I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
We object to the Bill, first, on the ground of unsuitability, second, on the ground of cost, third, on the ground of unreasonable hardship and, fourth, on the urgent need for housing accommodation in this area. On the ground of un- suitability, we admit freely and fully that there is urgent need for some improvement of the traffic congestion in the Elephant and Castle area. No one can live or work in that locality without at once admitting that. We submit that the scheme is unsuitable on the ground that it increases the traffic capacity from the North without improving the outlet to the South. The scheme comprises a half circle arrangement. The traffic coming from the North will go round the half circle and then will have to turn back again to get into the South through the New Kent Road, and the scheme does not take sufficient notice of the need for increasing that outlet into the New Kent Road. There is an alternative scheme which will enable that traffic improvement to be obtained at considerably less cost, with less disturbance and with more efficiency. It may be considered presumptuous for same of us who have no engineering experience to put forward these proposals, but we feel that. there is a very sound alternative proposal. Instead of sweeping away these houses and shops and interfering with some 200 properties, the Elephant and Castle site in the centre of the road might be cleared away and the earners taken off the various roads that converge into that centre. By so doing a circle could be created very similar to that outside the door of the Houses of Parliament around which traffic could flow more naturally, and it would involve a widening of the entrance to the New Kent Road, thereby removing one of the objections which we have named.
Further, a scheme of this character would permit of other essential improvements. There are two tube railway stations involved in the present scheme. They are within the area but not adjacent to each other. The creation of a circle in the centre would permit of these stations being located in the centre, or having access from the centre, in very much the same way as those at the Mansion House and at Piccadilly Circus, anal there would be accommodation for the stations, for access to public conveniences, linked up with subways to enable pedestrians to cross the road. The scheme as it stands provides for roads 120 feet wide, and no definite provision has been made for subways. The promoters state that consideration is to be given to it and that subways will be provided, and we unhesitatingly accept their assurance, but we feel that this alternative scheme would permit a more easy clearance of the traffic. It would permit of an improvement of the southern exit, it would involve the destruction of fewer properties, it would involve the removal of a far smaller number of people, and it would avoid what in the opinion of those who know the locality consider otherwise to be inevitable. If this half-circle is built on the north side, you will have to have a precisely similar half circle on the southern side in order to enable the traffic to get away properly. We feel that the, centralised circle system would enable that to be done and, what is more, would be of such a character as to enable the area to be widened in the future without the tremendous cost that would be involved in building another half-circle on the southern side.
On the question of cost, I should like the House to note these figures. A question was put to the Minister of Transport on 22nd July, and it was stated in the answer that the scheme would cost £1,950,000. That sounds something like the 1s. 11¾d. of the draper's shop. It is within a few pounds of £2,000,000, and of that total £1,458,000 is for acquiring the necessary properties and easements, leaving £512,000 for reconstruction. That reconstruction is almost exclusively the making of the roads, relaying tramway tracks, and taking up the old tracks. Nothing is provided in that sum for any attempt to re-house the people disturbed or for further housing improvements. The alternative scheme we have put forward could be carried out at half the cost of the work itself and at considerably less cost in making provision for those who are to be disturbed.
There are other hardships than those caused to the community First of all, there will be the utter and absolute ruin of many flourishing businesses. Most of the area to be treated consists of the main road, which is fronted on both sides with shops of the special character most suited to the needs of the working-class people of the type who live in the locality. Many of the businesses have been there for years. It is no good telling a barber or a tailor or a butcher that you can give him another site elsewhere. He loses the goodwill and, what is more dangerous, not only is there injury to the shopkeeper in losing his business, but there is also injury to the community, which is going to be faced with a reconstructed area of such a character that it will permit only of the huge multiple shop coming in, to which people will be compelled to go, faced with the kind of price ranges that we have heard discussed on the previous Motion.
While we all appreciate that there is need to provide work for the unemployed, we do not think it is a sound policy to do a thing simply because it provides work for the unemployed unless it has other advantages. This scheme may find work for unemployed navvies, but it brings in its train unemployment for at least 300 shop assistants. Most of the shops are of the kind that employ one, two or three assistants. Some are larger. When they close down, even assuming that the owner of the business is going to get some sort of compensation, what compensation is to be given to the worker who loses his opportunity of employment? He will be left to do the best he can without any help.
There is this other hardship. The scheme will entail demolishing a number of premises. According to estimates that we have been able to prepare, it will affect some 350 families. The irony of it is that, although in this borough there is a considerable amount of property of the very worst type, the scheme is going to abolish some of the houses of the best type in the locality and deprive us of that amount of housing accommodation. It will drive people out of their home centres and their shopping centres and deprive them of excellent facilities, and in the end it will leave the area with a smaller number of houses than at present. As the county council is interested in the work, it may be useful to refer to the question of housing in the central area, because our case is, first, that we recognise the need for some improvement, second, that we think an alternative scheme can be prepared, third, if it is found that this scheme is the best and the most suitable for the locality, we ask that consideration should be given to enable the locality to have more houses and not fewer. It will be useful to quote from the report of the housing committee of the London County Council dated 18th July, 1928. It says on page 2:
There is a continually diminishing reserve of working-class dwelling accommodation in central London owing to the demolition of houses and the adaptation of houses for business or industrial purposes. The compensatory outward movement among the working class is necessarily limited to the better off members of this class.
Unfortunately, the people whom I represent are not the better off members of the working-class. Later on, the council say:
For a considerable time before the War little housing accommodation for persons of the working class was provided in the central areas, whilst on the other hand a good deal was demolished or utilised for business or industrial purposes, the net result being that the working-class accommodation was diminishing in the central areas as a whole.
I hope to give some information later as to the essential need for the class of workers in this locality living near to their work. They consist very largely of men of the casual labour class. We have a vast number of building trade employés, and there are a great number of our people who work at Covent Garden and in the market at the end of London Bridge and at the Borough market. Any day in the Blackfriars Road you can see a vast army of women who go into the City as office cleaners, at about six o'clock, come home in the day-time and go back in the evening, a class of people that it is quite impossible to move right out of London. You cannot expect them to pay the fares or the rent that is demanded. The county council, in its report further, says:
Considerable numbers of persons of the working class, because of the nature or conditions of their employment, are almost compelled to live in reasonable proximity to their place of work. With a diminution of working-class housing accommodation in the central areas and the continuance of the pressure on housing generally, it must become increasingly difficult for such persons to obtain suitable accommodation, and overcrowding must tend to increase.
The change from a residential into a business area has a very important bearing on transport, and I commend this to the Minister, because of his own special knowledge of the locality and of the people affected:
From the general considerations of transport and street traffic it is undesirable that the central areas should become cleared of residences and given up to business and industrial premises. This has the double effect of increasing the need for labour in the central areas and diminishing the Humber of resident workers in the locality, with
the congestion in transport services and street traffic which result.
Further on they say:
we regard as a necessary adjunct to clearance and reconstruction schemes special provision for dealing with the poorer class of person who have to be displaced from insanitary areas.
It is true that this is not an insanitary area, but an insanitary area of almost the worst type to be found is closely adjacent to it in every direction. I hope to give some information on that point to show that we have some justification for asking the county council to utilise this site when it is cleared for residences for the people of the locality. I claim that those in the locality have the first claim on the locality. Here is an opportunity of using this site for housing people who could be moved from the insanitary areas, thus giving an opportunity of cleaning up our borough bit by bit in a way that is not otherwise open to us. Some hon. Members may be familiar with the report of the Survey of Housing Conditions in the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark. It was undertaken by an independent body of investigators representing all creeds, all classes and all shades of political opinion. Here are one or two of the things to which they draw attention which ought to be put right and which can be put right if the county council will give us some houses in that area to enable us to provide alternative accommodation for the people. This report relates to Moss Alley and Bankside Courts, and says:
This passage.…is too narrow to benefit much from the fresh air of the river. The cottages are small.…very dark, and damp. Walls are bulging and brickwork worn out. Repairs are generally neglected. The owners of most of this property are the City of London Corporation.
