HL Deb 19 June 1980 vol 410 cc1210-7

3.26 p.m.

The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Aberdare)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

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

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, before we give this Bill a Second Reading there are two matters arising under it to which I think I should draw your Lordships' attention. I shall be as brief as I can, and in the course of my remarks I will seek to explain the Instruction which stands in my name on the Order Paper. In that case I shall be able, with your Lordships' permission, to move the Instruction at the appropriate time formally.

The purpose of this Bill is to authorise London Transport to proceed with Stage 3 of the Jubilee Underground line. The most important work included in this stage is a railway some 9 kilometres in length running from a point near Fen-church Street Station under the river, under certain parts of the London Boroughs of Southwark and Greenwich and back under the river into the London Borough of Newham. It so happens that the proposed line of the railway runs directly, or very nearly directly, under two churches in the diocese of Southwark—I am glad to see the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark is in his place. One of these is the Church of the Holy Trinity, Southwark, which is situated in the old Surrey Docks area, and the other is the Church of St. Andrew, Greenwich, which is situated in north Greenwich. Both these churches are near the river, and, as your Lordships will appreciate, when buildings are near the river, particularly old buildings, the effects of any disturbance of their foundations might be especially serious.

When the Church authorities learned about this they recalled that they have a special duty to the community as a whole to preserve and protect the structure of all churches, and they therefore decided it was necessary—and I am sure they were right so to decide—to take professional advice as to how their duty could best be ensured. They consulted civil engineers; they consulted surveyors; and, of course, they consulted lawyers. In the light of the advice they received they have had discussions with London Transport, and in the result have obtained an undertaking which is broadly satisfactory to them.

However, there remain two points on which they could not get satisfaction. The first relates to the cost of obtaining this advice. They sought to recoup a part of this cost from London Transport, but London Transport were quite firm that they could not pay that. Indeed, it has been a regular practice that when anybody is affected by a Private Bill introduced by any corporation or any body that introduces a Private Bill the cost of the professional advice which is taken cannot be claimed from the promoters. It is true that, under an old Act, if they had petitioned against the Bill there would have been a possibility (but a very narrow possibility) of obtaining compensation; I am advised that in those cases compensation has been allowed only very rarely and only when the petitioner could show that he had been unreasonably or vexatiously treated; and I do not think anybody is suggesting that in the present case.

With the advice which the objectors had they felt it would not be reasonable to ask for an Instruction on this issue to go to the Committee, and therefore they are only anxious that the idea should be ventilated so that your Lordships know what this difficulty is. It seems very hard that a body which is a charity, like the Church of England, and which has not got large funds to disburse on these occasional expenses that arise in such cases, should have no recourse. I am told that the expenses amount to nearly £10,000. The works which London Transport are promoting here will cost, at today's prices, over £200 million. It seems a little hard that a charitable body like the Church cannot recover its expenses. But there it is, and the Church authorities are not pursuing this any further.

Now I come to the second point. This is a rather more difficult one. I will explain it as best I can. I hope that noble Lords with legal training, especially the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, will forgive me if I only express this very much in laymen's terms. As I understand it, the position is that where a railway tunnel, even a deep tunnel like a tube, is constructed under any piece of land the possibility of subsequent development on that land is likely to be restricted because clearly the foundations of any building on the land would have to take account of the risk of endangering the tunnel. This will restrict the size of any building that could be put on the land. It is also true that when development is possible some extra cost might be involved in giving adequate protection to the tunnel. London Transport have accepted the principle that in such cases the landowner may claim compensation for the loss of development value. But of course the churches stand on consecrated ground on which there is no possibility of development, so no compensation is payable because there can he no diminution in a development value that does not exist.

Here we come to the special point of Saint Andrew's at Greenwich. This church is, in fact, not now in regular use and is due before long to be made formally redundant. At that stage the Church authorities will take the proper legal steps to remove the effects of consecreation so that the land will be available for development. But these procedures take time, and what the Church authorities seek is to ensure that if within a reasonable time these procedures are completed and development is proposed the Church authorities may be able to obtain the compensation which any other landowner could claim in a similar case.

The Instruction is drawn to cover both churches because I am told it is not expected that London Transport will be starting work on Stage 3 for some years, and no one can say whether by the time they do the position of Holy Trinity might be the same as that of Saint Andrew's. In conclusion, may I remind your Lordships that you are not being asked to take a view on the merits of the case that I have outlined very inadequately. That will be for the Committee to whom the Bill is committed if your Lordships accept the Instruction which I shall be moving once the Second Reading has been given. In the meantime, I warmly support the Second Reading of this Bill.

3.35 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of LONDON

My Lords, I rise to support the speech which has just been made by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, especially as regards the Instruction which he is moving. My concern and interest in this matter is not because it is in my diocese, because in fact this work is to be done in the Diocese of Southwark and is the responsibility of my reverend brother. This Bill is a sequel to the London Transport Act 1970–71, and in that the London Diocese was actively concerned and had to face the same problems as are facing the Southwark Diocese by this Private Bill at present. Therefore I want to underline the two points which the noble Lord has made so eloquently and so clearly.

