HL Deb 17 June 1964 vol 258 cc1267-82

7.3 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I address your Lordships from this, for me, unusual geographical situation so that, should I require legal assistance, I shall be rather nearer its source than I would be in my usual place. The Church of England is engaged in a process of rethinking and in the redeployment of its resources to meet the great new needs which are looming up in front of us. The great new housing areas which are springing up need new churches, new halts, parsonages and so on. We have to improve the meagre stipends of our clergy, and we have to compete with inflation all the time in the question of general expenses. A great campaign is on foot to educate the laity as to their responsibility in these matters.

Any person who is engaged in the operation of raising funds immediately meets the question: what are you doing with your existing unused resources, your redundant churches and unused lands, and so on? It is a question not always easy to answer. When one wants to close a church, as the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London well knows, immediately a faithful congregation appear, often from many miles away, and claim that their very existence depends on the continuance of this church. If that hurdle is surmounted and it is proposed to demolish the building, one then comes upon the fact that, however hideous to the lay mind the building may be, it is almost certainly the sole example of the work of some eminent Victorian architect north of the Trent, south of the Trent, north of the Thames or south of the Thames. So the hurdles are numerous, though we are trying to surmount them.

In this Bill, to put to work, so to speak, this disused burial around, we have immediately run against some opposition from the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, who is in tradition in this respect. This Bill deals with a curious place. About 300 yards from Marble Arch, on the north side of the Bayswater Road, there is an iron railing and a little patch of grass, behind which there is a bombed chapel and a one-storey dwelling. Through a rusty gate, secured with a padlock by the caretaker, there are five acres of comparatively derelict land which was acquired as a burial ground by St. George Hanover Square in 1762, and was continued in use until 1854. Its existing use is some three tennis courts, a bow and arrow range, one or two patches of the rather spindley vegetables which are sometimes grown in London soil, a certain amount of ground where the grass has been cut, some fine bramble bushes and quite a decent crop of hay.

The tennis courts were built by tenants whose tenancy, I understand, has now expired, and the Royal Toxophilite Society uses the bow and arrow range, which is a piece of mown grass at the north end of the ground. Knowing nothing about bows and arrows, I would describe this as a miniature bow and arrow range, for I was brought up in the traditions of Samkin Aylward and The White Company and I understand that the long bow shoots to 200 and 300 yards. There is no space for operations of that sort in this ground. In fact, an unsteady hand leading to a few degrees of super-elevation will put the shaft slap through the windows of the surrounding houses. The whole field is surrounded by mews dwellings and flats representing the high-class residential area of that part of London, and there is no public access to this ground.

By this Bill the rector and churchwardens of St. George Hanover Square seek relief from the prohibition upon building which exists in the Disused Burial Grounds Act, 1884, In May, 1963, the churchwardens and the rector asked for outline planning permission for 3.6 acres residential at 200 persons to the acre, which is the same density as the surrounding residential area's, and one acre for educational purposes, as it was thought that there might before long be a need for a school in that area. A public inquiry was held in October last year and the London County Council supported the application, whereas they had opposed previous applications made in years before. Their change of mind, they said, was due to a new appreciation of the desperate housing needs of London and the fact that a school might become necessary in that area.

The Paddington Borough Council also supported the application, but it was opposed by the St. George Burial Ground Protection Association, consisting, presumably, largely of the residents overlooking the area. Their opposition was on amenity grounds, in that 120 dwellings overlook this area, and they had reason to believe when they took up residence there that it would be an open space, of sorts, for ever. Moreover, they claimed that it was against the County Development Plan and said that Hyde Park, which is a stone's throw, or a short arrow shot, across the way, was no solution since people could not cross the road because of the traffic.