It is true that at the moment that area is being dealt with, but the area is typical of the property all around. People cannot be moved because of the impossibility of finding alternative accommodation. The report goes on to deal with Blackfriars Road and contains a reference to Collingwood Street. It says:
A few cottages in Collingwood Street appear to be about 300 years old. They have wooden walls and are very damp and overrun with beetles.
Cottages on the corner of Edward Street and Bear Lane are of the back-to-back type. Here in the town of London, under the shadow of St. Pauls, we still have houses of the back-to-back type. We have even worse conditions close to the area with which it is proposed to deal. There is a terrace. Why it is called a terrace I do not know. There is a little back court called Cavan Terrace. It has 10 cottages. There is only one dustbin. There are two water taps. There are no wash-houses. One house has no w.c. All the cottages are damp and dilapidated, with leaking roofs and verminous walls. I quote from the report. In addition to that, these houses are overrun with rats. I know from my personal knowledge that the rats are of such a bold character that they are courageous enough to come on to the table and steal food even while the people are in the room, if their attention is momentarily diverted. We have serious over-crowding in the borough. May I quote another instance from Bittern Street, that of an ex-service man with 25s. a week pension. He is a hawker. It is true that this matter has been remedied in the last few weeks because alternative accommodation has been found. He is a man with a wife and nine children, five girls and four boys, living in one room. If we apply to the county council for a house for the man, they cannot let him have one because his income is not sufficient to pay the rent of the house which would be available. What are these people to do? The report says with respect to this one room containing a family of 11 persons:
In spite of excessive overcrowding the room was clean and tidy.
We want houses in Southwark. This Bill destroys some of the good; it leaves all the bad. Our complaint is not on that score, but that it makes no new provision. Finally, I will quote from the Medical Officer of Health of the Borough of Southwark who in his report for the year 1927 said:
The number of dwelling houses found not to he in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation is 10,499.
That is in the Borough of Southwark. No houses are being built by the Southwark Borough Council, which is, I think, the only borough council in London with such an unenviable record. [An HON. MEMBER: "Camberwell."] Well, they
can share it between them. The London County Council have built a few houses. The county council houses which have been built are of excellent type, and we are applying for more of them. It is not a new scheme. The London County Council, in the Tabard Street area, have completed a scheme which was commenced before the War and have adopted an excellent type of building eminently suited to the locality, and we maintain that they can do the same on this area. Bermondsey, a locality similar to ours in every respect, have a record which is second to none in London for what they have done for housing. What one can do others can do. We asked the County Council to erect on this site property of a character which they built in the Waterloo Road. There they have dwellings—I am not sure whether they are four or five storeys high—the ground floors of which are let out as shops, the upper floors being used as residences. They can, I respectfully submit, put that kind of property on to the area to be cleared, giving adequate facilities to the shopkeepers to retain their goodwill and providing opportunities for alternative accommodation for the people in the locality.
I have to recognise that information which has come to hand informs me that the county council have taken a site in Stockwell to which they will move the people who are to be turned out of this locality. It is nearly two miles away, but that is not so bad. It is all right for people who are going to move, but we ask that they will not put up a lot more big factories and business places. We ask the county council to use the site for houses to enable us to cope with the work of slum clearance which is so badly needed. Part of our property in this borough is of the character which compels people to sit up at night every time that a high tide comes into the river, because their premises become flooded, as was the case a year or two back. There is another point which the council are asked to consider, and that is the question of the effect of rent. People are moving out of low-rented, comfortable, decent houses and are having to go into other houses at higher rents. I will quote to the House from a letter, which, though very illiterate in its, phrasing, is
eloquent in its meaning. This letter came to me yesterday, and it says:
We are both old age pensioners which brings us in £1 a week. My rent is 6s. 5d. a week with 8s. 6d. from the Guardians, which has to keep the two of us. I have been unable to go to work for some years. I am now 77 years of age. If this new scheme passes, after many years of married life, we may be found in different workhouses, because we cannot afford the high rent we should be charged in another locality.
I do not suppose that these old people would make application to enter the workhouse, but rather for the tenancy of some other overcrowded house, and thus add to the congestion. I would suggest to the Ministry and to the county council that they might do something similar to that which is being done in West Ham. I understand that a new road is being built in West Ham and that the scheme, which is disturbing property, carries with it an arrangement to provide new property. The new property already provided seems to be equal to, if not better than, the property which has been destroyed.
I will sum up by putting a definite application. We ask for an assurance. We asked for an assurance early on, but the statement of the county council says that they are not aware of the reasons to be urged in support of this Amendment. Some time back we set out our application to the county council in very great detail, and the county council, in a reply, on the 3rd July, said that our request could not be met until the scheme had received Parliamentary sanction. We respectfully suggest that the time to ask for consideration is before the Bill has passed and not after the Bill has passed. We ask for some assurance that due and full consideration shall be given with a view to providing that the land shall be utilised by the London County Council in the interests of the people directly concerned, and that the charge shall be borne by the Ministry's grant and by London as a whole. The additional cost in utilising the land, if borne out of London's general rate and the Minister's grant, would permit of houses being built for letting at reasonable rates.
As the matter stands, it appears that the area is to be cleared. The council have no building operations. Therefore, they are waiting for someone to come along, and they will let the property to those prepared to pay the highest rent, which means that businesses will get it and that the workers will be shut out. We ask for new shops and houses on the cleared site in order to retain business goodwill and get a start on slum clearance. We ask that the first offer should be given to Southwark residents and business people at rents comparable with those now paid. When I say comparable rents I mean comparable in consideration of the extra facilities and so on. In addition, we ask for proper compensation for those disturbed for the cost of removal and the loss of business goodwill. For these reasons, I ask the House not to give the Bill a Second Reading unless we can get some understanding that this terrible condition in Southwark which so badly needs attention shall be taken in hand and that the expenditure of this money shall be of such a character that, arising out of it, there may be some houses provided and some prospect for the people of the constituency which I represent being able to live in the future under better conditions than those which at present obtain.
I beg to second the Amendment.
In view of the comprehensive way in which my hon. Friend has covered the ground I do not propose to delay the House at this stage, more especially as I am hopeful that we shall have a satisfactory statement from the hon. Gentleman who will speak for the London County Council. My reason for associating myself with this Amendment is that I have had a good deal of experience in my Division of the hardships, perhaps inevitable but none the less real, occasioned in connection with disturbances for rehousing purposes. I am bound to say that I have not always found the London County Council very reasonable in their methods of dealing with complaints or requests which one has had to make from time to time. This House should concern itself with the activities of a body which is possessed of such enormous powers as are vested in the London County Council. The disturbing and rooting up of people from the foundations upon which their lives have been built is a big human question, and, although the London County Council are a great body with enormous interests, I feel that we are entitled to ask that these human questions shall be dealt with in a humane spirit. I do not desire to take up any more time, but I wish to emphasise that particular aspect of the case.
I am very glad that the opponents of this Bill have at least admitted that this is a very important improvement which is projected by the London County Council. I think everybody who knows South London will realise that this is quite the most important of all the suggested improvements that we have had before us in connection with the South of London. It is often said that the South of London has not had its fair share in Metropolitan improvements, and I think that it is time now that the London County Council should make an effort to do something for South London. It must be remembered, however, that when we are dealing with modern traffic conditions we are dealing with conditions which must involve much greater and more extended clearances of property that we have been accustomed to deal with before these modern traffic conditions arose. If, for instance, we had now to deal with the question of the Aldwych and Kingsway improvements it is clear that we should have to make a great deal more clearance than we did many years ago when that scheme was carried out.