The first is this question of the expense to which the Diocese of Southwark is inevitably committed by the fact that this authority wishes to drive this tunnel underneath some of its property. It has not asked for this to be done. It has had no responsibility; and yet it has a very clear responsibility for ensuring that its fabric is properly secured. It is in the position of a public trustee. Very often churches are of great interest, historically and aesthetically, and therefore it is very important that the Church should make absolutely sure that its property is safeguarded by this work. Therefore the Diocese of Southwark has had to employ not only parliamentary agents, but also very expert engineers and surveyors and so on, in order to negotiate and to examine very carefully all the issues that are involved. It seems unjust that for no asking of its own the Diocese of Southwark should be subjected to this very considerable expense in order to protect what is in a sense a public property.

I understand, too, as the noble Lord has said, that the 1865 Act would make it impossible for an Instruction to be given to the promoters that they had got to meet these costs. I hope that this will he examined, for I presume that the circumstances which prevail at the present time are very different from those which were envisaged in 1865, and I hope that the Committee will look very carefully at this position in which the Church, as indeed any other interested body, might well be placed, of having to incur very heavy costs in order to ensure that their interests are properly preserved and protected.

The other matter which the noble Lord, Lord Simon, has mentioned concerns this extremely difficult and remote business of the law affecting consecrated buildings. When a church is consecrated the bishop consecrates it and sets it apart from all common and profane use for ever. Certain legal entanglements are concerned with this act of consecration. Therefore technically one can never de-consecrate a consecrated building, because it has been consecrated for ever. The only thing one can do is to release the building or the land from the legal consequences of consecration. Obviously, this is what will have to be done when possibly one of these churches is declared redundant.

As the noble Lord has pointed out, the process whereby one can release land from the legal consequences of consecration can be prolonged and complicated. It can be done under the appropriate clause of the pastoral Measure. But it means that if all the interested bodies have to be consulted and given opportunity of objection and so on, the process can take a period of years. Obviously this affects the value of the building and the site on which it stands, because a consecrated building has very little commercial value as it can be used only for the purposes for which it was consecrated. But if it has been released from the legal consequences of consecration then, of course, it can attract the commercial value of the site and of its development.

Therefore, this Instruction asks that if it is necessary for one or both of these churches to be declared redundant and therefore freed from the complications of consecration, time should be given so that the diocese may claim the proper compensation, if necessary, for a building which then can attract the commercial value of its site. Therefore I hope that this Instruction will be carried so that the Committee may consider these very important issues.

The Lord Bishop of SOUTHWARK

My Lords, I am very grateful indeed to the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and to the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London for raising this matter. As an interested party, it would be inappropriate for me to add to what they have said, except to mention that one of those churches was on the agenda paper of my first staff meeting 21 years ago. It would be nice to think that before I resigned my bishopric later this year the matter was settled. Therefore I hope that your Lordships will support what has been said by the noble Viscount and the right reverend Prelate.


My Lords, so far as the Instruction on the Order Paper is concerned, the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, has clearly explained its purpose and I do not think I need say any more, other than that there is no procedural reason why, if your Lordships are so minded, you should not accept this Instruction to the Committee. The Bill is not opposed and therefore will go to the Unopposed Bill Committee. I should think that on this occasion it would be appropriate for me to make use of the fairly new procedures under which I am able to invite two of the Panel of Deputy Chairmen to sit with me, and we would consider this Instruction—if it is passed—and in due course we would report back to the House.

The question of the expenses incurred by the Southwark Diocesan Church authorities is very much more difficult. It has been clearly explained to the House this afternoon by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and by the two right reverend Prelates. However, I am afraid I cannot offer them very much more than sympathy with the considerable expense to which they have had to go to safeguard their position. I am afraid it is inevitable, under the existing Private Bill procedures, that this sort of thing occurs. The petitioners against a Private Bill often have to go to very considerable expense, and although in this instance it has not got as far as going to a petition, certainly the Church authorities have been involved in a good deal of very heavy expense.

As the noble Viscount explained, in the case of a petition, costs can be awarded, but only in exceptional circumstances. They can be awarded under the Parliamentary Costs Act 1865 to petitioners against a Bill where in the unanimous opinion of the Committee they have been unreasonably or vexatiously subjected to expense in defending their rights". I do not think that anyone would suggest that London Transport has either been unreasonable or vexatious in this particular instance.

The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London, did somewhat suggest that the Committee might take a look at this matter. However, I am afraid that there are serious objections to the Committee's interfering with the question of costs in this way. The proceedings, in fact, took place outside Parliament, and as a result of Standing Order 124 unless the House were to pass a special Motion enabling the Committee to hear evidence other than that tendered by the parties appearing before it, no evidence as to costs incurred could be heard. But I am afraid that even if the Committee were disposed to ask for and obtain such authority to hear the evidence, in reaching their decision on whether or not to award costs they would undoubtedly feel bound by the provisions of the Act to which I have referred. It would clearly be wrong if parties who have obtained undertakings from promoters, but who have not petitioned, should be placed in a more favourable position than petitioners who succeed before a Committee.

So, I very much regret to say that there is not much the Committee can do about the question of the financial burden that has fallen on the church authorities in Southwark. But if your Lordships pass the Instruction, it will be very carefully gone into by the relevant Committee. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and referred to the Committee on Unopposed Bills.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, I beg formally to move the Instruction standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill is committed that they should not allow Part II (Works) unless they are satisfied that the provisions for compensation payable to the Southwark Diocesan Church authorities are reasonable as to the acquisition of land consecrated to church purposes, particularly in ensuring that compensation awarded takes into account any removal of the legal effects of consecration which is secured under the appropriate statutory procedures within a period of four years after service of notice to treat, and in permitting claims for compensation to be deferred pending the carrying out of those procedures.—(Viscount Simon.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.