Churches, West Kilburn (Reorganisation Scheme)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd July 1959.

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10.9 p.m.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Parkin Mr Benjamin Parkin , Paddington North

I beg to move, That the Scheme for the rearrangement of the churches of the benefice and parish of Saint Luke the Evangelist with Saint Simon and Saint Jude, West Kilburn (including the demolition of Saint Jude's Church) in the Rural Deanery of Paddington, in the Diocese of London, which was laid before this House on 30th June, be disapproved. When the Scheme to which this Motion refers was made known locally, there was considerable anxiety and dismay among a number of my constituents, because, although they realised that the congregation at this church was declining to a point when it could no longer sustain a full church, there were associated with the church a number of very useful social activities, particularly for young people.

Any loss of social activities in an area like ours is a grievous matter. I received representations and I wrote to the authorities concerned, including the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir H. Ashton), who is in his place tonight representing the Church Commissioners, and I received courteous and full replies. I said to the hon. Gentleman that there could be many useful purposes to which the building could be put. He replied that the Church Commissioners would be interested to know what I had in mind. I set out one of them. I suggested that the church might well become a useful religious, cultural and welfare centre for West Indians in the area. The reply from the archdeacon, the secretary of the diocese, was an understanding one, but he pointed out, first, that the Church had done a good deal in that direction in two neighbouring parishes and that this Scheme was so worked out that the demolition of one church was necessary so that two more could be repaired and reorganised. That is a reasonable proposition.

My purpose in raising the matter tonight is chiefly to say that if the House passes the Scheme—and I have little doubt that it will, because it is a sensible and businesslike Scheme—Parliament itself should pick up the responsibilities which the Church has felt obliged to lay down in the area. The only point in the archdeacon's reply to me with which I could possibly disagree was his suggestion that perhaps this particular church was not best placed strategically for the purpose I had in mind.

It is a strange coincidence that only last Monday night a petition was brought to me by two residents in the road in which the church stands, signed by no fewer than 64 residents who also live in the road, asking that something be done to restore peace to the road, because four named houses occupied by coloured residents made too much noise at night.

One does not have to wait until there are dramatic incidents before having troubles to deal with in overcrowded areas. This is a very good example of the way that misunderstandings and tensions can grow. There could not have been two nicer people than those who brought the petition to me. They leaned over backwards to explain that there was no question of colour prejudice and that they did not accuse these people of doing anything against the law. They doubted whether one could find anything against them under the law, unless, perhaps, they sold bottled beer to one another at their parties, but they said that the residents would like some sleep and that they were not accustomed to that method of activity.

I am sure that this is accepted by the Home Office as an important factor in the troubles that sometimes arise and I am grateful to the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department for taking the trouble to occupy her place during this discussion. I am sure that she will recognise from the investigations made last year that troubles sometimes start not from criminal or dramatic activities, but from these simple misunderstandings and differences of social habits.

I should like for a moment to describe the nature of the area, because the closing of this church is connected with causes, implications and consequences far beyond the boundaries of the ecclesiastical parish. This church is on a boundary line between two sections of my constituency which are as different as chalk and cheese. On the one hand, we have a settled community of working-class dwellings of an old-fashioned type, full of occupants who, for the most part, have lived there the whole of their lives. Just across the road there is a complex of streets built in different conditions and different designs where there is a shifting population—a turn-over of tenement dwellers who are not always content to live there for very long if they can get elsewhere.

There is an area where there is, and always has been, overcrowding and the social problems that arise therefrom. One can almost mark out by chalk lines on the pavement in my constituency, areas in which difficulties can arise, from which one must conclude that something to do with the system of ownership of houses or the housing problem lies very much at the root of these difficulties.

I am not here tonight to talk about this as a colour problem. I am quite sure that it is not. Indeed, I do not believe that there is a colour problem. This is another version of the problem which recurs generation after generation in any great capial city. That is why I am suggesting that what might appear to be a small constituency point is, in fact, a matter of national interest and national responsibility.

