Skip to main content

St Paul's Playing Field (Trust) Bill (By Order)

Volume 929: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Order for Second Reading read.

7.0 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Before proceeding with my central argument, I should like to give the House some of the background to the Bill. Its object, as stated in the Long Title, is
"to provide for the retention of St. Paul's Playing Field in the London Borough of Hammersmith as public open space for the use of the public and for educational purposes, to provide for its clearance of any obstacles to the full use of the Field for such purposes, to enable the Greater London Council and the Inner London Education Authority to spend money on capital account for the provision of alternative accommodation for the Hammersmith and West London College".
Pages 1 and 2 of the Bill describe the background to the local problems, and I have no doubt that this aspect of the Bill will attract a degree of comment from hon. Members in many parts of the House.

Clauses 1 to 4 deal with the title of the Bill, the retention of land for open space, the cessation of building and removal of objects, and the usage of alternative accommodation in Blythe Road for the accommodation of the Hammersmith and West London College of Further Education. Clause 5 deals at length with the formation of the charitable trust to be known as the St. Paul's Field Trust, with the appointment of trustees and with the creation of a trust fund and a management fund.

I hope and believe that this is not essentially a party or partisan issue. Nor do I and hon. Members in any part of the House who seek to give the Bill a Second Reading totally commit ourselves to support it prior to Third Reading. Our purpose is to obtain objective scrutiny, by a Committee of the House, of a case which has enough disquieting features to suggest at first glance that justice may not have been done.

That is not to say that any blame attaches to any political party, councillor, local authority or council officer. What has happened is that there has been a sequence of decisions, some no doubt bureaucratic, over a number of years, which have left many thousands of Hammersmith residents frustrated and disillusioned with the processes of democracy.

I can only quote a remark made last year by Baroness Young in a debate in the other place on the Greater London Council (Money) Bill. I think that her remark sums up the feeling of most hon. Members on the Conservative side of the House, and I have no doubt that it will appeal to others such as the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart). Baroness Young said
"looking at the history of the St. Paul's School site, as I have done, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the responsibility for the present situation rests on both political parties."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12th July 1976; Vol. 373, c. 91.]
The promoters of the Bill have shown themselves dedicated, persistent and courageous. They have been dedicated because they have conducted the battle entirely from their own resources of time and money without any outside backing. They have been consistent because they have not allowed disappointment to reconcile them to defeat but have taken what the Chairman of Ways and Means has termed an unusual use of the right to petition Parliament. They have been courageous because they have presented themselves, as individuals, to the risk of severe financial penalties should the House in due course so determine.

My hon. Friends and I would not be taking up the time of the House if we felt that no more was at stake than a routine local planning dispute, whose dying embers are being fanned by a small but vociferous group of disgruntled Fulham and Hammersmith residents. The fate of a 14¾acre parcel of publicly owned open space in the heart of our inner city is of concern to all Londoners. In so far as our capital might claim to set an example of the best modern planning practices, the outcome of this case is important to everyone in the country and everyone in the city who is interested in the environment.

Until 1968, the site which forms the subject of the Bill contained the playing fields, and only the playing fields, of St. Paul's Senior School. On the school's move to new premises at Barnes, the Greater London Council completed the purchase of the playing field for a total of £1·2 million, together with the site of the junior school—Colet Court, on the other side of the road—occupying 3¼acres on the north of Hammersmith Road, for which it paid £900,000. We are concerned solely with the senior school site, bounded by Talgarth Road, Colet Gardens, Hammersmith Road and Gliddon Road. Those negotiations and the progress payments had begun as long ago as 1964. During that year, the then London County Council had announced its intention to designate 10 of the site's 14 acres as public open space. It was on that basis that the purchase had been authorised.

Before embarking on the subsequent history of St. Paul's field, we should note that under the 1971 survey the London borough of Hammersmith has 74 acres of public open space less than the minimum envisaged in the Greater London Development Plan. It could well be an area of great deprivation in terms of public open space.

We now know that it is incumbent on local authorities, and it is suggested in that plan, that residents should live within a quarter of a mile of 5 acres of open space and within three-quarters of a mile of 50 acres of open space. Most of such open space as exists is situated at the northern and southern extremities of this long, thin borough, which stretches from Wormwood Scrubs to the Thames. In the centre, where the St. Paul's field is located, there is almost no other public space. Therefore, this is an area of open space deprivation.

Incidentally, as will appear relevant later, the field was used—no doubt without formal planning permission—for physical education and recreation by most of the local schools, including ILEA schools, between 1969 and 1976. It is interesting to note that Holland Park School was one which used it. These 9,500 schoolchildren now have to be driven to distant sports grounds, half an hour each way, and one school is involved in expenditure of £130 per week. That is the Mary Boon Girls' School, where pupils have to travel to Warren Farm in Southall. It may be true in a narrow technical sense that the field has never been public open space. In practice, however, it has provided public recreation space for thousands of children and adults for the best part of a decade.

If, as I hope, the House grants the Bill a Second Reading, it will be for the Committee to determine the rights and wrongs of the administrative, political and quasi-judicial statements and decisions which followed. Meanwhile, we should bear in mind two points. The first is that open space in the heart of London, once lost, is unlikely ever to be re-created. The bulldozers can destroy in a day the devoted husbandry of a century or more. Secondly, it is a fact that no alternative site for the Hammersmith and West London College, work on which has now begun on the field, was ever seriously considered.

For example, the College of St. Mark and St. John has stood empty on the King's Road since 1973, when plans for the West Cross route were abandoned. In a personal letter to Martin Stevens, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Fulham, the then Secretary of State for Education and Science, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), stated that this site would have been suitable, with some modifications.

I return to the field and its history. During 1968 the GLC and the Hammersmith Borough Council were considering the use to which it could be put. The Inner London Education Authority was offered 6 acres, and 8 acres were offered to Hammersmith borough at £1 million. The GLC's case all along has been that it has neither the power nor the responsibility to provide parks for deprived boroughs. Let me say right away that this claim, which was later reiterated by the then Secretary of State for the Environment, is totally untrue. Section 58 of the London Government Act 1963—to say nothing of the current GLC literature—contradicts that argument. At all events, the GLC puts the burden on the borough, and the borough said that it could not afford the £1 million. Both authorities at that time were Conservative-controlled, and the Fulham and Hammersmith Labour Parties had pledged themselves in their 1968 election manifestos to keep the field as a public open space.

During 1969 the GLC studied the possibilities for developing the land and in 1971 awarded itself outline planning permission for a scheme by which 4 acres formerly covered by the school buildings to the north of the site would be used for housing and the 6½ acres to the south would provide a new home for the West London College of Further Education. The borough council felt that it could not stop the scheme other than by buying the whole site, for which the GLC was then asking £6 million. The then Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), waived his right to intervene.

Since that date much use has been made of the suggestion, repeated by the right hon. Member for Fulham in the House, that the residents, who shortly formed themselves into the West Kensington Environment Campaign, were seeking to prevent the intrusion of council housing into their area. That is not true. At no time did they do that. The sole objection has been to the building of the college.

On 20th August 1970, at the height of the holiday season a single public notice appeared in the West London Obeserver under the Town and Country Planning Act 1962. It referred to the proposed development of the site jointly by the GLC and the Inner London Education Authority for housing and education purposes,
"with provision for public use of the open space on the site".
Naturally, the local people thought that this meant the existing 10 acres of open space. Even so, and in spite of the holiday season, 51 written objections were received from individual residents within the statutory 21 days.