The Minister's inspector supported the case of the applicants, and the Minister gave his concurrence with his inspector in February, 1964. I will read the relevant paragraphs: The Minister agrees with the Inspector's conclusions. He is satisfied that the loss of this open space would not be so harmful to the amenities of the locality as to justify refusing permission for the proposed development, particularly in view of the proximity of Hyde Park and of the urgent need for additional housing accommodation of all kinds in London. The Minister notes the Inspector's views on density and layout, and that the Royal Fine Art Commission have expressed a wish to see a model. These are matters which will have to be settled at a later stage and the Minister expresses no views on them now. He considers that in view of the redevelopment proposed in this locality it is sensible to reserve part of the site now for school purposes. If however by the time the detailed layout is available it is clear that no school site is required, he would see no objection to the whole area being used for residential purposes. Accordingly the Minister accepts the Inspector's recommendation and for that reason he hereby grants planning permission for the development of St. George's Burial Ground, Bayswater Road, Paddington for residential purposes and for a primary school subject to the condition that the density of the development, the siting, design and external appearance of the buildings, the landscaping of the site, provision of garages and car parking space, the siting and design of the means of access from the site to the highway and the position of that part of the land to be reserved for the primary school, shall be as may be agreed by the local planning authority or, in default of agreement, as shall be determined by the Minister. Meanwhile, the Bill was in progress, and in another place Clause 5 was inserted, by agreement with the Residents' Association, requiring consultation by the owners of the site with the Residents' Association over siting and design of any building to be erected. If this Bill is passed, subject to any Amendments which may be made by the Unopposed Bills Committee of this House, the rector and churchwardens or potential buyers will be able to apply for detailed planning permission, which will have to pass the local authority, presumably the new London Council, and also the new borough, and the land will then acquire a sale value. The value, of course, will depend on the type of development which the authorities are prepared to allow.

If it gets to the stage of sale, the proceeds will be split four ways: two quarters to the London Diocese (and I hope that the right reverend Prelate will say how he intends to spend that): one quarter to the present Parish of St. George's (which, incidentally, has no endowment at the moment) and one quarter to the old Parish of St. George's, which comprises a much larger area and means that there are nine daughter churches comprised in the old parish.

My Lords, the clauses do not call for much comment, because they are self-explanatory. Clause 5 is a consultation clause Clause 6 regulates the distribution of any sale value and Clause 7 deals with the removal of human remains from any part of the site which has to be disturbed in any building operations. I may add that the tombstones have long ago been removed and placed around the edge of the ground, and for the most part they are indecipherable. But there is provision for relatives to claim them if they are able to identify them, and wish to do so. I claim that in putting forward this Bill the rector and churchwardens are implementing the new policy of the Church, which is to re-deploy its resources to meet the needs of the present age. I beg to move.

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

7.15 p.m.

LORD AMULREE rose to move, as an Amendment to the Motion "That the Bill be now read 2a", to leave out ("now") and to insert at the end of the Motion ("this day six months"). The noble Lord said: My Lords, when I put down an Amendment to postpone the Second Reading of this Bill to a day six months hence, it was done with one purpose in view, and one purpose only. The purpose was that I felt that in the year 1964 it was not proper that a large open space in the middle of London should be declared ripe for development without the possibility of full discussion of such a project by both Houses of Parliament. That was what was at the back of my mind when I put down my Amendment. But there are one or two more things that I should like to say in support of my contention.

The first is that quite obviously, in 1884, when it passed the Act dealing with disused burial grounds, Parliament did not necessarily envisage them as being developed. So far as I can see, it envisaged that they would be kept as open space. So when it is felt desirable to build or develop a burial ground, it must be done by a Private Act of Parliament.

There is another piece of history that I should like to recall to your Lordships. That is the question of what has become of the London Squares, because it was in 1926 or 1927 when building, took place in the Square at Mornington Crescent and on an open space in Endsleigh Gardens. They were both sold by their proprietors for development, and building was carried out. That immediately caused a good deal of talk, and a good deal of alarm as to what might become of the remaining Squares in London. As a result, two Private Bills were introduced in another place, and in 1927 a Royal Commission was established, which re- ported about a year later. In 1931 Parliament passed an Act called the London Squares Preservation Act, which listed 419 Squares in London. What the Act said, briefly, was that the Squares were to be used for gardens, or for people to play or rest there, or for recreation purposes, and that no building should be carried out which was not needed for those particular uses. That was done for the Squares in 1931. Surely, my Lords, the same reasoning applies to a great deal of an open space of five acres right in the middle of London in 1964.

I do not want to go into the details of what it is proposed should be done to the burial ground, because the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has already explained what is going to happen to it. Nor do I want to say that I think that the way it is proposed to apply the money is something to which one can possibly take objection. It is a perfectly proper way to apply the money which would result from the development of this site, if it were to be developed. It is its development in too big a way that I trust we may find some means of stopping. Some people say that one does not require an open space in that part of London, because it is quite well planned itself, with quite a number of Squares nearby, as well as Hyde Park, just across the road. But the same thing might have been said at the time when the London County Council, I think it was, bought the land of Kenwood to join on to Hampstead Heath. Hampstead Heath was perfectly good, and if they could have built upon the Kenwood Estate it would have solved a great deal of the housing problems in that part of the town. But the L.C.C. did not do so, and that land was purchased and made into a permanent open space.

