is confirmed by the Report of the City Police Commissioner published two weeks ago. This indicates that the traffic rate into the City has increased by 10 per cent. in the last two years, and that the main arteries into the City—and City Road is one of them—are each in twelve hours carrying 25,000 to 45,000 vehicles. The congestion is getting worse. The streets of the City are being choked with traffic and any development of off-street parking was of the utmost importance. When we discuss fatalities in the streets with all the sincerity that we can command, surely when an opportunity comes along to do something about it, we ought to support it. Remember that every year in London alone 3,000 pedestrians are killed or injured because they were masked by parked vehicles. The Ministry of Transport also supported the contention of the garage proprietors that the scheme would pay its way only if they were permitted to erect on the site two surface petrol stations.

With this encouragement, and having consulted the Church Commissioners and the London County Council, the Finsbury Corporation promoted a Bill to permit release from restrictive covenants, and from certain sections of the Acts relating to London Squares and to permit the use of the Square for the purposes I have described. This 1957 Bill came first to your Lordships' House, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, gave evidence before the Committee running to 14 pages. The Promoters included in the Bill, at the suggestion of Her Majesty's Attorney General, a provision that surface buildings should not occupy more than one-tenth of the total surface area.

At the last moment, after the Lord Chairman had announced the decision that the Bill should proceed, the Petitioners sought to establish that the word "buildings" should be taken to include the sites of the two petrol stations—that is, the very ground space of the entrances, drive-ins, roadways, exits, places where cars stand, and so on. The matter was left for discussion between the Parliamentary agents on both sides. As they could not agree it was brought before the noble Lord, Lord Strang, the Chairman of the Committee, who refused to accept this alteration, which would in fact have wrecked the Bill. Presumably he held that the word "buildings" meant what it had always meant to lawyers and laymen alike, and what it meant in the Town and Country Planning Acts—namely "structure or erection".

So the Bill went unchanged in this respect to another place where, in the Select Committee, honourable Members, while fully approving the Bill, were concerned lest this question of the definition of "buildings"—which was, of course, again raised by the Petitioners—might lead to further doubts or litigation and thus hold up the implementation of the Act. Therefore they amended it so as to include in the definition of "buildings" the actual ground covered by the roadways, petrol sites, et cetera. But in order, as they thought, to enable the Act to be implemented—and, of course, if they had not wanted it to be implemented they would have thrown out the Preamble—they increased the provision from one-tenth to one-eighth of the total space.

Unfortunately this proportion was not based by the Committee on any actual knowledge as to the area which would be needed under the new definition, and the Corporation found it impossible to get the buildings and sites, as newly defined, into one-eighth of the total area. Of course they knew this within twenty-four hours, and immediately informed the honourable Chairman of the Committees. Unfortunately, Parliament was then rising for the Summer Recess—it was one of those occasions when an honourable Member had, as the noble Viscount suggested, objected successively for some weeks in another place so that the Bill was held up; and the Chairman of the Select Committee, whilst expressing his regret, said that nothing could be done. There is no dispute over the fact that the duties laid on the Finsbury Corporation by Parliament were then made impossible to carry out.

So they have promoted the present amending Bill which, this time, was first presented to, and passed by, another place, and which increases the proportion of land permissible for buildings, petrol stations and so on from one-eighth to one-sixth of the total area. What does this mean? It means that instead of 87½ per cent. of the total area being available for gardens, 83[...] per cent. will be so available—a difference of 4 per cent., a small area of 400 square yards out of 10,000 square yards. But actually, since it is proposed to enlarge the site by squaring it off—noble Lords will probably remember what is called the Pavement—at corners where the pavements are excessively wide they will make up this small portion of land, and the land space actually available for gardens will be the same as under the 1957 Act—in fact, the land available for gardens will also equal the entire area of the present so-called Square; so that the public will not lose a foot of garden. That is all this Bill is about. It is nothing to do with Hyde Park or Parliament Square as was suggested in a recent question. It is nothing to do with underground car parks in general, or any future plans which the Government may or may not have. You have not even to decide to-day whether there should be a car park under Finsbury Square or surface petrol pumps, because Parliament decided and approved all that in 1957.

I must emphasise that if this Bill is thrown out to-day, if we do not support the Bill and it is not passed, Finsbury Corporation will still be left with the 1957 Act and with the duty to install a car park and petrol pumps. That fact ought not to be forgotten. Your Lord- ships will also perceive that, in a practical sense, this Bill restores the position to precisely where it was when, in your wisdom, you passed it two years ago, and that if you give this Bill a Third Reading all your intentions can and will be carried out. This was certainly the wish of the other place and of our noble friends on the Select Committee on this Bill who reached their decision, as all members of Select Committees do, dispassionately and objectively on the basis of all the facts, which were gone into carefully by learned counsel on both sides to a degree which is surely a more thorough process than is possible in a debate of this kind.

It is, however, necessary in my view for me to remove certain false impressions which may have been created by statements which the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has made to the Press. One in the Evening News was dramatically headed "Last Ditch Battle of Finsbury Square." The noble Lord said—I quote: We don't mind what goes underground at Finsbury Square, but we don't want petrol pumps on top. We want no garage building on the surface, we want a garden. The Square is the only one the borough council possess, so why destroy it? The Manchester Guardian reported the noble Lord as saying: Why has the Finsbury Council gone back on its covenants? It cannot be the cost of clearing up the bomb damage because my firm and others have offered to do that themselves…We see no need for an unsightly forest of petrol pumps where we had hoped to see lawns and trees. The noble Lord, who has done a great deal for Finsbury, had many discussions with the Finsbury Corporation and the Town Clerk on this Bill, and they would have been willing to accommodate him in any way possible save abandonment of this scheme. The noble Lord therefore knows, full well that every one of those statements I have read out is either inaccurate or creates a false impression. He knows that his firm cannot remove the air raid shelters—the Home Office will not permit it unless they are replaced by an underground car park, and without that we are left with the air raid shelters and the appalling dump that you have seen. The noble Lord knows, full well, that there will be more trees, not less than before. Indeed we have even gone into the question of planning large trees with a column or cylinder to go right down into the subsoil for watering and a 30-foot square span for the roots, and the whole layout will be designed by the country's leading landscape gardener, working in conjunction with a distinguished architect, and subject, as I would mention to the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, as all these plans are, to the approval of the London County Council and the Church Commissioners.

If your Lordships pass this Bill when we have finished with it, Finsbury will still have to go to the London County Council and to the Church Commissioners to agree the final scheme, although the main essentials, such as the petrol sites, are already provided for in the Bill. If there is any disagreement on final details between Finsbury Corporation and these two authorities they must go to the Minister of Housing and Local Government to decide. But this question of amenity as I have mentioned, is extremely important, and as the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, is probably aware, the Finsbury Corporation have over the past two years had correspondence with the Royal Fine Art Commission, and their architects have consulted them on a number of occasions. I have copies of the whole correspondence here. I have read it and I think he will agree that the Commission have expressed themselves as much interested in this scheme and appreciative of its advantages. Their one suggestion was that the petrol pumps should be underground. This, of course, we should all like, but it is wholly impracticable because the L.C.C. will not allow it, or even if we gouge out a further drive into the gardens so that, although underground, it would be open to the air, which might—I do not know—be possible, it would almost bisect the square and we should have to ask for not one sixth but one half of the land for "buildings". So that underground petrol pumps are wholly impracticable, although desirable.