During 1974 and 1975 the West Kensington Environment Campaign, one of the promoters of the Bill, began to be active. By this time government at all three levels had changed hands, but with no perceptible change of attitude to the project. The campaign was not invited to appear before the planning committee until 10th June 1975, only a matter of days before the time limit for requesting the Minister to order a public inquiry. The campaign asked the council to press for a public inquiry on a number of grounds. It said that there was a manifest need for the field to become a permanent public open space in view of the serious shortage of green parkland in that part of the borough.

The campaign went on to ask for the inquiry because of the loss of amenity through schoolchildren having to be bussed to Barnes for physical recreation and because of the unsuitability of the site, being bounded by two exceptionally busy roads, for the introduction daily of some 12,500 students at the college and others—students for whom no living accommodation was proposed. Subsequently it has been shown that there is inadequate parking for vehicles in this development. The campaign also pointed out the availability of other sites, already built on, for educational purposes which could be used for the purpose at much less expense. Another factor was the immense costs involved. They are reckoned by some to be of the order of £25 million.

To the campaign's consternation, the majority party on the committee unanimously rejected its appeal. The excuse was given that a request for a public inquiry could result in the council having to find £6 million to buy the land. This was untrue, and from being a peaceable group of conservationists the campaign now became militant. Within 10 days it had secured no fewer than 11,300 signatures from local residents to a petition calling for a public inquiry. On the strength of this it asked the right hon. Member for Fulham and the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) to receive a deputation here at the House. Both, surprisingly, refused. The right hon. Member may have had a point when he indicated that this was very much a matter for the Greater London Council or the local authority.

There are several matters in the hon. Member's speech to which I shall want to refer if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This point, however, I must correct at once. I received members of the campaign in the House and I arranged for one of them to have a meeting with Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede at the GLC to see whether a compromise solution could be reached. The statement which is repeatedly made by the campaign that I refused to see its members is untrue, and I hope that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) will withdraw it.

I cannot withdraw it, much as I should like to do so because of my respect for the right hon. Gentleman. On this occasion, however, I wonder whether he recollects the situation with complete accuracy. A deputation arrived led by a number of prominent public figures in Fulham—the prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate, the GLC prospective candidate, an ex-mayor and the Labour Mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham. The deputation arrived outside the House of Commons. One or two broke away to come inside and saw the policeman at the desk in the Central Lobby. I understand that after that the right hon. Gentleman received one Socialist member and that subsequently three were received at the right hon. Gentleman's advice bureau.

I have no doubt that if I have maligned the right hon. Gentleman in any way he will have the opportunity of setting the record straight, but that is the situation which has been related to me by those concerned with the campaign.

I have no knowledge of having been contacted to receive a deputation, but I did receive two individuals connected with the campaign privately in my office at Hammersmith. I believe that one was a Mr. Fry. I have no knowledge of having been asked to receive a deputation. I submit that my reputation in this House stands at least as high as that of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane), so will he now withdraw what he has said?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for his observations, but the impression created among the campaign organisers is that they were refused a visitation into the House of Commons by the two Members of Parliament. That is the situation which has been presented to me. If the right hon. Member and the hon. Member wish to make any observations, of course I shall gladly withdraw, but I must point out that that is the situation which has been presented to me.

In this Chamber hon. Members must make statements of fact, not statements of innuendo or permissive inference. There was no contact with me about a deputation. The only contact I had was in my office at Hammersmith with the leader of the campaign and one other person. Will the hon. Member now withdraw?

The hon. Gentleman says that there was no contact. That is precisely what I have been told by the campaign organisers. However, if necessary, we shall no doubt set the record straight during the debate.

The Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Fulham, Mr. Martin Stevens, made a detailed case to the then Secretary of State asking him to receive a deputation and/or order a public inquiry. With the then Liberal candidate, Mr. Frank Brown, he organised a march on Westminster, where the campaigners were received by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) and the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), whom I cannot call an hon. Friend since he is a part of the Lib-Lab coalition.

The hon. Member must withdraw the word "coalition". I confirm that I met the deputation and the march when it came to Westminster, and I was very pleased to see them.

It should go on record that the campaign organisers were much impressed by the general level of welcome that they received from the hon. Member for Isle of Wight. I repeat, in case the House should miss the point, that the only request of the marchers was for a public inquiry.

Although, by September 1975 the borough council had modified its position and drawn the GLC's attention to the unduly high density of the plan, the Minister refused an inquiry. Some slight modification, however, was made, involving a 1½-acre area of public open space, plus some temporary public use of another part of the field.

The campaign kept up its all-party pressure on the GLC. Then, on 12th July 1976, an objection was put down in another place to the Third Reading of the Greater London Council (Money) Bill. A Select Committee was set up there to examine the case of St. Paul's field and sat from 20th to 26th July. No doubt correctly, from a technical point of view, the promoters of the present Bill were not granted locus standi, and so were not allowed to present their case, although some were invited to answer questions. No councillors were called, though Councillor John Putnam, Conservative, and former mayor Councillor George Simpson, Labour, both offered to attend.

As a result, the Select Committee was concerned more with legal niceties than with the facts of the case, although it reported its:
"regret that the provision of public open space on the St. Paul's site should have been so sharply reduced."
The Greater London Council (Money) Bill received its Third Reading. The rest is history.

I now come to the present phase of the campaign's initiatives—the Private Bill which the Hammersmith Society and four public-spirited individuals have succeeded in bringing before the House today. Once again they have had the support of Martin Stevens and Councillor John Putnam, who have provided parliamentary briefings.

Without burdening hon. Members with an exhaustive analysis of the Bill, I shall summarise the argument. There is a prima facie case for retaining St. Paul's field as public open space. The Government-owned National Savings Bank building in Blythe Road, W.14, which is less than 400 yards from the St. Paul's site, will be vacant by July 1977. No other use for it is planned. Reliable professional opinions state that it is in excellent condition, that it would accommodate West London College comfortably and that it would cost about £1 million to buy and about £2 million to convert. The Inner London Education Authority could have it in use far sooner than the building now being started on the St. Paul's site.

According to current estimates, the St. Paul's site college building will cost £24 million. The National Savings Bank building could be acquired and converted, the field cleared, compensation paid and the rescued public open space set out at less cost to taxpayers and ratepayers than the present plan envisages.

The Bill recommends the establishment of a trust and management fund to ensure the preservation of the field for posterity and for the benefit of Londoners and visitors in perpetuity. A Select Committee is the proper forum in which to canvass the detailed merits of the Bill. But its outline is clear, and, at first glance, it appears to make sense.

Many of our citizens, representing all walks of life and political views, have been seeking a fair hearing for every side of the case for a number of years. They have been denied a hearing by their council, by their local Members of Parliament, by the GLC, by the Secretary of State for the Environment and by the other place. Their faith in our institutions as vehicles for the redress of grievances has become thin. At last they have brought their case before us—the elected House of Commons—as the last available democratic tribunal. They ask us not to judge their case tonight but only to agree to listen to it. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

7.23 p.m.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) has tried to turn the case into a cause célèbre. He referred to the people involved as being dedicated, persistent and courageous. I agree with that. However, it has been false courage. It is one matter to tilt at windmills but another to be taken off by them. That is what has happened with the Bill.