There is another point about Hyde Park which one must mention, and that is that pieces of the Park are continually being taken away for one purpose or another. One has seen a large amount removed to make a new carriageway, as well as at the parts near Marble Arch and at Hyde Park Corner. I am not saying for a moment that that should not have been done; I am not saying for a moment that it has not caused a considerable improvement in the flow of the traffic. But it means that a certain proportion of Hyde Park has been taken away from the people who are supposed to enjoy it. The same thing applies when new restaurants with car parking facilities are built, when another piece of the Park is taken away. Another piece of the Park has been set aside for people who want to play special games; not merely to enjoy themselves in the fresh air. There is a place to play bowls, a place for putting, and there are quite a number of football pitches on the south side of the Park. The provision of all these facilities takes away some pieces of the Park from the general public and makes them available for specialised interests. One can see that if that were to go on further there would be nothing of the Park left at all.

I was wondering whether it would not be possible—I admit that the money has got to come from somewhere, but the Government took away some of the Park to build roads and a certain amount has been taken away for other purposes, too—for the burial ground to be used as a permanent open space for playing games, for example, so that people who wished to play games could play them there and not in the general part of Hyde Park. In addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, said, the burial ground is not very suitable for building on, because it has a very poor access from the Bayswater Road and practically no other access at ail. So it could not be a convenient site to build on, unless some of the properties around it were pulled down to make another road or two coming into it, and if you are going to pull down some houses in order to build more it does not seem to me that you have progressed very far.

Finally, my Lords, there is another point about London which I think we must bear in mind, and that is that not so very long ago London was a town with a large number of gardens, a large number of open spaces tucked away in all sorts of curious ways. If one went into some of the more expensive streets the houses there had quite big gardens. When they are sold now and pulled down, blocks of flats are put up and the garden is obliterated in so doing. In the slum areas, like some of the parts of St. Pancras which I know, the buildings were deplorable and certainly needed to be pulled down, but they all had their little garden at the back dating from the time when they were family houses. That garden contained a tree and a shrub and a few flowers of some sort or other, which meant that an agreeable fresh-air atmosphere could be found there; whereas now, when they have been rebuilt with modern blocks of flats, they have become a concrete jungle or a concrete desert, call it what you will.

The idea of the town being a place full of greenery is gradually going away. That is why I wanted to bring this point about the burial ground of Saint George, Hanover Square before your Lordships. I do not do so because I do not sympathise with what the Church wants to do with the land, but I think that your Lordships should certainly be informed about a big project like this. If possible, one should try to sec whether something can be done to preserve this ground and, at the same time, see that the Church is not ruined by being compelled to support a piece of land from which it does not get any revenue at all. That is why I put this Amendment down, and I shall be very interested to hear what other noble Lords have to say OD the matter. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("now ") and insert at the end of the Motion ("this day six months").—(Lord Amulree.)

7.27 p.m.


My Lords, we have all of us, I am sure, great sympathy with the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, to preserve as much open space as possible, and we should all like to see gardens wherever possible. I would have more sympathy with this particular proposition of his if the burial ground in question were in the middle of Camden Town, or some other places which perhaps I had better not specify. I thought, if I may say so, that the noble Lord showed considerable ingenuity in answering the fact of its proximity to Hyde Park. I think this proximity makes a difference, and a very considerable difference.

The real point, I suppose, since the Church cannot be expected to have assets which are of potential value and not be able to use them, is whether the use proposed in this Bill is the only possible use. I should have thought that this question was really thoroughly discussed in the public inquiry, and that the Minister in giving his decision took into account all the possible uses and had on balance come to the conclusion that an opportunity for providing more housing outweighed the other considerations; and I myself would feel that that decision was right. I cannot, of course, disclaim that the thought that the sum of money which this site might fetch if it were allowed to be sold might be of advantage to the Church has some influence upon my thinking.

As regards the question which the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, left unanswered, as to what the diocese of London would do with the share which the Bill would allocate to it, the answer, I think, is quite clear. It would be used for the provision of new churches and church buildings in areas where they are needed, in the areas to which people have been moved or have moved themselves, where the provision of new churches constitutes a very considerable strain upon the diocese. This is not least because it has already undertaken a very heavy financial burden in the restoration of a number of historic churches in the City, the East End of London and elsewhere, which has strained our resources to the uttermost and undoubtedly delayed the building of new churches in the suburbs. But that is another issue which I should not wish to press because it might only confuse the main issue.

