"That the Report from the Select Committee on House of Commons (Rebuilding) in the last Session of Parliament be now taken into consideration."—[The Prime Minister.]
Report considered accordingly.
I beg to move,
It is nearly 18 months since it fell to me to move for a Select Committee upon the rebuilding of the House of Commons, which was destroyed by enemy action. The Committee have now finished their labours, and their Report is before us. We owe a debt to the Committee for the great pains which they have taken and the diligence with which they have received evidence, from, I think, some 30 witnesses, for the thought, knowledge and comprehension they have given to this subject, and we express to them our obligation for the task they have so well discharged. I am, personally, extremely gratified to see that the main principles which I ventured to submit to the House 18 months ago have been confirmed by the Committee in such emphatic terms: that the Chamber should be oblong and not semi-circular; that there should not be room for all its Members; that it should be designed to preserve that intimacy—which is a word frequently used by the Committee—of debate and discussion, that freedom and that sense of urgency and excitement to which our Parliamentary proceedings have owed a great deal in the past—all this is to be preserved. There are several other suggestions which have been made, and which no doubt will be ventilated in this Debate, but His Majesty's Government endorse the views of the Committee and we submit them to the House with our warmest adhesion. There are one or two points of procedure which I ought to mention. In the first place, suggestions will be made of a minor character in the Debate, apart from the Amendment which has been put on the Order Paper to adopt a different architectural style, and we think that in the light of those suggestions we might call upon the Select Committee again, to be reconstituted with the same membership, to have a short sitting, not taking more than a few weeks, in order that all the points which come out in the Debate in the House may be reviewed and, if necessary, added to the Report. Therefore, we should give to the Committee the following terms of reference:"That this House doth agree with the Committee in their recommendations."
I hope the Members, who have rendered invaluable service so far, will not be reluctant to undertake this comparatively small addition to their labours."To examine the proposals of the Select Committee on the House of Commons (Rebuilding) in the light of suggestions made since the publication of their Report, and to recommend to the House any amendment of detail which may appear desirable."
I am sure my right hon. Friend will not resent my interrupting, but I presume the actual terms of reference will be more specific. My right hon. Friend has given only a general impression of the terms of reference. I take it that they would involve any suggestion which might be made in the course of this Debate or outside.
I thought the terms were what the Noble Lord and his colleagues would have found convenient. They will take note of what occurs in the Debate, and if new suggestions are made outside, and reach their ears, and commend themselves to their attention, they will, no doubt, incorporate them in the revised Report. But it is not suggested that this should be an inquiry of a large or roving character. The proposal is made simply in order that the words spoken to-day may not fall idly to the ground.After the Committee has met again the Minister of Works will be responsible for carrying out the plans. I think he will naturally require a little latitude for minor changes which may be found necessary during the actual course of building. But if there is any large change or change of principle the matter will have to come back to the House; and we think that in another Parliament, whenever that may come, it would be advisable to call the Select Committee into being again, in order that it might note the progress of the work and satisfy itself that the purposes are all being carried out. The programme we suggest, assuming the House approves of the plan in principle to-day, is that the architect should be instructed to proceed forthwith with the preparation of drawings, and as soon as the second stage of bomb-raid damage repairs in London is completed, or nearly completed, the work of demolition can start. This would take about six months, during which period the drawings will be going forward.
Will the Prime Minister allow me to ask when it is the intention to start building the new House? Many of us feel greatly concerned about that, and unless we get some assurance, we might oppose the approval of this Report.
I was going to refer to that in a moment. The actual proposal made here is that it should be as soon as the second stage of bomb-raid damage repairs in London is completed. I must, however, say that I consider there is an urgency about this work. I am told that for the first year, for demolitions and the foundations only, while the drawings are proceeding, not more than 100 men would be needed. I am by no means inclined to lend myself to the idea that not one single man may be employed on this work until all danger of the bombardment of London has passed away and until all the damage has been repaired.This must not be thought to be a private matter for the convenience of Members. We rest upon the Parliamentary institution, and we may have very great need to recur to this matter when the new Parliament, or a still later Parliament, is called into being. The arrangements in this present House for the taking of many Divisions on a single day are very unsatisfactory. There are many ways in which it falls short of the accommodation which we require to conduct heavy party fighting with the conveniences which were available in the other Chamber. We have to look forward to periods when the House will be torn with fury and faction and full vent will be given to the greatest passions, when all the vocabularies, to which, I understand, you, Sir, yesterday gave some extension, may be used to the full. I must say that I feel that it is a matter of high public importance that we should sit as soon as possible, in a House of Commons built on the old site, and also that we render up this Chamber to those who have so kindly made us welcome here—and have not done so badly for themselves in their new and more modest apartment. We ought not to stay here longer than we need, because the two branches of the Legislature should both be able to function in their fullest vigour. Therefore, I hope that if the number of men engaged amounts to more than 100, and we save a whole year by that process, the Minister of Works will be given reasonable latitude to fit that in with the progress of bomb repairs upon which I am told 130,000 men are working. I have spoken of the procedure and of the urgency of this matter, and I commend this Report to the House. I will venture to add a suggestion of my own to any which may be made in the Debate. I hope very much that the archway into the Chamber from the Inner Lobby—where the bar used to be—which was smitten by the blast of the explosion, and has acquired an appearance of antiquity that might not have been achieved by the hand of time in centuries, will be preserved intact, as a monument of the ordeal which Westminster has passed through in the Great War, and as a reminder to those who will come centuries after us that they may look back from time to time upon their forbears who
"—kept the bridge
In the brave days of old."
It must be a great satisfaction to the Members of the Committee to have the blessing of the Prime Minister upon their prolonged labours. As a Member of the Committee I should like to take the opportunity to pay a tribute to our chairman, who guided us through our laborious work. We were inspired by the speech of the Prime Minister in moving for the setting up of the Committee and we tried faithfully to carry out the work. Taking his advice into consideration, we all approached our problem with a desire to keep the essential characteristics of the old Chamber, and reproduce them in their essential features.We are making certain definite alterations. To begin with, there will be better accommodation for the Press, not only for the English Press but for the American and foreign Press. Perhaps even more important, we are making better provision for the public. I am not revealing any secret when I say that we had some struggle to get this extra accommodation. Though extra accommodation is given to the public and to the Press, it is just as well to remind the House that we are giving no more accommodation to Members of the House of Commons themselves. That is where we had a vital difference. I do not object to the principle that there should not be sufficient accommodation for all the 600 Members. I and those hon. Members who acted with me accepted the principle that it would not be possible to provide, on the Floor of the House, accommodation for all Members without changing the intimate character which has been a tradition of the House of Commons in the past, but I think it is unfortunate that we are giving no more additional seating capacity on the Floor of the House. That is where we had one important Division, in which those who wanted to increase the facilities were defeated by one vote. I would remind the House that under the redistribution arrangements there will be an additional 25 Members in the next House of Commons. It is not unreasonable to assume that those additional 25 Members should want to take an active part in our proceedings, but I go further and say that in the next House of Commons Members will be fired with enthusiasm and will be keen to take part in shaping new legislation, and I am afraid there will be a sense of frustration if a large proportion of them find there is no seating accommodation for them on the Floor of the House. What we were advocating, and we were supported by no less a person than Mr. Speaker, who gave evidence before us, and also by the Chairman of Ways and Means, was that there should be one extra bench on each side of the House.
May I take it that the right hon. Baronet is speaking of those who voted with him?
Those who voted in the minority. We wanted an extra bench on each side of the House, which would increase its width by only seven feet, would not alter the essential characteristics of the House, and would have provided increased accommodation for the extra 25 Members and given Members a larger chance to take part in the discussion. I have a vivid recollection of being elected to this House for the first time during the last war and of feeling discouraged by the constant difficulty not only of finding a seat in the House from which to take part in Debates and to listen, but of finding even an opportunity to ask a Question. I think we are showing ourselves too conservative in sticking rigidly to the floor space of the old House of Commons. There is nothing sacrosanct about that particular floor space, and I think it is unfortunate, when making a plan for the new House of Commons, to assume that the new Members will be as apathetic, and as lacking in interest, as in some previous Parliaments. I believe there will be a new spirit, a new activity, a new consciousness of responsibility in the Parliaments which will be elected after this war.It is strange that while we are providing better accommodation for the public and for the Press the House of Commons should be so traditional as to refuse any additional seating accommodation for Members on the Floor of the House. I just make that protest because I feel a sense of responsibility. I think it was a pity that the critics were outvoted. It would have shown a more progressive spirit if we had, while adhering to the essential characteristics of the old Chamber, made greater provision for the new House of Commons, with its additional Members and with the enthusiasm which we have a right to expect they will wish to apply to their responsibilities in taking a greater share in the proceedings of the House. It is no satisfaction to them to be told that if there is not accommodation on the Floor they can sit in the Gallery. If Members are conscious of their responsibilities, they want to be on the Floor of the Chamber. Though, of course, it is reasonable to assume that the 640 elected Members will not want to be present at all times, they ought to have greater opportunities to find seats on the Floor of the Chamber itself.
My right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister, has, on two occasions, most eloquently put before the House the desirability of rebuilding the old House of Commons on the site which was so badly damaged, and the terms of reference to the Committee, whose Report we are considering, instructs them to consider rebuilding with all the facilities which the old Chamber had. I think the term used was "preserving all its essential features." There is a great deal which appeals to all of us in the statements which the Prime Minister has made, on these two occasions, about the associations which many of us have with the old Chamber, and there is a great deal which we naturally favour in the rebuilding of the old Chamber in the form we knew so well. But I wonder whether, in fact, the House has considered the question from a broad enough angle.In making these remarks I shall put forward suggestions which, for various reasons, may not commend themselves at first sight to hon. Members. What I want to suggest, however, at the outset is that far from the old House of Commons being a convenient Chamber, it was, in fact, a very inconvenient one. It had, from the point of view of speaking, many advantages. I entirely agree with all the Prime Minister has said in that connection, but there is—and I know the Prime Minister will forgive my saying so—one essential difference between the experience which my right hon. Friend has had in this House, and that which a great many other Members have been through. In his very distinguished career of 40 years, of which he spoke, I think it would be fair to say that his talents made it absolutely essential that he should be drawn, within a short time, to sit on the Front Bench. I do not know what proportion of his Parliamentary career was spent on the back benches, but I think it was a short period, and very naturally so. Unfortunately, from the point of view of a very large number of us, who have spent a good many years on the back benches, it is not necessarily the Prime Minister's experience, great as it is, that is of most moment in considering this question in its broadest aspects. It is the question of the convenience of other hon. Members of the House. Although it may be very nice for a Minister to sit in a Chamber in which, as the Prime Minister put it a few minutes ago, a number of hon. Members cannot be seated, it is not so pleasant for the hon. Members who are crowded out, and I do suggest that in that matter alone, the House should take a rather wider view than has been taken in the past. There is also another point, which is away from those raised by the Prime Minister and which I think the House should consider. Of all the Parliaments of the Empire that I have visited, the old House, from the point of view of the needs of hon. Members, was certainly the most inconvenient that could be conceived. Compare the position of hon. Members of this House in the days before the old House was blitzed with that of Members of Parliament in Ottawa, for example. Practically every Member of the Ottawa Parliament has his own room, or shares a room with another Member, in which there is ample facility for Members to meet and deal with correspondence and interview their constituents. Indeed the conveniences are so completely and utterly different from those which exist in this country that there is really no comparison at all.
Will my hon. Friend allow me to put a question? Is he aware that consideration of the provision for every hon. Member of this House to have a room for himself, fell outside our terms of reference, as such accommodation could not be provided?
I am quite aware of the truth of what my hon. and gallant Friend says. I would point out that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech the question of the terms of reference, and, in fact, I quoted from them, to make it quite clear that what I was saying was in no way a criticism of the Committee. I am only making the point that the House has not considered the matter in a broad enough way. What I am really suggesting is that the House should consider whether we should not send the matter back, with wider terms of reference. My Noble Friend shakes his head. I am certainly—
I do not know what is the matter with the House to-day. I have never yet heard that a Member of a Select Committee is not entitled to shake his head in the House.
I thought my Noble Friend was shaking his head to show that he differed. I was merely trying to be polite to him and I hoped he would tell me the reason for his dissent.
I for my part was not shaking my head; but was agreeing with every word the hon. Member said. I would only remind him that another Committee has been set up to deal with this very point outside the terms of reference of the Committee of which my Noble Friend was chairman—set up at our instigation.
I suggested that there should be wider terms of reference either for this Committee or another; I am quite indifferent which way the matter is dealt with. The point I am trying to put to the House is that we have not considered the question on a wide enough basis. I am not really concerned with the machinery for doing it. If the House agrees with me that we ought to take a wider view, the question of machinery is a different matter altogether.To continue with my reasons why a wider view is necessary. I would say first, that there is the need of accommodation for Members of the House, which is a matter on which perhaps Private Members are better able to express an opinion than those who have spent most of their lives, however distinguished, upon the Front Bench. It would be very improper for me to suggest that Members of the Government are butterflies, but at the same time it is to be remembered that:
"The toad beneath the harrow knows
Exactly where each tooth-point goes;
The butterfly, above the road,
I do not want to suggest that Ministers are butterflies, or that Private Members are toads—Preaches contentment to the toad."
But at the same time there is something in the quotation which appeals to those who have spent many years on the back benches of the old House and have fought for a seat to hear for example my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's speeches.
I was a Private Member for 16 years.
In that case, my right hon. Friend will have more sympathy with me than I thought was possible. I raise the question about the shortage of accommodation outside the Chamber for hon. Members. I am not suggesting that in the present building it is possible to have private rooms for everybody. I have not gone into that matter fully, but I know that there is no other Parliament in the Empire, in which a Member has to meet his constituents crowded on a public bench in a public place, and hear their statements, sometimes very pathetic statements concerned with the war. That is the kind of thing that we should not tolerate unless there is no alternative. I suggest that there is an alternative. I am neither an architect nor a surveyor, and I realise that the alternative I would suggest may not be able to be put into operation at an early date. I quite understand, for instance, that it could not be started during the war, but I do consider that we should take a broader point of view.This Chamber has many disadvantages, as we all know, but to my mind it is a far better Chamber for the House of Commons than was the old one. As my right hon. Friend said, we owe a great debt of gratitude to the Members of the other place who put this Chamber at our disposal. Looking back over the 22 years that I have been here, I consider that this Chamber is much too big for the House of Peers, whereas it is not too big for the House of Commons. I cannot see why we should not build a new House of Lords in Victoria Gardens, one of the least used public gardens in London, I believe. Let us look ahead. Very few of us, if such a plan is carried out, will be here to see it, but we ought to look ahead and see what we can do to build a new House of Lords. There would then be a new building, an extension of the Palace, with ample room for the House of Lords and all its offices, and the whole of this building would be available for the House of Commons. I suggest that the whole of the portion of the building in which the old House stood, right to the roof, should be made available for Members' rooms, not necessarily one for each, but at any rate, rooms where Members could have more comfort in carrying on their activities than they have now.
I think the hon. Gentleman is labouring under a misapprehension in suggesting that there is greater accommodation on the Floor of this Chamber than there was on the old one. In fact, there is exactly the same accommodation, and the width between the walls is identical.
No doubt alterations will be necessary in more ways than one. What I have said is in no sense opposition to the Report of the Committee. I think they have done excellent work and that we owe them a debt of gratitude, but, at the same time, I do think it is worth considering whether the terms of reference were wide enough and whether Parliament took a broad enough view of what will be wanted in the future. It is not what we want to-day, but what future generations will want. If we are sending the matter back, either to this Committee or another, should we not give them wider terms of reference so that they can examine the whole question again and put forward more adequate proposals?
I feel very diffident about entering into this Debate, the reason being that I am a House of Commons man and I have made it my business since I came here, 23 or 24 years ago, to understand to the best of my ability the history of this wonderful edifice.I want to make myself clear to my fellow Members. I approve of the suggestion which the Prime Minister threw out about Members facing one another, but I am going to oppose this building going on, while there are tens of thousands of families in this wonderful country of ours who have no homes. Every Member must admit that we are very comfortable here. Even those who are sumptuously fed and clad cannot deny that. If we go on using men in the building industry to rebuild the House of Commons, when we have this place as an alternative, while ten of thousands of men, women and little children in this terrible climate have no homes, do hon. Members wonder at me for raising this question eternally? We receive letters not only from engineers but from men in the Forces. Let me quote this from an Air Force man:
"All your talk about our crowd being noble, gallant and heroic just stinks in our nostrils. We do not believe it is real. We look upon you as men boosting themselves. 'Our' sailors, 'our' soldiers, 'our' airmen—that is what you like to say, 'our.'—There is a real famine in houses. You do nothing to help. But take it from me, when we come home to a homeless country we shall remember. Your crowd has homes. If you had not homes you would force the Government to build them for you. We have no homes."
The hon. Member may say why he objects to building a new House of Commons, but we must not turn this into a general housing Debate.
I am surely entitled to explain why I take this extraordinary line while I am entirely in agreement that we should have a good and decent House of Commons. My correspondent goes on:
These are sentiments that I support. It is no use us building a palace for ourselves, when the people we depend on have nowhere to lay their heads. The birds of the air and the beasts of the field all prepare a home, but to man we say, "No home for you." You go on talking about delinquency. It is just hypocrisy. I am going to oppose this House being built, while tens of thousands of my fellows outside have no homes of their own."because you have done nothing for us. Well, we are going to do it for ourselves. It does not matter to us that a lot of strutting M.P.'s and pompous city councillors have run the war from their own firesides. They will be cleared out lock, stock and barrel when the boys come home where there is no home. All your tripe about the greatness of Britain is hot air to us. No country is great which does not have homes for its people. It may have palaces, museums, Parliament Buildings and city halls. If it has not homes for its people it is a sham. It may have art galleries, universities and culture, but if it has not homes for its people it is a whited sepulchre. The nation's wealth is its life, the health of its people, and the health of its children. What is the use of mealy-mouthed moanings about the children of Greece, and France and China, and now Germany. Look at the inside of your own cup. Look at your own cities where men make all the wonderful ships, guns, aeroplanes and docks. Look where they live."