The Bill is weak. I hope that the House will not give it a Second Reading but reject it. The Bill has been backwards and forwards. The debate has gone backwards and forwards in Hammersmith for two and a half years or more. It has been bandied backwards and forwards, and it has even reached the High Court which ruled against it. The Bill has produced the most unusual circumstances. The Chairman of Ways and Means draws attention to the Bill. In the last paragraph of his Report, he says:
"This is so unusual a use of the right to petition Parliament for a Private Bill that I have thought it right to exercise my power under S.O.875 to draw the Bill and the circumstances of its promotion to the special attention of the House."
The GLC and the Hammersmith council have been correct in all their proceedings. They have been correct in their legality, in their approach and with their advice. Whilst one may respect people who promote environmental causes in general, there are times when one must promote such causes knowing that there are differences of ideals and do so in good time before any commitment is made that involves public money. In this case a contract has been entered into, and to abandon the project now would cost the taxpayers of London £3½ million.

The substance of the argument is contained in a document that was sent to me today. It is of such consequence that even if public works had not already been undertaken the argument against the GLC developing the site would not be justified.

Hammersmith is short of public open space—probably more than any other borough in London. That is not the fault of today's planners or environmentalists. The site was once a public school, which I was sorry to see demolished, because of its architectural value. It was never an open public playing field. It was vested in the school and remained vested in the school.

Development is well under way. It is being physically and lawfully carried out in accordance with valid planning laws. It would cost millions of pounds to abandon the plan. The GLC has been prudent, correct and patient in its dealings. Even a Select Committee, after a five-day hearing, decided that the Bill and its Money Resolution should be allowed to proceed without amendment.

In paragraph 9 of its Report the Select Committee says:
"Administratively, matters have now gone so far that an attempt to prevent or substantially to modify the proposed development of the site might well do more harm than good; contracts have been entered into and cancellation would be costly.".
In the next paragraph, the Report continues:
"The Committee attach importance to the fact that their intervention came only at a very late stage. If Parliament is to express an opinion on, or to intervene in, a major project contemplated by the Greater London Council, it is preferable that it should do so at the outset. Intervention after plans have been completed and funds committed can be disruptive and costly.".
Once a project has begun and an objection has not been raised at an early stage, it should be allowed to continue. The Hammersmith council and the GLC were committed to a project that was necessary for the amenity of West London.

The premises for education in Hammersmith are scattered over 11 sites, Concentration on this site will benefit instruction, scholars and staff. With that in mind, the GLC decided to proceed.

Any cancellation at this stage would cost £3½ million in lawyers', contractors' and surveyors' fees. The trust would have to try to raise that money. In God's name, how would it do that? It would have compulsorily to acquire land vested in the GLC and the Hammersmith council. If a member of the trust died during the proceedings, the trust would be invalidated. The promoters of the Bill have got themselves into a mixed-up conglomeration of legal nothingness.

Genuine people are involved. I know Councillor Simpson well. He is a first-class councillor. The building and the field are situated in his area, and I understand his concern. However, at this stage there is no project that should be allowed to go forward with greater freedom than this.

Will the hon. Gentleman address his mind, before he concludes his speech, to the deprivation of open space in that location? So far he has not applied his mind to that aspect of that neighbourhood.

The hon. Gentleman could not have been listening. I said that Hammersmith has less open space than any other borough in London. That is not the fault of this generation or recent generations; it is probably the fault of the previous century. But that is the way in which the borough is constructed. It cannot be helped. However, there is also now a greater need, or as great a need, for housing the population of Hammersmith—there are 7,000 people on the waiting list—and for an extension of education facilities. This is applicable to the population not only of Hammersmith but of the whole of West London.

Is not the Bill an opportunity to put this matter right? If there has been deprivation of open space for so long, surely we now have the ideal opportunity to put that right. We should not miss the opportunity to put that right now.

As I have said, if the intervention had been made at the right time, with parliamentary counsel, the case would have been much better than it is now. The contracts have been entered into. The trust could not possibly find this money, even if it won the day on the vote. I am hoping that the House will have the sense not to force a vote on an issue such as this. The project has been supported in the past by councillors of various political colours. One cannot accept in reality that projects such as this should be abandoned. There would be an outcry from ratepayers and taxpayers.

Who would move the existing buildings from the site? Who would give the trust, so established, further planning permission to develop the site? The trust would have to go to the same bodies as are now being contested—the GLC and the council. Such permission would not be forthcoming.

Despite the efforts of the people concerned—who are, in the main, genuine people—this project has advanced so far that it should be allowed to continue. This House, in its wisdom, and recognising the dedication of the people concerned—I do not deny them that—should tonight decide not to vote on the issue. It has been through the High Court for a considered judgment. It has been through the House of Lords and through the Select Committee. It has been the subject of advice of counsel of this House and of the Chairman of Ways and Means. Regrettably, from the point of view of those concerned, it is time for them to admit that although they have put up a very good fight it really is time to call it a day on the issue.

7.33 p.m.

It is with considerable hesitation that I intervene in the debate, because I must declare an interest straight away. I live in the neighbourhood concerned. It is a neighbourhood that I know and appreciate. It has been my home for a great part of my life. I lived there during the First World War, and when I married in 1949 I went back to live in the same neighbourhood, and I am still living there.

It is a mixed part of London, with many characteristics that make it very typical of London. One of those has been the development of the original development around the area of the St. Paul's School playing field. Many of the houses around it and the artists' studios to the south grew up as part of a development of which late Victorian and Edwardian London might well have been proud and which has subsisted to this very day, all around the most important lung—I use that expression of the St. Paul's School playing field—in that part of London.

It is a tragedy for London and for Hammersmith, and not only for those who, like me, live relatively near that field, that that lung should now be destroyed when it has been there as a ready-made open space for the people of that part of London.

This evening I shall not indulge in recriminations. I dare say it is true that over the last six or seven years there have been mistakes and misunderstandings. However, they are mistakes and misunderstandings that could again and again have been righted. It was as long ago as 29th October 1974 that I wrote to the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) and begged him to see that this vandalism—because such it is—was not perpetrated and that this open space was not destroyed. In 1975, in my personal capacity—because I am not a London Member; I represent a Midlands constituency and I am proud of it—repeatedly I wrote to the then Secretary of State, the late Anthony Crosland. The representations that were made to him resulted in some modification of the density of the housing that it was proposed to put on the site of the school.

Nevertheless, despite all those representations and the campaign that was launched by the people of West Kensington, that part of Hammersmith and Fulham, the Greater London Council persisted in going forward with the destruction of 14 acres of open space in an area which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) says, is lacking, to the extent of some 76 acres, in the most elementary necessities that are now deemed appropriate for any part of the metropolis.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) says that it is now too late and that we should withdraw and let the GLC get on with the building over the field—a field that has been the delight of residents of that part of London for many years. It is nothing of the kind. The cost is to be measured not only in money but in the effect upon the lives of the people who live in Hammersmith and the amenities of the area. The greater part of the cost of this building, the technical college, still remains to be incurred. It is not too late to give over to open space what no doubt in Hammersmith has been open space since the beginning of time, because there never was a building upon that land.