I would not myself support this Bill if I did not believe that the provision of houses on this site is reasonable and proper, and that, therefore, the use to be made of it, which can benefit the Church and at the same time be of value to the community, is a right and proper use. I therefore venture to hope that your Lordships will not accept the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree.

7.31 p.m.


My Lords, the House and the country, I think, should be indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, for putting down his Amendment. I do not accept the view which has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, and by the right reverend Prelate that the question at issue is whether the Church should be allowed to develop assets which it has got. In the first place, this is not at the present moment an asset of very great value. The purpose of this Bill is to turn it into an asset of very great value; but at the present moment this disused burial ground is subject to a restriction which was imposed upon burial grounds generally by Parliament in the Act of 1884, when Parliament decided that it was not desirable that disused burial grounds should become unrestricted and should be available for development generally. The policy of Parliament quite clearly was that they should remain as open spaces, and that has been re-emphasised by subsequent legislation.

For example, in 1906 an Act was passed by Parliament for the purpose of empowering local authorities to purchase disused burial grounds and to turn them into public open spaces; and I think it was in 1935 (but I speak from memory) that an Act of Parliament was passed relating to London specifically which gave to local authorities in London compulsory powers to purchase disused burial grounds.

Therefore the question which is at issue this afternoon is whether a Private Act of Parliament should be passed for the purpose of altering the general policy which Parliament has laid down with regard to these matters, and, so far as that is concerned, it is entirely irrelevant whether this proposal will add to the financial resources of the Church of England or not. Indeed, that is an argument which should not be allowed to influence the minds of anybody, because the Church of England has been in the position ever since 1884 of holding an asset which could not be used for building purposes and which, in that case, did not have a building value. The sole object of this Bill is to free this piece of land from that restriction which has been imposed generally upon disused burial grounds, and if that is going to be done in this case there is no reason, apparently, why Private Bill after Private Bill should not be brought forward for the purpose of doing precisely the same thing and altering completely the policy which has been approved by Parliament. If that is going to be done, there is only one suitable and proper way of doing it, and that is by a Public Bill amending or repealing the Act of 1884 and freeing disused burial grounds from the restrictions which have been imposed on them by Statute.

It is quite irrelevant to discuss whether there is a need for more or fewer open spaces in London generally, or in this particular locality. So far as that is concerned, I would sympathise very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has said. It may be adjacent to Hyde Park; but quite a lot of Hyde Park has been taken away from its primary purpose of public open space and public recreation, and there should be no nibbling away of rights with regard to these things. If it is done in the case of disused burial grounds, as the noble Lord has said, it may just as well be done with regard to the London Squares, which were the subject of a special Act of Parliament passed some thirty or more years ago. I beg the House to accept the Amendment which the noble Lord has moved, and not to allow the principle which has been established by Parliament to be whittled away in this fashion.

7.37 p.m.


My Lords, although my name is not on the list of speakers, perhaps it behoves me to say something, as my right honourable friend the Minister has had a hand in this matter and as it is really as a result of a public inquiry which he ordered to be held that this discussion arises. The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has very properly brought this matter before Parliament. He is, of course, perfectly within his rights, and I think it is a good thing that a matter of this importance should be aired. At the same time, I should like to assure him and other noble Lords that there has been no intention on the part of my right honourable friend to sidestep Parliament in this matter—and, in fact, as I shall show in a moment, he has not done so.

We have heard very clearly from my noble friend Lord Hawke how this matter arose, but it was precisely because the outline planning permission applied for to the London County Council by the Church Commissioners and the Trustees of St. George Hanover Square created so much local interest and opposition that the Minister decided that the application should be the subject of a public inquiry. In fact, he called it in, exercising his power under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, requiring that it should be referred to him for his decision. We have heard the results of the inquiry, and the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has read out the Minister's decision on that inquiry, so I need not go into that. The reasons why he agreed with the inspector that this disused burial ground should be available for residential and school building, if necessary, were set out clearly. But, in doing so, he was of course merely expressing his opinion within his own powers, and I would draw attention to Clause 8 of the Bill, which is a saving for the Town and Country Planning Acts; and, even if the Bill is given a Second Reading and Passed by the Committee upstairs without alteration, the Church Commissioners and Trustees would still be subject to the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Acts. That is why they applied in the first place for a hearing of their proposals for development.

