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National Gallery And St James's Park Bill

Volume 29: debated on Tuesday 15 August 1911

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Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."

I shall be most anxious to come to an arrangement. What does the Patronage Secretary gain by doing this sort of thing? Owing to a misunderstanding the Government have got their Votes before the time. He has never done any harm by coming to an agreement, and he has never done any good by trying to force business through the House. He will not lose anything by adjourning the House.

I do not know where the misunderstanding arose.

I am afraid it was intended to divide, but, as a matter of fact, the Votes were not challenged, and so this situation has arisen. If the right hon. Gentleman chooses to go on we must go on. I have been nineteen years in the House, and I never yet heard the proceedings on the Third Reading of a Bill declared null and void. I was sitting on the steps of the Chair three or four days ago when the Motion was made at the commencement of business, "That the proceedings on this Bill be declared null and void." I did not like to rise—the only place I could have come forward to was the Front Bench—to ask how it was that the proceedings on a Government Bill should be declared null and void. Now, at the last moment, having declared the proceedings on this Bill null and void, the Third Reading is brought forward again without a word of explanation. I should like to know why the Third Reading of a Bill of a Government consisting of the greatest talents that the world has ever seen, in their own estimation, had to be declared null and void. Supposing the Chancellor of the Exchequer was sitting below the Gangway, what would have happened if a Conservative Government had asked that the proceedings on one of their Bills should be declared null and void, and then brought forward for another Third Reading. What guarantee have we that this is not going to be declared null and void to-morrow without a word of explanation when the whole Front Bench is filled with Secretaries of State and right hon. Gentlemen all enjoying themselves, but not condescending to say one word which would give an ordinary Member of the House like myself a chance of knowing what is meant by these extraordinary proceedings? If we are to have Single-Chamber Government, and if this House is to be the arbiter of the destinies of the nation, we might at any rate conduct our proceedings with decency. [Cheers.] I am glad that hon. Members below the Gangway agree with me in the remark I have made. We ought at any rate to have facilities for discussion. All power is now in our hands. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] An hon. Member says "Hear, hear." Very well, being all-powerful we ought to know at least what we are going to do. I challenge hon. Members below the Gangway to say why the proceedings were declared null and void. I challenge anyone to get up and give an intelligent explanation of that. I say this is a farce, and the House ought not to proceed with the discussion of the Bill until an explanation is given why the proceedings on the Third Reading were declared null and void. If I cannot get any explanation, I will, under the circumstances, move "That the Debate be now adjourned."

being of opinion that the Motion was an abuse of the Rules of the House, declined to propose the Question thereupon to the House.

I see the hon. Baronet's severe and unwonted difficulty, and this will not be the first time that I have proved to be his true friend. It is quite true that the proceedings on this Bill a few days ago were declared null and void. I think the hon. Baronet has established that entirely to the satisfaction of the House, but I do not think he quite realises exactly what the Bill refers to. The National Gallery is situate in Trafalgar Square, but if the hon. Baronet would give his mind to this important Bill he would see that there is to be a transfer of a very small amount of land. I am not always in favour of the transfer of land, especially when there is no revenue to be derived therefrom for the State. I think the hon. Baronet would say that under the transfer the Exchequer ought to benefit. I am glad that the hon. Baronet agrees with me.

I am afraid the hon. Member has rather missed my point. What I want to know is why the Government declared the proceedings on the Bill null and void. That is where I think the hon. Gentleman has made a slight mistake. If he will explain to me why the Government declared the proceedings null and void, I will be very pleased.