Many grave errors of judgment have been made in London in the last quarter of a century. Many grievous errors of planning have been made. We now rue the day when we allowed, for instance, high-rise flats to dominate the landscape of a large part of the metropolis. We shall rue the day—and those who come after us will not lightly forgive us—if this House does not, even at this eleventh hour, step in and stop this act of vandalism—this destruction of the most important open space that still exists in that part of London.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

7.39 p.m.

I am bound to say that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) has been misinformed on a good many points. I corrected him on one point, on which he ought to have withdrawn. It is untrue to say that I refused to receive the leading figures of the deputation. I spent a considerable time arguing with them. I made it clear that I could not agree with their general proposition. When, at one stage, it looked as if a compromise solution might be arrived at, I arranged to meet the leading figure on the GLC for that purpose. Therefore, the suggestions that the hon. Gentleman made will not stand up. He ought to withdraw what he said about me and my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney). However, I mention that only in passing.

It was in 1968 that the GLC, with a Conservative majority, decided to use this site of 14½ or 14¾ acres partly for education, partly for housing and partly for open space. This decision was reached in full accord with planning law. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the democratic processes had been ignored. The GLC is a democratically elected body, which proceeded according to the laws made by this House. The necessary notice was given and the necessary opportunities were provided for objections. The GLC came to its conclusion.

By that time there was a change of central Government, and a Conservative Secretary of State approved the project. He did not exercise the right, given to him by law, of calling it in; he considered it to be a satisfactory project. However, the arguments continued. There was a change of party on the GLC. The GLC, with a Labour majority, also approved the plan. There was, as has been pointed out, some objections from the London borough of Hammersmith and modifications were made to the plan, which met those objections. The London borough of Hammersmith has now signified its opposition to the Bill.

The change of party meant that the matter came up for consideration by a Labour Secretary of State—the late Anthony Crosland—who also gave his approval. During these proceedings an attempt was made in the High Court to challenge the legality of what the GLC had done. The High Court made short work of that. It is quite clear that the GLC had acted legally throughout the whole proceedings. There have been parliamentary and GLC elections, during which time there was plenty of opportunity for people who objected to the proposal to use the democratic processes.

Would it not be better if the right hon. Gentleman directed some of his remarks to the merits of the matter.

I am doing so, but I have been replying to the points made by the hon. Gentleman who made incorrect statements about myself and my hon. Friend and who said that the democratic processes had been ignored. I am entitled to reply to that.

The campaign then proceeded to try to prevent the development by inserting a clause in the Greater London Council (Money) Bill in the House of Lords. In consequence, the matter was examined by a Select Committee of the House of Lords. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam was not quite right when he said that the members of that Committee concerned themselves only with the legal aspects of the matter. They visited the site, their Report considered the merits of it and, incidentally, on the question of a possible alternative site for the college, said:
"On the evidence adduced, none of the other sites proposed for the West London College appeared to the Committee to be even reasonably satisfactory."
The hon. Gentleman therefore did not fully acquaint the House with what the Select Committee in the Lords said.

We notice that the project has had the approval of a Labour GLC, a Conservative GLC, a Labour Secretary of State, a Conservative Secretary of State, the High Court, the Hammersmith Borough Council, and a Select Committee in another place.

I merely want to put right one matter that I am sure was a slip of the tongue. The scheme did not have the approval of the High Court; the High Court merely determined that the matter had been proceeded with on a proper legal basis.

I accept that. But all those authorities approved the scheme—including, as my hon. Friend says, a Conservative borough council—although they had an alternative project to use the site partly for expensive private housing and a hotel. I am a little surprised that those who are running a personal campaign were quite silent when that appalling proposal was made. The desire to preserve open space did not operate at that stage of the proceedings. It can hardly be said, therefore, that this was a hurried or ill-considered proposal, or that the proper democratic processes were not gone through.

Let us look at the nature of the proposal and the needs that it meets. First, there is the need for housing. This is another matter on which the lion. Gentleman unintentionally misled the House, when he said that the campaign never opposed the provision of housing on the site. I have with me the campaign statement of aims, which says:
"Our immediate objective is to preserve 14½ acres of the old St. Paul's School playing fields as open space".
Fourteen and a half acres means the whole site. If that is preserved as open space there is no room left for housing.

The original objective of the campaign was to prevent the housing as much as the college. It has since realised that this might not be a welcome proposal and has modified its suggestion. The present Bill would put into its keeping only 9 acres instead of 14½. The effect of that would be that the provision of the housing for about 260 families would be halved, and then only if the nursery school and the old people's club are scrapped.

This was a well thought out housing project. There was provision not only for housing and flats but for an old people's club and a nursery school. The effect of the Bill would be to cut the number of people housed by half and to cut out the nursery school and the old people's club.

The hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) spoke movingly of the quality of life in this part of London. When one considers the conditions in which some Londoners are living, the prospect of some 260 families being able to live in decent surroundings with a nursery school and an old people's club, and with open space around them, seems an attractive and worthwhile project.

The right hon. Gentleman says that it is an attractive proposition, and it may be, for the 260 families—I have been following the right hon. Gentleman's arguments carefully—but surely, to use a large part of the site as an open space would be an even better use and would benefit more people.

It is an arguable matter. Housing, education, open space and athletics all have their claims. It is the business of democratically elected local authorities to weigh up these matters, which they have done. But if every decision of a democratically elected local authority is to be brought before the House, planning will become a nightmare.

There is also the provision for the West London College. There is great need for that, too. At present the college is trying to do its work in half a dozen different unsatisfactory places. It provides a wide range of courses. The kind of courses that I have mentioned are the low-level or comparatively elementary courses, which are of great value to young people who do not have many qualifications for employment and whose chances of getting a good job are increased if they can pursue courses of this kind.

The college has been promised a decent home for a long time. Since 1968, it has been the definite policy, irrespective of the party controlling the GLC, that this home should be provided for them. At present, of all the young people who apply to take part in a low-level course, three-quarters are refused because there is no room. I regard this as a good use of the site. The alternatives have been examined by the Select Committee of the House of Lords, by the GLC and by the two Secretaries of State who approved the project.

Anyone would be glad to turn this into an open space if there were no other pressing needs to be met. In the project as it now stands there are to be 5 acres of open space for the use of the public. The campaign, having now abandoned its attempt to make the whole area into open space, is saying that to get four more acres of open space it will frustrate the proper provision of the college and the housing as well as putting the ratepayers to considerable expense. All of this is getting things seriously out of proportion.

The House should look at the nature of the instrument through which the campaign proposes to do this. If the Bill were to be passed the GLC would be required to undo all the work: it has done on the site, at considerable expense. Secondly, it would have to cancel the contracts into which it has entered. Then it would lose control of the site.

At this point the position becomes a little mysterious. As the Special Report from the Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee has pointed out, apparently—it is difficult to be sure—the GLC would still be the nominal owners of the site but the trust would be the only group empowered to do anything with it. But who is the trust? The trust is to consist of 12 persons, four of whom are named in the Bill. For the others, we are told only what kind of people they are to be.

We do not know who has been approached or who has expressed any willingness to serve. If we pass this Bill we may find that the trust is hanging in the air. As long as it is doing that, since no one but it can have control of the site, nothing will be done on the site, except that the GLC will have to undo all its work. The site will become derelict. An open space ought not to mean a derelict, unattended piece of open space; it ought to mean recreational and athletic facilities, and a park. All these require money. There is no provision for this in the Bill. We have nothing that leads us to suppose that the trust, even if it came into existence, would be able to find the money to manage the site properly.