I think it must be admitted by every-one that the Elephant and Castle district is one of the most congested districts in the whole of London. Anybody who has to go, as I sometimes have to go, there during the early hours between six and say nine when the congestion caused by our tramways and omnibuses all through that district is so great, will know that this kind of improvement in the South of London is certainly long overdue. This is not a scheme that has been thought out hastily and with-out due consultation with everybody concerned. It was a well considered scheme in February of this year, when it was first submitted to the Minister of Transport. It was thoroughly discussed by him, certain exceptions were taken to the scheme, certain modifications were suggested, and those modifications the county council agreed to. They adopted everything suggested to improve the scheme according to the ideas of the Minister of Transport and to bring it into conformity with the views of the London and Home Counties Traffic Committee. When the scheme reached its final form it might be said to have been an agreed scheme between the persons concerned in bringing it out. Not only was that the case but we were in communication with the Southwark Borough Council. That council had certain observations to make on the scheme. They said we were not making the streets and roads wide enough, and they had certain questions to raise in regard to sub-ways. The question of subways has already been raised, and we are in a very fair way towards coining to a final conclusion with the Southwark Borough Council on that question. So late as the 15th October we agreed to the widening of roads which we were asked to do by the Southwark Borough Council, and we are now on the way towards settling with them on the question of subways.
I cannot give any specific assurance as to the details, but I can say that we are in a- very good way towards coming to a conclusion with the Southwark Borough Council on the question of subways. So far as I understand it, we are in a very fair way to settle that question on an amicable basis. That being the case, we may say that so tar as public interests are concerned we have the case in our own hands. It is obviously to the advantage of the public that this improvement should be made. There are tens of thousands of people who pass through this district every day, apart from the 180,000 people who live in Southwark. What is the opposition? The only opposition that I can see to the Bill is the opposition of 250 people who are mentioned in the statement as opposers. I read, to my astonishment, that there are only 250 people who signed the protest against the scheme. At a meeting of 250 residents held at the Lamington Road Baths, Southwark, a. resolution was passed against this scheme. There are something like 180,000 people in Southwark and only 250 people have been found to sign the protest against the scheme. This Bill ought certainly to go through in the interests of the public.
When I come to the specific objections that have been raised to-night, I think I can show that the county council are trying to do all they can to meet those objections. Take the question of the shopping area. We are told that this is the great shopping area for South London. I wonder what the shopping community in the Brixton Road would say if we told them that the Elephant and Castle district is the great shopping area for South London. What would they think of such a statement on the Streatham High Road? It is a most exaggerated statement by the shopping tradesmen in that particular neighbourhood.
In regard to the question of compensation for the shops and business interests centred in that area, the opposers of the Bill must have noticed that we have the usual Clause in regard to compensation. Nothing has been done to alter the ordinary statutory arrangements with respect to compensation for displacement of trade, and so on. Those provisions are contained in Clause 13. When we come to the question of working-class displacement. I feel the matter very much because I have been for a very long time a member of the Housing Committee of the London County Council and I know what good work has been done and what remains to be done. There is going to be displacement of the working classes in this area. That is as inevitable as the displacement of the shops. If you are going to have any kind of improvement and clearance for traffic purposes, you must necessarily displace large numbers of persons, whether of the shopping class or the working class. 'While there is no question of compensation to the displaced working class, we are bound to rehouse them. We have the Stockwell site, which is a little less than two miles a-way, and is easily get-at-able by tram and omnibus, and that site is to be placed at the disposal of this improvement scheme. In normal circumstances, that site would have been used for general housing purposes, but in view of this particular scheme being put forward by the County Council and their desire to complete this important traffic scheme in South London we are willing to allocate the Stockwell site for the special purpose of housing the people who are displaced on the Elephant and Castle site.
When one comes to deal with those people who find it very difficult, often from hereditary reasons and otherwise, to remove themselves from the place in which they, their parents and very often their grandparents have been accustomed to live, we are confronted with a very difficult problem, because we have only available for them, if they do not go to Stockwell, the Tabard Street site. For the people who come under that special category and who cannot be removed except with difficulty from the place where they are living, or who, if they are removed, must be moved as short a distance away as possible, we can offer only such accommodation as comes vacant on the Tabard Street site. It would be wrong to lead the House to suppose that we could find at this moment in Southwark any site which could be used for tenement houses. We have been looking for such a site at a reasonable cost for a very long time, and it was only because we could not find such a site in Southwark that we decided upon the Stockwell site for the general housing scheme. Therefore, I think that I have made it clear that our scheme is reasonable and that we are making every provision that we can in order to meet the question of rehousing and to see to it that we do not cause any more disturbance than is absolutely essential when you are going forward with such a very large measure of clearance, a measure necessary in order that the traffic difficulties in this part of London may be solved, as far as it is possible to solve them.
I make no complaint, and I am sure the House does not complain, that my hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) has taken his perfectly proper Parliamentary opportunity of raising in the interests of his constituents certain matters which affect them in connection with this Bill. I am intervening at this juncture because I have a semi-official engagement to which I ought to have gone, and I hope the House will excuse me if I leave some what early. I am not concerned with this Bill in its housing aspects, but I am concerned officially as Minister of Transport in the traffic aspects of the problem. Everybody will agree, certainly my hon. Friend who moved the rejection of the Bill will agree, that the Elephant and Castle traffic problem is amongst the half dozen most serious traffic problems in the whole London area. Every hon. Member will concur in the view that it is a matter of the greatest urgency that this problem should be dealt with, and only on most serious and conclusive grounds ought a Bill of this kind to be rejected.
A traffic census was taken by the Metropolitan Police on the 9th July, 1929, which showed that 32,219 vehicles passed the junction of the Elephant and Castle between the hours of 8 in the morning and 8 at night, giving an average of 2,685 vehicles an hour. On one day in October, 1926, the traffic passing out of London Road going to Walworth Road and New Kent Road was held up 30 times between 5.20 p.m. and 7.0 p.m., little more than an hour and a half, the total period of hold-up being 37½ minutes, so that, roughly, one-third of the time during which the check was taken was occupied by vehicles standing still. Traffic proceeding from the Walworth Road to Newington Causeway was held up 30 times between 5.25 p.m. and 6.59 p.m., the total period of hold-up occupying 61 minutes. That represents a substantial cost to the transport undertakings involved in the delays. Therefore, it is of economic importance that the question should be faced and that we should take every possible step to solve the traffic problem at a London junction which is notoriously difficult and serious.
Regard has been had to the consideration that a proper traffic lay-out at this junction will increase the traffic capacity of the converging roads. It is estimated that the capacity of those roads will be increased by at least 100 per cent., thus avoiding for many years the necessity of widening the approach roads. Instead of the roads converging into the middle of a whole series of very important thoroughfares that lead to the Elephant and Castle, we shall have a crescent layout, and we shall get practically no delays but a constant circulation of traffic. Any expenditure on a matter of this kind which does not enable the chief avoidable causes of the present delays to be obviated would be unjustifiable, and in large measure a waste of money.
The evolution of the scheme is this: the problem has been considered by the London County Council, the Traffic Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Transport and my predecessor and myself for a number of years. Very careful discussions have taken place between the experts of the county council, the experts of the Ministry of Transport and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, who has given us the advantage of the knowledge of the police. It has been sifted. Other schemes have been examined. The whole thing has been very carefully considered, and at the end of all these discussions by all these people, who have a very great knowledge of traffic problems in the London area, they have come to the conclusion that in all the circumstances of the case and having reasonable regard to considerations of cost this is a scheme which should be adopted and proceeded with. We have often discussed London traffic problems on private Bills. I will not refer to an earlier Bill which was passed by a large majority of this House on Second Reading and which subsequently met with an unfortunate fate, but I will put this point to hon. Members. There must come a time when, if the House is satisfied that all schemes have been carefully examined and thoroughly sifted by the expert officers of all the authorities concerned, there should be a sense of finality. If the London County Council, the Ministry of Transport, and all the authorities concerned have come to the conclusion that on traffic grounds and on general ground also this is the proper thing to do, then I think the House should have a sense of finality in the matter and realise that we must take the advice of expert people who have a great knowledge and experience of these problems.