In any great capital city—I am sure that they have similar problems in New York and in Moscow—large groups of people come to take over the tens of thousands of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs on offer and to do the work which the city requires to keep it serviced. We have seen, in generation after generation, the children of these people getting trained and being unwilling to take over low-paid jobs and departing elsewhere. Their place is taken by others.

In discussing this problem one of my colleagues said that when in the 'thirties he was adopted as prospective candidate for a London constituency and started canvassing, he heard on the doorsteps, in some instances, accusations and reproaches and complaints against the Welsh who were then coming from the areas of unemployment to seek jobs. Hon. Members will be able to think of other parallels. I suggest, therefore, that this problem is not new. It is a problem which will not be ending when we have got over this lot of difficulties, because there will always be changes of population brought about by forces outside the immediate neighbourhood concerned. It will take a long time to find all the answers.

I am not taking advantage of the procedure of this House to try to advertise any of the solutions which I think might be desirable, but it is only fair that we should list the difficulties themselves in connection with housing and the ownership of houses. The problem that we have in certain areas is that tenement houses are bought on the market partially empty, and the price is forced up to an utterly unrealistic figure. The house is either bought by an immigrant at an enormous price which he can recover only by overcrowding it and perhaps exploiting other members of his own people whom he has in and to whom he charges high rents, or it becomes a subject of speculation. In a street near the chapel, a couple of Italians bought two of these houses with the sole purpose of letting them out to West Indian immigrants.

There is the problem of social activities and the fact, as instanced by this petition, of people living in these overcrowded conditions who do not know where to go to find relaxation and enjoyment. There is no provision for that.

If the hon. Lady has any influence with the brewers she might draw their attention to the fact that many immigrants, like many English people, are not quite satisfied with the provisions in some English public-houses of the old-fashioned type and that there might be in them better provision for family entertainment, for music, where general noise can be reasonably sealed off from the rest of the community or, at least, made in a proper place.

The hon. Lady will know that the Home Office gets many approaches on the subject of clubs, but she will also know that the flourishing of the sort of clubs which most of us would dislike is encouraged by just this seeking for some place of relaxation. It is not what the people are offered in the form of these clubs that they want in the first place. It is just that they want somewhere to go.

There are other problems to come. There is the problem of the absorption of their children into the working community. In due course there will be the problem of looking after the old immigrants. Accusations are sometimes made about immigrants living on National Assistance and being layabouts and so on. They have for the most part left their parents behind them, and they have to send back home contributions to sustain the old folk. That may become a problem for us, too. They will, perhaps, need a different kind of home life themselves in old age.

When I was dreaming about what this building could have been used for had it been available, when I was thinking of the possibilities of a cultural and welfare centre, I had in mind that there might be co-ordination of welfare work and the accumulation of case work experience and of records which would be of value to those who want to study these matters and come to useful conclusions. I thought that there surely is a need and that Parliament ought to voice the need for some research. I am not tonight making propaganda for short-term measures. Looking at it in a long-term way—the church has been there a long time—surely we need some sort of co-ordination of effort and research.

I have in mind some parallel to the idea which has led the Home Secretary to press for the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge, which is being established not, of course, because nobody has studied the subject but because there is scope for co-ordination of the studies which have been made all over the place. I should like to see in parallel an Institute of Social Ecology for the study of these problems of unbalance in the community, the problem of shifting population, the problem of learning how to live together. Through that one could, perhaps, co-ordinate the efforts which have been made and the knowledge which has been accumulated by a number of devoted people in this country and in other parts of the world—for many studies have been made. If this could be brought together I think it would be valuable.

If I am making an appeal tonight I am making it not only to this House but beyond the boundaries of this House, and I have in mind some of those people who have accumulated vast wealth and want to know what to do with it and how to devote it to good causes. Perhaps some have accumulated wealth through their studies of and interest in human problems. There are some who have made great success in television. There are some people of great ability and judgment who have done well enough in television and whose television companies study these human problems. I would hope that perhaps one or another of them might come forward with a proposal to endow just such an institute as I have in mind.