There is a curious provision in the Bill whereby the trust is under no obligation to pay the GLC anything at all for the site. The Bill provides that if the trust thinks that the majority of Londoners think that it ought to pay, it can pay. That is an extraordinary proceeding, and a great burden to impose upon a local authority. That is my concluding point. This is a matter of concern not only to London but to all local authorities.

The argument has been advanced that we ought to give the Bill a Second Reading so that the merits of this planning decision can be argued before a Private Bill Committee of this House. Is it to be suggested that no planning decision, however long it may have taken to arrive at, however many gauntlets it may have had to run, and however strictly and legally it may have been arrived at, can be regarded as valid until it has gone before a Private Bill Committee of this House? If that is the rule, how long will it take to arrive at a planning decision? This is a recipe for blight and dereliction everywhere. It is an interference with the powers that this House has rightly given to local planning authorities. If that sort of thing can be done to one local authority, no local authority in the country is safe from interference with its finances.

This Bill is taking a decision that has been properly reached by a local authority—a decision that has led to the erection of works on this site—and is saying that the decision must be undone and the site must be handed over to people who would be under no obligation to pay for it and who are not at all sure what they would do with it. If the House approves that action, every local authority will be at risk. I ask the House to reject this Bill, on its merits, from a local—London—consideration and also because of its inherent danger to local democracy and local planning decisions everywhere.

7.45 p.m.

I agree with the final remarks of the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), and it is because I agree with his remarks that I support the Second Reading of this Bill. It is time that the House faced up to the disastrous events that have resulted from bad government, bad planning and the bad land policy of both Governments in the past 10 years.

I became interested in this site just over a year ago. I realise that the campaign has been going on for much longer than that. We have only to look at the photostat copies of Press stories going back to July 1975 to realise that. I have one here that says:
"School site promise broken".
In 1976 letters were written to the Daily Telegraph and other newspapers, and I tabled a Question to the then Secretary of State, the present Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I asked the right hon. Gentleman to call the matter in before it was too late. I also spoke, perhaps somewhat out of turn, on the Greater London Council (Money) Bill when it came before the House on 14th June last.

This is a typical story, which can, regrettably, be repeated in many other parts of the country. My own constituency is one such place. A bad planning decision is being allowed to go on because of the money involved. That is certainly the case in my constituency and I think it is probably the case here. We know that land costs have soared in the past 10 years. To get out of trouble local authorities have had to permit overdevelopment so as to balance their books. We are being asked to approve this. Surely a Labour Government containing—"Messrs. Silkin and Sons"—cannot condone it. I have not heard anyone deny that the original intention, when this land was purchased in 1964, was to retain 10 acres as public open space. I quote from the information that was given at that time. It said:
"The Planning Committee of the London County Council, a formerly empowered local planning authority now abolished but at the time responsible in its functions for the area now covered by the Inner London Education Authority (the 12 Inner London Boroughs and the City), met on 28th April 1964 and considered a full report from officers which pointed out in strong terms the need for public open space in the area and recommended to the full Council that the 18 acres be purchased, the 10 acres to be designated as public open space. The Housing Committee of this Authority, at that time controlled by the Labour Party, strongly supported this decision and urged strongly that the land be retained as public open space rather than for organised games. The leading Financial Officers, the Comptroller and the Finance Committee concurred with the price and the proposed use, and the Valuer reported that the proposed purchase price was a high one for open space, but that the advantages of acquiring so much open space together and of there being no rehousing liability weighed more strongly in favour of the purchase."
Was that not the original intention? Does anyone deny it? Why was it not allowed to go on?

It was not allowed to go on because the original decision had been taken by the LCC, which had the power to provide for open spaces. As a result of Conservative legislation the LCC was replaced by the GLC, which has no such power.

As a result of the legislation that we have passed and because of the lack of attention paid to the soaring price of land values between 1968 and 1974 a local authority has been faced with the problem of having to pay huge sums for land that it could not find and for the purchase of which there was no central fund. To get itself out of trouble it has had to acquiesce in a damned bad planning permission. I believe everyone would agree that that was so—

The hon. Gentleman can make a speech, but he must not assume that everything that drops from his lips is agreed to by everyone else. To assume that would be as insolent as it would be for me to start talking about the Isle of Wight, which the hon. Member occasionally represents in this House.

I accept that I do not expect everyone to agee with me. However, I should have thought that there was a measure of agreement, namely, that the original purpose was to purchase the land to provide an open space. I suggest that the real reason for our having reached the present position is soaring land values. We have seen the value of this land rise from £1½ million to £6 million. The Hammersmith authority was unable to purchase. It could not afford to do so and, therefore, the GLC took over. We have seen over-development ensue, which was not the original intention. If that is the wrong history, perhaps someone will correct me.

I claim to have set out the reasons that should lead the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. It is a matter that we should try to sort out in Committee. It is a matter that faces other authorities throughout the country. They are landed with developments—not necessarily local authority-controlled, but private housing developments—and they have no opportunity of undoing what has happened.

Even if the undoing costs a substantial sum, it is something that should be faced by the House and country. Why should we have bad planning? Why should we have developments that we do not really need when we know that there are alternatives? We know that there are alternatives for the school building. A number of possibilities have been brought forward. Indeed, we have heard them quoted tonight. In some cases they are considered suitable. Those are some of the reasons that lead me to wish the Bill a Second Reading.

8.2 p.m.

I have no axe to grind. I intervene to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) because I am concerned about the implications of the Bill for the ratepayers of Greater London and for local government.

I am surprised that so much has been made about the issue of public open space. I notice that the Bill itself purports
"to provide for the retention for St. Paul's Playing Field … as public open space for the use of the public".
I notice that the Select Committee of the House of Lords made the position absolutely clear when, in paragraph 9 of its report, it stated:
"St. Paul's Playing Field has never been a public open space, since it was the private property of St. Paul's School until it was acquired by the Greater London Council, and it has not since then been open to the public. There is therefore no question of public open space being taken away."
That is an important point to bear in mind. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham has said, on the basis of the development now under way there will be some 5 acres of genuine public open space. That is open space that the public may enjoy. That is a step very much in the right direction.

The Bill provides for the cessation of all construction work now under way on the playing field site. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham has said, that site represents about two-thirds of the site now under consideration and development by the GLC. The whole of the ILEA development of the Hammersmith and West London College is on the playing field site. At least half of the housing development is on that site. If at this stage we are seriously to reconsider the cessation of development and the clearing of the site, the abortive costs will be phenomenal. I find it odd that Conservative Members who are involving themselves in the fighting of a Greater London Council election and alleging profligate spending by the GLC under Labour control should blithely talk about abandoning construction on the St. Paul's site and cheerfully talk about picking up the costs involved.

The point must be made that the cost of the development of £6¼ million projected over 30 years would be an overall cost of £24 million at today's prices when interest rates are taken into account. If the House were to give approval to Second Reading, if the Committee were to approve the Bill, if it received a Third Reading and if the bulldozers were to go in with the development as it now is, the costs would be infinitely cheaper than the overall longterm costs.

I find that an entrancing piece of accountancy. If we were to agree to the prospect of the Bill, we would be clearing away what has now been built. There would be a total loss as a result of deciding to abandon the whole development. If we were to have the development on the costs that are being suggested, we should have something tangible—namely, the college, 267 homes and 5 acres of public open space. If we followed the proposal to clear what is now under way on behalf of the GLC, we would have abortive costs. Costs would be incurred with nothing to show for them.