I would not for a moment suggest that the House of Commons has not the right to say that it thinks the experts are wrong; all of them, those at the Ministry of Transport and on the London County Council, as well as the Metropolitan Police. The House has every right to do that, but if, after the most careful examination, a scheme is put before it, and it is said that the scheme is bad, there will be no finality to improvements in the London area which are urgently desired. I beg the House to take sympathetic account of the very well-informed and highly technical advice which we have received from our experts on these points.
In the circular issued by the objectors to the Bill a feature is made of the importance of the tramway junction at this point. There was the suspicion of an endeavour to draw an anti-tramway bias against the Bill. My hon. Friend did not pursue that line of argument., but in the circular it is somewhat stressed. The tramway problem is by no means the principal incentive behind this project. I imagine that if the general manager of the tramways had been asked whether he would like to lead an agitation in favour of clearing up the Elephant and Castle, he would say: "No, it is not an ideal place for circular tramway traffic. We get through, and I am content to heave things as they are." Primarily, this is needed not on tramway grounds but on general traffic grounds. If the Bill goes through, the tramway position will, of course, be improved, and the tramways will not present the same difficulty to other forms of traffic as they do at present.
The hon. Member for North Southwark has said that this is an expensive scheme and that a great deal of the cost is going in compensation to property owners. That is perfectly true, and it will continue to be true until this House deals with the rights of property on a bold and thorough-going basis. In the meantime, we, have to face these problems in this imperfect world, and as the law stands—and that is the thing that matters—you have to pay compensation according to the rules of the game as they are now, and the rejection of this Bill will not reduce the cost of compensation. On the contrary, it is conceivable that the compensation might increase. The hon. Member is on difficult ground, because he has pleaded that existing traders, if they are put hack, should be put back on the sites they now occupy, which inevitably would be much more valuable when this improvement is carried through, at the same, comparable rent which they now pay. He is really in danger of turning his back on all the doctrines which the Labour party have been advocating for years, and I would suggest that he should be a little careful how far he gets mixed up with property owners and their interests; otherwise, I shall have to rescue him like a brand from the burning. As a matter of fact, the cost has been considerably reduced from the amount of the original scheme, and the inconvenience to people in the district has been considerably reduced. That is a factor which ought not to be ignored.
The scheme is supported by the Minister of Transport, which in itself ought to be nearly conclusive. I advise the House to accept the Bill on the advice of officers who really have an extraordinary knowledge of these problems and for whom I have a high regard. It is supported unanimously by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, and by the police. It is also supported by the London County Council, who are the elected representatives of the citizens of London, a factor which cannot be lightly set aside. I appreciate how my hon. Friend and his constituents feel on this matter. I have a warm regard for the Borough of Southwark. It returns my hon. Friend for North Southwark. He is the general secretary of my own trade union. It returns the hon. Member for South-East Southwark (Mr. Naylor) who is chairman of the London Labour party, and my hon. Friend the Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Day) who asks me a good number of questions from time to time.
I have associations with Southwark myself. I once stood as a candidate for the London County Council for the Division which my hon. Friend represents, but the electors were unwise enough to reject the offer of my services. I bear no spite on that account. But in the matter of slum clearance and improvements you always have great difficulties with the people who live there and who become greatly attached even to the most miserable slums. An extraordinary sentiment grows up. Nearly every slum clearance has to be achieved in spite of the opposition of the people whose housing conditions it is proposed to improve. They have lived there for many years, and their fathers and grandfathers before them, and they are attached to the place by ties of sentiment. Southwark has a great history; it is one of the most ancient boroughs in the County of London. I understand that; I do not scorn it. But how is one to solve this traffic problem at the Elephant and Castle unless some scheme of this kind is put forward; and if you are satisfied that the scheme is substantially right somebody has to be upset. I am sorry, but this is inevitable in every public improvement that is made. In this case, the county council has made an offer which is better than most offers made in the case of a shun clearance. They propose to house the people who are dispossessed within a penny or twopenny tramway ride of the Elephant and Castle.
The hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter) has asked where it is proposed to put the subways. At the moment, we cannot say exactly where they will be. We do not know what is underground at the Elephant and Castle; we do not know what is underground in a great part of London; there are a good many mysteries underground in London. But if you have circulating traffic at the Elephant and Castle I agree, and the London County Council agree, that adequate and proper subway provision must be provided for pedestrians. The London County Council have said that not only will they discuss the matter with the Minister of Transport—it may not be necessary for me to use my power and influence in that regard, because I do not think it will be necessary for me to keep the London County Council in a nice, healthy frame of mind on the subject—but they have also offered to discuss it with the Southwark Borough Council. To my hon. Friends on this side of the House I will say that the Labour party on the London County Council definitely supports the Bill. I must ask them to take account of that fact. They cannot ignore the wishes of the people who are elected by the citizens. I cannot ignore the wishes of the London County Council, whatever its political complexion; I must treat them with respect. I put it to my hon. Friends who are not Ministers that they ought to take into account the views of their own political friends on the London County Council who have responsibilities in the matter.
This improvement is a popular one and is badly wanted. Therefore, the House will take a great responsibility in rejecting the Bill. In view of the sympathetic way in which the hon. Member opposite has replied to the objectors, and in view of the urgency of the matter, I would suggest to my hon. Friend who has moved the rejection of the Bill that if he withdraws his objection to-night he has not necessarily given up the fight on points on which he may not yet be satisfied. Even at this stage I hope that the hon. Member for North Southwark, having made his case, will realise that it would not be wise for him to run the risk a Division, in which I believe he would he defeated, because his position would then be weaker than it is now. I suggest to him that the expedient and the wisest course would be to withdraw the Motion, reserving his own rights and that of the promoters to fight further in another place and in another way in order to get their way.
Certain figures have been given and I would like to know whether they are correct. We have been told that the total sum involved in the expenditure on this improvement would be, in round figures, £1,950,000. It was stated also that the compensation to the landowners and property owners out of this round sum would be £1,438,000 Therefore of the total money only £512,000 will be used for the works themselves?
I could not answer on the spur of the moment, hut I am quite prepared to accept what my hon. Friend has said, seeing that he quoted from an official report. The figures would certainly accord with my general experience of all public improvements, whether they be in the London area or at Stoke-on-Trent. My hon. Friend referred to the landowners. Let me tell him for his comfort that most of the money which he mentioned will go to the owners of buildings and the people who have businesses in the area.
I am sorry if my rising should detain the Minister from the dinner which I have no doubt he well deserves, but I am not responsible for the fact that he has spoken in defence of the Bill. There are one or two points that even now do not seem to have been satisfactorily answered either by the hon. Member who is promoting the Bill or the Minister. We who are opposing the Bill—
My hon. Friend will appreciate that my only duty is to inform the House and to give advice to the House as the Minister concerned. The responsibility for the Bill rests with the London County Council and with my hon. Friend the Member for West Fulham (Sir C. Cobb). Therefore, it will not be necessary for me to hear the end of this debate. Technically I am not in charge of the Bill.