If that should happen, I should feel that it had been worth while asking the hon. Member for Chelmsford to stay a little late and to listen to this plea from a constituency Member. It is not that we would attack his Scheme, but that we do not want to let it pass in silence without responsibility being accepted for dealing with the problem which lay behind this change in the organisation of the Church, a change which laid upon the Church a burden heavier than it could reasonably have been expected to sustain. I hope that if someone comes along with this alternative help they will still have, as I am sure they will, the co-operation of the Church in carrying out the work.

10.26 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

I beg to second the Motion.

I do so on the ground of the very great interest which, with many of my colleagues on both sides of the House, I feel in this social problem, particularly with respect to some of the coloured immigrants whom we realise are facing very real difficulties because of the lack of welfare provisions.

10.27 p.m.

Photo of Sir Hubert Ashton Sir Hubert Ashton , Chelmsford

At the outset, I should like to express my appreciation of the earlier remarks made by the hon. Member for Padding-ton, North (Mr. Parkin) about the attitude of the Church Commissioners to this somewhat complicated problem. The hon. Member has been extremely courteous to me as their representative in the House and I very much appreciate it.

Perhaps I should confine myself to the Church problems in this relatively confined area, which I visited yesterday. It is the case that, after very careful consideration, the Church authorities feel that they must close St. Jude's Church. Anyone who worships in a church and has it closed must, naturally, feel a little anxious about it. But within a relatively short distance of this church there are two others, St. Luke the Evangelist, which was destroyed during the war and now is being rebuilt as a church centre for evangelical work, and St. Simon, which has proved very satisfactory as a parish church. It is quite popular and is well used. As I saw yesterday, a short distance from that church there is the church hall, which should be completed by the end of the year and used for social activities of all kinds.

Anyone who visits the area will realise at once that there is a colour problem, but I do not think that it would be right for me, as the representative of the Church Commissioners, to go into great detail on that subject. We should like to be kept in touch with any developments that take place and take our part in endeavouring to solve what obviously is a considerable problem.

There is another point to be made about St. Jude's. I believe that the local authorities have some difficulty in finding spaces on which to build new houses and flats. That is a very urgent social problem. If and when St. Jude's is demolished there will be quite a considerable area on which new flats can be built which will go part of the way, at least, towards solving the problems of the coloured people and others in Paddington.

I think that the right decision has been made. Indeed, the hon. Member for Paddington, North has not disputed that. He has pointed out that this is a problem which concerns all of us. I can give an assurance, on behalf of the Church, that if we can help in any direction possible to us, and if we are kept in touch with developments, as the hon. Member has been kind enough to keep us, we shall render every possible assistance.

10.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

I am deeply grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) for moving this Motion. I did not feel that I could second it. It would be a little difficult for me, as a member of the ruridecanal conference in the rural deanery concerned, to second a Motion against something which has the full approval of the ruridecanal and diocesan authorities. However, I am deeply grateful to my hon. Friend for having given us an opportunity to say something about the problem in Paddington, and particularly about the social problems created by immigration.

I should like to say to my hon. Friend that the Church in Paddington is very alive to the problems, is very anxious to do all it can and is doing a great deal already. It is extremely active. I happen to be the chairman of a coordinating committee directly concerned with dealing with the problems of overseas students and workers, and in the use of the hospitality of church halls and in the personal interest of the various denominations we receive the greatest possible assistance. There is no doubt at all that the "Church on the ground"—as well as the Bishop of Kensington and the diocesan bishop, for both of whom I can speak—is most anxious to see more done in the way of the provision of facilities. I will come back to that in a moment.

I have what is perhaps stop-press news for my hon. Friend. For reasons which he will fully appreciate, I had to leave a borough council meeting rather hurriedly not long ago to come to the House. The borough council was just about to approve the appointment of an additional member of its staff who would be directly responsible for caring for just the sort of problems involved, not purely colour problems or problems of immigrants but the general community problems of getting people with different interests and different tastes to learn tolerance and understanding and to live together.