The honourable Member in another place for Stoke on Trent, Dr. Barnett Stross, is a member of the working party set up by the Civic Trust which in these matters is comparable to the Royal Fine Art Commission, and fortunately, whether by odd coincidence or not I do not know, he also happened to be a member of the Select Committee on this Bill in another place, and anyone who read the Report and read what he said—and I know his views on these matters are respected in Parliament—will see that, having spent half the day at the Square, having inspected the site and made a thorough investigation on the question of amenity, he expressed himself as "very happy about it."

I think it is fair to deal with those points in that way, but I would come back to what the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester said about abandoning covenants. I would assure him that the Church Commissioners are not opposed to the scheme. They do not regard it as an abandonment of covenants—which it is, in fact, but it is by agreement—because they regard it as the only way in the foreseeable future to get the gardens we want. And as to the so-called "forest of petrol pumps", I do not know how many pumps constitute a forest. It is proposed in the scheme to have six on each of two sides of the Square, making twelve in all. But the alternative suggestion put forward by the Petitioners was that there should be twelve in one station—a rather denser forest—and, in particular, that it should be on the very busy City Road. I assume that that is the view that is going to be put forward, because it was put forward before the Select Committee by learned counsel in these words: The question that really has to be decided is whether to allow the Promoters to alter the Bill, as they have requested, by increasing the area of Finsbury Square on which they can erect their petrol stations, or alternatively to release them from their obligation to put two stations and allow them merely to put one. I think, in view of the evidence that has been produced to-day, it is very difficult for the Petitioners to allege that the Act of 1957 can work in its existing form. But it is the Petitioners' contention that the alteration ought to be made to the number of petrol stations and not to increase the area. So that is where the sole dispute lies—not whether there should be petrol pumps above or below the ground but whether there should be six pumps here and six there or twelve all in one place.

The Select Committee rejected the Amendment because it would have added to the traffic congestion and would have meant having a forest of petrol pumps, but, above all, because it would have been another wrecking Amendment; because the garage people had made it perfectly clear that two sites in different places were necessary for the economic viability of the scheme. So it boils down to this: the noble Lord's firm do not object to an underground car park or to twelve petrol pumps. They object only to the pumps being anywhere but on the busy City Road-side of the Square.

I hope I have dealt sufficiently with the details of the Bill and I now ask your Lordships to support its Third Reading on these grounds. First, the merits of the Bill itself. It has passed successfully through twice the normal amount of expert scrutiny—two Select Committees in both Houses. I believe that it is a good Bill and the only practical method of doing away with what is at present an eyesore and converting it into what I am sure will be a beautiful garden. It should help to relieve traffic congestion in that area and may in fact save accidents. There may be purists who may argue that in five or ten years' time someone may make a profit in or near the Square, out of public land; but if we were to carry that to the extreme, Mr. Shanly would never hire a deck chair out in a Royal Park.

Secondly, I ask your Lordships to support a Third Reading of the Bill for the sake of Parliament itself. I do not refer to my noble friends and honourable Members who formed the four Select Committees, because I feel that it would need a very strong case to cause your Lordships to reject their considered judgment; but I am thinking of our responsibilities towards local authorities. Your Lordships will know that there are no more faithful or respectful supporters of Parliament than the members of staffs of local authorities. They may very properly make representations to us on matters which are their concern. They may regret or disagree with our decisions, but once those decisions have been made they carry them out without question and to the best of their ability. They have the most complete confidence in our objective judgment. What a disaster it would be if that confidence were broken or impaired and if, as in this case, a local authority, having consulted higher authority, having submitted to the judgment of that higher authority and satisfied every Parliamentary test, should then lose in this way! It is unthinkable. They are entitled to your Lordships' support.

Thirdly, and this may appeal to me personally, because I have not yet got out of the habit of thinking of them as my people, I ask your Lordships to support a Third Reading of the Bill on behalf of the people of Finsbury. They support this scheme. Both the Leader of the Council and, as I have indicated, the Leader of the Opposition, assure me that the Council are unanimous. The people have read notices on the Bill, which have been plastered everywhere on hoardings twice—because there have been two lots. They have read in the local Press reports of Council Chamber discussions, and they have been puzzled by the delays. Recently they have been still more puzzled to read, in the national Press, that we have seen fit to describe the scheme as "vandalistic" and to read that the noble Lord, Lord. Grantchester, has said that Finsbury Square is the only square in the borough. In that the noble Lord is quite wrong, as I believe he is wrong in other things.

There are nineteen squares and open spaces in Finsbury, in addition to Finsbury Square—fourteen public and five private—and they bear names famous in this House and in history whereby the people of Finsbury cherish the memory of their noble benefactors—Northampton Square, Granville Square, Wilmington Square, Myddelton Square, Vernon Square, and many more. I will not weary your Lordships with the whole list, but what is true is that though they are small and there are only forty acres of so-called open spaces in the entire borough these "vandals" spend £47,000 a year in maintaining those forty acres because they count their gardens not in acres but in blades of grass. Their memorial to the fallen in the last war was a 40-acre children's playing field. Of course, it could not be at Finsbury; it had to be at Barnet twelve miles away. Money was provided by the borough and by public subscription through a committee headed by the noble Lord, Lord Luke.

The people of Finsbury want to make Finsbury Square a place of recreation and rest. There is just one tennis court but no bowling green in the whole of the Borough and they plan to have one of each in this Square. They would have had them already had your Lordships' intentions not been frustrated elsewhere. They are not vandals. The Finsbury Art Group is one of the most gifted and intelligent, and sometimes the most belligerent in the country. The Petitioners did not ask them or any citizen of Finsbury to give evidence before the Committee. They asked instead the treasurer of "Anti-Ugly Action", who, believe it or not, in his evidence gave as his answer to the question: "Would it make your organisation short-lived if you gave a responsible answer to a responsible question?"—"Yes, it would have a very short life." I do not think his evidence there was very valuable. It was the people of Finsbury who saved Sadler's Wells. The noble Viscount, Lord Esher, was chairman and I a member of an ad hoc committee set up two years ago for the purpose. The noble Viscount will agree with me that it was through the people of Finsbury that we got an emergency payment of £25,000 from the London County Council which saved the Wells and brought the further £120,000 which the L.C.C. are to provide. These humble people did that.

I was born 100 yards from the Bishop's Gate of the City where my forbears had lived for 300 years. I escaped from there at the age of three and have had my home among green things ever since, but I still work every day in the East End. I know these people because they are in my blood. They may be poor but they can be entrusted to enhance, not to spoil, what little beauty they have around them. They are entitled to your Lordships' support on this Bill and I cannot believe that you will fail them.

Finally, I would appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. Finsbury folk have a very great deal to thank him for. He has had a good innings on this Bill and I ask him now to declare it closed. Let him say what he has to against it. I hope he will do so as fully as possible. But I would urge him: please do not vote against a Third Reading. Do not divide the House. Come and help to make the Square as beautiful as we can make it. If the noble Lord will not, then I ask your Lordships to vote for it and to say, in effect: "This project is in the public interest. Let the people of Finsbury get on with it." I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

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

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, may I start by offering my sincere apologies for the rather unusual course of asking your Lordships to consider very carefully whether this Bill should be given a Third Reading to-day. I hope that after I have spoken no noble Lord will feel that the issue was not of sufficient importance to be raised in this House. Very often important issues are involved in a relatively local matter.