I think the House generally agrees with the hon. Member that we must have homes for our soldiers when they get back in order that they may marry and settle down; that is the most urgent, important and, I should add, dangerous, problem that this or any other House will have to face. I should feel in agreement with him if we had been left under the impression that this new building is going to be set on foot in the immediate future; but what we are discussing now is merely the conditions under which the architects that the House may approve shall prepare their preliminary work. I should feel it very wrong if a large number of workmen or a large amount of material was to be diverted to rebuilding a Chamber when they might be devoted to more urgent purposes. But I do not believe that that is going to happen; and it is useful, before plans are drawn and demolitions begin, to discuss the general lines of the Report.I agree entirely with what the Committee have recommended, with certain reservations and certain suggested additions. There are those who say it is very unimaginative of us to devote so much money and time to reproducing in 1945 a model of an 1834 imitation of an assumed Gothic original. But there is the problem of conformity to be considered. That problem can, I know, be much exaggerated. We have only to consider a building such as Wilton House to realise how a good architect can create a uniform whole, out of many different styles. Apart, however, from the question of conformity, there is the question of alternatives. It would be infinitely more incongruous to build adjoining Westminster Hall a building on the Tudor, Charles I, William and Mary, Queen Anne or Regency model. The only alternative therefore is that of the modern style. I do not agree with Sir Gilbert Scott, who said in his evidence that the modern style has completely failed to achieve its own formula. I do not think it has. I think it is on the verge of achieving its own formula, but not for domestic buildings. This House is to a very large extent a domestic interior as well as a public building. The modern style is very well suited indeed for schools, hospitals, public baths, railway stations and libraries; but not for domestic interiors. I think future generations, that is Members sitting in the new Chamber 50 years hence, may well say: "How could our predecessors have adopted a style which we are only beginning to understand ourselves? Why did they not just do what had been done before?" I therefore come down entirely and absolutely upon the Gothic style. I also come down entirely on the size and shape of the Chamber. I have seen far too many Continental assemblies not to realise what an extraordinary circular mode of thought a circular Chamber induces. I should deplore it if this House, which is the Mother of Parliaments, turned itself into a theatre. But there are certain additions that I should like to see considered. The first and minor point, though I think it important, is the accommodation provided for distinguished strangers. In foreign assemblies, in Continental assemblies, representatives of foreign Powers are treated with the utmost courtesy. They have a private entrance. They drive up to it and their cars are parked in front of it. They walk up a carpeted stairway into an ante-chamber, where not only useful amenities but even refreshments are provided; and they enter a spacious box with wide armchairs. Altogether everything is done to render their attendance at the Legislature agreeable to them. How different it is here, where ambassadors have to struggle through a football crowd. They get up to that Gallery and sit on a hard bench like swallows on a telegraph line, with no amenities whatever. I am not surprised that only a veteran House of Commons man, such as the Belgian Ambassador, has the vigour to sustain these appalling ordeals. I trust that greater consideration will be given to the needs and comfort of foreign and Dominion representatives whom we wish to encourage to come here more frequently than they do. My second point concerns what I should call an advisory panel of Members to protect the Minister. We do not want a repetition of those terrible interferences, interjections, interventions and bright ideas which brought Barry and Pugin to their graves. They were like the babes in the wood: they were buried and smothered under the falling leaves of bright ideas. It is essential that the supreme authority in this matter should be vested in the person of the Minister. He alone should have authority. He alone should have not merely the power to decide but the power to suggest. I think, however, that he ought to fortify himself by some representative body of all sections of the House who would be able to express the views of the House upon certain amenities, facilities and such like. The point of such a panel would be primarily to protect not only the Minister but the architects against the sort of thing from which Barry suffered so much. I would regard such a panel as having both a positive and a negative function. There are certain things which no Government Department or architect can possibly know and which only people in this House can know, and there are certain things which the architect has to be protected against. Positively we can suggest certain minor amenities as, for instance, with regard to access and furnishings, which we alone know about. Negatively, the function of such a panel would be much more valuable. I am sure that there will be among some Members a demand for desks. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I admit that the nervousness which assails all but the most hardened Members when they have to speak in this House is due to the utter nakedness in which we appear before our fellows. We have nothing in front of us, and it is only when we eventually reach the Front Bench and can grasp the Box with firm Ministerial hands, that the feeling of discomfort one has by having no support is taken from us. I hope that the House will reject any idea of desks, because I have seen the working of desks in foreign assemblies. In times of calm, the desks become writing tables, and the House becomes like the Library, with everybody writing letters. In times of excitement the desks are used in such a way that, by comparison, the barrage of Alamein was a distant rumble and the salvoes of Moscow the intermittent poppings of a pea-shooter. Such a panel moreover could protect the architect and the Minister against what, I fear, will be a most pernicious suggestion and one which it will be difficult to refuse, namely, gifts from the Dominions and Empire. I can foresee that we shall be asked to destroy the uniform design of the House by introducing Empire woods, and I am sure that, if once we give way over it, this Chamber will cease to be the parlour of the Mother of Parliaments and will become like a dining car on the Canadian Pacific Rail- way. I can foresee, for instance, that your Chair, Mr. Speaker, will be made of light acacia wood from New Zealand, enriched and disfigured by brass ware from Benares. I therefore wish to join with others in saying that I think the Select Committee have given us a very comprehensive, considered and convincing Report. All that I ask in addition—because I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) that we should rebuild the whole thing and absorb public parks and gardens in order to house our discards—is that there should be proper accommodation for foreign visitors and some panel of Members to protect the Minister and the architects against bright ideas.
I am glad that the last speaker talked about this as the Mother of Parliaments. I am in a sense the mother of this House, and I wish that the House would take my advice. I hate saying a word against the Prime Minister at this stage of the war. I have not always been one of his greatest admirers, but when I sit in the House and see the way in which some people speak of him, to him and at him, I become a red-hot champion. A great deal is owed to the Prime Minister, particularly by the House of Commons, and I hate to disagree with him in any way. I do, however, disagree with him in wanting the new Chamber kept as it was. There was nothing very comfortable about the old House or even very historic. It was a brand-new House built at the worst period of English architecture. The hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson) seemed to be thrilled by foreign Legislatures, but they leave me cold. The hon. Member made a good point about Barry having to change his plans because people were always meddling with them. We have never had a chance of seeing any other designs for a new House. The terms of reference to the Select Committee were so narrow that they did not give a chance to British architects to show what they could do.There is no great urgency about this matter. I feel that the Prime Minister, with all his vision, is looking backward instead of forward in regard to the new House of Commons. When I first got into the House, one had to get here at 7.30 in the morning and wait for hours to get a seat, and then often did not get one. The only thing with which Members were completely supplied was drink. That was the only thing one could get at any time. That may be good or not, but it did not appeal to the mother of the House. No mother wants the most comfortable place in her home to be the place where the children can drink at any time of the day or night. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) has made a plea for building houses for the people before we build a House for ourselves. I agree with him, because I do not think there is any terrific urgency about getting a new House of Commons.
If the hon. Lady agrees with me, will she support me if I divide the House?
Not for the reason the hon. Member put up. I would like to support the hon. Member, for I always like to be in agreement with him. We have to see that the new House is a much better place than the old one. We have to see that it meets modern requirements. I do not think hon. Members realise that when Barry first built the old House, the ceiling was much higher, but, on account of the acoustics, he had to cut out some of the light and lower the ceiling. From various points of view it was not a perfect House. The Prime Minister made a passionate speech about wanting a place where we can have great fights and struggles. In building a new House, however, we want to bear in mind that we are building for a new kind of world, and I do not believe that future generations will want to think that they have got to come here and fight for everything. The new order is going to be one of co-operation. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is asking the countries of Europe to get together to talk things over and to co-operate. I think that will be the spirit in the future House of Commons. We shall have to have more co-operation and leave sham fighting behind. The Prime Minister is looking forward to something which I hope will never have to happen.I beg hon. Members then not to accept this plan just because of the urgency with which the Prime Minister put it forward. We are not very comfortable here, but we had far better wait a bit and see whether we cannot design a House which will better suit our requirements. We do not want a House which is in any way like foreign Legislatures which so appealed to the hon. Member for West Leicester. When I compare what we have done in this House in the last 50 years with what foreign Legislatures have done—
I was saying that the one thing to avoid was to be like a foreign Legislature.
I must have misunderstood the hon. Member. He is very interested in the comfort of ambassadors, but sometimes I am very annoyed at seeing a whole row of ambassadors present here while hundreds of people are outside and not able to get in. I want to give them what is due to them, but I am not so interested in red carpets—
Because the hon. Lady has got plenty.
What I am really interested in is to build a House of Commons for a better world, a House with more light and air and more accommodation. Let us remember that it is not the House itself that matters, but those who sit in the House and what we stand for. Where we sit is not so important as what we are and what we stand for. Let us not have a House which is built under the influence of a war-time consciousness, but let us look forward to a new generation with new ideas, a generation which will have more co-operation and less fighting. We must remember, too, that there will be more Members in the next House, so that more accommodation will be needed. The people on the Front Bench may like sitting on one another's laps, and being jumped on, but it is terribly inconvenient for Members not to be able to get a seat and to have to crowd in and stand. It is inconvenient, too, not to have anywhere where they can see constituents.I respect the Prime Minister's love of the House of Commons; no man has served it better; but I love it too and I want a more modern and convenient place. After I got here I had to fight for years to get this corner seat. That is not the way we should have to go on. We should urge the Prime Minister to look forward in this matter and not to insist on having a new House of Commons in what he calls "the image and likeness" of the old. I do not want the House of Commons to be a sort of monument to the Prime Minister. I want a monument to the Prime Minister and I will subscribe to it largely, but I do not want the House of Commons to be his monument. I want it to be a place where legislators can work in comfort. One thing I would say finally—and I am disappointed that there are not more Members here to hear it, because it is really very important. Many Members seem to be letting this matter go by default. I feel that it would be a very good thing if we did not have the bar in the Lobby, in the new House of Commons. I understand that it is being moved, but it is not impossible that some people may want it moved back again. There are many things which I have seen which are absolutely wrong in the House of Commons, but, like the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs, I, as a good House of Commons woman, do not want to expose our weaknesses. I say once more that although we want to build a better and more beautiful House of Commons, there are things which are more urgent at this moment. I am not frightened of people coming back and starting a revolution because they cannot get houses. I represent a much-bombed place where there is a great shortage of houses, but that is Hitler's doing. Heaven knows it is hard enough to see people bombed out, but it is not right for us to tell the people that that is the Government's fault. It is Hitler's fault, and it will also be Hitler's fault if we build in a hurry a new House of Commons which will not be worthy of this great institution, which has done such magnificent work in the last four or five years.
Seeing that my grandfather, Sir Morton Peto, was the builder and contractor, under Sir Charles Barry, responsible for the whole of the structure of the present Palace of Westminster, after the great fire here last century, it is not inappropriate that I should be fortunate enough to catch your eye, Sir, on this occasion. There is only one point I wish to make, and I will be extremely brief in doing so. I have a good deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and still more sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne). I want to put in a plea for the ordinary, undistinguished back bench Member—presuming that there are such individuals—and to suggest that there should be some place where they could efficiently perform the considerable amount of work which they are normally called upon to do. I am not suggesting, as did one hon. Member, that we should be made more comfortable; I do not make a plea for excessive comfort. I make a plea, however, for ordinary efficiency.While we are considering the rebuilding of the Chamber, we might consider that rather wider aspect of our affairs, namely, where the ordinary common or garden Member of Parliament can get his routine work done. As I have gone through the Lobbies I have frequently been really ashamed when I realised the impression that must be created, not only on our own countrymen but on people from other countries, when they see the ludicrous position that exists; hon. Member after hon. Member huddled into some dark corner while he dictates to his secretary, who has two files and a notebook balanced on her knee. That is the kind of condition in which the representatives of the nation carry on their work. I am not a business man; I am only a soldier, but I believe that in no business, however small, and certainly not in my constituency, would the board of directors, or the managing director, not have an office in which he could instal a typewriter, a telephone and his files so that he could do his job properly. We are the board of directors of the nation, but the only people who are fortunate enough to be able to get an office are those, like myself, who are fortunate enough to be a P.P.S., or even the more fortunate people who are Ministers. The rest of us have to conduct our business in a way that would be considered inefficient even for the organisation of a troup of Boy Scouts, let alone the Mother of Parliaments. For Heaven's sake let us try to find space, if we are considering rebuilding at all, where all hon. Members can have sound-proof cubicles, and a place to keep typewriters and files. That is a constructive suggestion which I make with all the force at my command. I shall not delay this discussion with suggestions about the exact dimensions of the new Chamber or the seating capacity. There are hon. Members around me who are much more capable of doing so. But I do beg the House to pay greater attention to the point I have made, so that, in future, the ordinary back bench Members can carry on their work with normal business efficiency.
I agree with what has just fallen from the lips of my hon. and gallant Friend. I would like also to refer to the speech of the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), whose speeches always stimulate the House. I suppose I disagree with her more frequently than with any other hon. Member, yet she is a great asset to this place. The speech she delivered just now is a very powerful argument in favour of her reviewing her decision and considering the possibility of sitting in any future Chamber which may be set up.We constantly hear from Mr. Speaker and Chairmen of Committees, as well as from other hon. Members of greater or less importance, that one of the worst faults of Members is the selfish habit of speaking for too long. When such a charge is made against any one of us personally, we immediately repudiate it with alacrity and with a sense of injured innocence. One remedy would perhaps be to make the new House so forbidding as to deter every hon. Member from either speaking or listening; but that drastic solution might tend to destroy one of the purposes of Parliament. Time is the foe of Members who have something to say and at the same time have a sense of form. When I entered this House, 14 years ago, there seemed to me to be a serious omission in the old Chamber. For the Member who observed the Rules of Order and did what I am now trying to do, namely, address the occupant of the Chair, there was no means by which he could observe the career of the enemy which I have just mentioned. The only clock visible to Members was the one at which they ought not to look. It was the one opposite the Speaker's Chair. I considered that another clock was highly desirable. It would, I felt, assist the conscientious and unselfish Member and would remove some of the excuses from the selfish and the unconscionable. I soon found, to my surprise and delight, that in this particular regard an overwhelming majority of the House of Commons was on my side. A Motion which I put on the Paper in favour of installing a second clock in the old Chamber soon attracted hundreds of names. Indeed, it was a more widely supported Resolution than any Resolution in the last 15 years—and I am prepared to support that assertion by statistics, if necessary. When, on the basis of that Motion and on the basis apparently of the desire of the House of Commons, I asked a Question of the First Commissioner of Works, I collided, to my surprise, with the most stubborn opposition, which seemed to be shared by the predecessor of the present Speaker and the right hon. Gentleman, now the Noble Lord, who was then Chief Whip. There seemed to be no willingness at all to make any change in the established furniture and appurtenances of the Chamber, however desirable such a change might be. Nevertheless, as hon. Members who were then in the House will recollect, the House supported me on what I do not think is a trivial matter, and the authorities had to give way. Two of them, I regret to say, are now dead and the third is a Member of the House of Lords. The second clock was introduced in a convenient position above Mr. Speaker's Chair in the other Chamber. Occasionally, I was sorry to notice, some strange defect of engineering caused the two clocks not properly to synchronise. The same lack of co-ordination has, from time to time, been noticeable among the three clocks which, in this Chamber, give their warning to hon. Members. I hope that some attention will be paid now, to such an elementary matter. This of all places ought to be free of such an inconvenience. I am disappointed to notice that in the cross-section which is shown in the Report from the Select Committee of the proposed House of Commons, looking North, there is omitted any clock over Mr. Speaker's Chair. I naturally looked for this feature with some paternal interest very early in my perusal of the Report. I hope that this omission is nothing more than an oversight.
May I interrupt my hon. and gallant Friend? I find, on looking at my copy of the Report, that there is clearly shown upon drawing No. 9, a clock, or what is intended by the architect to be a clockface, over Mr. Speaker's Chair.
My hon. and gallant Friend and myself have two different interpretations of what he says is intended to be a clockface. It looks to me more like a blank space and does not indicate to me a clock in any sense, because the hands are absent and so are any markings around the perimeter. I am not at all convinced by that, as I tell my hon. and gallant Friend directly.Whether I am right or wrong I hope that this is a matter which will not be overlooked. I will illustrate my argument by action. It so happens that I am full of ideas about the new Chamber, besides the one which I have just unfolded, and, like nine out of ten Members, I confess I am just as ambitious as they are to sit in the rebuilt Chamber. But I am aware of the physical warning in front of me that I must not risk abusing public time. I am now going to perform the service of silence, which is just as important in a Member of Parliament as is the service of speech. But I want to make it reasonably certain that the improvement which I took some trouble to have introduced, against what I thought was unnecessary opposition, will be both remembered and preserved.
If the hon. and gallant Member will turn to page 7 he will see there is a definite resolution recorded in favour of two clocks.
I will not attempt to criticise the work of the Committee to-day, because I believe they have done their work very well indeed and also because I have not sufficient knowledge to talk about the new Chamber, or about what should be done in regard to it. That is a matter for hon. Members with more experience that I have. I am concerned that, in passing the recommendations of this Committee, it will not be taken for granted that work will immediately be commenced on building the new Chamber. When the Prime Minister introduced his Motion about 18 months ago, I made a protest to him that I did not think the time was opportune to deal with this matter. In reply to that he said that we had to get plans in readiness for the future, so that when the time came we could commence building. He gave me the impression then that it was not his or the House's intention to start building the new Chamber, or to get the site ready, until many of the housing needs of the people had been satisfied. That is the point I wish to have cleared up to-day.What is the intention of the Government with regard to commencing the building of our new Chamber? If we are to do it immediately, and employ a lot of men to do it, I shall attempt to register my protest in the Lobby against that being done. The burning question all over the country in what are termed domestic affairs, is the housing problem. Every Member of Parliament is besieged by letters from people asking what can be done to get them houses. That is in the hands of the municipalities and we cannot interfere in it. I know the extraordinary difficulty such people have to face in these times, and all the time they are thinking that something should be done. One has to tell them that, for the present, houses cannot be attended to, that the war demands all our attention, and that however urgent may be the need of the returning soldier, or the discharged soldier, who wants to set up house, believing it is his right after what he has done for the State, we have to tell him, "No, you will have to wait until the war is over, and then every effort will be made to provide houses." What will be the impression created in the mind of the soldier, by this proposal? We do not, at the moment, enjoy a very high position in the minds of the people. They think we have an easy job, that we are content to come and spend a little time here, and rather enjoy ourselves. When it goes out that only a few attend, that does not enhance our position. We do not stand very high in the opinion of the people in regard to the work we do here. What will be the impression created if it goes out we are to erect an elaborate building for ourselves, that we are going to look after ourselves here at this time? Anyone who reads the speeches which have been made here to-day will see suggestions for various amenities; that we ought to have places for secretaries, that a Member should have almost anything he wants, because he is a Member of Parliament. That is the idea running through many speeches which have been made here to-day. When that reaches the ordinary men and women, who are facing tremendous difficulties, they will begin to wonder whether we really think about the needs of the people. They will think that we intend to get a nice place for ourselves, and are not thinking about anyone else. There could be an argument if we were suffering some inconvenience here. When the old House was blitzed, and we had to go somewhere else, there was an argument. But are we badly housed here?
The Press are.
The Press will get on very well; they can manage very well in their present position.
On that particular point, if the hon. Member has read the evidence placed before the Committee, he will see that the Press, particularly the Dominions and overseas and Allied Press, are very seriously handicapped and incapacitated in presenting the work of this House to the world, because of the bad accommodation available to them.
That may have been put forward, but I am making comparisons with existing conditions outside, and our conditions here. Let me put it to hon. Members: Will anyone complain of our present situation? Are we badly housed here? Have we enough room for our own Members? We have an example now, and it is the example which is shown every day unless the Prime Minister is to speak of few Members being present. There is no question of overcrowding, no question of a shortage of any facilities.There is the question of the accommodation of the House of Lords. If anyone will go to the House of Lords he will see as cosy a little Chamber as I have seen in my life. There is no difficulty about our situation. We are well-housed, we have a nicely-heated Chamber, accommodation is good—[AN HON. MEMBER: "No."] Perhaps the hon. Member will state his view afterwards. The House of Lords is well-housed. Yet we are talking about having another Chamber made ready. If it means taking labour to do that, before great progress is made in the housing of the people, then I am bound to go into the Lobby against such a proposal. The Prime Minister said in reply to me that we would take about 100 men. It is not altogether a question of whether what is proposed to be done will not be very much. It is the image that is created in the minds of the people. That is the factor which tells in matters of this kind—what is being done and what they need. We have no justification for doing such work. The hon. Member who intervened writes for the papers and he may have a feeling for the Press. Again, I say to him, he is just playing for his own hand.
That is perhaps too crude. What I mean is that, in life, many of us only see our own case. You are a Pressman, you are in touch—
The hon. Member should address the Chair.
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but the hon. Member interrupted me, and told me that correspondents had not adequate opportunities for reporting our proceedings. There again, I see a kind of motive in his remark. He is one of those people he has mentioned. Therefore, it will go out to the people that we have more regard for our own particular interests than for the people we ought to represent. Our main task here is to do the best we can for the mass of the people. I ask Members of the House of Commons, can we justify at a time like this, when housing needs are so great, setting out to construct a building for ourselves? It is on those grounds I take objection to this Report being passed, until I am satisfied in my mind that it is not the intention to proceed with the building until the needs of the people are met in a far better way than they are being met at the present time.