I am a noisy and obstreperous member of the opposition in my borough council, but I should like to pay a tribute to it for doing something which will be a very considerable contribution to the solution of the problem. Alas! it is only one contribution. I have another scheme under my hat for doing in another part of the borough very much the sort of job which my hon. Friend suggests ought to be done. What is holding us up is nothing less than money. The difficulty is not people, and in this case it is not the site. The problem is where to get the money from to maintain this work and provide the capital with which to equip a centre to provide the kind of service to which my hon. Friend referred.

It is not just a question of developing some of the work that we have been doing over the past three or four years for which we have been receiving a grant towards our small costs from a charitable trust. That work is likely to come to an end simply because we cannot raise the money. That is the problem. It is no use our having pious ideas and feelings of good will. The brutal truth is that unless more money is available to provide the basic needs of equipment, of people to run the centre and that kind of thing we shall fail to do the work, and we shall have to confess to the whole world our failure in a very critical situation.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, whose knowledge and understanding of this question are very real, for having given us the opportunity to look at this situation in the borough. It is a worrying and serious situation, but it has many happy sides to it, because in many directions we are able to make positive contributions to getting people to live together and to understand each other. Although, in many ways, I am optimistic, I become depressed simply because of the feeling that some of this frustration arises from the fact that the ordinary sources of grants, for example, are so difficult to adjust to this kind of problem.

10.36 p.m.

Photo of Sir Leslie Plummer Sir Leslie Plummer , Deptford

As my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) said, we are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) for having raised this matter, for reasons which I will give in a moment, and we are also grateful to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir H. Ashton) for the attitude which he has adopted. I do not join in the debate to take much of the time of the House, but because I represent a constituency in London which is beginning, for the first time, to feel the impact of the West Indian immigrants into the constituency.

We have nothing like the problem which exists in North Paddington and we have nothing comparable with the Notting Hill situation. Nevertheless, in a borough where housing shortage is acute, there are certain social implications from the immigration of many people from different lands, who have different standards, and who are living different lives. I do not believe that we shall get into the situation which has existed in some London boroughs where there have been dire and terrible results, for I believe that what has been said by the hon. Member for Chelmsford offers us an opportunity in areas such as I have described, where this new immigration is beginning to take place, of trying to find out what is the best way of meeting the social upsets and problems.

I believe that one of the best ways of doing this work is through the Church, because this is the common meeting ground of both the people who are receiving immigrants and the immigrants themselves. I have found that, on the whole, the immigrants who come to my constituency are deeply religious people who belong in the West Indies to the Church of England and who gravitate automatically and naturally to the Church when they come into the area. There they meet the most helpful and conciliatory people in the borough.

This is, however, a new problem, and the people who are meeting the immigrants are not familiar with it. They are not quite sure what is the best way of trying to help these people. They do their best, but the situation is so new and the problems are so acute that they need guidance. We have argued over and over again in the House that one of the things which we must do is to oppose discrimination of all sorts, whether it is against West Indians or West Africans, or against people of different religions, and we have not done very much about meeting this discrimination, because we are inexperienced in handling it.

I address this suggestion to the hon. Member for Chelmsford. I believe that a very valuable service would be provided by the Church if it set up a study group to do what the Government should be doing but are failing to do—to see how discrimination is handled in other lands, particularly in America and particularly in the City of New York, where there is an anti-discrimination law and where it is illegal to permit discrimination against people because of their race, their colour or their religion. It is illegal to say that a man cannot live in a house in a certain street, or cannot be employed, because of his race or his colour or his religion. It is illegal to say that he shall not be permitted to enter bars or hotels or restaurants.

When I am told, as I have been told in the House, that this legislation would not work in this country, I have to point out that it certainly works in New York, because when I was in that city this time last year I noted a number of successful prosecutions being conducted against people who had practised discrimination.