I know the Minister too well to think that he would show any discourtesy to the House in departing before the debate is finished. But he has asked the House not to reject the Bill. He has said that the Elephant and Castle improvement scheme is badly needed. We do not deny that; we appreciate the fact that the traffic conditions at the Elephant and Castle call for some such scheme as this. What we complain of is that certain details in this scheme have received scant consideration from the London County Council. Subways have been mentioned. The hon. Member for West Fulham (Sir C. Cobb) was not very definite concerning these subways. I understood him to say that negotiations were in progress, I presume with the railway company. That means that there have been no decisions taken with regard to these subways. Nothing has been said by the hon. Member for West Fulham as to whether the railway companies are to have discretion in the matter. Are they to have permits to limit subways according to what they consider to be the public convenience, or has the London County Council reserved to itself the right to say where the subway shall be placed?
The hon. Member did not tell us anything as to the cost of the maintenance of the subways. If the railway interests are to be considered are we to assume that the maintenance of the subways is not to be a cost either on the London County Council or the Southwark Borough Council, but will rest with the railways? The suggestion was recently made that the present would be a great opportunity for relieving the congestion of traffic between Blackfriars and the Elephant and Castle if the railway companies would consider an extension of the tube railway from the Elephant and Castle to Blackfriars. Such a suggestion ought to be considered before the Bill receives a Second Reading.
Then there is the position of the tenants who are to be displaced. The hon. Member for West Fulham stated that only 250 names were on the appeal presented to the London County Council. Has he realised that that total does not represent the entire number of tenants who are to be displaced? Those 250 were signatories to the appeal, and probably on the average each of the signatures represented a family and not an individual. All these persons have now the protection of the Rent Restriction Acts. If they are displaced and have to take up new accommodation at Stockwell, are the rights and privileges that they now possess under that Act to be transferred to their new tenancies? Perhaps the hon. Member or one of his colleagues can tell us? If the dispossessed tenants are not to have the same privileges in their new tenancies, are they to he compensated for the loss of privileges due to displacement from their houses?
The London County Council, according to the hon. Member for West Fulham, consulted all interests. Did they consult those tenants who are not in business for themselves, and, if not, why not? If they are not commercially interested in the same way as the owners of businesses, at least they are entitled to consideration, and if consideration is to be shown on the commercial side in terms of cash, surely it should also be shown in the case of these private tenants, who may not get suitable accommodation elsewhere at rents which they can afford. I think the position of the London County Council in that respect is to be criticised. The hon. Member for West Fulham said that they have been looking for a site for several years past. I can tell him of a site very near this locality which would accommodate the tenants who are to be displaced. The London County Council made no effort to secure that site, or, if they did, they failed to take full advantage of their opportunities. It is a site now occupied by the largest cinema in the country and that site would have provided sufficient space to house a very large proportion of these people. Therefore, the hon. Member for West Fulham is not justified in saying that they were unable to secure a, site when that site was available for them, if they had not allowed it to slip into the hands of the cinema company. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is it?"] It is off the corner of the New Kent Road, and close by the Elephant itself. It would have been a very good position for the erection of model tenements of the kind required.
Again, the scheme takes in a portion of the market where street traders at present get their living. Nothing has been said as to whether any compensation is to be paid to those street traders who will lose their market and that is a matter which ought to be cleared up before the House consents to the Second Reading of this Bill. Unless these points are considered, and Satisfactory assurances given upon them, it seems to me that my hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) will have no option but to ask the House to reject the Bill, and to go to a Division upon it. The rejection of the Bill as it stands does not mean the rejection of the Elephant and Castle scheme. It would be easy to withdraw this Bill for the time being, and to alter its provisions so as to meet objections which will have to be met sooner or later. It could then he reintroduced in a form which would make it acceptable to those hon. Members who are now opposing it. It seems strange that it should be left to hon. Members on the opposite side of the House to support this Bill. That is probably because the London County Council happens to be a Conservative County Council.
I have not overlooked the fact that the Minister has pointed out that the Labour party on the London County Council are in favour of the Bill. That may be, but the objections raised here must be either worthy of consideration or not worthy of consideration. If the House thinks the objections are frivolous, then the House will be right to take no notice of them. On the other hand, if the House thinks that the objections are real, and are not brought forward merely to cause obstruction then, while admitting that, subject to proper safeguards, this is a necessary improvement, we are justified in asking that these concessions should be made while we have the power and the right to ask for them. Once the Bill goes to Committee what chance have we to secure recognition of the principles which we have put forward? It has often been said that it is the right of this House to reject a Bill on Second Reading, not because the principles in the Bill are antagonistic to the opinion of the House, but because the House believes that the rejection of the Bill is the only safe way of securing that its objections to certain proposals shall be honoured. We object to this Bill because we feel that unless we carry the matter to a Division at this stage, our objections will not be fairly and squarely met. I ask the House to believe that we are not doing so in order to kill the scheme. In doing so we shall not kill the scheme. We want to see a scheme carried out, but let us have a scheme which will have due regard to the interests, not only of the big people, but of the poorer people whom we also represent.
I shall endeavour to reply on behalf of the promoters of the Bill to some of the points raised by the hon. Member for South East Southwark (Mr. Naylor) and to the general objections which have been urged against the Bill by the hon. Member who moved its rejection. On the subject of rehousing referred to by the last speaker, I am reminded that the housing proposals of the London County Council could not be put into effect until after the passage of the Bill, and the submission of the scheme to the Ministry of Health. The one step must necessarily precede the other. The hon. Member has already been reminded that the proposals embodied in the Bill have the support of his colleagues of the Labour party in the London County Council as well as of the Ministry of Transport and the Minister himself. The hon. Member referred to the neglect of the London County Council to purchase a certain site. Surely, he does not overlook the fact that the London County Council, in the expenditure of public money, must have regard to the cost of one site as compared with other sites available in other parts of London. The corner site which the hon. Member has in mind was, I think, of a costly nature, and the London County Council would hardly be warranted in the ordinary way in acquiring land of that character in that position for the purpose indicated.
With regard to the displaced tenants, I think he has perhaps overlooked that they will surely have a hearing through their representatives before the committee. He asked as to the transfer of the rights and privileges of the tenants under the Rent Restrictions Acts. I cannot give him a definite answer because it is a legal question, but it might be submitted, on behalf of the tenants, to the committee, though I doubt whether the powers of the London County Council extend so far as to provide him with what he wants in those circumstances. He recommended that the traffic situation there might be met by extensions of the tube railways. There would be no difficulty whatever in putting that proposal before the railway interests concerned. The negotiations with regard to subways, to which reference was made, are proceeding with the Southwark Borough Council, and the hon. Member for West Fulham (Sir C. Cobb) gave us to understand that they had reached a satisfactory stage, so that I think the hon. Member's anxiety on that score may be set at rest.
I have risen, not only to answer these questions, but because the question of communications and the provision of adequate traffic facilities in London is a subject to which I have given some study and in which I am greatly interested. I think we have all agreed by this time that there is an urgent necessity for such a scheme, and I would like to remind hon. Members who have raised objections to this particular scheme that it is a scheme in its later stages already. It is not the scheme originally proposed by the London County Council; it is not the alternative originally suggested by the Ministry of Transport; it is a third alternative, which has found favour with both parties, and incidentally it is considerably less expensive than the original proposals of the Ministry of Transport.
If we reject this Bill, what are we to put in its place? The hon. Member who moved the rejection put forward a scheme which he considered was better than that which is now before the House, but with every desire to be complimentary to his alternative, I think we shall have to leave the selection of the best scheme in the hands of the experts of all the parties concerned—the London County Council, the Ministry of Transport, the police, and others—so that I think we must leave this possible alternative out of account at this late stage.