The issues raised by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) who first introduced a note of dissent into this discussion were, I think, entirely sound but they embraced, if I may say so, two entirely separate points. The issue which the House remitted to the Select Committee whose Report we are considering was the rebuilding of the destroyed House of Commons, with any addition to the amenities provided for Members which could be linked with it. The larger question, the general use of the Palace of Westminster, was outside and apart from it. I think this House owes a deep debt of gratitude to the noble Lord and his colleagues for the wisdom, expedition and desire to meet the legitimate demands of all those who have to use the Chamber, for the admirable Report they have presented.There are details in that Report which many of us might like to see altered. I think our proper course is to make these suggestions to the Committee, so that they may be before them when they come to reconsider their proposals in points of detail. If I may say so to the noble Lord, I am a little afraid of the cubicles provided for secretaries and typists, but that is a minor matter. I suppose I am alone among Members of the House in wishing that the new Chamber could be, as nearly as possible, an exact replica of the old one. I remain once again in a minority of one. As that is not likely to have acceptance from the House I think the Committee has done the next best thing it could possibly have done in engaging the greatest living master in the adaptation of Gothic to modern conditions, and asking him to provide a plan; it appeals to me enormously, because without breaking from tradition, or detracting from the harmony which is the essential of architecture, he has adapted it to modern conditions in the design for the new Chamber. The larger question which has been raised was totally outside the terms of reference of the Committee, and the Committee, if I may say so, made a very wise suggestion in asking that it should be remitted to a Joint Committee of both Houses. In all the discussions which have gone on this morning, it seems to me that hon. Members have forgotten that the Palace of Westminster is not the monopoly of Members of the House of Commons. There is such a body as the House of Lords, with their own rights and privileges and their own point of view to be considered. This other Committee is a joint body under a chairman drawn from the other House. I entirely share the views of the hon. Member for Kidderminster in his plea for bold planning. I hope that that Committee will take a big view and will look very far ahead, because although the Select Committee, whose report we are now considering, have done something in the nature of a miracle in providing additional accommodation in connection with the building of the new House of Commons, their recommendations have not gone and could not go, under the circumstances, nearly as far as we shall have to go at some date in providing accommodation for Members' secretaries and the general amenities which are so sadly lacking in this building at present. Those who have an intimate knowledge of this building are very few, but I can assure hon. Members that if they had spent hours fire-watching at night and going round the premises, or if they had examined the plans in detail they would be astounded at the amount of accommodation within the Palace of Westminster which is, I will not say misused, but which is not put to the best possible purpose for the use of Members of this House. Why has this arisen? I think from the fact that there is not, and has not been, a single controlling authority to govern the administration and the apportionment of the space in the Palace of Westminster as a whole. If such a body is set up as a result of these discussions, with power to make decisions in the use of and allocation of the space which we have at our disposal, we could, without great structural alterations or additional buildings, provide amenities far beyond even those outlined in this Report. I have no doubt in my mind that at some future date those responsible will have to propose extensive rebuilding, whether in Victoria Gardens, as has been suggested, or in completing Barry's original plan for building in Palace Yard.
We must keep within fairly reasonable bounds. I do not say the hon. Member is out of Order, but I think he is getting very wide.
I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. In a sentence may I say that we shall have to go beyond the recommendations of the Committee, which I think are really a miracle of ingenuity, considering their terms of reference, and provide additional accommodation outside the Palace, but that is a matter for the future.I hope that when this is considered it will be considered on a broad and generous scale. As for the immediate problem before us I hope the House will unanimously accept the Report of this Committee. I think it is a wise, a clever and an exceedingly able Report. If we go into excursions relating to architectural style and taste we shall land ourselves in the position that the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson) outlined—we shall drive any architect or body charged with this reconstruction almost as mad as Barry and Pugin were driven by the eccentricities of Members of the House of Commons when the present buildings were under construction. I will add only one word more. This Report commands my entire and grateful approval. I think it is one of the finest pieces of work done by any Select Committee which has reported to this House during the years I have been a Member of it.
I echo the words used by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Reed) with regard to the work which the Committee has done, but I cannot agree with him that one accepts this Report as it stands. But for the fact that one realises that this is only a preliminary, one would take a much stronger objection to it. I think that the approach to this question has been all too narrow. This Committee has also put a very narrow interpretation on its terms of reference. The Select Committee was appointed
The Committee interpreted that as meaning that it was definitely bound with regard to the site—that the new building had to be placed on the old site, limited as that was. Then the Committee went on to consider the Chamber itself, and came to two conclusions. The first was that it should conform to the shape of the old building, or of this present Chamber where we are now meeting, and that its size should be practically limited to that, although the Committee realised that one-third of the Members will not find accommodation in that Chamber. That is really carrying nostalgia to the stage of absurdity. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) is not here, because I would like to assure him that I cannot see that the building of this House can in any way interfere with the housing of the people. I think everyone of us is concerned with the housing of the people, and I should have liked him to join with me in the criticisms I made on this subject, not only during the war but before the war. Let me tell him the facts. Fortunately, the old House was burned to the ground. That was a really good thing in the history of this country, because the old House was an appalling building. That happened in 1834. The plans for another House were started in 1835. The House of Peers met where we are now sitting, in 1847, and we occupied the other Chamber in 1853. If that is to be the rate of progress for rebuilding now, I sincerely agree with the hon. Member for Leigh that the building of houses must not be postponed for 19 years, but I do not think that this rebuilding is going to be done in a hurry—I sincerely hope that it will not. No sooner had we appointed the Select Committee than it was realised that the terms of reference were too narrow for this tremendous problem. A new Committee of the two Houses has now been appointed, presided over by Lord Stanhope, to consider the amenities which are to attach to the Chamber. Surely all these matters ought to be considered together with the site of the Chamber and the size of the Chamber—and surely it ought to provide accommodation for all the Members. Are we really so limited in ideas that we have made no progress whatever since the old House was built, that we cannot provide better acoustics than in the old Chamber or in this Chamber where we are now, that we cannot provide all the amenities that are necessary for the proper carrying out of our business? How often have we pointed out, what is so well-known to all of us, that our work inside the Chamber is only part of the work we have to do for our constituencies, and indeed of our public work generally. Think of the amount of writing that we have to do, and the amount of interviewing that we have to do. There ought to be attached to the Chamber all the necessary rooms and amenities. In addition, provision should be made for the convenience of the Press, for visitors, and so on. I would like to see other matters considered by this Committee. I deeply regret, as I am sure every Member does, the absence, and the cause of the absence, of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). We were all greatly impressed by his contribution in the last Debate, when this Committee was set up. May I emphasise again a point that he put, that we ought to consider all that would be required in order to enable the Members of this House to do their duties properly, not only in the Chamber but in other ways? It is pathetic that Members who do not live in London—and there must be between 400 and 500 of them—who have to come up here every week and go back to their homes in the country on Fridays, have to search London for such accommodation as they can find; and very often it is limited to a cheap bed-sitting room. That is not fair to a Member of this House. There ought to be adequate provision for Members. All such matters ought to be considered by a properly set-up Committee, representing both Houses and considering all the amenities of the building. Until that is done, we shall get only a haphazard, slipshod scheme, which will be condemned by those who come after us. There is a great opportunity, now that the building has been bombed, to consider the whole matter. Let us do it in a way worthy of ourselves and of those who come after us."to consider and report upon plans for the rebuilding of the House of Commons, and upon such alterations as may be considered desirable, while preserving all its essential features."
What the hon. and learned Member is proposing is exactly what is being done.
The hon. Member is wrong. This Committee was set up, and while it was sitting it was seen that its deliberations were too narrow. Then another Committee was appointed. Let us do away with these Committees, and have a properly-constituted Committee to deal with all these matters as one.
I agree with a part of what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said, but I think he was going too far in suggesting that it was part of the duty of the House of Commons, or of any Committee of the House of Commons, to find accommodation for all Members of the Houses of Parliament. Surely they can do that for themselves, even in war-time. But I agree that what is needed is not only a Committee to consider the narrow issue of the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament, but a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the amenities of the Palace of Westminster and the rebuilding of the House of Commons, and also a permanent statutory Committee responsible for the administration of both Houses of Parliament.Perhaps I might say something on what has been said by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and another hon. Member about the housing of the people in general. They suggest that no rebuilding of the House of Commons should be carried on until everybody in the Kingdom has a house to live in. I think that the position is really rather exaggerated. The numbers involved, I understand, are comparatively small; and I think it ought to be pointed out that what is being suggested is not that we, as Members of Parliament, should have further amenities, new dining-rooms, more, fatter, and better bars, bigger smoking-rooms, and all the rest of it. What we are suggesting—and this is what I deplore—is that the House should be rebuilt, broadly speaking, as before. What are the three main activities carried on in the House of Commons? The first, and the most important, obviously, are discussions in the Chamber itself. The second, which I look upon also as being very important, is the ordinary business of the ordinary Member in receiving his constituents, in answering his very large correspondence—and many Members have thousands of letters a year—and in dealing with his ordinary work as a Member of Parliament, outside the Chamber. The third is what I might call the amenity activity—that is to say, having lunch and dinner—when we are sitting at dinner-times in normal peace-time—meeting each other in the smoking-room, discussing business, telling each other stories, whatever it may be, all of which is part of the life of Parliament, but, of course, is much less important than the other two activities. We are not considering the third one; we are concentrating on the first—that is to say, on the Chamber itself. It is extremely important that we should have a good Chamber. I agree broadly with the Committee's proposal that it should be very much the same as before. Nothing is more grisly than for the ordinary person to speak to a large House in which there are very few Members, or even to listen in a large House in which there are very few Members. The Prime Minister has repeatedly pointed out that what you want, if you can get it, in a Debate is the sense of urgency and excitement and interest. Although slight alterations in the lay-out of the House of Commons might be desirable, I think the Committee have done quite right in reaching the decision that they have reached. As I pointed out on the Motion for setting up the Committee, I think that, not altogether due to their own fault but because the terms of reference were too narrow, one matter of very great importance has not been dealt with. That is the advantage which every hon. Member ought to enjoy of having some small study of his own. [Interruption.] It is all very well for my hon. Friend below me to say, "No." He is, I understand, a Parliamentary Private Secretary.
I say "No" again. Although I am not so much in the public eye as such glamorous Members as my hon. Friend, useful work may be performed by Parliamentary Private Secretaries.
Useful work is sometimes performed by Parliamentary Private Secretaries and even by ex-Parliamentary Private Secretaries. I do not compete in the glamour stakes at all. What I was saying was that it is important to my mind and to the minds of many others, that each back-bench Member should have some small study, where he can dictate his letters to his secretary, if he has one, where he can receive his constituents who come to see him, very often on highly delicate business, and to which he can, if necessary, retire and do some work. The temptation, when out of the Chamber, to sit about or go to the Library and go to sleep is very great. It is difficult to sit down and write your own letters in the House.I think, if I may say so, that the Committee should have found themselves able to suggest that it might be architecturally possible to have a building on the existing site which would be built up, though not so far as to spoil the silhouette as seen from the other side of the river or the long and relatively low Gothic character, which we are all so anxious to preserve. It is, perhaps, the only really successful example of 19th century "Prince Albert Gothic." I think it might have been possible—I only put it forward as a suggestion—to have built up a good deal higher on the existing site, while retaining the existing character of the building—something like a King's College Chapel emerging from the middle of the building where the old House was, and perhaps several storeys higher than it was before. I cannot say whether this is architecturally pos- sible or desirable or not, or whether it would spoil the general dignity and appearance of Parliament from the other side of the river. But, surely, something ought to have been done to improve the chances which an hon. Member has for carrying out the work which it is necessary for him to do outside the Chamber as a Member of Parliament. I hope that, as a result of what the Prime Minister said to-day, when the right hon. Gentleman suggested or foresaw a reference back to the Committee, the Committee will be empowered to consider a much wider matter, and, particularly, that which some of us have been advocating for a long time—the provision of private rooms for Private Members.
I would not have attempted to catch your eye, Sir, if it had not been for the speech of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). Usually, I agree with much of what my hon. Friend says. He puts, if I may say so, a very common sense point of view to this House; but I think that to-day he rather strayed beyond the limits of common sense when he seemed to imply that everything was already for the best in the best of all possible Houses. May I deal, first, very briefly; with the point on which he was good enough to allow me to interrupt him, when I tried to back up an interjection by an hon. Member opposite, who referred to the accommodation for the Press and said how inadequate it was? I really beg my hon. Friend to look again at the evidence in the Committee's Report—the very lengthy and painstaking evidence, brought not only by the spokesmen from the domestic Press, but also from others, even more important, the overseas and foreign Press—because their accommodation in the past has been practically non-existent. I think it is extremely important, and will be increasingly important, perhaps, in the post-war years, that a fair and full knowledge of what is going on in this House should be diffused throughout the world, throughout America, Russia and other countries, by means of regular representation in the Press Gallery by their own correspondents, whose accommodation is at present almost completely lacking.I was rather sorry that my hon. Friend brought the matter down to the personal level and said that I was only in this House as a Press man, and that I naturally spoke up for my own interests or something like that, because, if I may say so, I try to sit here as a Member of Parliament representing my constituency, and I do not think my hon. Friend could say that I devote any large part of my interventions in this House to putting the point of view of that particular interest.
If I gave that impression, I did not mean to do so. What I meant to say was that my hon. Friend was one of the reporters who write for the papers, and that he felt for that section more than anything. With regard to anything else, I did not mean it.
I thank my hon. Friend very much for making that clear. I feel even more as a Member of Parliament the inconvenience to which hon. Members are at present subject. I do not think that, as my hon. Friend says, we are really perfectly comfortable here. Hon. Members, particularly those who have constituencies in or fairly near London, know how very real, as several hon. Members have said, is the inconvenience to which we have to subject our constituents and other visitors when they come here—perhaps to discuss some very serious matter, which involves going through a number of papers and documents—and there is literally nowhere to take them except draughty passages or a bar crowded with people enjoying themselves and drinking. It cannot be said to be satisfactory, and these incidental amenities are among the things which, in my opinion, should be put right most urgently.I do not think, also, that too much should be made of the point which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) about the general housing of the people of this country. I truly do not think that, psychologically, this is going to have the effect on the people that my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh fears. I think it can really be explained, to the people of this country as a whole and to our constituents individually, who are reasonably intelligent people, that to occupy a few hundred men for a year or two on making this House a more effective machine in and through which we may represent them, is not really going to affect, by more than an infinitesimal proportion, the general building schemes for the country as a whole. The total amount of labour and material that will be needed for the rebuilding of this House is, presumably, a tiny, fractional percentage of the vast army of building labour that will be needed in this country after the war. I think that, if that is explained to the people, they will be sensible enough to see it. Certainly, to hold up the rebuilding of this Chamber until after the bulk of the housing problem has been dealt with, would not really enable that general problem to be expedited at all; and if, as my hon. Friend suggested, people think that we come here merely to enjoy ourselves, dig ourselves in comfortably and have a good time, I think it is rather a reflection on any Member of Parliament whose constituents really think that, because he should have established a better liaison with them and they should know that he comes here to do a pretty hard job of work in representing them in various ways. The Prime Minister was perfectly right when he said that this is not a private matter, and I think that the people of this country will understand that very well. Therefore, I should like to revert, if I may, to a Question which I asked the Minister of Works yesterday. I received a written answer to it, in which the Minister admitted that the architect's report, included in the Report of the Select Committee, implied that rebuilding will not be complete until some six years after the delivery of the necessary surveys by his Department. It seems to me that that is an awfully long time to have to wait until we can really do our business properly and efficiently about this place, with some convenience, and I want to ask the Minister if, when he replies, he will be good enough to indicate whether there is any likelihood that sufficient priorities of labour and material may be available in the period immediately after the war to speed up that programme of rebuilding. Six years seems to me to be altogether too long. Having said that, I may, perhaps, very briefly, say something which may appear to be slightly self-contradictory. The only point at which I differ substantially from the Report of the Committee, who did, if I may say so with respect, a most admir- able job, within their rather narrow terms of reference, is in their absolute selection of an architect, without giving any opportunity for something like a competition, or, at any rate, without appearing to think of different names. I am afraid I do not share in the general adulation which is always expressed whenever Sir Giles Gilbert Scott is mentioned. I am not attacking him in any way—he is obviously an eminent architect—but I do not happen to share the general admiration for all his work. Incidentally, I think it was his grandfather who was responsible for ruining and desecrating more of our medieval Gothic cathedrals and churches than any other man in the 19th century. I do feel that some other architect, perhaps some young architect like those of the M.A.R.S. Group, should have the opportunity to submit, at any rate, tentative plans for re-designing this building. I can see the difficulty of fitting in a functional modern building into a pseudo-Gothic framework; it would have been a great blessing if, except for Westminster Hall, the whole of the Palace of Westminster had been destroyed by German bombs. As things are, I still feel that some other architect, some younger man, might have been consulted as well, and, had I not been called at such an early stage in the Debate, I should probably have been speaking in support of the Amendment on the Order Paper. I do not think this is really contradictory to what I said before about the necessity for expediting the matter.
If a public competition were to be held, would that not increase, by a great many months, if not years, the time needed for a decision to be reached?
That is why I said, in introducing this point, that, although it may appear to be self-contradictory, I do not think it is so really. It is the time of building that I want reduced; I hope the Minister will be able to say something about the actual time spent in the rebuilding, once it starts, which is going to take six years, according to the Report. To sum up in one sentence the points which appear to my hon. and gallant Friend to be contradictory: First, make sure you have got the right architect and the right plan, and then go ahead with rebuilding as rapidly as you can.
I did not mean to intervene in this Debate, but it is one of great importance, and, however incomplete one's views, I think it is one's duty to express them. My hon. Friend who has just sat down has criticised the architect chosen. I think that, as an individual, he is quite entitled to hold those views, but Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, as my hon. Friend said himself, is, admittedly, a very eminent architect, and, if the rebuilding were thrown open to competition, you would have had the same difficulties of hon. Members preferring one architect to another, and who is to be the judge between the claims of these various architects? I think the Committee has no doubt applied its mind to the whole problem, and I do not think the House as a whole will think that they have not made a perfectly good choice.The Prime Minister said that this is not a private matter, and neither is it. It is a very important matter, and those of us who speak here to-day should be conscious that we are not merely thinking of a Chamber for the present Members of the House but of a Chamber which may be required for successive generations of Parliamentarians. It is very important that we should get the best and most suitable building which will enable Members to give the greatest service to their constituents and the country. We all feel that the Committee, in view of its terms of reference, has done an excellent job. I personally humbly and respectfully agree broadly with the decisions to which they have come with regard to the Gothic character of the building, the seating accommodation, and so on. I know that we could make a strong point that the present proposed Chamber will not be large enough to hold all the Members who may want to be present, but I think that we have to balance advantages and disadvantages. There is no doubt that an empty Chamber is very bad from every point of view. In a crowded Chamber you get a tensity of feeling which you never can get in an empty Chamber, and I am not at all sure that if a few Members have to stand it is not a good thing. I believe that the increase in the reputation of another place in the last few years is due to the fact that for the first time they are conducting their business in a small, compact Chamber. This Chamber was much too large for the number of Peers who attended, and you did not get the same results as you now get in the much smaller Chamber. On that point I specially agree with the recommendations of the Committee. But, like many other Members to-day, I think that the terms of reference have been much too narrow. Another Committee has been set up but we must be very careful that the decision of one Committee will not entirely cramp the decision of the other Committee. If we go ahead on the present proposals of this Committee, it may stultify anything that the other Committee may want to do. I suggest most seriously that there should be greater unity between the two Committees so that no steps could be taken by one Committee which might interfere with what the other Committee might want to do. I support much that has been so well said by my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) and my hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick) and many other Members about the duties of a Member of Parliament. His duties in the Chamber are paramount, but almost as important are the duties he renders to constituents and correspondents and those who come to see him. It is impossible for any Member of Parliament to do justice to anyone who comes to see him when often we have to see them in a draughty corridor. One must have some suitable place in which to receive visitors and refer to correspondence and papers. There must be somewhere where you can talk to them privately without interruption. I realise the difficulties that we are in. Personally I do not approve of the idea, but it may be that some day Parliament in its wisdom or otherwise will see to it that each Member has a secretary provided at the expense of the country. That happens in some other countries but it would be impossible here unless there was accommodation provided for the secretary. The majority of Members received thousands of letters every year from their constituents alone and I believe that their attendance in the Chamber is affected very much because many Members have to go a considerable distance to see their secretaries and to dictate their letters and later in the day to sign them. If facilities were made available nearer the Chamber, it would do a great deal to strengthen the attendance in the House and to increase the interest in the Chamber. I hope the Government will give careful consideration to the matter and that nothing will be done which will prevent this Joint Committee bringing forward proposals to increase the facilities necessary to enable Members to perform their duties more efficiently.