This needs study. The best instrument for studying it is the Church. If the Church would establish a study group to investigate the problem and make representations to its own people here, on the basis of this study, that would be a most important contribution. I am moved to say this to the hon. Gentleman because he said that the Church would do all it possibly could to meet this situation.

Photo of Sir Hubert Ashton Sir Hubert Ashton , Chelmsford

It is not exactly a Church problem, but so far as we can co-operate we shall be only too glad to do so.

Photo of Sir Leslie Plummer Sir Leslie Plummer , Deptford

I do not want to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that he will acquit me of any intention of that kind. But, of course, this is the Church's problem. It is one of humanity and, therefore, one for the Church. I am saying that because I believe that the hon. Gentleman addressed himself to the matter in the spirit of trying to be helpful. I made the suggestion that here is a golden opportunity for the Church to help to solve this appalling problem which exists in London and in many other cities by using its influence and what money it has in the sort of study that would help us all.

10.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr Maurice Orbach Mr Maurice Orbach , Willesden East

I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) and to pay tribute to his ingenuity in introducing as a result of this Motion a great problem that we should be discussing, and, finally, to support the very wide and, I think, wise and constructive suggestion that he made at the end of his speech.

Some months ago all of us in the House and people outside were disturbed at what had happened at Notting Dale. It is true that responsible bodies outside that area immediately moved in to bring about a state of affairs there which would lessen the tension and would bring about good relations between the people living in that area. I understand that about 40 organisations have been concerned in doing good work in Notting Dale and in North Kensington. Some of them have experience of this problem; others have none.

I very much regret to say that some of the statements that have been issued by some of the organisations point to the creation of greater difficulties in the area than existed even as a result of the incidents which we all deplore. It seems to me that the most valuable thing said this evening on the subject is the need for the co-ordination and canalisation of the vast amount of information that is already available.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dept-ford (Sir L. Plummer) spoke about the Fair Employment Practices Acts which exist, I think, in about 17 States of the United States and in almost every one of the States in the Dominion of Canada. I have attended the courts of the Fair Employment Practices Act in New York. I was, in fact, asked on one occasion to assist in dealing with a case of employment discrimination.

The Home Office—and I am very happy that the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will be making a statement on this subject—having received deputations recently on the subject of prejudice and discrimination and incitement to racial tension——

Photo of Mr Maurice Orbach Mr Maurice Orbach , Willesden East

I think that this problem of discrimination is only one of the series of problems with which we have to deal in a shifting population. I am very happy that my hon. Friend refrained from mentioning the word "colour", because in my constituency we dealt, of course, with the Welsh immigrants who came from derelict coal mines between the wars, we had the Irish contingents who came after the end of the last war, and in recent years we have had the immigration of many of our citizens from the Commonwealth.

We have been fortunate in that incidents of the sort which occurred in Notting Dale did not occur in Willesden, and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North would agree that he has been fortunate in that they have not occurred in Paddington. In Willesden, we have set up our own community association. We have not related it to any specific problem existing in the area today. We have dealt with the issue as my hon. Friend would like it dealt with—as a problem of shifting populations. We may, as a result of Federation in the Caribbean, re-attract to the West Indies——

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

I have asked the hon. Member to keep to the Scheme. The Caribbean has nothing to do with the Scheme.

Photo of Mr Maurice Orbach Mr Maurice Orbach , Willesden East

I appreciate that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I thought I could mention it, since all the other hon. Members who have spoken have gone rather wide of the Scheme.

I want to support the idea of my hon. Friend for this institute. The Government have said on a number of occasions that they cannot enact laws against discrimination in this country, or ratify the Convention of the International Labour Organisation, and that it is impossible for them to introduce legislation against incitement to racial tension. But it should be possible for them to co-ordinate the activities of organisations which already exist, to canalise the efforts being made, and to codify all the information available, and I hope that in that task they will get the help of people outside, the Church—including my own religious faith—and all those interested in human behaviour in people living together.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Parkin Mr Benjamin Parkin , Paddington North

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.