May I, quite frankly, declare my interest? For thirty years I have used an office which looks out upon Finsbury Square, which was laid out as a garden in the year 1791. I am also chairman of a company which occupies one of the buildings in the Square. The other buildings are occupied by Inspectors of Taxes, Customs and Excise, an oil company, an insurance company and there are many tenants of suites of offices; I have not found one of those occupiers who has a good word to say for this Bill. In mitigation of my personal interest, may I plead that, in a matter like this, what is planned is likely to pass unnoticed unless someone with knowledge on the spot brings the story to light.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for his kind remarks to me personally. I need not answer all the points he raised. There was the definition of "structure" to which he referred. I should like to remind him that the definition of "structure", which was approved by the Committee when this matter was considered, was the definition which was in the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act, 1957; so we were certainly not seeking to stretch the meaning of "structure" beyond what Parliament has agreed in another Bill. He made great play with the fact that the Church Commissioners had not made any objection. But the Church Commissioners have granted 999-year leases of all the buildings round the Square, so they have not much interest left. I should like, however, to read a few words from their letter, or their agent's letter, to the Town Clerk. This letter says: The Commissioners have now authorised us to inform you, subject to the rights and powers of other persons, bodies and authorities concerned"— that is, reserving the rights of the owners round the Square— they would not in principle raise any objection to the proposed construction of a public garage beneath Finsbury Square Gardens with the surface laid out as public open space There is nothing in the letter from the Church Commissioners about petrol pumps.

The noble Lord said that the L.C.C. would not allow petrol pumps underground. I am sorry to differ, but I sent an inquiry to the L.C.C. when these discussions were first mooted, and the fact is that it is perfectly permissible to put petrol pumps underground but they must not he closed in; they must he left open so that the fumes can escape. That is a reasonable safety precaution. It is quite untrue that we wanted twelve petrol pumps bunched together, instead of twelve petrol pumps divided into two stations. That was put on a plan merely to show that the statement made by the Promoters, that a plan could not be devised to lay out the Square within the Act of 1957, was wrong. It could be done. But the twelve petrol stations had to be hunched together and every car that came out of the garage would not have to pass a petrol pump. Lex Garages would not accept any lay-out which did not provide that every car coming from the garage passed a petrol pump and which did not include two stations, so that they could pick up the maximum of trade, not only from the cars in the garage but from passing traffic. If your Lordships think that it is a good arrangement to attract passing trade in a road like City Road, just on the boundary of the City where there is, as the noble Lord has admitted, great congestion, I am surprised.

Let me at the start, my Lords, make clear to what I am asking your Lordships to object. It is not to any works that might be constructed underground. The question of shelters or underground garages, about which much is made by the Promoters of the Bill, does not therefore arise. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, referred to the difficulty about the shelters. I took up that matter with the Home Office, and I had a letter a little more than two years ago from the Under-Secretary saying that he would give a decision about the removal of the shelters within a few days. But when the local authority went with an offer to construct an underground garage, and asked whether that would do, of course they received the answer that that would be a suitable substitute. The same difficulty over shelters was present in the Borough of Chelsea, and when the Chelsea Borough removed their shelters the Home Office made no objection. I am sure that if the Finsbury Council had pursued their negotiations with the Home Office the Home Office would have come to the conclusion that those shelters, which were never very good in the last war, would be quite useless, should we unfortunately have to face further trouble.

The Promoters have consistently sought to make light of the opposition to this Bill. Opposition to a Bill of this type is an expensive matter, and legal aid is not available to the aggrieved citizen. Moreover, the formalities connected with opposition are complicated and formidable. This is well known to all your Lordships who are called upon to sit on Committees of this House. There were many others than the two insurance companies who were anxious to petition against this Bill and who supported the opposition. But the insurance companies considered that they were performing a good-neighbourly service to those in and near the Square by taking on themselves the burden and the expense of conducting the opposition. Certainly there should be no complaint on this score by the local authority; for as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, it was to these same two insurance companies that the Council came for help when they wanted to buy land outside the borough because of the lack of open spaces within the borough. In fact, my Lords, as I have said, and as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has admitted, this is the only large open space within the borough. I know that there are other small areas of land and my company have been responsible for giving some of these to the local authority.

Before the war, Finsbury Square was a beautiful garden. The Royal Commission on London Squares in 1928 reported that it contained some fine trees; and in spite of the war there are still five of those fine trees standing. Four, I think, will be removed if this Bill is passed. The Square was sadly spoilt during the war, but instead of making a real effort to restore it after the war, as the City Corporation did with their Squares—as they have done with nearby Finsbury Circus—the Finsbury Council have been content to present it to your Lordships as a rubbish dump. Only after some of the occupiers of buildings around the Square had threatened to withhold payment of their rates did the Finsbury Council even tidy it up. To-day it is not as pictured in the Royal Gallery. During the last week it has been possible to count up to 300 people sitting in the Square; and as a result of the publicity this Square has received because this matter is being raised to-day in your Lordships' House, for the first time there was a military band, the band of the Rifle Brigade, playing this morning in the Square. There are still, as I say, five trees standing, and as the Square has been tidied up it is not nearly so bad as it has been presented to your Lordships.

Of course buses and cars go round the Square. So they do round Parliament Square; so they do round Grosvenor Square. That does not make a Square a bad Square, fit only to be turned over to batteries of petrol pumps. If this Square is not all that it might be as a garden, this is due to what I can describe only as gross neglect of their duty on the part of the Finsbury authorities. When they were pressed to take action to restore the garden that had been so changed during the war, while it was under their authority by requisition, the officials made every excuse to evade their responsibility; and now the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, comes here and says that it will cost £50,000 to put it right. He does not mention the fact that the occupiers of buildings around the Square offered to lay it out at their own expense as a public garden, if it were conveyed to them on the same terms as those on which it was conveyed to the Council.

As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has been good enough to say, I secured the offer of the freehold for the Council in 1956, believing that, with the conveyance of the freehold to the local authority, I was placing the Square in safe custody for the benefit of the public. Before taking the conveyance, the Council consulted the occupiers in and around the Square. May I quote a few words from the notice they sent out to the ratepayers and occupiers around and near the Square? These are the words of the Town Clerk: Largely due to the good offices of Lord Grantchester, my Council now have a favourable opportunity of acquiring the open space known as Finsbury Square and of carrying out a scheme of layout which will certainly beautify the Square"— there is nothing about the difficulty of the shelters, though the Council knew they were there when this letter was written— and add to the amenities of all those owning or occupying and working or residing in the properties surrounding this famous Square My Lords, I ask you to note that then, when they were buying it, it was a "famous Square", not a rubbish heap. The town clerk went on to point out that the Square was protected by two Acts of Parliament, by the Preservation Act, 1906, and by the London Squares (Enclosures) Preservation Act, 1931; and that he desired the consent of the owners and occupiers of houses around and near the Square to transfer the open space to the Council. At a meeting in February, 1956, the Borough Council obtained the necessary consents; then they put up a notice board in the Square saying: The Finsbury Borough Council have now acquired this Square for the purpose of laying it out and maintaining it as a permanent open space. It went on to ask members of the public to assist them by keeping the Square free from unsightly litter and rubbish. I ask your Lordships to contrast their conduct then with their conduct now. They have never, in the same way, consulted their residents and occupiers about this Bill.

As another result of the matter coming before your Lordships' House, about a fortnight ago Independent Television recorded a programme in the Square, in which I appeared in argument with the Managing Director of Lex Garages. The making of the film created much interest, and questions were asked all round the Square what it was all about. In a few hours, on two days last week, over 3,000 persons in or passing through the Square joined in signing a protest to your Lordships against the intention of the Borough Council to have petrol pumps placed in the Square; and I have the honour, my Lords, to present to you the Petition of well over 3,000 citizens interested in this matter. Actually, there are 3,316 names appended to this Petition of Protest. I have spoken to some of the people who signed this Petition, and I can assure your Lordships that they regard themselves as young Hampdens defending their village against the incursions of two big tyrants—the local authority and the oil company.