This Bill has already had an uninterrupted and unopposed passage in another place, and the opponents of the Bill had ample opportunity of putting objections through the members of their party in another place. No doubt the hon. Member is aware that its unopposed and somewhat rapid passage there created some surprise. However, the opportunity was not taken, and are they not coming a little late in the day to urge these objections, which must have been as forcible at any time during the career of this proposal as they are to-day? The question of loss to traders has been dealt with by the hon. Member for West Fulham. This is not a local, it is not even a London, question; it amounts to something that is very nearly a national question, and that is fully covered by the fact that the Ministry of Transport contributes the large proportion of 75 per cent. to its cost.
Reference has been made to the question of the trams, but I ought to point out that the scheme is one to benefit the traffic generally and that the alteration of the position of the tracks is incidental. Although the cost of the whole scheme is very little short of £2,000,000, the estimated cost of altering and adjusting the tramlines in connection with it is only £115,200, a really paltry amount out of the whole sum. Having answered various points that have been raised, if I may add my modest contribution to the recommendations to the House already so effectively made by the Minister of Transport, I think the House should have little doubt as to the desirability of giving this Bill its Second Reading.
I am not at all satisfied by what has been said to-night on behalf of the promoters of the Bill with regard to the provision of subways. The hon. Member for East Fulham (Sir K. Vaughan-Morgan) asked what opposition there was to the Bill, and he said that only some 250 people had objected or protested. I am here to-night to protest on behalf of the tens of thousands of pedestrians who use that important traffic junction every day in the week. At present there is a number of radiating subways connecting all the different street corners that abut upon the Elephant Circus. Those subways, we understand, are to be swept away, and there is not a single word in the Bill about the provision of new subways.
I was very astonished by one of the observations that fell from the Minister of Transport, when he said that this Bill in all its phases had received the most careful, exhaustive, and elaborate consideration by the officials of the Ministry, the experts, the representatives of the Metropolitan Police, and the London Traffic Advisory Committee. All those groups and bodies concerned never gave a single thought or any attention to the wants of pedestrians. There has never been, from beginning to end, in connection with the promotion of this Bill, until opposition declared itself in this House, a single provision for pedestrians made or offered by the promoters to replace the subways which are to be swept away. Only this morning did we receive this White Paper from the promoters, in which we are told that passenger subways will be provided in connection with the scheme. We want an undertaking that in Committee a definite Amendment will be accepted providing in the most specific terms that these subways shall be constructed.
We are told by the Minister to-night and by the hon. Member for East Fulham that negotiations with the Southwark Borough Council are proceeding satisfactorily and that everything will be all right, but what happened when a number of us who are opposed to the Bill on this ground met the representatives of the Ministry of Transport and of the Loudon County Council? We were told, "Oh, yes, we will do what we can for you in this matter, but the difficulties are enormous." Those are the actual words used. We were told that there might be a main sewer, that there might he gas and water mains, even that there might be an underground river—in fact, they thought there was an underground river—and it would be impossible to make any subways of the kind that we desired. Now we are told that there will be some subways, but they cannot at all promise us where they will be, and the specific assurance for which I ask from the promoters is that there will be subways which will enable a pedestrian to cross from any one corner to the other corner, as existing at present.
We have been given no such assurance whatever, and I ask again, from the representatives of the London County Council here to-night, whether such subways are or are not to be constructed or whether only one or two of the existing subways are to be re-utilised hereafter, and no connections made between the remaining streets, and no additional passages made to replace those which are to be removed, destroyed, or blocked up. I ask for that assurance. I have received nothing up to the present except a vague statement that something is going to be done in the way of providing subways. If we have every assurance, I can say, speaking for myself and a number of other Members who are interested in this aspect of the matter, that we shall withdraw our opposition to the Bill. At the moment, however, we have nothing definite, and if the promoters can help us, or if my hon. Friend the Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Strauss), who is a member of the London County Council, can give me some clear undertaking that provision for subways will be made in this Bill, a number of us will be quite satisfied and will withdraw our opposition.
The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that we are certainly going to put a proper system of subways. We cannot say during the negotiations with the Southwark Borough Council what the system will be, but there is going to be a satisfactory system. We may utilise existing subways; I do not know, hut we shall have a proper system.
Can the hon. Gentleman give me an assurance on this particular point? I believe that eight streets converge on the Elephant and Castle circus, and it is possible, by means of the existing system of radiating subways, for a foot passenger at one street corner to pass to another street corner. So far as the experts were able to give us any assurance in the past, all they could say was, "We should probably be able to provide for you to cross from one side here to that side there, but we shall not he able to do anything in respect of the other five or six corners." I want to know whether a proper system will be available whereby a foot passenger will be able to cross to the opposite side of the road without making a circuit of about six corners.
We all sympathise with the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter), but the London County Council and the Ministry of Transport can be trusted to make reason-able plans for pedestrians. At present there are subways, and it is only reason-able to suppose that, in any scheme that is brought forward, this provision will be made. All of us have listened with interest to the speeches made by the local representatives; nobody can grumble if a local representative does his utmost in the interests of the people he serves; this Bill, however, goes a great deal further than the Elephant and Castle. I remember the district as a young fellow going past there two or three nights a week to work at a boys' club in Bermondsey, and in those days, in 1896, the traffic was pretty considerable. Now, it I want to take the shortest way home from the House, I avoid the Elephant and Castle, which even during the day is a nightmare. In the early morning one does go that way sometimes, for there is less traffic about then, It is a very dangerous place. Apart from the danger, there is the time that one is held up, often amounting to 5, 10 or 15 minutes. During the whole of that time it is very difficult for passengers who do not use the subways to cross. We have not in this country cultivated the habit of using subways, and many people are run over because they are too lazy or do not feel inclined to use them. The subways exist at the Elephant and Castle and they can be used. Nevertheless, it is a dangerous spot, and it is high time that something was done. We have heard from various Members that this scheme has been well considered, and, not with-standing the fact that there may be some objections, such as those suggested by the hon. Members representing Southwark, we should give this Bill a passage. We have to remember that all improvements, of whatever nature, always incon- venience somebody. In housing and rehousing schemes somebody will always be troubled, and in this particular case we are fortunate in having a comparatively small number of people inconvenienced. Those who are inconvenienced will be recompensed to the best of the ability of those who are inconveniencing them. Stockwell is not very far away. The hon. Member for South-East Southwark (Mr. Naylor) said that a site had been bought near the Elephant and Castle by a cinema company, but we must realise that even the London County-Council cannot spend the ratepayers money on very extravagant sites; in the interests of the ratepayers and the people, they have to act economically.
Reference has been made to the gigantic sum of £2,000,000, but when one realises that of that amount £1,438,000 is to be spent on property, £120,000 on re-housing, £276,000 on improvements, and only £115,000 on the tramways, over which so much noise is made, one will agree that the sum is only reasonable. I hope that the House will come to the conclusion that this Bill must be passed, and if there be any question relating to subways, I am sure that the hon. Member for West Bermondsey will have the sympathy of all parties in his contention that the pedestrians must also have a say in the matter—
I rise to deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter). It is an important one, because it interests many people. I can definitely say that it is the intention of the London County Council to provide adequate subways. It is true that they do not know—nobody knows—what the ground is like underneath the road, and it is quite impossible to say at the moment the exact spots where the subways will be. It is, however, their intention to put subways—I can say this quite definitely—where necessary if it is physically possible to do so, and they have undertaken to consult the Ministry of Transport and the Southwark Borough Council in that respect. The London County Council are at the moment negotiating with the Southwark Borough Council on this matter, and I understand that they have almost come to an agreement. There is no point of real dispute between the two bodies. The borough council are not discussing with the county council the position or the number of the subways; the only matter outstanding is the question of the maintenance of the subways, which is complicated owing to various circumstances. I can assure the hon. Member that the county council are meeting him in the case which he put before the House. I would say to the other Members of my party here this evening, as the Minister of Transport has said, that the Bill has the full and unanimous support of the Labour party on the London County Council. [Interruption.] I suggest to my hon. Friends that they ought to take some little notice of what my 48 colleagues on the London County Council think about this matter. They have discussed this scheme and previous schemes very fully, have gone into the details and weighed the pros and cons, and I am merely putting it that they are in favour of this scheme and have written a letter to the Labour Members of Parliament urging them to do all they can to support it.