I would like to associate myself with the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood). Since the other House was bombed and we came into this Chamber, Members have time and again been told that the House of Commons has been doing some of the finest work in the whole of its history. The Prime Minister has said that during the past four years, through all the period of terrible crises, this House has been able to do some of the finest work that it has ever done in all its history. If that is the case, why should there be any necessity for taking away men and material from the urgent first priority of providing homes for the people? Actually the House has been functioning in a serious situation which has existed all during the time we have been here. It has done its job very well, according to the Prime Minister. It may be—I would not be surprised—that part of the cause of the success with which we have done our work is due to the different colour scheme here. The place that we were in before was so drab and different from the place we are now in and the significance of the red benches seems to have an effect on people, even shell-backed Tories. Surely, nobody can get up and say that there is need for priority for the new building, as against the priority for the building of much-needed houses for the people. The need for a new House in which to do our job has not the importance of the need of houses so that the people can do their jobs, and every bit of material and labour should be devoted to that purpose.With regard to the recommendations and the work of the Committee, I agree that they have done a good job, and when we have the material and labour available to spare after the urgent first priority, I hope that they will get on with the job. The Prime Minister is all for an oblong Chamber, which has its advantages, especially for some of the Members oppo- site who are continually interrupting. I have seen the circular Chamber in other places, and one can imagine the difficulty in which some of these fellows would be in sitting in a circular Chamber behind the other fellow's back. There would be little chance to interrupt. The Prime Minister is fond of the oblong Chamber. He likes it when things are going his way, of course, but he did not like it altogether this morning. That was quite obvious. As a matter of fact, it was a good thing for the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) that there was a table between the Prime Minister and himself.
What has this to do with it?
The Noble Lord might have been among the casualties. I admit the opportunity for interjection and for direct attack on one's opponents, but when this House is full, when the benches opposite are full, what an agony it is to sit on this side, and look across on the other side and see the exhibits that are there. You have no idea what a feeling it gives of something being radically wrong with the people of this country.
Go to Russia.
There is a true Tussaudian example. I agree with what has been said about the design of the Chamber, but I do not agree with all the comments made about the necessity for separate rooms for Members. That is all nonsense. I am certain that the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs and the hon. Member for Leigh, and one or two of the lads here, myself included, get more visitors and deputations—I have had at least five deputations this week—than anybody. I do not have the trouble that some hon. Members seem to experience in not being able to meet deputations and to look at documents, etc. I have a mass of visitors who come with all kinds of complicated questions, but I have not to take them to a separate room in order to discuss various questions. There are any amount of opportunities for talking to them, and if they are visitors in whom you are particularly interested, what better opportunity can there be than to take them to the cafeteria and chat over a cup of teal Some hon. Members should try it and treat their visitors the way they should be treated, and then I do not think that they would find any difficulty.It may be that there should be a few rooms arranged where groups of Members could meet, but I do not think that there is any need for all this talk about separate rooms. But the important thing is to recognise the first priority in this country, apart from the war, and that is, that every man and every bit of material should be made available for the building of houses for the people so that they may have health and the opportunity of doing the work that lies before them. We can carry on in this place, as we have been carrying on, doing the work that lies before us.
I would say to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) that we can understand the affinity he feels for these benches. He is obviously attracted by the colour of them and is attracted to them by the great associations of this noble House in which we sit now. I have noticed that during the last few years the hon. Gentleman has got more violent and excitable and I have put it down to the colour of the bench upon which he sits. Therefore, if my diagnosis of his condition is correct, it follows from that, that the sooner we return to the more sobering benches of the other Chamber, the sooner we shall get on with the work and the better for him and us. Hon. Members have asked the Minister to do what he can to give us extra accommodation in which to do our work. It is very difficult at the present time. I sometimes hope that while he will do everything he can to add to the comfort of hon. Members he will increase the discomfort of constituents who visit us. We do not necessarily want to add to the number who come to see us on deputations and that kind of thing.The hon. Member for West Fife objected to the rebuilding of the House of Commons until every one of the people's houses has been either repaired or rebuilt and I find myself in disagreement with him. I have every sympathy, of course, with the cause that he pleads. We must rehouse the people as quickly as we can but, as I see it, there will be two or three different types of rehousing going on concurrently: we shall be rehousing the people, there will be the building of schools and churches, and there will probably be the building of cinemas. All I ask of the Minister is that in that second category of buildings, the rebuilding of the House of Commons should be given the highest priority. After all, it is the centre of an Empire, and our public is a world public, not only the public of this country. On every ground, therefore, I think that we should rebuild our Chamber quickly and make it the centre of activity of an Empire and worthy of the admiration of people outside.
The Debate to-day has ranged over a considerable number of subjects, some of them strictly germane to the subject which is the basis of discussion; some, if I may venture to say so, going a little wide of the mark into matters which, no doubt, are relevant but are somewhat outside the immediate purview of the Report of the Rebuilding Committee. From the point of view of the Committee, we were, of course, limited by the terms of our remit, but I should not wish to shelter myself behind that in claiming that the proposals we have made are such that the House of Commons should accept them. Apart from the somewhat wide proposals of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne), which I was not able to be present to hear entirely but I understand that he suggested we should build the Chamber of the House of Commons somewhere out in the Victoria Gardens—
The House of Lords.
I beg your pardon, the House of Lords somewhere out in the Victoria Gardens, and that we should continue to sit here and use the site of the old House of Commons Chamber, for offices and amenities of various kinds, I should have thought it must be evident to everyone that the House of Commons Chamber should be situated on the site of the burned-out Chamber. Then if there are to he amenities, whether they be for the personal convenience or the business convenience of hon. Members, they would naturally be elsewhere—either in the existing Palace of Westminster or, if that is inadequate, in some annexe beyond.Among the proposals for those amenities, hon. Members have suggested that every Member of Parliament should have a separate room. That is a very large proposal which, quite obviously, could not find its place within the existing Palace of Westminster. There would have to be an annexe if that were the suggestion. Still more is that the case if the proposals of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) were to find favour, which, if I understood him aright, were that in addition to providing rooms for business matters within the Houses of Parliament, a dormitory of some kind—I suppose some hostel or hotel—should be attached to the House of Commons where every provincial Member should be able to have, presumably, bed and breakfast. Whether that be desirable or not, it is not for me to say. What I do say is this, that surely it is open to this House to come to a decision with regard to the Chamber in which to conduct its business, independently of those maybe important but, certainly for this purpose, extraneous suggestions. I should point out to hon. Members, however, that within the terms of our remit we have gone some way to do what hon. Members want. In the first place, to advance the amenities of the House generally, we have proposed that above the Chamber there shall be rooms for the clerks of the House, thereby creating for the effective carrying on of the day-to-day business of the House more room than was available in the old building and, I imagine, also setting free some of the accommodation which the clerks occupied—though on that I would not be quite sure—in the old premises. Underneath, in the sub-basement of the Chamber, we have proposed that there shall be rooms for hon. Members to meet their secretaries to an extent that did not exist before. Some fun has been poked at those rooms as "cubicles" which will be too small for practical purposes, but that is a matter which no doubt the House can consider in detail. That we have, within the limits of our remit, gone as far as we could to provide the business amenities, cannot possibly be disputed, I think. If hon. Members want more amenities, they must go to the Palace of Westminster (Accommodation) Committee to see whether they can be found within the existing building and, if that is inadequate, they must go beyond this building and seek to have an annexe built where these additional facilities can be provided. I would like to say a word with regard to the remarks that have fallen from my hon. Friends the Members for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), and for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). We all agree that the provision of working-class houses, and houses generally, for the citizens of this country is of paramount importance, but I do not think it is possible to maintain that that is the only building which will have to go on after the war. The population does not want houses only; it will want work, it will want all kinds of things done in order to get full employment. Therefore, some of the building labour will have to be devoted to factories and other works which will enable full employment and a balanced trade and enterprise and manufacture of this country to be carried on. Do the hon. Members who object to our proposals really suggest that this Mother of Parliaments has to wait until all these requirements have been satisfied—five, ten or perhaps 15 years—before it can be accommodated adequately?
If, when I have finished, I have not answered the hon. Gentleman's point, I will gladly give way. I understood that all those Members in turn said that we were perfectly well accommodated here, that we have all the amenities we require here, and that it is only some fancy convenience of Members that makes them want to go back into the old Chamber. Is that really the case? These premises have considerable advantages over what used to be called "the annexe," but this place is really terribly inconvenient. It is inconvenient to Members because it is a very long way from the rooms for writing or reading; it is terribly inconvenient to Ministers, who cannot go quickly to their own rooms; above all that, it is terribly inconvenient to the Press and to the visitors who come to this House. It may be that during the war, in the circumscribed circumstances of our present existence, we can get along with those limitations, but when we go back to the full life of Parliament, I think those limitations will be a very serious handicap upon the proper carrying out of our work. Let me give the hon. Member for Leigh just one illustration. I would like him to compare the amount of time it takes to have a Division in this Chamber, with what it took in the old Chamber. I think it takes at least 50 per cent. longer, and I am not sure that it is not nearly double the time. That is a great waste of the nation's time, and to suggest that that is not important to the people of the country, added to all those other circumstances to which I have referred, is really to misrepresent the facts.The hon. Member for Leigh said it was not only what the facts are but how they appear to the people of this country. Since I have been in this House I have always refused to allow some psychological view of my constituents to overweigh what, in my carefully considered judgment, was the real, serious, and proper situation. I would consider it a defect in myself if, being satisfied that. I have done the right thing or recommended the right thing to the nation, I could not explain that to my constituents. I refuse altogether to allow my constituents, who do not always know the exact facts, to dictate to me a course of action which I think deleterious because I am so afraid that they will misunderstand the situation. I am perfectly prepared to go to my constituents and say that it is of importance to the well-being of the nation and to the satisfactory carrying-out of the requirements of the nation that we should have a proper place in which to meet. As far as possible, we should have the right business amenities and that, in my opinion, does not interfere with but promotes the efficient housing of the people.
I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) is right from his point of view, but I think he has misconstrued what I intended to convey to the House. My idea was that, for the time being at least, all labour and material ought to be devoted to the pressing need for houses on the ground that we are not badly situated here. It could be improved, I agree, but you have to take comparisons in life and the comparison I want to make is this: there is really no comparison between the present shortage of houses and our fairly comfortable position here. When we have done something towards the housing of the people then I agree that all the accommodation that can be given should be given to us.
I do not think I misrepresented my hon. Friend at all and I certainly had no wish to do so. However, I take exception to his words "our comfortable position." I do not think our position in the other Chamber was any more comfortable; we are just as comfortable on these benches. What I am concerned with is the efficient carrying out of the duties which the country expects us to carry through. I maintain that our duties, not only now but at a time when we revert to party warfare, will not be carried out as well if we remain here. There will be waste of the nation's money, waste of the nation's time, and inferior representation of the views of our constituents. For the insignificant difference it could possibly make to the housing of the people, I think that is of paramount importance. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to take a different point of view, but that is the view I am putting before the House.Just one word about the Press. I think it is of supreme importance that our deliberations here should be reported properly in the Press. It was one of the representations made to us by the Press, and by the Empire and foreign Press in particular, that even the amenities that existed in the old Chamber were utterly inadequate. Undoubtedly the opportunities for the Press in this Chamber are far worse than they were in the old Chamber. Believing as I do that it is important that our proceedings should be properly reported at length, I would remind my hon. Friend that they are not being reported at the present time at length because the papers themselves are very much smaller, but if we are to revert to full reports of Parliamentary proceedings, and those are to be published not only in our own country but all over the world—and we were informed, and I think it is true, that after this war the interest in what is done by the Mother of Parliaments will be far greater than it ever was before all over the world—then I think it is of supreme importance that we should provide the Press, first, with adequate space in which a sufficient number of reporters can come and listen to our Debates and, secondly, such amenities and opportunities for telegraphing and telephoning to the outside world as would enable them to carry out their work. That is an illustration of what I desire. It does not necessarily add to the comfort of the Press to have proper space and opportunity, but it does add to the efficiency of their work, and I should have thought that my hon. Friend would have known that the safeguard of democracy is proper opportunity for the Press to know what is going on, and that he would have realised that the interests of the people of this country, even their housing interests, are much better safeguarded when the Press have a full opportunity.
Supposing the right hon. Gentleman had nothing but a room and a kitchen, a sub-let, in which to rear a family, and he was driven out, supposing he had no home, would he put forward the point of view that he is putting forward now? Supposing the right hon. Gentleman had lost his right arm in defending his native land and had no home to come back to, would he still say what he is saying now?
Yes, and for this reason. The hon. Member must have a sense of proportion.
It is easy for the right hon. Gentleman to say, "Have a sense of proportion," when he is well fed, well clothed and housed.
I gave way to the hon. Member, and he must listen to my reply. I say, he must have a sense of proportion. It is essential that the grievance of a man who has only a kitchen to live in, or perhaps no home at all, should be fully represented in this House, and that it should be blazoned abroad in the Press. I say that to give up a tiny fraction of 1 per cent. of the possibility of building houses, in order to get proper representation of that man's grievance in this House and in the country—to deny that that should be done—seems to be a quite mistaken view of the situation.
Supposing that grievance was blazoned forth in this House and in the country, and the House decided that because a certain amount of building labour and material was available we would use it for ourselves, what effect would that have in the country?
I cannot pursue the matter further. All hon. Members, except one or two, understand my point of view, and I do not propose to labour it any more. I want to add to what I was saying just now that it is part of the democratic rights of this country that people should be able to be present in the House of Commons. Everybody knows that the accommodation for visitors in this Chamber is exceedingly minute. The proposals we are making in our Report will, if they are adopted, add considerably to the opportunity that persons from all parts of the country will have of coming here to see whether our work is done rightly or wrongly.There were one or two minor points that were dealt with in the course of the Debate so far, which were more or less in the nature of "red herrings." The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) wanted to settle something about the question of the bar in the House. That is quite a minor matter. The hon. and gallant Member for West Leeds (Major Adams) was troubled about two clocks. Evidently he had not read the Report, because in it he will find that we carried a resolution on 2nd October that there should be two clocks, as there were in the old Chamber. Now I come to what, after all, are the two major questions which we had to decide. The first was whether the House of Commons should be approximately the same shape, and approximately or absolutely the same size, as the old Chamber. Hon. Members in different parts of the House have suggested that we gave scant consideration to that, or that through a sense of nostalgia we went back to the idea of the old Chamber and that we dismissed that matter, as one which need not attract our attention. That is very far from the truth. We gave up a great deal of time and heard a great many witnesses on that very point. Members who have the smaller volume of our Report, which contains the evidence, will see what a great deal of evidence we took on that question. We did not come to our conclusions without the greatest thought and care, and, it should be remarked, without some division of opinion. I, as will be seen, voted with the majority on the main question of the additional width of the Chamber. I think the House ought to be put in knowledge of what were the considerations that affected me in coming to that conclusion. I came to them after a great deal of thought and for a long time I was balanced in my view on that point. In fact, at one time I rather thought that I would come to the opposite decision. If you were going to alter the size of the Chamber you would have broadly, partly for acoustic reasons, to keep the new Chamber more or less the same shape as the old Chamber. You could not have it very much longer in proportion to its width, and if you were to increase it substantially in width you would have to increase it somewhat in length at the same time, otherwise you would get a House, as the persons interested in acoustics told us, which would be much worse, from the point of view of hearing, than was the old Chamber. You could only increase the size in width by adding at least one row at the back on each side. The effect of that would be to add to the width of the House by something like one-sixth of its existing proportions. If you were going to increase the length at the same time I think you would have to increase it somewhat in height, and I realised that that would increase the cubic contents of the House by nearly 50 per cent. So, the question was whether that would be an advantage or not. The argument for it was quite evident to us, and is evident to large numbers of people who are not Members. You would be able to accommodate perhaps not all the Members but a much greater proportion, and a sufficiently large number for practical purposes so that every Member who wanted a seat would be able to get one on the Floor of the House. What are the arguments on the other side? First of all, that you would destroy to a large extent the intimate character of the House, and that you would undoubtedly injure the acoustic properties of the House and make it much more doubtful whether speeches, delivered in quiet, gentle tones, would be heard in all parts of the Chamber. But that is not all. Again, I would point out to hon. Members that what they have to decide about is not public opinion but what we need here, on the facts of what we do here. I know it is a common accusation against this House and the Members in it that we do not attend to our duties because on frequent occasions the benches are not filled to overflowing. I invariably explain to my constituents that if there was a Member of Parliament who spent the whole of his time, while the House is in sitting, glued to his seat, he would be one of the most useless Members. We have a vast number of duties which take us outside the Chamber. We have to meet deputations; we have to sit on Committees; we have to have discussions and conferences and make compromises on all kinds of things which, rightly and properly, take us outside this Chamber. We all know that none of us understands all the details of the Business that comes before this House, and we properly agree that those persons who are particularly interested in particular questions should be present when those questions are being discussed, and that we should take our turn when there are questions coming up which are particularly within our province. Therefore, it is not slackness on the part of Members of this House; it is common sense that for a great many hours of a whole Sitting of the House, instead of the House being filled, 50 or 100 or 150 Members shall be the quota which is attending that particular Debate. I would ask Members to picture for themselves what would be the position if, in a Chamber which is very much larger than the old Chamber, which contains one-fifth more seats in width, and probably a few more in length, you have 100 or 150 Members present. You will get a sense of a few people scattered throughout a large public hall. So we came to the conclusion, after carefully weighing all the evidence that was submitted on the other side, that that was not desirable, that it would destroy the character of the House of Commons and its Debates. Having thought it all out carefully we took the decision by a majority, which is that which is contained in the Report. Now I want to refer to one or two smaller points, and I am sorry I have taken so long but I was interrupted several times. Personally, I should have favoured a slight extension in length that would have given seats to some 10 or 20 additional Members of the House, but that was turned down. I do not believe that it is now compatible with the present architectural proposals, and I do not think that to bring it about is a large enough point on which to disagree with the whole architectural scheme. I raised in Committee a point—which was defeated by a majority of one—which is still within the capacity of the Ministry of Works to carry out. It was represented to us that the width of the Table in the present Chamber is convenient for the Clerks, and gives room to do their work. This Table is a little wider than the one in the old Chamber, and a few more inches by increasing slightly what we call the Floor of the House would be a great advantage. I hope that point will be taken into consideration although, in fact, it was defeated in the Committee. I come, finally, to the architectural question. I do not propose to say much on that because it is the subject of a special Amendment, and I claim no architectural knowledge. But it was said by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), and one or two others, that it was a pity that we had not had a competition for architects. I would give the House my reason why we did not. If we were going to build an entirely new building, a whole Palace of Westminster or some great public building of that kind, obviously various styles would be possible, and it would be worth while to have several architects competing and submitting alternative plans for the building. We were not confronted with any such problems. All we had to do was to fill into an existing building, with its existing style of architecture, a Chamber with its immediate appurtenances which would serve the purposes we had in mind, and it was in view of that fact that we came to the conclusion that it was not worth while to go to all the trouble and delay that would be involved in setting several architects to work, and then discarding all their work with the exception of one. What we did was to take the very best advice we could get, select the most distinguished architect whose name was suggested to us, and then, as must inevitably be done in the last resort, give him a free hand to carry out the work in the way he thought best. I am sorry I have taken rather a longer time than I intended, Mr. Speaker, but I wanted to explain the thought that lay behind your Committee in coming to these decisions, and to justify them, as far as I have been able, to the Members of the House.