May I return to the time when Finsbury Borough Council took the conveyance of the freehold of this Square? After getting the permission of the residents, they bound themselves by solemn covenant to lay out the garden and to maintain the Square as a garden. It was already protected, as I have said, by two Acts of Parliament. Within a month of having buttressed these Acts of Parliament by their own solemn and specific covenant, the officials of the Council were drawn into discussion of ways and means of throwing their covenant overboard. My Lords, what an example for a local authority to set! What an example to hold out to the so-called less advanced countries of the world!—entering into a covenant one month, and the next seeking to have it set aside, so far as the Borough of Finsbury is concerned, together with two Acts of Parliament for the preservation of London Squares to make good weight. I ask your Lordships to support no local authority in releasing them, a month after they have entered into a covenant, from the obligation they willingly accepted.

As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said, the Bill before your Lordships today is a continuation and extension of the Bill presented in 1957—in fact, the Finsbury Square Act, 1957. That Bill was to make certain that twelve petrol pumps should make their appearance on the surface of Finsbury Square, in spite of the covenant of the Council not to do it, and in spite of the Acts which preserve London Squares. But, my Lords, that attempt in 1957 failed because of the restriction imposed by one of the Select Committees which considered the Bill; a restriction on the area that: could be used for buildings on the surface of the Square. So the Finsbury Square Act, 1957, became, in practice, a dead letter.

With this restriction still remaining, the Council were unable to get Lex Garages to go on with the scheme which they had been discussing with them. So they come to Parliament with another Bill asking for that restriction to be enlarged so that they could get a further area of the Square. If the Council were to get their way, they would be permitted to break their word and carry their scheme through with Lex Garages. This is the Bill now before your Lordships. If this Bill is rejected, the shame of seeing the breaking of covenants by a public authority, authorised by the British Parliament, may yet be avoided. I ask your Lordships to consider that point for a very long time before giving this Bill a Third Reading.

I referred a few minutes ago to the television programme which has been recorded but not yet shown—presumably waiting until this debate is over. In that programme, as can be checked from the record, I put a question to the managing director of Lex Garages, Mr. Rosset Chinn, about other Squares. He replied, with great candour, that he would like to take as many Squares as possible; and he made no attempt to deny that, if he had his way, he would put petrol pumps on many of them. "That is the way the world is going", he said to me, "and that is that! Too bad if some people do not like it!" Well, your Lordships will have your views about that.

But this matter of other Squares is not just in the mind of Lex Garages, who themselves might like to have other Squares in which to do the same as they want to do in Finsbury Square. The Town Clerk told me that when he went to the Ministry of Transport the Minister, or somebody on his behalf, told him that it would be an interesting experiment which they would like to watch. That was why a few days ago, I put down a Question about Parliament Square. Do your Lordships consider that the Answer I received to that Question was quite satisfactory? We should like very much to know whether the Ministry of Transport have in their mind the possibility of other Squares being used in this way. I think that they should be frank enough to tell us.

May I say two or three words about whether there is any overriding necessity for the Council to be allowed to break their covenant? So far as garages are concerned, there are two private garages within a few hundred yards of Finsbury Square which are half empty every day. There is a garage under Route 11, which is to be opened by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent on July 7, and there are plans now under consideration for the creation of garage space in Barbican, which adjoins Finsbury Square, to accommodate 2,600 cars. I think that it is well known that underground garages cost nearly double garages erected above ground, as is usual on the mainland of the Continent, but I do not wish to argue that point. But it is not to the underground garage to which our objections are directed. There are at least three petrol stations within a few hundred yards of Finsbury Square off the main road. I would suggest that the erection of petrol pumps in Finsbury Square on the City Road is not likely to ease the congestion of traffic which enters and leaves the City.

The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, referred yesterday to the opinion expressed by the Royal Fine Art Commission. He may be pursuing that matter again to-day, so I do not want to go into it. But it is not true that petrol pumps may not be placed underground, though there must be an open space above them. I spoke to Mr. Rosser Chinn, the managing director of Lex Garages, and asked him if he would be satisfied with that. But he said that he would sell only 10 per cent. of his petrol in the garage, and that he was counting on sales to passing traffic for 90 per cent, of the sales he was expecting.

I consulted another public-spirited body, the Civic Trust, with whom the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Mr. Herbert Morrison and Mr. Duncan Sandys are associated. They wrote on February 27: Clearly the Borough Council's proposals are most unsatisfactory and we will do all we can to support in opposing the scheme. I have already mentioned what the Church Commissioners had to say.

Once again may I apologise for having taken up so much time. but before your Lordships pass this Bill I would ask you to consider carefully what you will do. I told the managing director of Lex Garages that, like most Londoners, I look upon London's Squares as one of the great glories of London; that I regard anyone who seeks to encroach upon them, or any one of them, or to diminish their beauty, as an enemy of London. His reply was that no doubt I regarded him as Enemy No. 1—those are his words, not mine. Nothing could be more unpleasant than the sight of twelve petrol pumps in Finsbury Square, and nothing would so detract from the enjoyment of the Square as to spread petrol fumes all over it as vehicles enter and fill up with petrol and derv, which it is proposed to have available in tanks under the pumps. When an amenity is placed at the disposal of the public, it is customary for the names of those who provide the amenity for public use to be recorded. I hope that before supporting this Bill your Lordships will ask yourselves: Are the petrol pumps which will be provided, if this Bill is given a Third Reading, the sort of amenity with which your Lordships would desire their names to be associated?

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think that it is within my province to settle the dispute that has been referred to by my noble friends Lord Grantchester and Lord Stonham, but as Chairman of the Select Committee which your Lordships appointed to consider the Petition of the insurance companies who have their offices in Finsbury Square, I think it is right and proper that I should address your Lordships for a few moments on the reasons which enabled the Committee to come to their conclusion. It was within our knowledge, of course, that there was already on the Statute Book an Act dealing with the Square; that two Select Committees had dealt with it previously, and that the Select Committee of another place on this Bill had recently dealt with a similar Petition and sent the Bill, approved, to your Lordships' House.

With the usual care and attention with which Select Committees of your Lordships' House deal with these private Bills under their consideration, the Select Committee heard the whole of the evidence which was forthcoming, not only from the Promoters but also from the Petitioners. They were addressed, as is usual, by counsel for both sides. Having heard the evidence and considered the various points, they came to the conclusion that the Bill should be reported to your Lordships' House to proceed.

I want to say at once that, although the question of garages has been brought to your Lordships' notice this afternoon, as a Committee we considered that the only two points which arose for our consideration were, first, whether the area of the scheme allocated for building should be one-sixth or one-eighth; and secondly, as the matter had been held in abeyance for some considerable time, and some procedure had to be undertaken before the end of this year, whether the Minister's power of extension for that purpose should be agreed to. The Committee exercised a great measure of tolerance in considering this Petition. We sat quietly through evidence which really had no bearing on the matter in hand and which, in any other Committee, would have been discarded altogether. We saw the plans to which the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has referred, and I must say that the plan, although it may have been a draft plan, seemed to us one which could not be brought into operation, because under it vehicles entering and leaving the proposed garage would have had to cross heavy road traffic. That might have been a draft plan and the architects, when they realised, that was the case may have altered it.