I am afraid I cannot say anything about that. All I do say is they have fully considered this scheme in all its aspects and strongly urge their colleagues here to support them, and I merely suggest that their attitude should have some weight with my hon. Friends. On their behalf I ask my fellow Members here to support this Bill.
I make no apology for intervening in this debate, although this matter is really confined to London so far as the traffic question is concerned; but I am speaking on behalf of the National Chamber of Trade, which is the retail traders' trade union. I am here to-night as a staunch trade unionist to put in a plea on behalf of retail traders who will be dispossessed, and without compensation whatever, if this Bill is passed into law in its present
form. The hon. Member for West Fulham (Sir C. Cobb), in dealing with this question of compensation to the shopkeepers, dismissed it by saying they are fully provided for under Clause 13. I suggest they are not provided for at all. Clause 13 reads:
For the purpose of determining any question of disputed compensation payable in respect of lands taken under the powers of this Act the following provisions shall apply.
In a further explanation we were told that £1,438,000 is being provided as compensation, but to whom? To the landowner and the property owner. [Interruption.] I am not complaining about that, though hon. Members opposite may do so, but what I do complain of is that whilst rightful compensation is provided for the owner of the land and the owner of the buildings, nothing whatever is provided for the shopkeeper, who is to lose the goodwill of his business and the improvements which he has put into his premises. When the Landlord and Tenant Act came before this House we found that it provided that a shopkeeper who was dispossessed had a right to compensation for the goodwill of his business if he were either a leaseholder of the premises or had been in occupation of them for five years; so that even if he were a weekly tenant he still could claim compensation if he or his predecessor in title had been in occupation for more than five years. When that Measure was under consideration in Committee, however, an Amendment was moved by which it was provided that compensation was not to be payable where the property was required for a street improvement. The interests of the owner of the building and the owner of the land were already adequately covered by the common law of the land; but, although we were providing compensation to a man for the goodwill of his business in other instances, when this Amendment was accepted no compensation could be claimed in respect of shops and business purposes required by a public authority for a public improvement.
There is no doubt that what the Bill now under consideration is dealing with can be designated as a public improvement. There is no doubt, also, that those responsible for drafting the Bill know full well that these shopkeepers had no legal claims to compensation, though I suggest that at least they have a moral claim. These men, who have approached me to put their case to the House, are, most of them, one-man shopkeepers. They are not big firms with plenty of capital. Most of them have all their savings invested in their business. They have worked for many years to build up a goodwill, and if the premises were acquired by a private individual who wanted to get them out he would have to pay them reasonable compensation for any improvements that might have been effected by them and also reasonable compensation for goodwill; but a great authority like the London County Council can come along and, owing to the Amendment which I have referred to, can dispossess them without giving them a farthing of compensation; and those who are responsible for the framing of the Bill know it. I defy anyone to find in Clause 13 anything which will give these people one halfpenny compensation.
I am determined to vote against the Bill unless we can get from the promoters a reasonable promise that something will be done to meet the ease of these tenants. No large sum of money will be required—only a very small sum in comparison with the large outlay, and it would only be an act of justice. I do not see also why these people should not have the first claim on the new shop premises which will be erected when the improvement is made. That is a fair and square way out of the difficulty. I am not suggesting they should be allowed to have the new, up-to-date premises at the same rents as for the old ones, but at reasonable rents which could be fixed by agreement. It is absolutely unfair to turn these people out into the streets and cause them to lose the results of all the hard work they have put into building up their business simply because the law is on the side of the stronger person. I hope to hear something from the promoters of the Bill in answer to the plea I am putting forward on behalf of these people.
I was rather amazed at the speech of the Minister of Transport this evening. He has fallen into the practice of getting hold of some official document and becoming extremely voluble without there being much substance in what he is saying. He seems to confound flippancy with sound reason. He told us the scheme ought to pass the House because it had been under the hands of the experts of his Department and under the hands of various experts of various Departments. We, the Members of the British House of Commons, are to pass it and allow it to go upstairs because—note the words—the officials had had it under their hands. I remember a scheme brought into the House by the same Minister of Transport with the same flippancy and volubility, and it was carried to Committee upstairs. In that case we were told that the Charing Cross Bridge scheme had been analysed by the engineers, analysed by the officials of the Ministry of Transport, analysed by all the experts at the command of various Departments. I hope the House will not be deluded by all this talk about experts. Never in my life as an engineer or an architect have I ever had to witness such a chaotic and stupid proposal as that which was advanced by the experts in regard to the Charing Cross Bridge scheme. We killed that Bill on technical and engineering grounds as well as upon architectural grounds.
My point is that we have been asked to accept this Bill on the same grounds as we were asked to pass the Measure to which I have just referred. I put it to the House that we should not be asked to accept blindfold a scheme simply because the permanent officials have passed it, or have said the last word in regard to it. Questions have been asked about the provision of subways. Hon. Members will agree that in a Bill of this kind the pedestrians should be considered, and I have not seen anything in this Measure which will safeguard their interest. No provision has been made for the great increase in London traffic which is bound to take place, and, if the increase of traffic in London proceeds at the same ratio as it has done during the last seven years, even the Measure we are considering will be quite inadequate to deal with the increased traffic of the future.
We have been told that the scheme of this Bill will cost, in round figures, something less than £2,000,000. I put it to the House that that is not true, and the scheme will cost much more than £2,000,000. A protest has already been made by certain shopkeepers, and other people who will be displaced by this scheme. I understand from those who are in the inner counsels of those who are promoting this scheme that an arrangement has been come to under which land in Holborn, costing £50,000 an acre, will be purchased to provide for those who are going to be displaced by this Measure. There will also be a heavy charge for providing contiguous land which must be very dear to purchase.
If the London County Council has come to an agreement on this question, I am very glad to hear it. I should like to know if the sum required for rehousing these people is included in the figure which has been given as the total cost of this scheme. Before any hon. Members sitting on the Labour benches go into the Lobby, I should like them to consider one or two things. The figures have been given, and in case they are wrong I would like to ask the Minister of Transport for a confirmation of them before he leaves the House. We have been told that £1,438,000 will be devoted to compensating the landowners and the property owners. That sum is required to compensate the landowners plus compensation for property which should have been destroyed years ago. That leaves £512,000 for the great scheme.
I want Members of the Labour party to consider those figures before they support the Bill. The Minister of Transport told us, in regard to the payment of this compensation, that it is the law of the land that we must pay the lion's share of compensation to the landowners. The Minister of Transport told us that the experts have said that the law is such that the landowners must get the lion's share of the compensation and we have no redress. I remember another large scheme which cost £14,000,000, and £11,000,000 of that sum went in compensation to the landowners. I want Labour Members to weigh these figures very carefully. I am not saying that the improvements put forward in this Bill are not needed, and I have no hesitation in saying to the London County Council that the whole of the streets of London are a standing disgrace. In London, we have a large number of narrow streets, and yet the London County Council is standing passively by, and allowing new buildings to be erected on the old building line in streets which are already seriously congested.