I do not know that we can get any enlightenment by going back to the proceedings which have taken place. We are now discussing the Bill before the House. I took some little trouble, as a pupil of the hon. Baronet, when this Bill was put on the Paper, to make some inquiries, and I am sure he would like to know the result. I inquired of the hon. Member for Southampton, who represents the First Commissioner of Works. Like most Members of the Government, he was very patient with me, and he explained that this was a fair exchange, that one small bit of land was given up in connection with one of these properties in exchange for another, and that no public interest suffered. There is no story connected with either of these properties, unless it be that some of the tubes go under it, which I believe the hon. Baronet does not take under his special care. The hon. Member for Southampton expressed his willingness to give any information on the matter to any Member of the House. I asked him if any other Member of the 670 Members of this House had taken the trouble to inquire for him, but could get no satisfaction on that point. I was very much concerned because I did rely on one other Member as well as myself examining all these Bills; but various idols get shattered as we grow older, yet such is my admiration for the hon. Baronet that it has survived this rude shock. This piece of ground was of very peculiar shape, and could not be used for any other useful purpose, and the idea occurred to the First Commissioner of Works, under the able advice of his junior officer, who, I believe, is equal to any emergency, as the hon. Baronet himself is, that these two pieces of land could be exchanged. The hon. Baronet in thinking that there is some underlying party motive is entirely mistaken. It is with a great deal of diffidence that I have undertaken to explain a Government Bill. I know that the intentions of the Government are not always clear to those of us who sit on the Back Benches, but still I think that this is a case in which we are justified in entertaining the very maximum of suspicion with regard to their action. Of all the Bills on the Paper I think that this is the one which may most easily be passed without a Division, and I think that if the hon. Baronet pressed his opposition to a Division he would be in a position of extreme difficulty. I would like to point out to him that he would be giving another vote—he has given many before, I believe—in which he did not quite understand whether he was right or wrong. I hope I do not do the hon. Baronet an injustice. I was rather persistent in the matter, but I did not exhaust the temper of the hon. Member for Southampton, and he satisfied me that this piece of land at the back of the National Gallery, used for the St. George's Barracks, and another piece in St. James's Park have been exchanged, and that it was one of those transactions in which an officer of the Household might take part. I appeal to the hon. Baronet, in the interests of the progress of Government business, to allow this Bill to pass in the ordinary way.

I think the House will agree with me that I have had very little opportunity so far of getting in a word at all. This Bill deals with Crown property, and certain forms have to be gone through before a Bill dealing with Crown property can become law. The Royal Assent has to be given, and the House has to be notified that Royal Assent has been given. Last Friday I forgot to tell the House that the Royal Assent had to be given, or to have it signified to the House that it had been given. In those circumstances it became necessary to declare the proceeding on the Third Reading null and void. I now ask the House to read the Bill a third time. I think it would be considered redundant in me to explain its provisions after what has been said by the hon. Member for Pontefract, but I may state to the House that at the back of the National Gallery there is a vacant plot of land where are the St. George's Barracks. The vacant land is under the Office of Woods and Forests, and the land on which St. George's Barracks stand belong to the War Office. The Secretary of State for War has been provided with new buildings to take the place of St. George's Barracks in Scotland Yard. Therefore the site of St. George's Barracks at the back of the National Gallery is no longer required for military purposes. The land belonging to the Office of Woods and Forests is not required for any purpose connected with that Department. It is of the utmost value to the First Comsioner of Works if on any future occasion the National Portrait Gallery required to be enlarged. Therefore, it is quite expedient that the First Commissioner of Works should have the whole of the property in his hands. The first part of the Bill proposes that a transfer of the land should be made from the Office of Woods and Forests and the War Office to the Office of Works. The second part of the Bill deals with a small plot of land at the east end of the Mall, which was required in order to make one side of the Mall level with the other. There was a certain amount of land which the Office of Works did not require, and an arrangement has been made with the Office of Woods and Forests in reference to it. They are very small plots of land, and do not amount to half the size of the floor of this House. The fourth Clause of this Bill provides for the land being transferred from the Office of Woods and Forests to the Office of Works. These are the whole contents of the Bill. It is rather difficult to explain. The plans have been in the Tea Room, but I can assure the House they were not visited for two or three weeks. I hope the hon. Gentlemen will take that explanation.

I would like to ask whether since the previous stages of the Bill were declared null and void, it is competent to bring in the Bill without going through introduction, second reading and other stages again?

I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that the previous stages were null and void.

The Motion that was taken the other day was that the proceedings, on the Third Reading of the Bill, be null and void, and that it be set down for to-day.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.