I do not normally take up more than a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes of the time of this House, but if I am a little longer to-day—I hope not to be—it is merely because the Chairman of the Select Committee has some responsibility in a matter of this kind, and it is necessary to explain one or two points. May I begin by saying that I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend who preceded me for making so clear and explicit one or two points, and perhaps I might also express my complete agreement with what he said. I do not think he need apologise to the House for the length of his speech. It was a valuable contribution to the Debate, and I hope my right hon. Friend will not think me exaggerative if I thank him for the support which he always gave to me, as Chairman of the Select Committee, in endeavouring to reach conclusions which would be satisfactory to this House. There is one other tribute I want to pay, or rather, one other expression of thanks which I wish to give, and that is to the several hon. Gentlemen and, in particular, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green, South-West (Sir Percy Harris), for what they said about my work as Chairman. I can only reciprocate by saying that I can quite honestly state that I did not know that I was a particularly successful Chairman of the Select Committee. It was not a role I would have chosen for myself.There is one thing I would like to make clear. I think my right hon. Friend who preceded me will agree that we endeavoured throughout the proceedings not to try to meet the point of view of any particular person, however distinguished, but to try to meet what were believed to be the needs of the House as a whole, and the wishes of the House as a whole. That we endeavoured most strenuously to do, and if I may be permitted, in the paternal position which I now occupy, a personal statement, I would like to say—and it is in accord with the view I have always held—that it is the duty of this House, and of Members of this House, not to be afraid to kick against the pricks, however formidable these may be on occasion. Indeed, there have been occasions when I differed even from Prime Ministers, when they have been manifestly in the wrong, on a point affecting the rights of the House, and when they lost their tempers and I kept mine. [An HON. MEMBER: "A remarkable achievement."] Not a very remarkable achievement when one sees the tempers of certain Prime Ministers. I turn from that to say a word or two about this question which is of great importance, and with which the Prime Minister dealt in his opening remarks—the question of the re-appointing of this Committee, or, rather, of your Committee, Mr. Speaker. One must, of course, be very careful to be on strictly constitutional grounds. It must not be assumed that I have any right to speak for the new Committee, because I do not know whether I shall be elected Chairman of it. No one has the right to speak for it except as a potential Member of it, and, as the Prime Minister indicated, if all the previous Members are to be re-elected, I shall be one of them. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who took a personal interest in this question, and who studied the proceedings some 100 years ago, or rather more, after the Great Fire, will realise that there was a most unhappy history of dissent and difficulty before the House could be got to agree to the proposals finally adopted. I think I am right in saying that there were five of six Committees, Select or otherwise. At least it may be to the credit of some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, friends of myself, and, indeed, to the credit of the Government, that on this occasion, not only has there been a unanimous Report—of course all Select Committees' Reports must be unanimous—but also one which shows little dissent in the Committee. The Government ask the House, by a Motion, to accept the Report as it stands. That is, obviously, an immence advance on what occurred 105 or 110 years ago, and it would be the greatest pity, as I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister—and if I may say so, I am pleased that he will be in charge of this most important matter; he is well qualified to be in charge—will agree, if we did not avoid the slightest danger of a repetition of what occurred 100 years ago. I am, perhaps, being a little turgid and long in coming to the point, but I think it is necessary that, when the Committee is set up again, there should not be any interference with the general plan. I say this because in some of the speeches there seems to be an assumption that this Committee, when it is set up again, will be able to consider all sorts of questions previously decided by the other Committee. That, Mr. Speaker, with respect, would be contrary to the decision of the House, assuming that the House accepts the Government Motion to-day, and so, therefore, the terms of reference—
I wonder whether I may interrupt the Noble Lord for a moment. I want to be quite clear what the position is. I presume the House does not want to tie up the future and say that when this matter is referred back to the whole Committee—to the same Members—that that Committee cannot possibly even in minor details reconsider any matter which has already been decided.
I am sorry if I should wrongly have given the impression that I have any responsibility in this matter. I have none at all. It is up to the hon. Member to put that question to the Minister. I hope I shall be allowed to put my point of view, through you, Mr. Speaker, to the Minister that it would be a great mistake if we risked, in any way, what happened 100 years ago. Speaking as a Member of this House, and not as a person having any responsibility, the argument I am addressing to the House is that it would be absolutely wrong, and contrary to all constitutional practice, to go back on what has already been decided in the Report, after the House has accepted it. I am only putting my case as a Member of the House.As I have said, I am not the responsible person, and I think these points should be cleared up by the Minister. I have no reason to suppose that the Minister would differ from anything I have said in that connection. I think there should be nothing in the nature of a roving commission. I should like to make that quite clear as regards the responsibility of hon. Members and of myself. I am sure I shall have the support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Bethnal Green and the right hon. Gentleman beside me that we have now done our task and the responsibility rests on the Government; therefore it is not for me as Chairman to defend any decision that has been reached. The Government have accepted the Report, therefore I do not propose to reply, especially as the right hon. Member who spoke last dealt so ably with the complaints which have been made by the hon. Members for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood, (West Fife) (Mr. Gallacher) and Leigh (Mr. Tinker). I would congratulate the hon. Members on so felici- tously using this occasion to make electioneering speeches on housing in general. That is the most back-handed compliment that I can think of, at the moment, to pay them.
I do not require to make electioneering speeches. My election is as sure as that of anyone in the House.
I turn to another matter of great importance, which has not been referred to. I must ask the House to accept my apology in advance for having to put before it a somewhat intricate argument of a very delicate constitutional character. As an old bird at the game of keeping in Order, I realise the need for walking very carefully on the very narrow borderline between what is and what is not in Order. I refer to the recommendation of the Committee in regard to the setting-up of a suggested Committee under your Chairmanship, Sir. The Report is as follows:
After making inquiry in certain important circles I am informed that it would be probably a complete innovation for a Committee of this kind to be presided over by you, Sir, as it might bring you within the ambit of personal controversy. I hope the Committee will be set up with some other Chairman. The reason will become apparent in a few moments. There are two authorities who purport to exercise authority over the Commons House of Parliament, neither of whom is subject to the control of the House. One is the Lord Great Chamberlain, and the other the Serjeant at Arms. In regard to position of the Lord Great Chamberlain I propose to quote some correspondence. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair) as he considered that he had a right to do—I will not say whether I consider that he had the right or not—asked permission to take certain measurements in order that he might fulfil his duties to the Committee. I have here a letter—which perhaps I had better not quote—from the Clerk to the Committee, writing, on behalf of my hon. Friend, to Mr. Meech, who represents the Lord Great Chamberlain, asking for permission for these measurements to be taken. Mr. Meech's reply was as follows:"Appendix 2 provides a Schedule of the seating in the new Chamber as compared with the old and indicates your Committee's tentative suggestions regarding allocation. But throughout their inquiry your Committee encountered questions regarding the allotment of accommodation and seating which they considered to be outside their responsibility to determine except in the most tentative manner and in the form of rough block allocations sufficient for suitable access to the various blocks to be arranged. They were also made aware of certain rather delicate constitutional problems concerning the different authorities exercising jurisdiction within that part of the Palace which is set apart for the Commons during their sittings. Your Committee desire to suggest that a small Select Committee, with perhaps Mr. Speaker as Chairman, might usefully be appointed to investigate these matters."
"22nd February, 1944.
If the Lord Great Chamberlain claims certain powers which would prevent, as it would seem to most people, a Member of a Select Committee investigating a most important subject from obtaining information which he claims that it is necessary he should obtain in order to carry out his work, it would seem, a fortiori, that he must claim certain powers and rights over the Chamber when it is erected. Otherwise the letter would not seem to have any relevance. Later on the prohibition which the Lord Great Chamberlain or his representative purported to have power to exercise was withdrawn. An even more important question is that of the rights of the Serjeant at Arms. In the statement of evidence which the Serjeant at Arms sent, through the Clerk, for the information of the Committee before he gave evidence the following statement occurred:Dear Sir,—I am desired by the Secretary of the Lord Great Chamberlain to say he regrets that he cannot consent to the taking of measurements in the Palace of Westminster."
I am dealing with a purely constitutional point. Nothing that I have said must be taken as a personal attack on the distinguished persons who occupy these offices. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) asked the Serjeant at Arms:"Allocation of rooms in the House of Commons. As the Committee are aware, the Serjeant at Arms has statutory powers under 52 Geo. III C. II (House of Commons (Offices) Act) by which he is appointed Housekeeper of the House of Commons. Further, all rooms in the Palace of Westminster which are prepared far the accommodation of the House of Commons are occupied by the Serjeant at Arms under warrant from the Lord Great Chamberlain. Questions of the allotment of the accommodation provided for this House are referred to the Serjeant at Arms but, as a general principle, I only deal directly with accommodation for permanent and official occupants as distinct from accommodation for Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and Private Secretaries, connected with the Ministries. The rooms set aside for this purpose are handed over en bloc by the Serjeant to the Minister of Works, who re-allots them at his discretion. I have referred to this matter because while, no doubt, suggestions for the allocation of rooms will be made on all sides, and I shall naturally desire to meet the wishes of members as much as I can, a definite allocation of rooms is not within the Committee's province. I have recently referred this matter to the Lord Great Chamberlain and he agrees that the position as I have stated it is the correct one."
The reply of the Serjeant at Arms was:"I would like to be clear as to the frontier of limitation or de-limitation between you and ourselves and the Committee. You are the Housekeeper of the House of Commons, as you have pointed out in your memorandum. You allocate all the rooms in the House and it is only by en bloc delegation to the Ministry of Works that the Ministers get their rooms."
My right hon. Friend then asked:"It is my statutory duty to allocate rooms. I could allocate the whole lot."
I am sorry to have to quote myself, but this is what I then said:"If, as a result of our proposals, either for building on top of the existing roof, or any other proposals, more rooms were provided, it would be your prerogative to allot them. … This Committee could not prescribe or recommend …"
I have ventured since privately to consult a very distinguished jurist, whose name I will not mention, but whose name is a household one in legal circles, and he said that, to the best of his belief, the statement I made was completely in accord. Therefore, I come to my point and would strongly advocate and press most earnestly that this Committee should be set up in order that the House can know exactly where it stands in regard to these matters. It does not seem to me to be right that they should remain in the doubt in which they are now. If the House reaches certain conclusions, it would be open to it (a) to abolish the Act of Parliament under which the Serjeant at Arms purports to act, and (b)—and my legal friend was definite that this would be within the rights of the House and not contrary to practice—to address a humble Petition to His Majesty asking that the powers of the Lord Great Chamberlain should be abated. These powers are not based upon Statute law but upon powers which have existed almost since the Norman Conquest, if not before. As showing that the power of one of these officials is very strong, I will mention a personal instance which occurred to me many years ago. I was editor of a London newspaper now defunct, "The World," which was a society newspaper and also a political newspaper. Its contemporaries, like "Vanity Fair" and "Truth," had Lobby representatives here, and I went to the Serjeant at Arms, who was a personal friend of mine, and asked if I could have representatives in the Gallery and the Lobby. He said, "No," and I asked whether there was any appeal against that. He replied, "None, the matter rests entirely with me." That affects the whole question of the accommodation of the Press. Owing to the fact that the Serjeant at Arms possesses these powers he could exercise them—of course I do not say he would—to discriminate between who should and who should not be given seats in the Press Gallery. This is not a question of persons, but one of principles, and it is a question that should be investigated. Any criticisms directed against the decisions of the Select Committee should be directed to my right hon. Friend the Minister who so competently represents the Government in this House. Any criticisms of what we are asked to decide this afternoon will be criticisms of the policy of the Government and the Prime Minister. The augers have told me that this is not a satisfactory day on which to criticise the Prime Minister, so I will advise my right hon. Friend to be a little cautious. The feathers have fallen in the wrong direction. I hope that neither I nor my hon. Friends will be attacked for anything they have done, because it is for the Government to defend it. The greatest and freest legislative and deliberative assembly in the world should have no qualms about supporting proposals that it should be adequately housed. Only the greenest and meanest intelligence could condemn it for taking that course."I am sorry, but I must interrupt my right hon. Friend here. This requires a ruling from me. I have given some consideration to this point in the Serjeant at Arms' memorandum. Of course, the Committee will appreciate—and I am sure the Serjeant at Arms will—that it is not for him to give a ruling to the Committee as to what its powers are. The position under our terms of reference, as I am informed on high authority, is this, that it would be open to the Committee to make recommendations that rooms should be allocated under the existing system; it would be under the existing system for the Serjeant at Arms to decide whether or not he could accept those recommendations. This Committee has full power to make recommendations. In regard to the particular Act of Parliament to which the Serjeant at Arms has made reference in his memorandum, this Committee would, in my judgment, be within its powers, if it so desired, to make recommendations to the House that that particular Act of Parliament should be repealed. It would also (though I think the situation would not arise) be within its powers to recommend to the House that it made a submission to His Majesty that the powers of the Lord Great Chamberlain be curtailed or altered."
I beg to move, to leave out from "House," to the end of the Question, and to add;
I regard this Debate as one of supreme importance, for we are asked to endorse recommendations for the rebuilding of a new House of Commons Chamber which may well last for several centuries. The decisions that we make now will certainly be judged by future generations, and perhaps they will be severely judged. For that reason, we bear a heavy responsibility to posterity, and for that reason I have felt it my duty to move this Amendment and to express a point of view which will be in some respects critical of the recommendations of the Select Committee. I should like to make it plain at the outset that the criticisms which I and my hon. Friends intend to make are limited in scope, and that they apply to only one aspect, which we think an important aspect, of the Select Committee's recommendations. The Amendment deals only with the question of the style, design and architecture of the new Chamber. I should like to pay my tribute to the work that the Select Committee have carried out. We are making no criticism of their decisions in respect of the size of the Chamber, the additional accommodation provided and the utilisation of the fresh additional space that will become available. All these are right, proper and excellent decisions and no exception can be taken to them. I think it is true that, once these decisions were made, the architect could admittedly only work within certain limitations and directives. But I do not think that any architect would have taken exception to those conditions. I naturally regret to find myself at variance with the views that the Prime Minister has expressed. A humble back bencher is painfully aware that he cannot match the eloquence and persuasiveness of the Prime Minister in putting a case. In particular, we know that this case is very near the heart of the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, in spite of the warnings which have been issued to me by the noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton), there are certain things which I think I must say. I am afraid that the eloquence and persuasiveness of the Prime Minister on a subject like this are in themselves a positive danger. The Prime Minister has never made any secret, from the very outset, of the fact that he has been really anxious to see more or less a replica of the old House of Commons put up at the earliest possible moment. On this question the Prime Minister is, I think, unduly swayed by sentiment. That may be very natural, but sentiment is a very bad guide on a question of æsthetics. There is another consideration. The Prime Minister belongs to the older age-group of Members of this House and I have observed that as people grow older their ideas and tastes in matters of æsthetics tend to become more petrified in this than in any other direction. I am going to say nothing that is disrespectful to the architect who has been selected. He is a very eminent architect and he has carried out a great deal of very distinguished work. I am not suggesting that the design that he has submitted and the proposals he has put forward might not be found to be the best solution of a problem that it must be admitted is enormously difficult. But Sir Giles Gilbert Scott is not a young architect. That, at least, must be said. With the responsibility that we bear to posterity in this matter, we should not lightly accept designs put forward by one architect without considering any alternative. We shall be making a very grave error in taking that course. I suggest that we have been presented with a supreme opportunity where younger men should and could have been given a chance. I feel sure that had they been given a chance there would have been a very ready response. I am not suggesting that an open competition might necessarily have been the best course. I quite see that there can be objections to taking such a course. But if the Royal Fine Art Commission had been consulted in good time there should have been no difficulty in selecting a small number of architects, including younger men, whose work would have been well worthy of consideration. The most unconvincing and unsatisfactory section of the Report of the Select Committee is that in which they give their reasons for rejecting that course. I remain entirely unconvinced by the reasons which were given in the House this afternoon by the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence). We are told that there is the time factor, that there really is not sufficient time. But we are also informed in the Report of the Select Committee that, whatever happens, and even if we endorse these recommendations to-day and put them into effect, the rebuilding of the House of Commons, after the plans have gone through, will take anything up to six or seven years. Is it seriously suggested in this House that a delay of six months or of 12 months would make very much difference? I must say something about the position of the Royal Fine Art Commission. It seems extraordinary that so little use has been made of its services. After all, comparatively few Members of this House are sufficiently well equipped to make decisions and judgments on aesthetic questions, but the Royal Fine Art Commission contains men with eminent qualifications. The President of the Commission is a man of great taste and knowledge who was a Member of this House for many years. Why was the advice of the Royal Fine Art Commission not taken, apparently, until the Committee had been sitting for very nearly nine months? It seems extraordinary that they should not have been approached at the very outset and asked to give their general direction and advice. When they were asked for their advice they gave very tepid approval as it seems to me on reading their report, on the plans that were submitted. I should be very surprised if the Royal Fine Art Commission as a whole did not endorse many of the views that I am expressing this afternoon. The case for accepting the recommendations of the Select Committee in respect of the design and architecture rests chiefly upon the arguments that were put forward by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in his report, which is incorporated in page 8 of the Report of the Select Committee, and to which the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson) has already referred in his speech. Therefore I must make some comment upon those arguments. I wish to avoid entering into a lengthy discussion of aesthetics and of architectural history, but much of what Sir Giles Gilbert Scott has said is quite true, and nobody would deny it. I fully admit the difficulty of incorporating any modern style of architecture into these Gothic surroundings, but I do not think it would have been quite impossible. I do not think one should reject it out of hand. I believe my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester agreed with this view this morning. On the question of architectural design and the dearth of a style characteristic of our times, there is room for difference of opinion. I do not think for a minute that the conclusions of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott would be accepted by everybody or endorsed by all the members of the architectural profession; I am sure that they would not. I suggest that the view he has expressed is really 20 years out-of-date. I believe, on the contrary, that there is to-day a new and very definite modern tradition which has been growing rapidly and with vigour during the last 25 years, a tradition that takes its spirit and its inspiration from the great far-reachng changes that are taking place around us in human existence."while accepting the Select Committee's recommendations in respect of the dimensions, general plan and increased amenities of the new House of Commons Chamber, cannot approve the Gothic architectural design submitted by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott until alternative designs have been invited from other leading British architects and considered by the Royal Fine Art Commission."
Steel and concrete.
I will come to that point later. It is a tradition that is inspired by scientific development and the speed of the modern world. Every tradition must have had its beginning although there may be no clearly defined lines which can be drawn, dating the beginning or the end. It certainly would be a most profound mistake to suppose that periods of turbulence, upheaval, instability and war, such as the period in which we are living, are unproductive of great creative art. No reading of history could support such a view.Indeed, Ruskin held that the very opposite was the case, and that the two were, in fact, inseparable. It is of significance that the complacent tranquillity and prosperity of the 19th century corresponded with the architectural decay and loss of tradition to which the architect refers in his report. I believe, on the contrary, that there is a great ferment at work to-day not only in architecture but in all the arts. It is not necessary to admire all modern work. A great deal is, of course, experimental, but I believe that there has already emerged a new tradition, a robust and classical tradition that takes its inspiration from the spirit of this age. And I believe that that tradition is not after all entirely new. I believe it owes something at least to the conception that was expressed by Plato, when he said:
I think there is something of that conception at the heart of all the best work that is being done to-day. I am no revolutionary in these matters. I am not for a moment suggesting that the new Chamber should be entirely made of ferro-concrete, chromium plate and huge expanses of glass. I fully admit that some compromise would be necessary. I admit there are very great difficulties in arriving at a satisfactory solution, though I do not at all admit that any building must necessarily be all of one style in order to present a pleasing whole. I have always understood, for instance, that the ancient Palace of Westminster that existed before the fire of 1834 was a jumble of different styles and periods. We know there was incorporated in it a House of Commons Chamber of simple classical design, dating, I believe, from the 17th century. Will anyone seriously say that the ancient Palace of Westminster was for those reasons less attractive than the present building? It was merely different. In conclusion, I must say this: The old Chamber that was destroyed in 1941 had at least one very definite merit. It was at least expressive of something. That seems to me better than being purely negative. It was expressive and symbolical of the self-confident, opulent, tasteless years of the mid-19th century. The old Chamber was at least remarkable by its very robustness, its exuberance and its vulgarity. I think it probably had a most regrettable influence elsewhere; it was copied and exported to other parts of the world. It made itself felt. It provided, it is true, a setting for many great Parliamentarians, but it did not make them, nor did it really influence them. Fox, Burke, Sheridan, Pitt and others played their part and delivered their great oratory, and raised the reputation of this House to a point that has never been excelled in quite different surroundings. This Chamber which we have been offered will be third-hand Gothic in good taste. It will be a prim, anæmic edition of the old Chamber. Will it have any influence anywhere else in the world? Will it ever be said by future generations that it was symbolic and expressive of our times? Even if, finally, no better solution than the present one can be reached, and even if we cannot approve any alternative, I say that to accept this design without any further consideration, without at least inviting other architects to submit their ideas, is to take the easy and defeatist course; it is to accept and admit that we are bankrupt of imagination, æsthetically dead, indifferent to the arts and indifferent to the claims of younger men."When I say beauty of form … I mean the straight line and the circle and the plane and the solid figures formed from these by turning lathes and rulers and patterns of angles—for I assert that the beauty of these things is not relative, like that of other things, but that they are always absolutely beautiful."