On the basis of the GLC's most recent estimate, £3½ million is the current cost of abandoning the project. It points out that that is not the whole cost. That does not include the cost of breach of contract, land costs, loan charges and legal fees. Nor does it take into account the fact that expenditure is going on day by day, week by week and month by month. The building work is going forward. The GLC says that costs are escalating at approximately £200,000 a month. Before very much longer they will reach £300,000 a month.

If we were to follow the course that is being urged upon us by Opposition Members, the abortive costs would be quite frightening. That sort of approach does not take into account the costs of clearing an alternative site for the West London College. The House of Lords Select Committee had something clear and firm to say on this issue. In paragraph 9, it states:
"On the evidence adduced, none of the other sites proposed for the West London College appeared to the Committee to be even reasonably satisfactory."
On the basis of the House of Lords evidence, there are no alternatve sites available in any case. Even if they were available, the cost of acquiring them would have to be added to the phenomenal abortive costs of stopping this project in midstream.

I repeat that I find it odd that Conservative Members, with the great concern that they claim to have for good housekeeping in local government, should be prepared to throw London ratepayers' money down the drain at such a rate.

The second ground for opposing the Bill has been developed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham. It is the argument put forward by some of the opponents of the scheme. Some of those who support the Bill imply that the matter has not been fully ventilated. A letter reached me today from a lady in West London who argues that I should support the Bill. She writes:
"This need not imply your support for the measure at the end of the day. You would he doing no more than enabling the arguments for it to be objectively considered by a Select Committee."
I find that somewhat disingenuous.

I should not mind if there had been no real, serious consideration of the project. However, when I hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham outlining all the various bodies that have considered the project—for example, the London borough of Hammersmith in two political incarnations, the Greater London Council and the Inner London Education Authority over five years under two different forms of political control, two different Secretaries of State for the Environment and the Select Committee of the House of Lords, as well as the challenge in the High Court—I am bound to say that those who support the Bill can hardly make a case that the matter has not been carefully considered or scrutinised with great care.

I have another letter from the West Kensington Environment Campaign. It refers to the fact that there that I have mentioned. Its summing-up of the reaction of the various bodies is illuminating. It states:
"The Local Council has failed us. The local MPs have failed us. The GLC has failed us. The Secretary of State for the Environment has failed us."
If I were pursuing a case or launching a campaign and virtually everyone who considered it come out against me, I might begin to wonder whether there was something wrong with the campaign that I had espoused, but no campaign has gone on.

The West Kensington Environment Campaign states in the final paragraph of its memorandum:
"We have found that nowhere else does the democratic process work. So we have come to Parliament in the hope of a fair hearing. This can only be achieved by a Committee hearing, which is dependent on a Second Reading."
It seems that the campaigners are saying that if they do not get their way "that ain't democracy". Democracy to them means getting their own way and their own viewpoint. If their democratic processes are exhausted and their point of view is not supported, they deny the democracy of that approach.

I am also concerned about the implications of the Bill for local government as a whole. I have the honour to be a vice-president of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which has expressed what it calls "very considerable alarm" about the Bill. It says:
"The Bill is of grave concern to all local authorities."
That is absolutely true. The Chairman of Ways and Means, in his measured tones, has drawn our attention to the implications if we are really to take unto ourselves the rôle of a local planning committee.

The House of Lords Select Committee has also drawn our attention to some of the implications. On the basis of the costs, for example, the Select Committee says in paragraph 10 of its report:
"The first slice of development expenditure on the project was authorised, without debate, by the Greater London Council (Money) Act of 1975. Some of the expenditure so authorised has already been incurred. There would be inconsistency were Parliament now to refuse to authorise further expenditure on this development project."
There would he even greater inconsistency if, having agreed the Money Acts in 1975 and 1976, we now said that the project must stop while we reconsidered the whole matter.

The House of Lords Select Committee went on further to consider the applications in relation to planning generally. In paragraph 12 it said:
"If Parliament wishes to review individual planning decisions, then it ought to do so at an earlier stage and not at the last moment when all that remains is for the necessary expenditure to be sanctioned, or even, as in the present case, where some expenditure, albeit not very great, has already been sanctioned by Parliament."
But we are now six months on from the time of that report. More expenditure has been sanctioned, the construction work is well under way and at this stage it is ridiculous for us even seriously to consider putting the GLC through all the expense of having to oppose the Bill, after having submitted to a Select Committee.

Perhaps most important of all is what the Select Committee says in its final sentence:
"Moreover, the Committee can see no justification for submitting proposals for developments by the Greater London Council to risks of intervention which, if arbitrary or belated, could prove much more onerous than those which proposals foe developments by other authorities must undergo."
That is the basic point. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham reminded us, if we go down this road no planning authority in the country will be safe. Any planning decision can apparently be reconsidered or overturned provided that those opposing it have the resources, the ability and the expertise to promote a Private Bill. That is a tremendous interference with the democratic rights of local authorities.

I am sure that as a member of local government the hon. Gentleman must know of many bodies in his constituency which are frustrated by planning decisions which have been made over the past five or six years, very often in the light of planning decisions or town maps which are 10 or 15 years out of date. Sometimes those decisions have been made by delegated committees and not by full councils. I do not know whether the planning committee in his area had to report to the full council, but it did not have to do so in my county council. We all know of decisions which have caused instant uproar. Often whole areas have got together to fight them. Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that as God Almighty we should not listen to these people and take some action? I am sure that that is not what he means.

If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that this House should become a court of final appeal when anyone at local level objects to a planning decision by a planning authority, I do not agree. Nor do I believe that that sort of opportunity should be available to those who can mount the sort of operation which is necessary to promote a Private Bill.

I accept that many people are unhappy about planning decisions. One of the problems about planning decisions is that, whichever way they go—whether permission is given or refused—someone is upset. But these are decisions which Parliament in its wisdom has passed to local authorities to take. Many hon. Members are totally schizophrenic about their attitude to local government. At election times they say grandly that they believe in devolving power from Whitehall to local authorities—until those local authorities take decisions which conflict with their views. Then they want to hike power back here again.

That is not the right way to go. Basically, I do not believe that promotion of a Private Bill is the way in which we should reconsider a planning matter. This House is not properly constituted to act as a planning committee for the London borough of Hammersmith. On that basis, I hope that the House will refuse to give the Bill a Second Reading.

8.16 p.m.

I listened with interest to the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), who is much concerned with this issue and speaks from a long experience of the state of the negotiations which have led to this argument. As he said, housing, education, open space and sports facilities should all be considered. All have a place in the mind of anyone considering the use of any space anywhere—whether urban, suburban or rural. When a house is erected, whether for one family or for 100, one must consider these other factors. Open space might be necessary or there might be sufficient open space nearby. Considerations like sewerage, access, lighting and sports facilities are beginning to appear more important than they did. Perhaps in future they will grow still more in importance as we try to make our society a society of players rather than spectators of sport.

I have listened to the debate as an outsider, from the smallest city in England—Canterbury. It may be said that an outsider has no place in a debate about London, but I do not accept that. We should occasionally pause in our great debates to consider the local problems which worry people. In this case, a small section of people are apparently concerned at the loss of something. They have gone through all the procedures. Some people are in favour of the GLC proceeding with this development.