But having decided that residential and school development should be allowed, subject to all the various conditions about density, design and layout that have been mentioned, my right honourable friend has not at all prejudiced the position that should be taken in either House of Parliament. The Bill must come before a Committee. It was opposed in the other place, but since then an Amendment has been made, and I understand that the Residents' Association were satisfied with the insertion of a clause giving them the right of consultation and that they have not opposed the Bill as it comes to your Lordships' House. But there are, of course, two different issues. My right honourable friend was specifically deciding, as he was asked to decide, whether, the restrictions of the Disused Burial Grounds Act having been raised in this Committee, the land should be allowed to be built on. His decision, on that request was "Yes, it should be," for the sound reasons which have been given. On the other hand, Parliament and the Committee upstairs, if the Bill gets there, are asked to decide whether any form of development at all should take place on this ground—because nothing can happen to this disused burial ground unless this House and this Committee recommend that it should be allowed.

That brings me to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, that this is, or should be, a matter of general legislation. As noble Lords will remember, my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross reminded us only in the debate last week that he was anxious to introduce a Bill for the reform of the Burial and Cremation Acts which are in a very confused state, dating back for 80 years, and even more. I had promised him that if he withdrew his Bill a Bill would be produced after full discussion with the interests he represents and others. That is going ahead: in fact we are now in a position to complete those consultations and a Bill can shortly be drafted which will revise and reform the whole of the Burial and Cremation Acts. And of course this necessity for continuing something laid down in 1884 is one of the points which will be looked at.

After all, there have been a great many developments since then, and perhaps we ought to revise our opinion on these matters. Hitherto, a Private Bill always has to be introduced if any exception is to be made to the restrictions; but I would direct attention to the fact that local authorities can themselves get over that difficulty, because under Part V of the 1962 Act they can acquire land; and if they can acquire land themselves they can, under another section (Section 82, I think) of the Town and Country Planning Act overrule these restrictions even in respect of disused burial grounds. But it cannot be done by private owners—only by the public authorities. So there is a way round at the moment; but it is quite right, as the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, said, that private owners must always introduce a Private Bill.

So there are these two considerations: first, my right honourable friend had to decide whether development might be permitted if, and only if, this Bill succeeded in getting through Parliament; and, secondly, it is for Parliament to decide whether the general restrictions of the Disused Burial Grounds Act, 1884 should be withdrawn in this case. In the Bill there is no mention of building development at all: it is intended simply to withdraw the restrictions to allow the owners to use this disused burial ground for some other purpose unspecified in the Bill. But, as we know, in this particular case they are to be allowed to build upon it. But that is not actually what the House has been asked to decide. That really falls within the responsibility of my right honourable friend; and he has fulfilled that responsibility thoroughly by calling in the application for planning permission for his own personal decision. But Parliament is being asked to decide whether in this case the restrictions should be withdrawn.

Noble Lords have had a discussion on this matter, and I am sure that it has been very useful and helpful. While I do not want to interfere unduly in this private matter I would just say that it is not an opposed Bill, and therefore I hope, in all the circumstances, that your Lordships will agree to give it a Second Reading to-day and allow the Committee upstairs to consider these matters and to make a report upon them.


My Lords, will the noble Lord say what he thinks the Committee could do if the Bill were referred to them?


My Lords, this is an unopposed Bill. It will therefore be committed to the Unopposed Bills Committee, unless I decide that it ought to go to a Select Committee upstairs—and I am not saying whether I would or would not so decide. At the present moment I do not see any reason so to decide; but I have the power to send it upstairs if a good cause is shown. Otherwise the Bill goes to an Unopposed Bills Committee.


My Lords, what I asked was not which Committee it would go to, but what the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, thought the Committee could do with it.


My Lords, would it be possible for the Unopposed Bills Committee to find a Preamble not proved, as it is possible for the Opposed Bills Committee so to do, which would virtually mean the rejection of the Bill? Is that possible in the circumstances?


My Lords, if I may answer for the second time, I suppose that the highly technical answer is Yes, it would be possible. I say that because the Preamble must be proved and, of course, from that I would understand that it is conceivable that it could not be proved; otherwise one would not insist on its being proved. But I have never heard of such a case. I have never heard of a Preamble not being proved before an Unopposed Bills Committee. If one went back into history, then I suppose one might find an example, but I have never heard of one.


My Lords, I think my noble friend Lord Hastings has really answered the case against the Bill, so I do not propose to make any further remarks.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Bill read 2a, and committed to the Committee on Unopposed Bills.

House adjourned at ten minutes before eight o'clock.