I beg to second the Amendment.Like other hon. Members I think we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Select Committee for the care and skill with which they have dealt with the questions of shape, size and accommodation for Members, Press and visitors. I have no criticism to offer on those points. But I think the Committee was less careful, or at any rate less happy, in the attention they gave to the architectural design, and I have three criticisms to make of their Report. First, I think it is regrettable that they did not consult the Royal Fine Art Commission earlier, instead of leaving it until the very end of their proceedings, after a Gothic design had been decided on, and after Sir Giles Scott and completed his design. Secondly, I think it was wrong for the Committee to take it for granted that the new Chamber must be Gothic. Thirdly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shrews- bury (Mr. Duckworth) said, I think it would have been much better if the Committee had invited competitive designs. On the first point, I regret that the Royal Fine Art Commission were not consulted at a much earlier stage. The Select Committee say in Paragraph 19 of their Report that they wished to fortify any recommendation they might make by the opinion of the Royal Fine Art Commission. I suggest that that was the wrong approach. The Royal Fine Art Commission are there to advise and to guide if they are asked. They do not exist merely to be presented with a cut-and-dried design for their approval or disapproval. Incidentally, I understand that they were given a very short time in which to give their opinion. If they had been consulted earlier they could have given a valuable opinion on the questions of compulsory Gothic and of a competition. Is it really necessary for the new Chamber to be Gothic? If a Norman cathedral, built in the f11th or 12th century, suffered damage in the 13th or 14th century, as for instance the Cathedral at Ely suffered the loss of its choir, did men say "We must rebuild this part in the same style; we will rebuild it as a Norman choir"? Not at all. They said, "We will build it in our contemporary style"—whether that was Early English, Decorated or Perpendicular. There is hardly a cathedral in England which is of uniform design. I think Salisbury is the only exception. Men in those days had convictions.
Moreover, the case for considering a contemporary style when rebuilding the House of Commons is even stronger than it was when rebuilding the choir of Ely Cathedral, because the new House of Commons will be practically invisible from any other part of the building. Therefore no question of harmony can arise, and it is a complete fallacy to suggest that for the sake of harmony the new Chamber must be Gothic. That is my answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), who gave that as his reason for not having a competition. Sir Giles himself gives his own reasons why the new Chamber must be Gothic. He says that there is no living traditional architectural style characteristic of our time. He asserts that modern architecture is primarily negative and lacks depth and quality. He also uses the argument I have already answered, that the new Chamber must be Gothic because it is only a small part of an existing building. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury, I do not agree with Sir Giles's sweeping condemnation of contemporary architecture. I am quite certain that there are many good architects, far better judges than I, who do not accept the conclusions of Sir Giles Scott, and who find his design lifeless and dull, as one would expect a design which is a copy of a copy to be. One of these architects wrote the other day, in the "Architects' Journal":Built his great heart into those sculptured stones."
I regret that the Select Committee did not go more deeply into this matter, and did not consult the Fine Art Commission on the question whether the new Chamber must be Gothic. I think they were unnecessarily defeatist about modern architecture, and that exponents of modern architecture ought to have been given a chance to show what they could do. It is not surprising that the approval of the Fine Art Commission was somewhat lukewarm. They say:
- "Away with twice two hundred years,
- With train and car and aeroplane!
- Four centuries have been in vain,
- The family motto re-appears,
- Return to the historic!
- So off with spats and on with spurs,
- For come what may, we'll be, good sirs,
- In keeping with the Gothic."
No one could call that enthusiastic or absolute approval. Note the words, "working within the limits imposed." Why should those limits have been imposed?"Working within the limits imposed, the architect has overcome the difficulties and provided a dignified and satisfactory solution."
They were imposed by the House of Commons, by Resolution.
I cannot agree that the House of Commons ever imposed any limits on design. Reading between the lines, I think that the Royal Fine Art Commission disapproved of the Committee's insistence on a Gothic style. If hon. Members have read the evidence, they can see that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair) wrote a memorandum protesting against the perpetuation of this late Gothic, or what he called "Pugin-Gothic," or what the few Victorians who disapproved of the old House called "Carpenter's Gothic." Unfortunately, his was a voice in the wilderness.
I think my hon. Friend is a little confused in his reading of the evidence. That memorandum was written before we had an architect at all. It was sent to my colleagues on the Committee, to suggest that we should not perpetuate the Pugin-Gothic in detail.
I accept that correction. I am sorry if I misread the memorandum. I wish our old friend Professor Hannah had survived to support me, as he urged this view very strongly when the matter was discussed in October, 1943.Lastly, I regret—and here I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk will contradict me—that my hon. Friend's advocacy of a competition was not successful. On the question of a competition, the Select Committee took the evidence of Lord Portal, who modestly, and I think rightly, disclaimed any title to give an authoritative opinion on the matter. What a pity that the Fine Art Commission and also the R.I.B.A. were not asked to give their view. So far as I can make out, the Committee's consultation with the R.I.B.A. was limited to asking them to give the names of three architects. The Committee themselves gave three reasons for not having a competition. The first was the need for speed. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury has dealt with that. The few extra weeks or months required for the competition could surely have been spared. As several hon. Members have said, we are reasonably comfortable here, and the Peers are reasonably comfortable in another place. The second reason given by the Committee was that the terms of reference ruled out a Chamber of wholly novel character. But, surely, that fact made it easier to have a competition. The narrower the field of divergence—the more the competitors were tied down on the size and shape and seating accommodation of the new Chamber—the easier it would have been to judge between the competitors. I assert that there was nothing in the terms of reference to prevent a competition. The last reason given by the Committee for not having a competition was that a competition would have involved them in the invidious task of deciding between architects of great distinction. What an extraordinary reason to give! Either that is an abdication of the Committee's responsibility or it is a confession that they did not feel competent to pass judgment on the design. What was the Committee there for except to undertake this duty, and why should they have been unwilling to undertake it when they had available the help of the Royal Fine Art Commission? After all, Sir Giles Scott made his great name as the successful competitor for the design of Liverpool Cathedral, and he could not, and would not, I am sure, have objected to a competition. Like the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), I think it is a thousand pities that there was no competition. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury that we owe a debt to posterity in this matter, and I think we should be betraying posterity if we approved this Report. I beg the House not to approve this Report, and I want to ask my right hon. Friend who is going to reply whether, as I assume, the Government will leave it to a free vote of this House.
The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) referred to a memorandum which I submitted to the other Members of the Select Committee. It might perhaps help the House to know that in approaching this problem originally, I had views very similar to those of the two hon. Members who have spoken on this Amendment. It seemed to me that here was an opportunity for a new approach to the architectural treatment of the interior of the House of Commons. It was the evidence given during the sittings of the Committee, and in particular the evidence given by the architect whom we finally selected, which convinced me that we had in fact selected that design for the House of Commons which was most likely to commend itself to the majority of Members of this House.After all, we had to decide what we were trying to do. We were not trying to build the Taj Mahal. We were trying to re-create, within the limited framework prescribed by the terms of reference—which, I admit, were very limited and which I opposed when they came before the House—a new House of Commons, and we had to decide what sort of House of Commons we were trying to re-create.
Did I understand my hon. Friend to say that Sir Giles Scott gave evidence to the Committee? There is no record of that.
When I referred to Sir Giles Scott giving evidence, I meant that it is a fact that, once he had been selected as the most suitable architect, he attended meetings of the Committee, and we had an opportunity, therefore, of assessing his mind upon these matters, and of asking him questions about the plans which he laid before the Committee. This may not have been evidence, in the sense of witnesses being called, but, once the architect had been selected, he worked in close collaboration with the Committee and the Committee were therefore entitled to ask him to elaborate the plans he laid before them. I think that other members of the Committee had views rather similar to those of the mover and seconder of the Amendment, but we were very favourably impressed by the whole approach of Sir Giles Scott to this problem. Here was no atrophied mind trying to impose upon us a replica of the old Chamber. We had been sincerely alarmed, at the outset of the proceedings of the Committee, by what some of us regarded as an attempt on the part of the Ministry of Works, in submitting plans which we considered, to reproduce exactly the details of the design which appeared in the old House of Commons, and we cross-questioned the Minister of Works, as will appear in the evidence, to know whether this implied any attempt to force us to have exactly the original design of the old Chamber. It became apparent that that was not the Minister's intention at all. These were merely plans got out to help the Committee in their approach to the problem.When we came to the question of selecting the architect, there was, I think, a good deal to be said for holding a competition, and it was moved, in the proceedings of the Committee, that more than one architect should be asked to submit plans. Against that, the arguments were used that, in building merely the Chamber of the old House of Commons, we were not calling upon an architect to carry out a large architectural conception, and that it would be difficult to get the leading architects to agree to enter a competition merely for the interior design in the rebuilding of the old House. I think that was a legitimate point of view. It would have meant, very probably, that we should have had to accept plans from a number of architects other than those of the first rank, who were engaged on other and very important work. Therefore, it might be desirable that the field should be limited to two or three architects, but that decision was not taken by the Committee. The Committee decided otherwise and time has moved on. If the House were to decide, at this stage, that the whole thing shall be thrown open to competition, it would mean a great delay and would postpone, for at least another year, the final date when we should get into the new House of Commons. I do not know whether any hon. Member's have thought in terms of the date when this new House will be ready. At the best, upon the evidence before us, we shall not get into the House until after the Summer Recess of 1951. If plans are not approved at this stage, and progress is not made with them at once, it will mean a further delay. It is already apparent that the next Parliament will not sit in the rebuilt Chamber, and, if much more delay takes place at this stage and the whole thing is thrown open to competition, it is very doubtful whether the Parliament after that, would sit in it either.
Is not my hon. Friend making rather heavy weather of this question to-day. We are proposing to put up a building to last for hundreds of years. If there is a delay of a year, does that matter?
That is a matter of opinion. It was not the opinion of the Prime Minister when he proposed the Select Committee in the first place. He regarded it as a matter of importance that we should get back to our own Chamber, and I am disappointed that the architect considers that it will be a matter of five or six years before we get into the building. I believe that the majority of the House feel that the work should begin at the earliest opportunity, so that we may get possession of the new building.I should like to draw attention to the differences between the design of Sir Giles Scott and the old Chamber, because they are very considerable. In the old Chamber, we have pairs of narrow, ecclesiastical windows with stained glass. In Sir Giles Scott's plans, these have been replaced by a set of wide, leaded-light windows with large Henry VIII style arches, which are a very different conception to the narrow perpendicular Gothic in the old design. The old tracery of the screen which used to conceal the Ladies' Gallery has given way to a fresh treatment in stone, and the architect has provided in his design for bands of colour which will, I believe, be pleasing to those who have to sit in the Chamber. His treatment of the panels is entirely different from that of the old design, which consisted of multifarious details strewn all over a varnished panel, not dissimilar from that which confronts us at this very moment. My own impression was that here was an architect who was going to provide us with an acceptable Chamber. It might not have been the exact design which I, or any other member of the Committee, would have chosen, but our Russian Allies have a very good proverb that, "on taste and colour there is no comrade." I do not believe that, if the design had been thrown open to wider competition, we should have been able to get another design which would have commended itself as well as this one to hon. Members of this House.
Though this is not the main purport of my remarks, I wish to say that I agree with the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) in saying that there are probably other things which require greater haste than the building of a new Chamber, and I am particularly reinforced in this belief by thinking that, if we waited, we should probably get a better Chamber, and that we are witnessing a somewhat indecent haste which has resulted in our getting a very second-rate design. Why are we going to have this design? The first reason is because we are told that it must be in keeping with the surrounding buildings. I would submit that that is entirely false reasoning. Any hon. Member who has been to Cambridge knows of the famous "Backs" and King's College Chapel. Supposing when it was proposed to build a new building next door to King's Chapel that, instead of the magnificent Gibb building which was in fact put up there, they had said "Oh, no, we want a building in keeping with King's College Chapel," and had built a Gothic structure.
Surely, my hon. Friend remembers that the new University Library has spoilt the view of King's College Chapel.
It may have done, but the best building in that quadrangle, the Gibb building, is completely out of keeping, in the sense in which we are talking to-day, with King's College Chapel. The second reason, which I think the Prime Minister gave, is that we all have an affection for the old building. All of us who have sat in it have an affection for it, but we are building for posterity and for people, many of whom may have no affection for it at all and have never sat in it. We are building for people who, we hope, will be living in rather a different age and may have different views about architecture and not the same sentiments for it that we ourselves have. I would mention in passing a point mentioned by an hon. Member, that while Gladstone and Disraeli certainly sat in that Chamber neither Pitt nor Fox, nor, as the Prime Minister would have us believe, Cromwell, sat in it. By the way he talked, and the way some hon. Members talked, one would suppose that even Simon de Montfort sat in it in the old days, and really that is not the fact. The Prime Minister gave the reason, with which I am sure all of us are in agreement, why we did not want to have a round Chamber, but an oblong Chamber, a Chamber of this shape. But why, because we have an oblong Chamber, must we have a Gothic structure? What relation is there between a Gothic structure and an oblong Chamber? It seems to be entirely false reasoning.The Prime Minister said in his speech that the House of Commons was as important as a battleship. If the First Lord of the Admiralty came down to the House and asked for money for building a battleship, I would be surprised if we went upstairs and found the type of battleship of 1845. I took the trouble to look at the type of battleship there was in 1845 and found that there was a vey fine battleship of those days called the "Duke of Wellington," of 5,530 tons and a speed of 9·89 knots. That is comparable to the kind of thing some people want to put here to-day.
May I ask the hon. Member what speed he wants to give the House of Commons?
I want to give it very considerably greater speed than it has had in the past, because I want it to pass a great deal more legislation than it did before. But I do not want to get on to controversial politics as I have quite enough to do at the moment in dealing with controversial architecture.
And a controversial Prime Minister, too.
Even if it is to be a Gothic building, there is no need to have leaded windows. We want all the light we can get, and we should not have leaded windows, even if they let in more light than before. The real reason is given by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who makes remarkable attacks upon modern architecture. It is not surprising that he does so because he is not himself noted as a creator of modern design. He is a man who has spent his life copying and developing older styles. Each generation has its own new style of architecture and Sir Giles Scott himself says it is one of the failings of the 19th century that it did not introduce such a style. But we are beginning to produce such a style now, and it would be a great gesture if the House of Commons said that, because architects are beginning to develop a new style and one which has more reality about it than the 19th century Gothic style, it intended to encourage this development by building its own Chamber in that new style.
In order to enable Members to appreciate what he means, will the hon. Member illustrate what he is saying by giving an example of the type of modern interior that he favours?
What about Woolworth's?
I do not know what type of architecture Woolworth's is supposed to be. I am not interested in Woolworth's because it is not an example of good architectural style. I suggest that the buildings by Gropius are first-class modern style, and buildings put up by Burnet Tait and Lorne are in good modern style. There are many modern architects and it is our duty to encourage them and see that we create a new architecture here rather than depend entirely on second-rate copies of the bad old style.
As there is no present-day style of architecture is it not a question of reinstating either the architecture of the Middle Ages or Egyptian architecture?
Nonsense. I do not want to start educating my hon. Friend, though I am prepared to do so outside this Chamber. There is a good architect called Le Corbusier, of whom he may have not heard. There are a number of architects who build in the modern style, and build well.I turn to another point to which I attach the greatest importance, and that is accommodation. Somewhere in these plans among all the Gothic excrescences there are one or two rooms for the use of Members in which they may conceivably write. I am going to make a suggestion which may create laughter, although there is no reason why it should. I do not see why any Member should not have a room of his own; I can see no reason against that at all. I have paid visits, as have other hon. Members, to Washington.
We are dealing with the recommendations of this limited Select Committee. What the hon. Member is now dealing with is the affair of another Joint Committee, I understand, of both Houses of Parliament, and therefore that goes beyond the scope of the Debate entirely.
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I did think that the building we are now discussing included rooms underneath the Chamber, which were in fact to be for the use of Members.
It is impossible to imagine that over 600 rooms could be provided underneath the proposed Chamber.
May I submit that it would be possible to build higher up on the existing site—whether it is advisable or not I do not know—and get all the rooms required, and consequently, there- fore, is it not in Order to suggest that that might be considered?
That would probably mean a New York skyscraper, and I do not think that it is worth the House's while to discuss that aspect.
I naturally bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I assume that there will be an opportunity at a later date to discuss the provision of further rooms. We all know the extreme difficulties experienced by hon. Members in receiving visitors under the most appalling, I would almost say slum, conditions, and perhaps, if I should be fortunate to catch your eye at a later period when the Debate on the erection of Members' rooms takes place, I will be able to deal with the subject then. I think I would be in Order in suggesting that there should be at least adequate seats—and here I support the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson)—for all ambassadors, as well as foreign, Dominion and British Press representatives. It is most unfortunate that distinguished strangers should have to endure the kind of conditions described by the hon. Member for West Leicester, and it is unfortunate, too, that the Press have such poor accommodation. I know it is to be better than it was in the old building but I am not satisfied even yet that it is adequate. I think that the main reason that this proposal is before us is not because we had the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) as the Chairman of the Committee, but because we have the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) as Prime Minister. The Prime Minister virtually gave an ultimatum to the Committee and said, "We wish to have a Chamber of this particular kind."I would say that the Prime Minister is at heart a mediaevalist. Abroad, he likes a world full of emperors and palaces, and at home he likes the building where he is to live himself to be as near to a Gothic cathedral as he can possibly have it. Naturally this building is pleasing and satisfactory to him but I submit that it is not satisfactory to many other hon. Members who have not quite those same mediaeval ideas. We have to do two important jobs during the next few years. One is to take our part in rebuilding this country, the other is to take our part in rebuilding this House. I hope that in neither case shall we be too timid or too sentimental to build a structure suitable to our needs.
Before turning to the subject matter of this Amendment, I should like to say one thing about the Select Committee of which I had the honour of being a member. I think the whole Committee will agree with me that we should be most grateful to our Chairman, that he was a good Chairman, and that at the conclusion of our labours he had even more of our esteem than he had before. One member of that Committee at least had the habit sometimes of being in a minority of one and, as that member, I should like to say that I felt I was more than adequately protected by the Chairman. That is not the least valuable of a chairman's qualifications.As far as this actual Amendment is concerned, moved so very ably and in most eloquent terms by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. A. Duckworth), who gave utterance to such a fervent and deep aesthetic faith—rather nebulous and rather vague, but he evidently felt very strongly about something—I would like to ask the House this: If this Amendment is carried, what will the position be then? That is the first thing we have to consider when making up our minds as to how to vote on an Amendment. I suggest to the House quite seriously that if this Amendment is carried there will be chaos.
For what reasons?
Never mind the reasons, the position will be absolute chaos. We shall never get, I submit, competitive designs under those circumstances.
That is my opinion and I am entitled to it. I suggest that it would submit the proceedings of this House to ridicule, and the result would be chaos.What are the actual terms of the Amendment with which we are concerned? I will take them in their order. The movers of the Amendment agree with "the dimensions, general plan and increased amenities," so I will leave that on one side, except to say that they have my entire support too. The movers "cannot approve the Gothic architectural design." I agree with them that the whole question of our procedure hinges on this acceptance of the Gothic. If we had said that we would consider any form of architecture, then, indeed, we might have been very well advised to call in the Royal Fine Art Commission at that stage, or to throw open the design to public competition. But we did not. Now I happen to be an enthusiast for Gothic. I consider it to be the most beautiful form of architecture ever evolved by man, but that is purely my personal taste, and I am not proposing to inflict that on anybody else. The reason why we recommended the Gothic design to this House in our Report was that we believed it represented the highest common factor of agreement amongst hon. Members of this House. It will be shown in the Division Lobbies whether we were right or wrong. I think the arguments as to the clash of styles and the arguments in favour of tradition are weighty, but in the long run de gustibus non disputandum, and one cannot argue about whether Gothic is good style or bad style, likeable or disagreeable.
It is not real Gothic, it is only sham Gothic.