Your Lordships have already heard about the alteration of area and the small amount which will be required for the proper working of the petrol pumps. Various figures were put before us by counsel and experts which were not disputed. It was the knowledge of these figures, of the plans and of the evidence which was given that brought us partly to our conclusion. We were also in receipt of Reports from three responsible Ministers of the Crown. The first was by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation. I will not read the grounds on which he based his final conclusion, but we were informed in his Report that the Minister accordingly recommends that the clause be allowed". That refers to the clause in regard to the alteration from one-eighth to one-sixth. The Report also stated: The Minister supports the extension powers provided in subsection (2) and recommends that they be allowed. The Minister of Housing and Local Government also submitted a Report for our consideration, and I should like to read to your Lordships one portion of that Report. It says: Clause 3 of the present Bill proposes that the limitation on building on or over the surface of the square shall be increased from one-eighth to one-sixth of the surface of the gardens. The Council have explained to the Minister that they have found that the limitation imposed by the Act of 1957 makes the scheme impracticable. The Minister has examined the Council's plans for the layout of the surface of the square but has not been able to suggest any satisfactory way in which the buildings (including ramps) can be accommodated within the area of one-eighth of the gardens specified in the 1957 Act. He would not, therefore, wish to raise any objection to the clause. The Attorney General, in dealing with the matter, referred in his Report to the area which will be required in addition to the area for the garages for other buildings in connection with the layout of the gardens. He said at the end of his Report—and this statement I would call to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester: I have consulted the Charity Commissioners and the Church Commissioners—the latter as the covenantees under the conveyance of Finsbury Square gardens to the Promoters—and neither have any observations to make on the Bill. That is the position so far as the Select Committee were concerned. In our finding we were definite and to the point. We had considered the matter carefully; we had heard the cross-examination of witnesses, and we had cross-examined them ourselves. The conclusion to which we came after all that, was: The Committee have considered what has been said in this room to-day and have come to this conclusion. The Committee are of the opinion that the Bill should be allowed to proceed. I would ask your Lordships, in the consideration which you give to this matter to-day, to support your Select Committee.


My Lords, I am told that I ought to have moved the Amendment standing in my name, "That the Bill be read 33 this day three months." I ask your Lordships' permission to move that now, as I omitted to do so thinking that I should do it later in the debate.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("now") and at end insert ("this day three months").—(Lord Grantchester.)

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, the House has before it this afternoon a question of great difficulty and great importance. Two separate questions are involved. The first concerns the merits of the Bill: Is this a good Bill which Parliament ought to pass? The second question is this: Is it the duty of this House to pass the Bill, irrespective of our view of the merits, because it has passed a Select Committee which gave it careful consideration and the House ought not to reject it on Third Reading? Those are two quite separate questions: the merits of the Bill, and what we should do if we come to the conclusion that it has not got the merits that we should like to see in an Act of Parliament. May I for convenience take the second question first? My noble friend Lord Merthyr was good enough to advise us on this matter as recently as the 17th of this month, and I think he will not complain of my summary of the view which he then gave if I summarise it thus: that this House has an undoubted right to reject the Bill on Third Reading, but that, if we did so, we should be doing something very unusual.

Let me state my difficulty on this procedural point. If the Bill becomes an Act, it will be an Act of Parliament. but Parliament will not have expressed any opinion upon it. If this Bill contains a principle which is bad, and which the House can clearly see to be bad, can it really be said that the House ought not at any stage to say so? I can conceive it possible that the answer that some noble Lords of great experience might give is: "Yes, of course the House has a right, and even a duty, to declare a Bill bad in principle, if it believes it so to be; but it should not leave it until the Third Reading." However, there are difficulties about that. What is the occasion in the case of private legislation when the House should record its view on the principle? It would no doubt have been possible to oppose the Second Reading. But in that event it could have been quite reasonably urged: "Is it not premature to oppose the Second Reading and thus, if you are successful, prevent it from going before a Select Committee at all?"

Another possible alternative would have been to move an instruction to the Committee. I dare say noble Lords of much greater experience in this matter may say that that would have been a better course. But I cannot believe that such action, namely, moving an instruction to the Committee, would so much differ from rejection on Third Reading, that the one course would be right and that the other course would clearly be wrong. In fact, I should have thought—though here I speak subject to correction—there was quite an arguable case for saying: far better not to oppose the matter going before the Select Committee. The right course is to wait and see how it emerges and how it comes before the House on Third Reading, and if what comes before the House the House finds to be intolerable, then the House should assert its right to reject.

Speaking for myself, I do not believe that the principle involved in this legislation ought to be decided finally by a small Select Committee, possibly by a mere majority. I do not believe that the House as a whole can disclaim all responsibility for an Act of Parliament by meekly accepting the conclusion of a Select Committee, however eminent that Committee may be, and however carefully it has done its work, if we believe that that conclusion is contrary to public policy.

Reference has been made to the Act of 1957 which the Bill before us proposes to amend. With a great deal of the factual matter contained in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, I have little complaint, and it enables me to shorten what I have to say. The important thing the Act of 1957 did was to enable the Finsbury Borough Council to override the Statutes that had been enacted for the protection of London Squares, the most important of which is the London Squares Preservation Act, 1931, an important Statute of 72 pages. It enabled them to override the provisions of those Statutes and also to disregard the covenant into which they had entered as recently as 1956. Because charitable property was involved, the Attorney-General was concerned, and he intimated that he would raise no objection to the Bill—now the Act of 1957—if not more than one-tenth of the surface of the Square was covered with buildings. However, in the course of the passage of that Bill through Parliament, the figure of one-tenth was changed to one-eighth, and a definition of "buildings" was inserted.

Now the Promoters come again to Parliament and say that that Act on the Statute Book is unworkable. They have given evidence to that effect, and I certainly do not wish to dispute that statement. But if a recent Act of Parliament proves to be unworkable, there are two possible courses—it can be repealed or it can be amended. When we are dealing with amendment, it is obvious to every Member of this House that there are two possible ways in which this Act could have been amended. One was by increasing the area that was to be covered by building—that is the method adopted in this Bill—and the other was to say that a smaller amount of building was to be erected on the surface of the Square. The whole reason why I am intervening in this debate in favour of the rejection of the Bill is the public ground that I believe it to be wholly wrong to erect any petrol stations whatsoever on this Square. This was not the point necessarily taken by any individual objector. It is a point taken by me now on public grounds, which I shall put before your Lordships.

What is the case for these petrol stations? So far as I know, nobody has suggested at any point that, on grounds of town planning or public amenity, petrol stations should be placed in this Square. Let me remind the House of how I believe the evidence stands with regard to these petrol stations. We are helped by the fact that the Finsbury Borough Council has furnished every Member of this House with a statement. Let me remind your Lordships of what they have found fit to put at the top of page 2. The fact contained in this statement was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, in his speech in moving the Third Reading. It says: In September, 1956, Lex Garages Limited, which operates a substantial garage undertaking, submitted to the Borough Council detailed proposals for the construction of a garage for the accommodation of 323 vehicles beneath the surface of Finsbury Square and for the layout of the surface of the Square as a public garden with lawns, trees and flower gardens and with recreation facilities, including a howling green. Not one word about a surface petrol station. When they come in their statement to deal with this question of the petrol stations, what do they say? I think I am right in saying that this is the solitary mention of them in this statement circulated to noble Lords. They refer to the Petition against the Bill and say this: These petitioners objected to the Bill on the grounds that it involved the erection of two petrol filling stations on the surface of the Square "— then they add these words: although they were essential to make the scheme an economic proposition. It is with the analysis of that statement that I am going to be principally concerned, but I think it is only fair to the House, and to noble Lords who perhaps have not done quite so much homework as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and to a lesser degree myself, if I mention what the Minister of Transport said in his report to the Committee. It has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, the Chairman of the Select Committtee, in the speech that immediately preceded mine. In the Minister's view such services as petrol filling stations are likely to prove essential if the garage under the Square is to he economically viable. He understands that the parking facilities could not he provided on an economic basis unless two petrol filling stations are built; interested promoters could not be expected to invest the considerable amount of capital required in a project which clearly would run at a loss without such services. That is the case for the petrol filling stations on the surface of the Square.