I know this piece of land well. I was born a Londoner and I played cricket on this land before the war, and it has a special place in my heart.

Not while I am talking cricket.

No hon. Member should refer to his love of a particular place and say that it should be kept for that nostalgic and emotive reason. I am not saying that. I come back to the factors that the right hon. Member for Fulham said should be considered. Parliament should consider whether decisions taken down the devolution line have properly represented the concerns and anxieties of their constituents.

It is remarkably arrogant of some hon. Members to say that Parliament should not represent the concern of constituents, wherever they may be, and that it has no right to interfere. I know of the long local government experience of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) and his good service in local government and in this House. I was surprised to hear him suggest that it was wrong for us to interfere because we were, as it were, robbing a local authority of its delegated powers.

The hon. Gentleman went even further wrong in suggesting that this House should not interfere because it might spoil the authority of local government to use its power. He also suggested that it was wrong for anyone to approach this House through the proper procedures and to come to this House with a Private Bill. The hon. Gentleman should not suggest that. Only Parliament can pass a Bill to remove the liberty of the people to come to Parliament. I am glad to see my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) remind me that I am not wrong in what I say.

If we change our procedures and pass an Act stating that the public cannot promote a Private Bill and come to this centre of democracy, Parliament will have taken that step and I shall abide by it because it will be the law of the land. As we stand, however, our constitution allows people to come to Parliament and to promote a Bill and ask Parliament to consider a problem which they consider has been wrongly decided lower down the 1ine.

I do not believe that we create open spaces today. All that we can do is save existing open space. I do not believe that in this day and this century of creating everything out of concrete and steel we create more open spaces. We can only save existing open spaces from concrete and steel.

The most accurate way of describing what has happened with regard to the St. Paul's playing field is that it is possibly a case of space being lost. I did not say public space because in the past it has been private space. I understand that, and those were the circumstances in which I played cricket there. I have been careful in my selection of words. Here is a case of space possibly being lost.

I was born a Londoner and I love London. I love its buildings and its streets. I love its old buildings of stone and brick, and I even love its buildings of concrete and steel. I enjoy its metalled pavements. London is perhaps the vastest area in the world of concrete, metalled pavements and asphalt. But it is still a pleasure for me to come to London from Greenwich, where I now live.

I came back to London during the war when I was on leave. I did not go anywhere else for peace and quiet. I like London. It has many grand and hard streets. London has—

Of course it has, but it has something else. It has little gems of green tucked away in various parts, whether it is in Blackheath or Greenwich or the Royal parks. I know of no other city in the world that has managed to preserve its little gems of green.

I remember being in Los Angeles, which is bigger than London and perhaps has more concrete. It has no real open spaces. One has to get into a fast car and drive to get out of that infernal city. We do not have to do so in London because people in local government, citizens on their own, benefactors and others have ensured that London has kept its open space.

As I understand it, all we are doing by considering the Bill tonight—which I would like to see passed to Committee—is to allow this matter to be considered. It is important that we do not lose a piece of open space in this way. I believe that the open spaces in London are unique. If we lose them, housing is created. But in years to come the GLC will say, "We have lost the open space. We have not enough sports facilities. Things have changed since 1977 What a pity." We must defend London from spoliation and from over-building. We must save these little green gems I should like to stop the march of the GLC from destroying this little gem of space in Hammersmith which I know personally.

What better way of celebrating the Queen's Jubilee than to save this playing field in London and see it made into a public open space with sports facilities? It would be done in a small way because one cannot do much on less than 10 aces. But one can at least do something My own constituency is short of housing. It is the same for every Member of Parliament. There was a clamour to build more houses in both the private and the public sectors. I stepped in and asked "What about the land we are losing? Where will the people in those several hundred houses be able to go? Where is the open space?"

I discovered that an Act or a requirement in the Ministry's files requires a certain amount of open space per dwelling. By using a little influence on my own local authority and writing to the Minister, I was able to ensure that we did not lose all that open space. There was a compromise. We had some housing and we retained some of the green land necessary to go alongside the housing.

I am sure that the GLC has not acted illegally. It has been to the High Court and has been cleared of any such charge. In my opinion, however, other charges remain. The fact that the Secretary of State has decided not to intervene and to refuse an inquiry on a matter so important, while not illegal, in a mistake. It is right that Parliament should stop to pause and consider this matter. The Government have had their chance and they have missed it. They have decided not to intervene. Now Parliament has its chance, and I shall not see it denied such a balance.

The promoters of the Bill should not be denied recourse to this centre of democracy. We should certainly support the Bill tonight, because it is right that it should go forward.

8.28 p.m.

I hope that it will be convenient if I intervene briefly in this very good debate to underline one or two arguments that have been put, in particular by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright).

I want to emphasise that the present system of planning control has grown up over many years, beginning in real terms, with the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. It is a system that has had the support of all parties and is widely regarded as the best and fairest that can be devised. It has been held up as an example in many parts of the world.

The system provides that the basic decisions are taken at local authority level, because, as my right hon. Friend rightly pointed out, democratically elected members are not only responsible to their local electorates but have a wide knowledge of the needs and interests of their districts. I recognise that the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) lives in the area about which we are talking and that the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) played cricket there, but in general I believe that, as has been borne out by experience, it is right that these decisions should be taken locally.

Nevertheless, the system provides that in certain circumstances rights of appeal to the Secretary of State are available and that where issues of wider than local importance are raised he can require that they be brought to him for a decision. It also provides that recourse may be had to the courts on legal points.

My hon. Friend rightly pointed out that planning decisions, by their very nature, could not satisfy everyone. Planning permission is given or is refused, and either the proposer or the objector must be disappointed.

I am sure that I am right to say that the use of the various planning Acts enables reasonable decisions to be reached. There are sometimes bad decisions, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) has pointed out, but I should like to know what other system one could invent whereby better decisions would be made. For the few examples of bad decisions that are quoted there are many good ones. The planning system as a whole has worked extraordinarily well. It would be a serious matter if it were not generally accepted that there is built into the system protection for those who might suffer if the control system did not exist.

However, the promoters of the Bill do not appear to have accepted the fairness of the planning system. The method that they have adopted in bringing the matter before the House can surely be justified only, if at all, in very exceptional circumstances—

I do not speak for the promoters of the Bill, of course, but I should think that it is not the planning system that they are criticising but the way in which it was operated in this case.

I am about to deal with that very point. There may conceivably be an occasion on which such a matter should be considered by the House, but surely it can be justified only, if at all, in very exceptional circumstances, such as where a proposal has for some reason not been subjected to proper planning procedures or to legal proceedings in the courts. That is clearly not the case that we have before us. Proper procedures have been followed and upheld by Secretaries of State of both Labour and Conservative Governments, by a House of Lords Select Committee and by the High Court. All have found that valid planning permissions have been obtained for the development that is now under way.

Hon. Members will recognise that if the Bill were to succeed and other similar cases were to follow the whole planning system could be brought into disrepute. Therefore, our decision today must seek to preserve the system, not to throw doubt upon it.

I have listened very carefully to what the Minister has said, as has the whole House, but the hon. Gentleman has already said that there are other methods available. If people outside the House believe that they are right, we have a procedure for them to follow, and that is the procedure that is now being adopted. It is a procedure for Parliament. As long as the procedure exists, people have every right to use it, especially in a matter concerning a site in central London that is of great importance to many people.