I do not know what real or sham Gothic is. Gothic is a style. Gothic is not a chronological expression, it is an architectural expression. A Gothic arch is a Gothic arch, whether built in the South Sea Islands in 1945, at the North Pole in 1845, or in Chartres Cathedral in the height of the Middle Ages. It is an architectural term. A thing is sham Gothic, sham Corinthian or sham Egyptian if it does not conform with the canons of Gothic or Corinthian or Egyptian architecture. It is a Corinthian pillar, an Egyptian pyramid or a Gothic arch, wherever or whenever built.Having once made that decision, whether it is considered a mistake or not a mistake, I submit that the whole of the rest follows. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott is by far the most eminent Gothic architect of this age. I disapprove very much of the sort of talk that so-and-so is the greatest living architect; there is no such thing as the greatest living architect, but there is such a thing as the most eminent architect in a particular style, and it is incontestable that in the Gothic style Sir Giles Gilbert Scott is the most eminent living architect, and I think we were right to choose him. We fortified our own minds by asking the President of the Royal Institute of British Architects to submit the names of three eminent architects qualified for the sort of job we had in mind, and of these we chose Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. Having chosen him, what was the position? He is admittedly an architect of eminence. To suggest that the Royal Fine Art Commission should collaborate with him would not have been the proper rôle for that body, and an architect of such eminence would not have stood interference from a multiplicity of outside experts. I admit that I would like to have given the Royal Fine Art Commission much more time to consider the design before they were asked to report, but there was an urgent time factor to which reference has not yet been made. It was our belief, which was indeed supported by the representations of our friends in the House outside the Committee, that the House wanted our Report and these designs before the end of the Session. We may have been wrong, but I think the majority of the House would have thought us dilatory if we had not produced the design by the end of the Session.
Do I understand that the Select Committee told the Royal Institute of British Architects that the three architects whose names they submitted must be good at Gothic?
May I have the attention of the Noble Lord for one moment? I have been asked by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) whether it is a fact that the Select Committee informed the President of the R.I.B.A. that we wanted only Gothic experts. I wonder if I am in Order in divulging what we asked.
I can assure my hon. Friend that I would raise no point of Order if he did so.
The answer is that we did. The decision was taken and, once the Gothic decision was taken, the whole of the rest followed. As I said, the question whether the Gothic decision was a right one is a question of taste and of private opinion.
Would the hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt? I think he is misleading the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) in saying that the Committee stipulated to the R.I.B.A. that he should be an architect in Gothic. All that the R.I.B.A. were asked was to supply names of architects suitable for the rebuilding of the House of Commons.
I am under the impression—
I am sorry to interrupt, especially as I said I would not raise a point of Order. However, I would ask my hon. Friend to be extremely careful. We are getting very near to disclosing the proceedings of the Select Committee which were not in the Report. I would ask him to be very careful, because it affects our relationship with a very important outside body.
It is for just that reason that I made so bold as to attract my Noble Friend's attention. I hope he will continue to give me his guidance. However, I will leave the House to make its own deduction. There were three names on the list, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and Mr. Edward Maufe, and another, and I think hon. Members will feel that it would have been more than a coincidence if, in selecting these three architects, there had not been some feeling that they should be experts in Gothic design. I ask the House to reject this Amendment, because I think it is founded on misconceptions and would reduce our proceedings to chaos. I suggest that if the House does not like our recommendations it should reject the whole Report, so that another start can be made from the very beginning.I want to proceed on the assumption that the House will accept our recommendations, and to suggest to the Minister a certain course which has already been suggested to him by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson). Are we to leave the matter as it is, are we to leave the future consideration of the new House of Commons solely in the hands of the Minister? I suggest that that would be a great mistake. I think that from the point of view of the architect himself, and of Members too, it is essential that there should be a channel of liaison between the architect and this House. For example, on the one hand I can imagine the architect having many questions upon which he wishes to find out the views of the House. He may want to know whether we want book-shelves here or there, writing tables here or there, telephone boxes here or there, or shelves in front of our seats on which we can place papers, and so on. He may want to know something more about the amount of symbolism or heraldry which the House desires to have incorporated in the panelling, and he will want somebody to whom he can go and ask what is the feeling of the House of Commons. On the other hand, I think it is important, if this new House is to be a success, and start with the affection of Members, that Members should feel that they are able to offer suggestions and have their views considered. I do not suggest that they should argue with the architect, or that the architect should feel under an obligation to accept suggestions from Members of the House simply because they come from Members, but I think a consultative panel should be set up. Further, I think such a panel should be under the chairmanship of the Minister, in order to protect the architect, because we do not want the same state of affairs as occurred with the unfortunate Sir Charles Barry. I think the Minister should be chairman of the panel, that the panel should be on a rather informal footing and that it should have a two-way function. It should be a panel through which the architect can find out the wishes of Members, and through which Members can submit suggestions to the architect. It is very proper that the functions of the Royal Fine Art Commission should come into this matter. The function of that Commission was not to help the architect to make the broad principles of his design. No decent architect would stand for such interference. I think the Commission can properly be consulted over questions of detail, if the architect wishes, but I do not think any advice, including that of the Commission, should be forced on the architect against his wishes. One cannot employ an eminent architect and force collaboration upon him with somebody else. That very mistake was made over Barry and Pugin. I know that others want to speak, so I will not pursue my views on seating accommodation, which I have stated before in October, 1943. I commend these recommendations to the House, because I believe they contain the outline and skeleton of a fine and dignified building, one well worthy to rank with our other national monuments. I believe they will be well suited to the House of Commons, and will preserve the essential features of the atmosphere of the House. I am not enamoured of all the ideas for making the Houses of Parliament a most comfortable place for Members, or that all Members should have rooms, secretaries and be able to have bed and breakfast, and all that sort of thing. I do not think that nations which have spent large sums of money on making every Member of their Parliaments exceedingly comfortable have found that it has paid—
But let us make them efficient.
I agree, but I view with horror any proposal for a room for every Member. I do not think it would tend to efficiency, but that it would raise a class of professional politicians, who would come to the capital, live in the Houses of Parliament, and not have any outside contacts. I ask the House to reject the Amendment on the grounds that it is based, not on fallacies, but on bad reasoning, and that its approval would cause chaos in our proceedings.
I rise to offer a few words of support for the Amendment. I can assure hon. Members that I will only detain them very briefly. I am, unfortunately, in no position to stand up for very long, although not for reasons which hon. Members might infer, because in these strange and noble surroundings I was quite unaware of the location of the bar until I heard the speech of the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor).
I would like to say a word or two in reply to the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton), who made certain remarks about the Lord Great Chamberlain, because he does happen to be a near relative of mine. I will not begin by trying to defend either his actions or his rights, because I am not fully aware of what they are, but, as this House knows, he has very wide powers over the Palace of Westminster, conferred upon him in our Constitution. I think it is almost a general rule of his office that any request is always refused the first time it is made, and that when it is made the second time, and is a reasonable request, it is always agreed to.I support the Amendment on aesthetic grounds. I think the whole charm of that university where I could have been better educated if I had given more time to it—Cambridge—was that so many of the colleges which go to make up the whole building are of different styles and mark definite pages of history. Each generation, each university, has left its mark, and it is absurd to say that buildings differing in style, as they do there, do not make an agreeable whole. Further, I think it is hard on us that we should not be able to leave a page in history where many of those here to-day have played a prominent part. Why should it be denied to us to leave a page in history which has been the opportunity and privilege of our ancestors? Another reason why I support the Amendment—although possibly it is rather a perverted argument because I disagree with the mover—is that the proposed new building is not a monument of our age. At least the old Chamber, though it may not have had much to recommend it on aesthetic grounds, was a monument to the spirit of the age in which it was built. It reflected that complacency and opulence that were characteristic of the Victorian age. To my mind this new Chamber is going to reflect very largely the spirit of this age. Everyone is out to-day for security, which seems to be the main characteristic of the country, and I am afraid one of the main characteristics of our legislators has been the slogan of "Safety first." If any design reflected that, I should have thought this new design would. It is "Safety first" to the last degree. I do not think anyone would really condemn it, or that anyone would really praise it. I am surprised that the Prime Minister should support it so whole-heartedly. I look upon him as one of the few adventurous and enterprising spirits in political life to-day. He has not in the past played, no does he to-day play, always for safety first. I should like to see a Chamber designed which did not reflect so much the characteristics of security and safety first, but rather more the enterprise and venturesome spirit which the House requires, if it is to build a brave new world.
I am sure I am speaking for the whole House when I say how very glad we are to see my hon. and gallant Friend back, if only for a short time, to his Parliamentary duties. We hope that the physical disability which he has contracted in battle will not be any bar to his continuing his career in the Army till the war is over or resuming his active Parliamentary career when it has ended. Having said that, I must part company with him in his views with regard to the design for the rebuilding of the House of Commons. The Amendment was most eloquently moved and seconded but, even after listening to the two speeches, I could not help turning my eyes again to the Order Paper and seeing how very much there is expressed in the terms of the Amendment that agrees with the Committee's Report. It might be imagined that they wanted to reject out of hand everything the Committee had done and start again at the beginning, but that is not the case. As the result of the carefully-taken evidence they listened to for many months they were enabled to come to the practical decisions that are necessary before they could start the work of commissioning an architect at all: such vital matters as how many seats were there to be—whether the Chamber was to be round or rectangular was indicated by the House before we commenced our labours—was there to be a separate gallery for lady strangers or were all to go into one common gallery; was the Speaker's gallery to be moved from one end of the House to the other; how much extra accommodation should we give to the Press and distinguished strangers and all the bodies representing those special interests very properly concerned with the working of the House of Commons who were anxious that their amenities should be improved? The proposer and seconder of the Amendment are in agreement with the conclusions that the Committee came to on that point. They have accepted a rectangular Chamber, with the Chair which you, Sir, occupy, roughly in the place it is in now, and side galleries, used for the greater part by Members on occasions such as Budget day, when they are needed, and parts of those side galleries at other times to be made avail- able to strangers—a quite new innovation—and it seems to me that their quarrel with the design that has been submitted is that it has not been clothed decoratively with chromium plate or glass but treated in some other form. The style is Gothic. They have not said whether they would have preferred the neo-classical style, with cornices and mouldings of that kind. I rather thought my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), who is such an enthusiast for Georgian architecture, might have committed himself to saying he wanted something like that.
I merely wished to make the point that the Committee should not have insisted on compulsory Gothic, but should have allowed other architects to show what they could do in a competition.
The Committee interpreted the terms of reference as saying that the style should be definitely in keeping with that of the rest of the Palace. That is to say, they did not regard themselves as starting entirely de novo but as being to some extent committed. That brings me to consideration of the question of competition. The criticism that there has been no such competition has been made from several quarters. If it is accepted that there ought to be Gothic treatment of some kind, the competition, if it had been thrown open, would have been very restricted in character, because only a limited number of eminent architects have the requisite knowledge of Gothic architecture to entitle them to make an effective contribution. There is another objection to competition, the time factor. The Committee believed that they should not be unduly dilatory or prolong their deliberations, and should present a Report so that, roughly speaking, building could begin the very moment the most severe rigours of war-time restriction were removed and plans for peace in other spheres of life also started. That was their idea of the sense of urgency that their work entailed.
Why should it take longer to obtain three competitive designs instead of one?
Additional time would have been required in examining the designs from a competitive point of view and weighing up one against the other. Another reason which made competition difficult in war time was that any would-be entrants would need to be furnished with a whole mass of very detailed material, comprising the dimensions of the whole building and how the new work would have to dovetail into the old. Knowledge of that work implied very close contact with the Ministry of Works. For these reasons, added together, the Committee were of the opinion that competition was not feasible.Further, they realised that a competition of this kind would not be attractive to the very best architects. It is always attractive to an architect to be given a perfectly free hand, to be asked to design a new building and make, perhaps, novel arrangements out of his own inspiration as to how various amenities should be provided. The work of rebuilding the House of Commons is not of that kind at all. The conditions laid down had to be rigidly imposed after many months spent in carefully taking evidence. Also, the new building will only be part of an existing building; it will not be a wholly new conception, all on its own. In fact, it would be a matter of aesthetic consideration whether or not it is to spoil the whole appearance of the rest of the Palace of Westminster. Therefore, a work of that kind is not attractive to an architect. Although I think that Sir Giles Gilbert Scott has made a very good design and one that if it is carried out will commend itself not only to the present generation, but to future generations, I think that neither he nor any other architect could ever make his name as the man who rebuilt the House of Commons. It is an unsatisfactory task because of its limitations.
Would not the very fact that it is difficult give him a still greater chance of making a name?
No, I do not think so. If I may cite a political instance that was lately presented to us in this House, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, in their conduct of affairs in Greece, have, in my opinion, done the right thing, and that view will be shared by my hon. Friend; but I do not think it will be said that the Prime Minister and the Coalition Cabinet will make their name by the way they conducted affairs in Greece. The main criticism of the movers of this Amendment is that, accepting all these new amenities which the Committee suggested, the archi- tect did not clothe them in some different decorative treatment. May I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. A. Duckworth) of the words that the Royal Fine Art Commission wrote on that point? They said:
In this life we shall never attain perfection and architects will not claim that that general proposition does not apply to them, but I venture to think that if this interpretation of Gothic that Sir Giles has proposed is accepted by the House and the country we shall have a worthy Chamber in which future generations of Parliamentarians may conduct their business."The essential features and tradition of the old building are retained, while at the same time the main departures from the design, such as the extended proportions of the Chamber, the decorative scheme proposed, and the restrained character given to the interior, appear to be decided improvements."
I have one claim to distinction, and that is that I confess, quite freely, that I know nothing whatever about architecture. In that respect, I am at least as honest as, or even more honest than, some hon. Members who have talked about masonry and Gothic style, but who would not know a gargoyle from a gumboil if they had the opportunity of judging. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. A. Duckworth), who talked about some old man thousands of years ago, who defined beauty of form, and saw that in the old days the classification of beauty of form was straight lines and solid figures. Evidently it varies with the passage of time because I understand that curves and voluptuous figures are a more appropriate classification to-day. It would be difficult for an ordinary Member to say what constitutes a first-class building.I am all for comfort. I do not mean the comfort of being sunk in a soft armchair, with all its soporific effects, but reasonable comfort for doing our work. Some people say to me that we are lucky to be here and that we have a fine time on £600 a year. I have never heard a bigger misrepresentation, because the £600 is only a part-time salary to meet the expenses of coming here to work, in most uncomfortable surroundings, in a building which is full of chilly corridors, corners, lobbies and odds and ends, in which Mem- bers often do not know their way about. Then, when they sit on these forms, they find themselves on big days cramped physically, and quite unable to find reasonable facilities for doing their work. Behind me there is a gallery, and I am told by people who have suffered the agonies of coming to listen to our Debates that they cannot hear hon. Members on this side. Perhaps they are thankful for that, and choose the side on which to sit, according to the side they wish to hear. It is certain that people behind your Chair, Mr. Speaker, can see neither you nor a considerable area of the House. They have to crane their necks, they are restrained by officers of the House, and general discomfort prevails. If I were asked to reconstruct the House of Commons, I would go to my hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), that burly bastion of the Ministry of Works, and say, "George, get your hod and bring your bricklayers, and you could put up a better building than all the buildings that have been spoken about this afternoon, and a House that would be more in keeping with the times." Surely there would be nothing inconsistent in that, because it has been said that in some of the greatest buildings that have been erected there are various styles of architecture. I used to be a member of the Art Committee of the Liverpool City Council. Once we had an example of some art of Epstein's, which consisted of a few spidery scratches on a sheet of paper, and the chairman of the committee, who was a knowing lad and wanted to impress us with his knowledge, said, "This is a perfect example of Epstein; we are going to put it in our exhibition." I questioned whether it was a piece of art at all. A grand-nephew of the great W. E, Gladstone, Mr. Robert Gladstone, was a member of the committee, and I turned to him because he seemed to be the only person who knew anything about the subject and asked him what constituted art. He replied, "My simple definition is that it should look like that which it is supposed to represent, and be pleasing to the eye." The Chambers of the Houses of Parliament do not look like Chambers and they are most displeasing to the eye if anyone has an eye to that which is aesthetic. We want the most comfortable Chamber, with as reasonable amenities as it is possible for modern art to produce. Shakespeare said:
I am certain that art has been made tongue-tied by authority, and I am not impressed because ossified spokesmen of this House have sat on a particular Committee which has made certain recommendations to Members who do not understand them and cannot wade through the voluminous documents presented. We should not necessarily be bound by the recommendations they make. I feel that, with 600 or so of us here, the object of being in this building is to do our work as efficiently as possible, to be given every reasonable facility, to be given a telephone-box where we can telephone without necessarily being overheard, or being interrupted. I do not say that we should go so far as to have a room for every Member of this House, which would be expecting too much, but we certainly should put certain rooms at the disposal of Members, with typewriters in them, and secretaries paid for and provided by the Government, so that we should have opportunities to deal with our Parliamentary work in a way which would save a considerable amount of time. It is rather significant to look at the people who were interviewed by the Select Committee. I may be wrong and I am open to correction, but I believe the Committee interviewed architects, clerks of works, representatives of the Government and of the Ministry of Works but no Private Member of this House. Perhaps that was because Private Members were supposed to have some qualification in regard to architecture."Art is made tongue-tied by authority."
May I call the attention of the hon. Member to the fact that Private Members were on the Committee?
I appreciate that fact, but I am saying that so far as I know they were not interviewed by the Committee for the purpose of ascertaining precisely what they thought would be good for the new Chamber. I feel that we have been tied far too long to the traditions of the past. I do not know how modern Parliaments will be reconstructed. I would not mind if a certain part of this building known as the "other place" were to be utilised by this House and that other place altogether excluded. I hope it will be, in course of time. I say that, within the confines of this building, there are opportunities to build on modernistic lines, on practical lines and on purposeful lines, a new House of Commons that would give to Members who are coming into it, better opportunities and more practical facilities for doing their work more effectively.