Now let us examine it. Let me say at once that, of course, Lex Garages are entitled to make their own decision. If they are not allowed to build two petrol stations on a hitherto protected London Square, they can say they are no longer interested in the matter at all. The one thing that attracted them was that they should have extremely prominent and visible petrol stations in this particular London Square. But whatever Lex Garages may think about it, this House is entitled, and indeed under a duty, to examine the matter a little more closely. If it is true that the underground garages by themselves will not pay, the reason is perfectly clear: they have to compete with free parking on the highways. For that I am not asking anybody to accept my word. It was stated in words which I will paraphrase (because I think I must not, under the Rules, quote them verbatim since they are in the present Session) by the Minister of Transport himself, speaking in another place on May 7. He then dealt with the garage that had been built by Selfridges just off Oxford Street to hold 1,000 motor cars. It was charging a very cheap price for all-day parking. The Minister of Transport understood that it had not yet been more than half full. Why was this? The very simple reason was that people could park for nothing outside, if they were prepared to run the risk of an occasional fine. Of course, that is perfectly true. As long as free parking on the highway in the City of London and in congested areas is tolerated, so long it is true that the underground car park will not be fully used and it may be that then an economic charge cannot be made for parking underneath the Squares.

But whatever may be the position to-day, is there a single noble Lord in any quarter of the House who has devoted his mind to this subject who does not know perfectly well that in a few years' time—in a very few years' time—it will become so obvious that it will even dawn on the intelligence of the authorities, that it is impossible to continue with free parking on the highway in congested areas? The moment that decision is reached nothing is more certain than that those who desire to bring their cars into such a congested area will be willing to pay an economic price for off-street parking which will be provided under the Squares or elsewhere. Of course, it may be said that they will have to pay rather more than they would pay, perhaps, in the first month or two if this present scheme went through. But, of course, when the step that I have described is taken and a car has to seek a garage or not enter the area to park on the street at all, then Lex Garages will be able to put up their price just as much as if we had not allowed these petrol pumps to be built there. We shall find that we have sacrificed the principle of protecting the surface of the London Squares without any necessity whatever. Everyone will know that in a few years' time. Garages will be built only when an economic price can be charged, and the economic price can never be charged while the authorities continue to allow the misuse of the highway. Nobody, as I say, has suggested from the beginning of these proceedings that there is any case whatsoever on town planning grounds or on amenity grounds for placing these petrol stations on the surface of this or any other London Square.

I pass to one of the few points where I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said something which I do not think was quite accurate—though I am not suggesting for one moment that it was consciously inaccurate. He suggested that, if the House gave this Bill a Third Reading this afternoon, it would not be setting any precedent for other Squares. I am sure he honestly believes that.


Would the noble Lord have the goodness to repeat the last part of his remark? I did not quite hear, but it did not sound like anything I said.


I thought the noble Lord said it; if he did not I need not try to refute it. I thought his point was that this House could safely pass this particular Bill this afternoon without in any way prejudicing in the future the case of other London squares that objected to petrol pumps.


I am glad the noble Lord raised that point. All I said that had any relevance to that was that this Bill had nothing whatever to do with any plans which the Ministry of Transport might or might not have. I did say that if the Bill was not passed the Finsbury Council would be left with the 1957 Act, which lays on them the responsibility of providing a car park and surface petrol pumps.


I am much obliged. I will proceed to say why, in my opinion, we shall be setting a most important precedent. Let me remind the House of what is quite obvious to all legal Members: that whether you set a precedent or not depends on fact and not on intention. It is no good somebody saying in this House "Oh well, this will not be a precedent". That will be determined by fact and not by wishes.

I think somebody should refer at this stage to the report of the Working Party on Car Parking in the Inner Area of London which was published in 1953. On page 13 of that document there is a list of nine Squares in which they suggest underground car parking should be tried. I will give the list: Grosvenor Square, Berkeley Square, Cavendish Square, St. James's Square, Soho Square, Leicester Square, Lincoln's Inn Fields, Finsbury Square and Portman Square. I think Finsbury Square is the first case in which a Bill has come before this House. Not one single argument has been produced at any stage which suggests that, if the Minister of Transport and Lex Garages are right in their contention that they cannot build an underground car park unless they are allowed to put petrol stations on the surface of the Square, there is arty reason whatsoever why the argument should not apply to all these other Squares.

Before I leave the question of the Working Party's Report, noble Lords will find some very nice photographs of a model opposite page 12. It is a model constructed for the Working Party to illustrate the sort of thing they recommended. It is headed "Photograph of a Model, showing the proposed Layout of St. James's Square above and below ground". It is quite an attractive picture. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear from me that there is no suggestion in the model or in the pictures that any petrol stations on the surface of the Square were intended. Just over seventeen years have passed since I had the honour of addressing the Town Planning Institute in London. In the course of my remarks on that occasion I referred to Squares as perhaps—these were the words I used: the greatest contribution to the grammar of town planning that English genius has made. Let us not sacrifice too readily a priceless asset of our capital, when that sacrifice is quite unnecessary and will involve irremediable loss.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, I should like in a few moments to give my reasons for deciding to vote for the Amendment. I think there are many things beside liberty which call for constant consideration. I was for more than twenty years the Member in another place for a constituency that is adjacent to Finsbury. That constituency does not exist to-day because it has been merged with another, but if it did exist it would be only half the size it was because it was so badly bombed by enemy aircraft. The Abercrombie Plan suggests a development of one side of Caledonian Road, which runs right through that old constituency, and it is to include quite a number of open spaces so badly needed in that part of London. I do not know how long is to elapse before that plan comes into existence; but eternal vigilance is required in these matters.

It is all very well for Lord Stonham to say that this has nothing to do with any other borough council; that it has nothing at all to do with the Ministry of Transport; that it does not affect them at all, and it does not interfere with what they think as regards the needs of London. I am a little tired of this continual surrender to the internal combustion engine. The roads of this country do not belong to one set of people who happen to own motor cars, although they seem to imagine that the Queen's Highway belongs to them. We have to consider our own liberties and our own amenities in addition to the convenience of this modern development of the internal combustion engine. That may be reactionary—I do not know; nor do I care. I am for at any rate some balance in the development of what is called progress.

What I feel is this, and I put it to Lord Stonham: that if you allow this Bill to go through, whether it interferes with the decisions of other borough councils or not, there is nothing to prevent, and nothing logically against, any other borough in London doing or wanting to do the same thing. After all, a few generations or so ago we hailed the decisions taken with regard to London squares At one time they all had railings round them and only people living in certain parts could enter them or use them. They have been thrown open to the public. Now, upon some plea of amenity and the necessity for parking cars and the rest of it, we are asked to give way upon that question and not to consider the necessity for open spaces and for the kind of "lungs for London" that, years ago we hailed so much.

