Orders of the Day — Surrey County Council Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 17th February 1931.

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Photo of Sir Richard Meller Sir Richard Meller , Mitcham

The observations of my two hon. Friends rather lead to the conclusion that this is a very good Bill. The Preamble lays down that the principal objects of the Bill are the good government of the country and to preserve the amenities of the county of Surrey, and I should have thought they were objects which my hon. Friends would praise, whether they are in a national Bill or in a county Bill. Apparently, my two hon. Friends think that these things are good: then why not allow us as an enlightened and advancing county to set them going, and not keep the county of Surrey falling into the background by raising a number of objections? After all, are we not having a number of things set right and thus setting an example to other counties who are not so enlightened? I gather from the kindly observations of my two hon. Friends that they are not objecting to the Bill. They are prepared to let the points they have mentioned go to Committee, where they could be raised, and I hope that without any very prolonged discussion the House will come to the conclusion that that is the right procedure to follow. No strong abjection has been raised to this Bill outside the House. There have been those objections which are always raised when any attempt is made to get a private Bill through, but, on the other hand, there has been strong co-operation by all local authorities in the county and on some Clauses criticism of a, well-informed and kindly nature.

The county of Surrey stands in a very peculiar position. It is a, county which I hope is known to the majority of hon. Members of this House. It provides the highways to the South Coast, and it has some of the most beautiful uplands and woodlands. Some of its scenes have been described in paintings. It is the desire of the county council to preserve these beautiful amenities. Think of the position of Surrey during the past 10 years! There has been an enormous growth of population, a great development in building, and unless the county authorities take steps very early, much of the beauty of which we are proud and are endeavouring to preserve for posterity will disappear altogether. That is the main object of this Bill. Some of the items to which my hon. Friends have referred are very small matters indeed, such as massage establishments and smallpox hospital committees. But are they not important parts of the good government of a county, and the very things which the county authority should take in hand?

In the consideration of this Measure three main principles stand out—the sporadic development, the sporadic and uncontrolled ribbon development of bungalows, and the need of a considered policy in the provision of substantial open spaces. I wish hon. Members had seen some of the hideous things which Surrey has had to face during the past few years, the sporadic development and the ribbon development of bungalows, which has taken place regardless of any consideration to the aesthetic views of the residents and visitors. This is not a Bill solely for the residents in the county. The county authority is endeavouring to preserve the amenities for the great mass of people who go there for picnics and camping. We ask this House to help the county council in their desire to preserve them. On the question of open spaces, it is quite true that they have powers for the acquisition of open spaces, and a great deal has been done by the county in the purchase of small open spaces, but there comes a time when it is not a small matter, when the space you desire to preserve is beyond the means of the local authorities, a large open space, such as the one which is mentioned in the Bill, namely, the acquisition of Norbury Park. The attempt there is to preserve a real beauty spot of considerable acreage, a thing impossible for the local authorities. The county council, having regard for the county as a whole, and not for the particular locality, rightly says, "Yes, we will obtain powers, and we believe that an enlightened House of Commons will give us such powers, so that we can go forward with that particular project."

In the matter of town planning, the statutory provision which exists allows for a degree of town planning, and some authorities have done what they can in collaboration with the county council, but it would be unwise and dangerous in the present state of the county of Surrey to postpone this matter for another year. The hon. and gallant Member says that policy, so far as town planning or regional planning is concerned, should be a national question. Very well, if we can have the national question settled at once by all means, but what hope is there in the present state of Government business of getting a Bill through dealing with town-planning on a national scale? The hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) says that while these may be beneficent powers for the country as a whole, if they are given to the county of Surrey, think what might happen if they are not given to Kent, Berkshire or Sussex! I hope that the Bill will receive the support of the House, so that other local authorities will be up and doing; will follow the good example set by Surrey and come forward and ask for similar powers for their own county.

8.0 p.m.

So far, the only real difficulty raised by the Bill is on the question of regional planning and the preservation of amenities. The hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Lieut.-Colonel Ruggles-Brise) regretted that this important departure had been sandwiched amongst smaller and unimportant things. The importance of a particular Clause in a Bill does not depend upon its position in the Bill. If the particular Clause is No. 12 or No. 144, it does not matter, the principle is there; it is not suggested that the Clauses are in the order of the value of the suggestions we are making. We have had, and still possess, in the county of Surrey a number of enlightened landowners who have been anxious to co-operate with us. The good development of estates within the county has been carried out by landowners who are largely in agreement with the principles of this Bill. We are going to get their co-operation, but we have a few persons who do not see things in that particular light. We want to say to those that a great example has been set them by a majority of landowners and if they are not prepared to come in under the old order of things then, unfortunately, we must apply to them a little compulsion, but the county council are not proposing to act harshly. The comments and criticisms which have been made upon some of the Clauses have been of a kindly nature. When the Bill reaches Committee, if there has been well-informed criticism and if reasonable suggestions have been made, accommodation will be found. I think that when the Bill has passed through Committee it will come to this House blessed by those who, in a faint way, may condemn it to-night. I hope it will receive a Second Reading and that it will be an example to other counties to follow.