I am arguing that many years ago the House approved an Act, and its procedures are the ones that we operate. They were followed precisely in every respect. No hon. Member has been able to show in this debate that that was not so. Therefore, I advise the House that under those circumstances it would seem extremely unwise for the House now to enter into a detailed consideration of the case, when it has so obviously been properly dealt with.

There are two points about the Title and Preamble to the Bill to which I want to draw attention. The Title and Preamble not only relate to matters of fact; they challenge the truth of statements made by the late Tony Crosland when he was Secretary of State for the Environment and his predecessor in that office, the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker).

First, the Title purports to
"provide for the retention of St. Paul's Playing Field in the London Borough of Hammersmith as public open space".
The second matter is contained in paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 of the Preamble, which alleges that the phrase
"the site has never been held for public open space purposes",
which was used in a statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's predecessor, is not accurate.

I believe that both those charges have been answered in the quotation that my hon. Friend used from the report of the Select Committee in another place. I, too, agree with that conclusion, which confirms the statement of my right hon. Friend's predecessor. There is therefore no question of issuing a retraction of the statement that
"the site has never been held for public open space purposes".
The development of the site has been considered by Secretaries of State of both Labour and Conservative Governments, the House of Lords Select Committee and the High Court. All are agreed that the proper procedures have been followed and that planning permission was obtained for the present development which is now well under way. In view of that, the House must think very carefully before approving the Bill that we are now considering.

8.35 p.m.

There are two or three points that I should tie up in replying to this debate. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Tomney) and the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) referred to the cost of cancellation being about £3,500,000. But that sum is for the entire site and we are talking about only 10 acres. Therefore, the figure would be substantially less than that.

According to the hon. Member for Hammersmith the Select Committee said that it was too late to intervene, but there are many other precedents in the House of Commons in which the House has interfered. Examples of this are Maplin, the Channel Tunnel and the TSR2.

The right hon. Member for Fulham made the point that there are certain weaknesses in the way in which the Bill has been presented. But this is mot the first time such a thing has happened in the House of Commons. That could be rectified in Committee. I remember when the Government tabled no less than 60 amendments to their own Finance Bill.

The right hon. Member for Fulham said that the matter had been to the High Court, but we must consider the observations of the High Court judge who, although id not criticise the legality of the posting of the notice in the newspaper, pointed out that perhaps the wording was not entirely satisfactory. Therefore, it may be said that he was highly critical of that feature.

The merits of the case have never been discussed in any public forum. All the discussion has taken place behind closed doors.

I repeat that discussion of the merits of the case has not taken place effectively and fully. These complaints were not made, either, by the Hammersmith council at the time the House of Lords Select Committee was meeting. It was not ascertained by the various action committees that the National Savings Bank building was not far from the field. That building affords about 300,000 sq ft of large rooms, with high ceilings, wide corridors and parquet flooring, and it would be particularly suitable for this type of development.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) said that There were 5 acres of open space. I assume that he has been reading the GLC document that has been circulated to London Members. Its accuracy and validity could come under scrutiny, having been signed by one H. Wilson. I do not make any criticism of the GLC but I would point out that the 5 acres is non-existent. Of that, 1·55 acres is part of the old school forecourt and has been declared unsafe; 0·88 acres are miscellaneous patches of grass; 1·5 acres consist of patches in the south-cast corner, which is a temporary location; and 2·55 acres are walkways between the roads and the housing estates. Therefore, there is no open space as we understand the term.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) said that this development was tantamount to an act of vandalism. That is a accurate description. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) spoke in glowing terms of this location in London and mentioned the important part it had played. It will be tragic to lose the site.

I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading and ensure that the matter goes to Committee so that grievances can be aired and fully understood. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

Division No. 98]


[8.40 p.m.

Arnold, TomDurant, TonyMonro, Hector
Atkins, Rt. Hon. H. (Spelthorne)Elliott, Sir WilliamNewton, Tony
Beith, A. J.Eyre, ReginaldNott, John
Bell, RonaldFarr, JohnPage, Rt. Hon. R. Graham (Crosby)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Fareham)Fookes, Miss JanetPenhaligon, David
Benyon, W.Glyn, Dr. AlanRidsdale, Julian
Berry, Hon. AnthonyGrant, Anthony (Harrow C.)Shepherd, Colin
Bottomley, PeterGray, HamishSilvester, Fred
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)Grist, IanSims, Roger
Brooke, PeterHampson, Dr. KeithSpence, John
Brotherton, MichaelHayhoe, BarneyStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Buchanan-Smith, AlickHunt, David (Wirral)Stradling Thomas, J.
Butler, Adam (Bosworth)Jenkin, Rt. Hon. P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)Thatcher, Rt. Hon. Margaret
Chalker, Mrs. LyndaJessel, TobyWakeham, John
Channon, PaulKilfedder, JamesWeatherill, Bernard
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W.)Le Merchant, SpencerYounger, Hon. George
Cormack, PatrickMcAdden, Sir Stephen
Crouch, DavidMacfarlane, Neil


Dean, Paul (N. Somerset)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Mr. Percy Grieve and
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMeyer, Sir AnthonyMr. Stephen Ross.
Drayson, BurnabyMoate, Roger


Armstrong, ErnestGrant, George (Morpeth)Price, William (Rugby)
Ashton, JoeHamilton, James (Bothwell)Richardson, Miss Jo
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Harper, JosephRoderick, Caerwyn
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Hooley, FrankRodgers, George (Chorley)
Bidwell, SydneyHoram, JohnRooker, J. W.
Bishop, E. S.Hughes, Rt. Hon. C. (Anglesey)Ross, Rt. Hon. W. (Kilmarnock)
Booth, Rt. Hon. AlbertHunter, AdamSedgemore, Brian
Bray, Dr. JeremyJeger, Mrs. LenaSkinner, Dennis
Buchanan, RichardJenkins, Hugh (Putney)Small, William
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P.)John, BrynmorSpriggs, Leslie
Campbell, IanJohnson, James (Hull West)Stallard, A. W.
Canavan, DennisJones, Dan (Burnley)Stewart, Rt. Hon. M. (Fulham)
Cant, R. B.Kerr, RussellTaylor, Mrs. Ann (Bolton W.)
Cocks, Rt. Hon. MichaelLamborn, HarryThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Cohen, StanleyLee, JohnTinn, James
Coleman, DonaldLipton, MarcusTomney, Frank
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Loyden, EddieWainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)Lyons, Edward (Bradford W.)Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Cryer, BobMcDonald, Dr. OonaghWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Davies, Ifor (Gower)McNamara, KevinWard, Michael
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Madden, MaxWatkins, David
Dempsey, JamesMarks, KennethWhite, James (Pollok)
Doig, PeterMaynard, Miss JoanWhitlock, William
Dormand, J. D.Mendelson, JohnWilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Duffy, A. E. P.Molloy, WilliamWise, Mrs. Audrey
Dunn, James A.Moyle, RolandWoodall, Alec
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Murray, Rt. Hon. Ronald KingYoung, David (Bolton E)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling)Oakes, Gordon
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Orme, Rt. Hon. Stanley


George, BruceParker, JohnMr. Arnold Shaw and
Graham, TedPavitt, LaurieMr. John Cartwright.

Question accordingly negatived.