I will not go into technical details about it—I have not studied the Bill as thoroughly as others have—but I feel that upon a broad issue we ought to be very careful about this kind of thing. I do not want to surrender the amenities of life merely because of that which is called progress. I do not want to give up Devonshire lanes and things of that sort because others want straight motor roads or autobahns all over the country. I want at least something of the amenities of life to be left. If that is reactionary, then I am a reactionary.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, I want to say only a few words on the matter which is the subject of the two Motions before the House to-day. I do so as Chairman in 1957 of the first of the four Select Committees, two from each House, which have considered and approved the construction of a garage under Finsbury Square, with certain surface buildings. We had before us the model of one possible version of the proposed development which is now exhibited in the Royal Gallery. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, who has introduced the Motion for what amounts to the rejection of this Bill, gave evidence before us in person in opposition to the proposal of the Promoters. After full consideration—I would add, after careful, and indeed most anxious, consideration—we came to the conclusion that the Bill should be allowed to proceed.

Now the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has explained the difficulty that later arose over the meaning of the word "buildings", and has shown how it was this difficulty which made it necessary for the Promoters, as they saw it, to return once more to Parliament in order to be enabled to carry out their project. I do not need to dwell on that aspect of the matter, but I think I ought to say this: that when we took our decision we took a decision about Finsbury Square. We had in mind the special circumstances of Finsbury Square. These, I think, have been fully and clearly set out by Lord Stonham in his speech. If it had been a question of another square it is quite possible that we might have come to a different conclusion—it is not possible to say. But this decision was about Finsbury Square. To our minds—as I say, after anxious consideration—the circumstances were such as to make it seem to us reasonable that the project should go forward in respect of this particular Square.

As your Lordships are aware, it was part of the project—and it was represented to us as economically an indispensable part of it—that there should be two petrol filling stations at street level, one each on two sides of the Square. It was these petrol filling stations that lay at the heart of Lord Grantchester's objection to the Bill, as he explained it to us at considerable length at our hearings. That question of the petrol filling stations was considered at considerable length by your Lordships' Committee, and, having heard all the evidence and listened carefully to the examination and cross-examination of witnesses, and to the addresses of counsel, it seemed to us in the circumstances to be a reasonable proposal; and the Bill, as it left our hands and before it went to another place, would have given the Promoters enough elbow room to carry out their project.

Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, drew attention to the advice of the Royal Fine Art Commission that the petrol filling stations might be placed at a lower level. The Committee which met in 1957 did not have before them the views of the Royal Fine Art Commission, but they did consider whether the filling stations could be placed underground; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said yesterday and has repeated to-day, this would be contrary to the practice of the London County Council who are, in fact, the licensing authorities. We had produced to us in our Committee a document which set out in some detail the practice of the London County Council in these matters—namely, that: Every petrol pump must be installed in the open air. Those are the operative words. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has said, very rightly—and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, does not dissent, I think—that the words "in the open air" do not necessarily mean at ground level; but it seems to me that it is certainly questionable whether it would be practicable, at any rate from the traffic point of view, to site the filling stations down at the foot of an open air ramp.

There is one point that I would bring to your Lordships' attention. The Bill was amended by the Committee of which I was Chairman at the suggestion of the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government so as to make the whole scheme of development subject to the approval of two bodies—the Church Commissioners, and the London County Council as the local planning authority; and, as I understand it, that is still the provision which will come into force if your Lordships give a Third Reading to the present Bill.

As your Lordships will realise, the present Bill, which it is now sought to reject, differs, in form at any rate, from the Bill as it left your Lordships' House in 1957. It differs in two ways. It differs first, in that it widens the definition of the word "buildings"; and secondly, it differs in the fact that it increases the maximum area which may be covered by buildings as so defined. But, speaking for myself—and here I do not want to commit my colleagues on the Committee—I feel that the intention of both Bills is the same, and I wish, therefore, to support a Third Reading of this Bill.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, there seems to be a hiatus, so may I explain to your Lordships that it was arranged that, quite apart from the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, whom we expected to speak at this moment, the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, does not propose to take part in the discussion and the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has had to leave your Lordships' House and has asked me if I would take his place in the debate. I propose to detain your Lordships for only a very few minutes, having particularly and sympathetically in mind the three noble Lords who have Questions on the Order Paper and who no doubt are very anxious that this debate should come to an end. A factor, of which some play has been made, was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Strang, who has just spoken. I believe he said (and perhaps he will correct me if I am am wrong) that his Committee were dealing only with Finsbury Square, and that if they had been dealing with other Squares they might possibly have come to a different conclusion. I believe that that is what the noble Lord said.


My Lords, that is what I said.


I should like to take the noble Lord up on that very point. It is useful for your Lordships to have the views of the two Chairmen of Committees who have spoken, but as the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, very rightly pointed out, the last word on these Bills rests with this House; and I do not think there should be any doubt about that. It is on this very point of precedent that I should like to say one or two words. It was only a week or two ago that the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, drew attention to the fact that construction work was in progress in relation to George Square, which, in his opinion and in the opinion of Members of your Lordships' House who know their Edinburgh well, is one of our earliest examples of very noble Georgian architecture. At that particular time I raised the point, as did the noble Earl, that this might prove a precedent for the future. So far as the Bill which is before your Lordships to-day is concerned, if anything is going to provide a precedent for the future, as has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, it is that these petrol pump filling stations should be erected in the open, above ground, on what is undoubtedly still a very dignified Square.

The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, has already dealt very adequately and admirably with the economic side of this question so far as Lex Garages are concerned; and he has also dealt with the case of precedent to which I have referred. Indeed, the noble Lord covered admirably everything that I was going to say in my speech. I will therefore end my remarks by saying that I support the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, in his opposition to the Bill; and if he goes to a Division I shall be happy to support him in the Lobby.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, as I had occasion to say earlier this afternoon on the Second Reading of another Private Bill, I think there is little I should be called upon to add to the debate, but there are perhaps one or two points with which I should like to deal. It is no part of my responsibility to take part in the controversy on policy which is behind this Bill. I regard it (I hope rightly) as my duty merely to see that an opportunity is provided to your Lordships to discuss and debate such a Bill as this in so far as you wish to do so, and I think I can safely say that a full opportunity has been provided this afternoon.

I was a little surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, say, referring to this Bill—if I heard him aright—that Parliament has not expressed any opinion upon it. I really wonder whether that can be justified. I should have thought that the House, in the machinery of expressing an opinion upon the Bill, has, for the convenience of the House and of your Lordships, chosen to do it in the traditional way of first referring the Bill to a Select Committee, secondly, receiving the Report of that Committee, and thirdly, debating the Bill on Third Reading. I really wonder, after all that, whether it can be said that the House has not expressed any opinion upon it.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for permitting me to intervene. I believe he is supporting what I suggested—that the Third Reading was the best opportunity; and in speaking of the House not having expressed an opinion upon the Bill. I meant that the House would not have expressed an opinion unless it proceeds to divide.


My Lords, it is not for me to say whether your Lordships should divide or otherwise, for, as I have said, I believe I have done all I need do when I have made quite certain that there has been a full opportunity for debate and, if necessary afterwards, for a Division. The noble Lord has just said that the best way of discussing the Bill was on Third Reading. I do not dissent from that statement at all, though there might be more to be said about it on a full occasion. But I really think of the Bill, we ought to be satisfied that that, whatever our views on the merits the House has had a full opportunity of discussing this Bill and of expressing an opinion upon it.

I do see (and I think this is what the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, had in mind just now) that there is a dilemma which faces those who wish to oppose a Private Bill. As has been said, they are very apt to be told on Second Reading that it is better to leave it to a Select Committee. Then on Third Reading, when the Select Committee have done their work, they are apt to be told that it is better to approve the decision of the Select Committee. I entirely understand that dilemma; I appreciate and sympathise with the position in which an objector is placed; but I have not been able to discover any solution of that problem. I can only say that it is carrying on the long established process by which this House deliberates Private Bills. I would ask the House to consider what would happen if we did not have the Private Bill procedure, the Select Committee procedure, to help us in these deliberations. I cannot help remembering that upon one occasion I myself sat for twenty-three working days upon one Bill, and I need not go on to say that if all that had to be done on the Floor of this House the whole machine would break down.