What is required in London is a broad vision, a recasting and replanning of the whole of London in order to meet the enormous pressure of the increase in traffic which modern civilisation is bringing into the heart of this great City. If you start spending money upon the improvement provided for in this. Bill at the Elephant and Castle you will have to hand over money later on for similar improvements somewhere else, and there will be no end to this kind of expenditure. There is a Budget coming, and we shall have the Chancellor of the Exchequer threatening to do something. In these circumstances, I can understand the anxiety of landowners to get rid of their property at a high market value.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL:
I should have thought that the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) would have realised that you cannot change the whole of the streets of London by using a magic wand. All these improvements have to be done in stages. As far as the Elephant and Castle improvement is concerned, I think the hon. Member for Burslem should be one of the first to recognise that the time is long overdue when that alteration should be made. Anyone who has watched the traffic going North, South, East and West at the Elephant and Castle will wonder why an improvement has not been made there before now. I am glad that at last we are going to have an improve ment at that spot. I do not say that that improvement will last for ever, but the scheme of the London County Council is a good one, and it will be of great value to the people of London for many years to come.
The hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill spoke of not being agreeable to 120 feet of roadway being constructed. Anyone who knows the traffic problem there will recognise that it is absolutely necessary to have the widest possible street for such a position as is contemplated in this alteration. It I am not digressing, there is the question of London transport to be considered in connection with the alteration of the tramway system. After all, it is not a question of the construction of any new lines, but only that when you are making this alteration, the alteration to the tramway system must be contemplated and carried out. I am one of those- who are hopeful that before very long we shall have further improvements with regard to South London. We were the pioneers with regard to the tube system, and I cannot help thinking that if the various authorities, the London County Council and all those connected with the transport system of London, would give careful consideration to the position in South London by the construction of a tube, they would be able to do away with an enormous amount of congestion from which we are at present suffering.
I have very great sympathy with the point raised by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley). After all, you have to carry out the statutory regulations, and I do not think it is fair to take away the businesses of these various people, and simply say they must go, though they have built up their businesses for 15, 20, 30 years or longer, and many of them are what we may call more or less one- or two-assistant businesses. These people have built up goodwill and I am sorry that, according to the Statutes and regulations nothing can be paid to them by law for the loss of the goodwill of their businesses. I hope that the time is not very far distant when a general scheme of compensation for all losses that occur when a man loses his business will be dealt with. I never believe in confiscation of any business, no matter what kind. It is a great pity that the London County Council are not in a position to give some reasonable compensation to these people who have to move their businesses to other places. It is all very well when you are dealing with housing and a man is displaced, for you can re-house him, though it may be you have got to take him, as in the present case, a mile and a-half or two miles away. That is all very well. You can do it in that case, but in regard to a man's personal business in his own neighbourhood, you cannot simply say you are going to take that business from the Elephant and Castle, St. George's Road or the Old Kent Road, and dump it down in some place in Stockwell, because business does not follow him. Therefore, the law as it at present stands is very unfair to that class of person.
Another hon. Gentleman raised a point with regard to the London County Council paying somewhere in the neighbourhood of £50,000 per acre for the utilisation of land for rehousing. It is a pity that a statement of that nature should be made. The London County Council have made, it perfectly plain that, as regards Tabard Street, they cannot use it. They are not coming to the House of Commons and saying they will do this and do that, as was made perfectly plain by the hon. Member for West Fulham (Sir C. Cobb). They say that they are not going to undertake what they cannot carry out. As far as the Tabard Street scheme is concerned, although much nearer to the Elephant and Castle, they cannot house the people they are taking away from the parts they have got to demolish. They cannot rehouse them under the Tabard Street scheme, and they are not going to say they will. They have the Stockwell scheme and the London County Council are going to take the necessary steps for rehousing the people displaced from the Elephant and Castle area under that scheme. That is a project very different from indicating that the London County Council have purchased land in the neighbourhood of £50,000 per acre for rehousing purposes, and it is just as well that it should be made perfectly plain that they are not doing anything of the sort.
As far as this Bill is concerned, I am entirely in sympathy with the point which has been raised by the hon. Mem- ber for Grimsby, but it should be pointed out that the London County Council or any other authority have got to carry out their obligations according to law. It would be perfectly unfair if the London County Council, in the Bill they have brought forward, did not lay down perfectly clearly, as they have done in Clause 13, what is to be done in the statutory position in which they are placed. I am certain that if it had been within their power to make any alteration, they would have given favourable consideration to it. I hope that my hon. Friend who says he is going to vote against this Bill will do nothing of the sort, since we have had an opportunity of expressing our views here. The London County Council are faced with difficulties and are endeavouring to meet them as far as they possibly can.
There are many of us in this House who are old members of the London County Council and know full well the" care and attention they have always given to all these matters. They consult lie various local authorities, and they have consulted Southwark with regard to this. Although we have heard it said that everything is not perhaps in just as happy a condition as it might be with regard to the borough council, nevertheless the London County Council arc not in the habit of riding roughshod over any of these local authorities. They will do what they can, and, as far as subways are concerned, though they cannot say exactly where they will be placed, they are prepared to give an undertaking that wherever subways are really required they will be provided. I think in the circumstances we should be a great deal better advised to let this Bill go through Second Reading without a Division. The Minister of Transport, in what I thought a perfectly reasonable speech, ventured to suggest that to the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill. You know you are not going to kill this Bill. You might have a very small minority against it, but by that means you will not be at all helping what you want. Therefore, I do trust that when we realise the difficulties of the London County Council and know full well the care and attention they have given to these matters, we shall be able to give a unanimous Second Reading to the Bill.
I do not wish this to go any further. When I made the statement, I said that I was prepared to be corrected, but that I had been informed that £50,000 an acre was to be paid. The correction was duly made, and I accepted the correction, so I ask that it should not go any further. It seems that £50,000 has been paid for quite another scheme.
I only intervene for a few moments to plead that London should be allowed to have this great improvement, and that the House will at any rate give the Bill a. Second Reading. It is many years since. London has had any great improvement, and this is a case in which all the elected members of a properly constituted municipal authority are agreed. There is as much difference in most matters between members at the County Hall as there is in this House, but it would be most unfortunate that London this year should be deprived of an opportunity of bringing about this improvement, which is going to facilitate London traffic so much. Every day the cost of the delays to the movement of goods and passengers runs into many thousands of pounds. I suggest that this Bill should be allowed to go to a Committee, and I am authorised to say that the council is prepared to meet every reasonable request. I go further, and say this: The particular tenants about whom my hon. Friend is so concerned are only weekly tenants. Of course, anyone who has a long lease or other interest in the property would be able to claim compensation, but the ordinary weekly tenants are more likely to get some substantial gratuity from the county council—and, in fact, it is the general custom to give them something in such cases—than if they were turned out by the landlord.
I understand that that is quite impracticable, but what they propose to do is to put up brand-new buildings—I have seen the plans and know the site—so that every person who is displaced will be rehoused. The Ministry of Health is the protector of tenants who are displaced, and no public authority would be allowed to turn people out of their houses unless they can show that alternative accommodation will be provided.
My ease is that Southwark wants houses. Here is a great site that is to be cleared. Will the county council give us some houses on that site, apart from the people who are going to be displaced and rehoused, or is it going to be handed over for industrial purposes?
I am not in a position to say, but I suggest that in Committee these matters can be raised, and every reasonable security that is lacking can be fought for in Committee. All that I ask is that this Bill should go to a properly constituted Committee of this House, where all the interests concerned can be sure that their rights will be considered. If the Bill comes down from the Committee unchanged, by all means let hon. Members raise these questions on the Third Reading, but I do ask that this improvement, which is most urgently required for London traffic in the interests of business and trade and of the travelling public as a whole, should not be delayed.
The hon. Member for South West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) was interrupted when he was making a statement with reference to the tenants, and I did not quite catch what he said. Do I understand that the Council is prepared to consider the case of these tenants with a view to compensation?
All that I can say is that it is the general practice to deal sympathetically with ordinary weekly tenants, and to give them as generous treatment as is possible.