So I would, in conclusion, say this: that although we ought jealously to guard the rights of individual Members of the House to intervene on Private Bills at any stage—I think we ought jealously to guard that right—I, with great respect, suggest that we ought at the same time to try to ensure that that right is not exercised more often than is absolutely necessary, because if we do exercise it too often or for too long a time, the machinery of dealing with Private Bills in this way might indeed break down. My Lords, I think I can safely leave it to your Lordships to decide on the merits of the Bill after hearing the speeches, and I do not wish to comment any further upon the question.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, I understand that if a vote, if there is to be one, on the Amendment were taken, I should not have an opportunity to reply with regard to the Third Reading, so I hope your Lordships will not mind if I briefly deal with one or two points that have been raised. I think it will be agreed by those who have heard all the speeches that no single factual matter that I mentioned in my speech was indeed challenged in the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Conesford and Lord Grantchester, and I am grateful for that. As I listened to the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Conesford, I recognised things that I had said and I recognised things which had been said to all the four Select Committees by learned counsel and witnesses, because I have read them so many times; and the very things which have been said to your Lordships to-day have been said to every one of the four Committees who reached the conclusion of which your Lordships are aware. I do not think that there is any need, therefore, for me to deal with any of those points. Your Lordships have tacitly agreed that what I said was at least factually correct. I do not think I expressed any opinions, and therefore there is little to discuss.

However, there are one or two things I would mention. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was, I think, in error on one or two points, or was not quite sure on them, and I hope your Lordships will not mind if I deal with them. He referred to the Church Commissioners. I hope your Lordships are not in any doubt on this matter. The Church Commissioners did not oppose this scheme in any way whatever, and Her Majesty's Attorney-General has attested to that fact in his Report on the Bill. So if you had any dubiety on that point I hope that that will remove it.

Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, rather reproved me for suggesting that the petitioners wanted only one petrol station. I do not recall his exact words, but he rather reproved me and said that they had suggested nothing of the kind. They not merely suggested it but moved an Amendment. I have page 48 of the Report of the Select Committee in front of me. I will not bother your Lordships with the whole Amendment, but the Amendment was to remove certain words and substitute others: …make provision for the siting, design and external appearance of any petrol filling station. I repeat, "any". In order that the noble members of the Committee should not be in any doubt about it, counsel went on to say: In other words, the Petitioners suggest that the Promoters may well be relieved of the obligation relating to the petrol filling station. It would no longer be an obligation to provide two, but they could make provision for the appearance of any petrol station I have interpreted "any" as "one". I think that that removes any question of the slightest inaccuracy on that point.

There was a point raised on air-raid shelters. It is the case right up to this moment that the Home Office will not agree to the removal of air-raid shelters in Finsbury Square unless they are replaced by the scheme we have been discussing, so I do not think it matters what they might do at Chelsea or anywhere else. We are dealing with this particular matter. We ventured into Devonshire lanes with my noble friend Lord Amwell and went wide of the point; but we can agree that we are dealing with only Finsbury Square and one small point.


My Lords, I must justify my intervention to this extent. I admitted that I had not studied the technical details of this Bill; I had not anticipated the opportunity of speaking and I had not the idea of doing so, but it was what the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said that led me to the conclusion that there was a big principle involved that went very much further than Finsbury Square. That is why I took the line I did and why I took such a small amount of time in speaking on the matter.


My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. He is very concerned with the loss of green space. There is going to be every bit as much green space in Finsbury Square if this Bill goes through and when it is implemented as there is now, except that it will be turned into a garden and not what you have seen before.

On the question of principle, the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said: "I do not think that a vital issue of this importance should be decided by a small Select Committee." What is the vital issue we have to decide? The fundamental issue, the issue in this Bill, and no other, is whether one-sixth or one-eighth of the total area should be devoted to the petrol site. That is the issue. All the other issues were decided in 1957, and if this Bill is rejected there will still be the 1957 Act with its insistence that the Finsbury Borough Council shall have underground car parks and surface petrol stations. We have not been discussing this great question of principle; we have been discussing exactly this 1959 Bill, this one point; and because these other things have been brought in, it has perhaps tended to confuse the issue. But if this Bill is passed, your Lordships' intentions as signified in the 1957 Act can be implemented. If we continue to talk to a fine point, the point of amenity, we should search our consciences in this way: to inquire whether we are not insisting on an amenity which is, in the circumstances, impossible, because of our dislike of a particular Bill or what it does in our own area. I think that that is an issue, too, and I would ask your Lordships to support the four Select Committees who at different times have considered this point in the greatest detail, and to reject the Amendment if it so happens that the noble Lord should press it to a Division.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, the House will allow me, perhaps, to say one word on procedure, not to reopen the debate. We have had two of these Private Bills to-day, and I think it is true to say, as the Lord Chairman of Committees has said in different words, that, unless both Houses of Parliament are willing to devolve and delegate to a great extent their powers in this matter, there would be hopeless confusion and a breakdown of this Private Bill procedure. This particular Bill to-day has had very special treatment. It has been four times through a Select Committee, twice through the House of Commons, and once through your Lordships' House. I should have thought that your Lordships should support the findings of these Committees which we have set up.

In addition, I think it might interest your Lordships to know that no Private Bill has in fact been turned down on a Third Reading after debate, at least in this century. I am not arguing that we should not look at our procedure again. There may be something to be said for looking again at our Private Bill procedure in the autumn, or perhaps later on in the year; and certainly we will look at the two points raised by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition and by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, earlier to-day. However, this Bill has had very special treatment in Parliament by procedure deliberately created for that purpose, and I hope that that will be sufficient to enable your Lordships to make up your minds.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful for what the Lord Chairman of Committees has said. I agree that the House has now had every opportunity to discuss not only the matters in this Bill but the matters which have led up to it. I am also very grateful to noble Lords for the interest that they have shown. I wonder, perhaps, whether some of the trouble is not due to some misunderstanding—misunderstanding because of communications passing between Ministries and the Finsbury Borough Council, and from Ministries to the Select Committees. I am the more inclined to think that this may be so because of what the noble Lord, Lord Strang, has just said. He believes and understands that this scheme is still subject to the approval of the L.C.C. If I may say so, my Lords, he is under a misapprehension in that matter. The L.C.C. can still say whether the petrol pumps should have a hood of this kind or of that kind, but they have no power, if your Lordships pass this Bill, to say that there shall not be two petrol stations.


I do not think that is what I said. I said that the planning, the layout and the particular kind of development were still subject to the approval of both the Church Commissioners and the London County Council. I was not referring to the question of principle.


Anyhow, it does not affect the question of twelve petrol pumps. Naturally, when we argued the case before the Committee we said we would prefer one petrol station to two—and who would not? The fact is that if this Bill is thrown out there will be no petrol pumps on Finsbury Square.

In view of what the noble Earl the Leader of the House has said, I do not want to press my Amendment to a Division; but may I say this? I can see that the Town Clerk has been listening to this debate, and no doubt what your Lordships have said will be conveyed to Lex Garages. I hope that perhaps the Finsbury Council will think again, in view of the very strong expressions used by a large number of Members of this House; and I hope that Lex Garages will, in the interests of us all, withdraw their proposal to put up petrol pumps in Finsbury Square. With that, may I leave it and ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill read 3a, and passed.