May I say how much I appreciated the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for Rutland (Lord Willoughby de Eresby) and to observe how well he has recovered from his recent injuries. Having said this, I hope he will not expect me to agree with all his conclusions, and least of all to intervene in his difference of opinion with his mother-in-law over the location of the Lobby bar. I am sorry that the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) has left his seat, because I wanted to say how surprised I was to see him defending the modern style in architecture. As the former owner of Sezincote, one of the most delightful and extravagant follies of the 18th century, whose domes and minarets inspired the Pavilion at Brighton, I expected to find him expressing other tastes.I speak only for a few minutes in order to defend the choice of the Gothic style from the vigorous and eloquent attack launched upon it by my hon. Friends the Members for Shrewsbury (Mr. A. Duckworth) and Twickenham (Mr. Keeling). As I listened to their extremely effective attack, I could not help casting my mind back to the records of a similar controversy which took place in 1834, after the burning of the old House of Commons. When the designs of Mr. Charles Barry, as he then was, were published—designs in the Gothic taste—they at once aroused a violent attack from the followers of the classic style. As Sir Kenneth Clark rightly points out in his admirable book on the Gothic revival, it was quite a novelty in those early years of the 19th century for a great public building to be built in the Gothic style, although it was certainly true that the Gothic revival had found adherents among great noblemen and rich industrialists, who had employed it in the construction and reconversion of their country houses. The followers of the classic taste raised their hands in horror at the designs of Mr. Charles Barry. They argued that the bishops were attempting to convert Members of Parliament into monks, and that when visitors arrived in Parliament Square they would mistake the new House of Commons for the Abbey. They urged that it would be far better and more economical to leave the Abbey to be used as a chamber for the deliberations of the national assembly. I believe that those who decided upon the design of the House of Commons in those days were right, when they argued that the design in general conformed with the Abbey and, most of all, with the Henry VII Chapel. For my own part I believe that Barry's designs were good. My personal quarrel with them is the indiscriminate cobweb of decoration, for which the younger Pugin was responsible. We can certainly avoid this error of taste in the new House. But how different is the situation in the '40's of the 20th century, when the ravages of war make it incumbent upon us to build a new House of Commons. We are living in a period of artistic revolution, when entirely new forms have presented themselves to the public eye, in materials, notably ferro-concrete and other similar modern building materials. I believe that Sir Giles Gilbert Scott is right when he argues that we do not possess to-day a style which has evolved from former centuries. It is certainly true that the pointed Gothic arch evolved from the rounded Norman arch, and that the Gothic taste itself went through three phases—early English, Decorated and Perpendicular—and that any Gothic architect working in any one of those three periods could build a modern building which yet blended with buildings from the previous period. Similarly, we find that the Renaissance brought no violent change that in the early period of Renaissance, classic detail was merely applied to the older forms and these gradually merged into the pure classic of Inigo Jones and of Wren. In the subsequent centuries we find a gradual evolution in the classic style from Queen Anne to the Georgian and then the Regency, and therefore an architect could build in any one of those styles without jarring the aesthetic sensibilities of people who liked looking at buildings. Therefore, I believe we are right in following, as the Select Committee recommends, the Gothic style as proposed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. I believe that he has avoided some of the mistakes of Pugin's indiscriminate mass of decoration. Instead, we find in the proposed new Chamber the decoration limited to bands of enrichment relieving the plain spaces. We should ask ourselves what are the alternatives to the Gothic. I believe that after their experiences in the annexe hon. Members would not appreciate walking down endless winding corridors to a Chamber of entirely modern construction, in ferro-concrete and chromium plate. The second alternative is a Georgian Chamber. As a most active adherent of the Georgian group, which my hon. Friend so well represents, I must say that I admire Georgian architecture. But some speakers have mentioned in the Debate that the Chamber which was destroyed in 1834 was 18th century in style. It is true that Wren covered the painted frescoes of St. Stephen's Chapel with panelling of classic design, but these merely framed a building of the 14th century proportions, and the effect was not really to my mind satisfying. In the design for the new House I am particularly pleased to notice that greater space is to be allocated to Press reporters. This was one of the points which the late Lord Lothian had much at heart. He wanted both Empire and American reporters to have ample space provided for them in the reporters' gallery, for he always believed that Question time, which he called the grand inquest of the nation, should be fully reported overseas, for here was an example of British democracy at work, when the needs and troubles of the poorest citizen could be publicly voiced in this House, and brought to the attention of the appropriate Minister. So I say in conclusion that I welcome the findings of the Select Committee so notably presided over by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton). I believe that when Members of the future go into this new House they will be satisfied that it carries out the great traditions of the past. I like to carry my mind back to the various homes which the Commons have occupied in many centuries, of the Knights of the Shires in the Middle Ages coming to the Chapter House of the Abbey, where the Commons first met; of the stormy scenes in Tudor and Jacobean Parlia- ments in St. Stephen's Chapel; and to picture again those great Debates in the nineteenth century in the old Chamber. I hope that some time after 1951, when hon. Members go into that new House, the Debates they have in the new Chamber will be in a setting which pleases them by its worthiness, and that we shall be thankful and grateful for the work of the Select Committee.
I think hon. Members will agree that we have had an extremely interesting Debate. I have no doubt from the tenor of the speeches that the House, as a whole, approves in principle the plans proposed by the Select Committee. A number of important suggestions of detail have, however, been made in the course of to-day's Debate. These will require very careful consideration. As the Prime Minister has already announced, the Government are going to propose to the House the reappointment of the Select Committee. The Committee will be asked to examine these and any other suggestions which have been made during the Debate, or since the publication of the Report, and they will be invited to recommend to the House any detailed Amendments to the original plan which they may consider desirable.In reply to the remarks addressed to me by my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) I can confirm that there is no intention on the part of the Government to set up anything in the nature of a roving commission. Assuming the House approves the plan this evening, there can be no question of asking the Select Committee to go back upon or reconsider the decisions of the House. The terms of reference which the Prime Minister read out to-day were worded in such a way as to leave the Committee reasonable discretion, within the limits I have described, to consider any amendments of detail which would be an improvement on the plan, without involving any major departure from its principal features. The Government hope that the reconstituted Committee will find it possible to complete this further limited task in a space of, say, a month to six weeks. It is not possible to set a time limit, but we would rather hope that the work could be completed in some period of that kind. Once the plan is finally approved, the responsibility for carrying it into effect will rest upon the Minister of Works. I assume that the House will be prepared to leave it to me to settle minor points of detail which may have to be decided during the course of building. It would, however, be most helpful and convenient to me to have some recognised channel for consultation with the House on any more important questions which may from time to time arise. I find myself in very great sympathy with the proposal put forward by my hon. Friends the Members for West Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson) and Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson). They suggest that a consultative panel of Members should be formed with whom I could consult on questions of doubt. I would very much welcome some arrangement of that kind. I would, however, like to consider how best to give effect to it. My hon. Friends the Members for Shrewsbury (Mr. A. Duckworth) and Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) and several other hon. Members questioned the wisdom of the Select Committee's decision to adhere to the Gothic style. There are clearly two schools of thought. There are those who are attracted by the idea of rebuilding the Chamber in present-day modern style. There are others who consider that in the midst of this purely Gothic setting a modern building would look wholly out of place. In fact, opinion is divided between those who think that the new Chamber should be in keeping with our times, and those who think that it should be in keeping with the rest of the building. This is a question of individual taste and sentiment on which, not unnaturally, opinions differ. The Amendment suggests that a number of leading British architects should be invited to submit alternative designs for consideration by the Royal Fine Art Commission. Apart from the delays which this procedure would cause, it would not be right to place upon a purely technical body the responsibility for advising on an issue of this kind. I have made inquiries and am informed that there is no precedent for asking the Commission to act as judges in a competition. The broad question of principle, as to what style of architecture is to be adopted, is, I feel, one which only the House itself can decide. If the House were to reject the Gothic style, then clearly the whole plan would have to be reconsidered from the start. In my opinion that would be a great misfortune. The arguments in favour of the course recommended by the Committee have been fully and lucidly expounded in the Debate, I do not propose to detain the House by recapitulating or elaborating upon them. The Government is in entire agreement with the decision of the Select Committee to adhere to the Gothic style, and, judging from the course of the Debate, I believe this view is shared by the great majority of hon. Members. The same hon. Members to whom I have referred, as well as the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), have criticised the choice of Sir Giles Scott as the architect. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham complained that the Royal Institute of British Architects was not consulted, or was insufficiently consulted. Yet he himself pointed out that the R.I.B.A. had, in fact, been asked to submit names of suitable architects for this task. I do not quite understand what further consultation would have been possible. Once the decision to adopt the Gothic style had been taken, it is not surprising that the Committee chose Sir Giles Scott. His unsurpassed experience of Gothic architecture, and his long record of distinguished work in this style, give us the highest confidence in entrusting to him this very responsible task. Provided that the present Motion is approved this evening, I propose forthwith to invite Sir Giles Scott to go ahead with the preparation of his drawings, subject, of course, to any amendment which the reconstituted Committee may wish to recommend. For a project of this magnitude, the work of preparing the thousands of detailed drawings, calculating the complicated bills of quantity, and, finally, placing the contracts, is altogether a very formidable task. In all, it will take about 18 months to complete this stage. Thereafter, the actual work of rebuilding would, according to the architect's estimate, take a further four to five years, making about six years in all. The hon. Member for Maldon asked whether this could not be expedited. I have been considering this matter, and I think some improvement on this time-table should be possible. The work of demolition and the laying of the foundations, which together will take nine months or more, can go ahead before the drawings are completed. By the time the foundations are finished I hope that suffi- cient drawings will be available to enable us to place a reasonably firm contract for the building of the superstructure. Thereafter, if it were desired, the work of rebuilding could be considerably accelerated by working double shifts. On this basis it might be possible to complete the new Chamber at some time during 1949, which would be a considerable improvement on the original estimate of 1951. It is not possible to lay down any firm time-table at this space, but I hope the House will leave it to my discretion to fit in this work as best I can, without prejudice to other urgent social needs, such as housing. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and other hon. Members have spoken about housing. I am, of course, as impatient as any other hon. Member to get on with housing. However, I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) that it would be absurd for this work to have to wait for years until our vast housing problems had been solved. If this is to take precedence after a problem which we know well is going to take a great many years, it would amount to relegating the whole project to the distant future.
Nobody suggested that you should not start reconstituting the House of Commons until you had solved the whole housing problem of Britain. What I suggested was that you should not start the rebuilding of the House of Commons until you have demonstrated to the people of the country that you have tackled the housing problem in general in an intelligent fashion, as the Government tackled the question of munitions production in order to win the war.
The hon. Member's speech was certainly of a very extremist character, and the letter he read out, about whited sepulchres and so forth, certainly gave me that impression. If I have misinterpreted him, that can be verified in HANSARD. It is just as well that the House should know what labour would be needed for this work. Assuming that double shifts are worked, the average labour force needed each year would be as follows: During the first year, 100 men; during the second year, 450; during the third year, 300; and during the fourth year, 120. The Government have declared their intention to increase the strength of the building industry as soon as possible after the war up to about 1,250,000 building operatives. It will, I think, be seen that the numbers needed for the rebuilding of the House of Commons are in comparison very small indeed, and could not make any noticeable difference in the rate of progress of other urgent national work, such as bomb-damage repairs or housing.Although it has not been raised in the Debate, I think I should say a word about finance. The whole scheme is likely to cost rather over £1,250,000. In his statement attached to the Report, Sir Giles Scott estimated that the cost of the work would be about £784,000. His estimate was based on standard rates and conditions prevailing in 1939, and did not include provision for fees, clerks of works' salaries, research and other overheads. The revised figure of £1,250,000 is a very rough estimate of the total cost of the whole scheme, reckoned at present-day prices. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for King's Norton (Major Peto) and my hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick) asked for improved secretarial facilities for Members. The Select Committee's Report recommends the construction of two new floors underneath the Chamber, in the increased space which will become available as the result of the abolition of the old ventilation system. The Report also proposed the building of an extra storey on top. Several hon. Members have advocated what might be called a "rooms-for-all" plan. Two hon. Members suggested that the necessary space could be obtained by building up still higher over the Chamber. The Committee's plan provides the absolute maximum accommodation which can be obtained without disturbing the sky-line. I had a quick calculation made, and I am told that to provide 615 small rooms would necessitate the building of a further eight floors above the level of the roof of the Palace. In the circumstances, I do not think the House would wish me to pursue this project any further.
That would be a real Tower of Babel.
I did not suggest, even in the speech that I made on the setting up of the Committee, that all the additional rooms should be built on the top. In any case, it is only about 450 rooms which are required, because there are already Ministers' rooms. I suggested that some should have accommodation found elsewhere.
I think that the more modest proposals of the Committee will be warmly welcomed, and that they will prove very useful. In particular, their scheme to provide proper secretarial and interviewing arrangements will fill a need which has been keenly felt for a very long time. It may be that the accommodation offered on these three floors is the most suitable that could be found for this purpose. I, personally, have no views on that subject. It is, however, conceivable that superior, and possibly even more convenient, accommodation of the same kind could be provided by some rearrangement of other rooms elsewhere. The Select Committee, very properly, felt itself prevented by its terms of reference from extending its inquiries beyond the immediate neighbourhood of the Chamber. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Leeds (Mr. Craik Henderson) referred to the Joint Committee of both Houses, under the chairmanship of Lord Stanhope, which has been recently appointed to review all accommodation throughout the whole Palace of Westminster. I think, if the House agrees, that it would be wise, before finally committing ourselves in detail to this part of the plan, to ask the Joint Committee whether they have any other proposals to make for the provision of equivalent facilities elsewhere in the Palace. They should also be asked whether they have any alternative uses to suggest for the new floors above and below the Chamber.Several speakers have asked for an increase in the number of seats for hon. Members. The right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) argued that there would be a probable increase of about 25 Members in the next Parliament, and he considered that this justified an increase in the number of seats. I really do not think that that argument holds water. Before 1918, when the Irish Members were still here, 670 Members were satisfactorily accommodated in the old Chamber and this was during a period of the most intense political activity.
The new Chamber will not be ready for the next Parliament.
Possibly in 1949. I do not know when the next Parliament will start or how long it will last. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) also said that it was all very well for the Government to favour restricting the seating for hon. Members. The Government, he said, always had room on the Front Bench, while Back Benchers got crowded out. I have made inquiries on this point. I find that the occupants of the Front Bench are really far less well provided for than hon. Members sitting in other parts of the House. There are at present 78 Ministers in the House, and only about 20 seats on the Front Bench. The hon. Member for Kidderminster—I am sorry he is not here—also suggested that we should keep this present Chamber, which has been lent to us by the other House, and that we should build a new House of Lords overlooking the Victoria Gardens. Otherwise, the hon. Member said, he was in entire agreement with the recommendations of the Select Committee.
The hon. Member very wisely did not come to hear the Minister's reply.
The old Chamber provided seats for 437 Members. Of these, 346 were on the Floor of the House and 91 in the side galleries. The desirability of increasing the seating accommodation was very thoroughly considered by the Committee. As a result, they recommended that there should be no change in the dimensions of the Chamber on the floor level. The new plan does, however, provide for an additional row of seats in the side galleries. The Committee prosionally suggested that this extra row should be allotted to strangers. However, if the House so decided, there would be no possible reason why these additional 57 seats in the back row of the side galleries should not be allotted to hon. Members, either at all times, or possibly, only on important days when the House is likely to be crowded. No structural alterations are involved. It is therefore a matter that could be decided after the Chamber is built.Outside persons, who are not familiar with our Parliamentary life, are often surprised that a man, after winning a seat, may still not get one. There are, however, many good reasons for not increasing the floor of the House. All of us know how bleak it is to make speeches to rows of empty benches, and I think it is true to say that the House, more often than not, is less than one-quarter full. Moreover, there is absolutely nothing wrong in this. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh very properly pointed out, the duties of Members of Parliament do not consist merely in sitting hour after hour listening to speeches. Some of the most important of our political functions are performed in the Committee Rooms upstairs and in work of various kinds in our constituencies. Except, therefore, on special occasions, it would be most unusual for all the Members of the House to wish to be present in the Chamber at the same time. A number of hon. Members have pointed out that any increase in the dimensions of our meeting place would inevitably impair the intimacy and semi-conversational atmosphere of our debates. I think there is very widespread agreement on this point. We are very greatly indebted to the House of Peers for their most friendly act in lending us their own Chamber. We appreciate the sacrifice and inconvenience which this has entailed. Without, however, wishing to be ungrateful, most of us, after nearly four years in this Chamber, would admit that we still do not feel entirely at home in these rather more spacious surroundings. I think it would be widely agreed that, whether by judgment or good fortune, the general character and dimensions of Barry's old House of Commons produced a background and an atmosphere which brought dignity and vitality to our proceedings and which most of us would wish to see preserved in our new Chamber. There is only one further point with which I should like to deal. That is the historical point of procedure raised by my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham in regard to the powers of the Serjeant at Arms.
And in the Resolution passed by the Committee.
Yes. I am not in a position to give any authoritative information to the House on this matter, but I would like to say that there are reasons for doubting whether the Serjeant at Arms, in the discharge of these functions, is in actual fact exercising delegated powers from the Lord Great Chamberlain. I would like to read to the House a letter written by Mr. Speaker Lowther, dated 6th December, 1906, addressed to the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee. In the course of that letter, Mr. Speaker Lowther said:
"The Speaker is the interpreter and custodian of the rights and privileges of the Members of the House, the authority who decides upon the admission of strangers into the House and its precincts, and the only person in whom is vested power to order the withdrawal of strangers from any precincts and to direct the police to carry out such orders. In exercising that authority, the Speaker is, of course, guided by the ancient privileges and customs of the House. I must preserve to myself, as the custodian of the rights and privileges of the House, in accordance with the ancient usage, the decision as to what persons are or are not permitted to make use of rooms within the precincts of the House of Commons during the Session of Parliament."
I am very 10th to interrupt my right hon. Friend, and especially to give away a confidence, but this does raise a very important constitutional point of the greatest magnitude, and it places me in a quite embarrassing position. It is quite obvious that the statement made by Mr. Speaker Lowther is in direct conflict with the memorandum presented to the Committee over which I had the honour to preside by the present Serjeant at Arms, and I therefore say that the case for appointing a Committee to go into this matter is very much stronger. I hope the Minister will not close the door to it, because it may raise the question whether some of us would wish to serve on this Committee again. This is the fundamental question—who has rights over the new House that is proposed to be built?
What I was going to say when my right hon. Friend interrupted me is that, if these rights are vested in Mr. Speaker, it could properly be claimed that the Serjeant at Arms, in performing
Division No. 6]
|Agnew, Comdr. P. G.||Brooke, H. (Lewisham)||Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)|
|Apsley, Lady||Bull, B. B.||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. (Kens'en, N.)|
|Barnes, A. J.||Campbell, Sir E. T. (Bromley)||Dunglass, Lord|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P.||Cary, R. A.||Ellis, Sir G.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Clarke, Colonel R. S.||Ellisten, Captain Sir G. S.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Cobb, Captain E. C.||Emmott, C. E. G. C.|
|Benson, G.||Cox, Captain H. B. Trevor||Emrys-Evans, P. V.|
|Bower, Norman (Harrow)||Dalton, Rt. Han. H.||Entwistle, Sir C. F.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N. (Buckrose)||De Chair, S. S.||Fyfe, Major Sir D. P. M.|
|Broad, F. A.||Denville, Alfred||Glanville, J. E.|
|Brocklebank, Sir C. E. R.||Douglas, F. C. R.||Glyn, Sir R. G. C.|
these functions, is in fact exercising the delegated authority not of the Lord Great Chamberlain but of Mr. Speaker. I agree, however, that the position is thoroughly obscure. Incidentally, there are other obscurities as well. For instance, there is a long standing difference of opinion between the First Commissioner of Works and the Lord Great Chamberlain as to which of the two controls Westminster Hall. But that is another issue. All I can say this evening is that the Government will consider my Noble Friend's suggestion that a Committee should be set up to inquire into this matter but I cannot of course give any firm answer to-night.
Before this Debate comes to an end I think that hon. Members would wish to join with me in expressing our thanks to the Select Committee for their historic Report and for the distinguished and diligent service which they have rendered to this House. In particular, we are indebted to my Noble Friend the Right hon. Member for Horsham who, as Chairman of the Committee, has so wisely guided their deliberations. I have no hesitation in inviting hon. Members to approve the Report in the firm confidence that the new House of Commons which will arise out of these plans will be worthy alike of the traditions of the past and of the new unfolding opportunities of the future.
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is the intention of the Government to put on the Government Whips in the event of our taking the Amendment to a Division?
This is a Government Motion. The Government are accepting the responsibility for the very considerable expenditure involved and it will be treated in the same way as other Government Motions.
Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
The House divided: Ayes, 121; Noes, 21.
|Goldie, N. B.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray & Nairn)|
|Grant-Ferris, Wing-Commander R.||Molson, A. H. E||Suirdaie, Colonel Viscount|
|Greenwell, Colonel T, G.||Morgan, R. H. (Stourbridge)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Taylor, Major C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Morrison, Major J. G. (Salisbury)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Grimston, R. V. (Westbury)||Nicholson, G. (Farnham)||Teeling, Flight-Lleut. W.|
|Guy, W. H.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G. (Leicester, W.)||Thomas, I. (Keighley)|
|Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Oliver, G. H.||Thorneycroft, Maj. G. E. P. (St'ff'd)|
|Harris, Rt. Hon. Sir P. A.||Peaks, Rt. Hon. O.||Tharneyoroft, H. (Clayton)|
|Headlam, Lt.Col. Sir C. M.||Petherick, M.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Comdr. R. L.|
|Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Henderson, J. J. Craik (Leeds, N.E.)||Peto, Major B. A. J.||Walkden, A. G. (Bristol, S.)|
|Heneage, Lt.-Col. Sir A. P.||Plugge, Capt. L. F.||Ward, Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Hicks, E. G.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Reakes, G. L. (Wallasey)||Waterhouse, Captain Rt. Hon. C.|
|Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Watt, Brig. G. S. Harvie (Richmond)|
|Hopkinson, A.||Salter, Rt. Hn. Sir J. A. (Oxford U.)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W. (Blaydon)|
|Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Sanderson, Sir F. B.||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Hughes, R. Moelwyn||Sandys, Rt. Hon. E. D.||Willink, Rt. Hon. H. U.|
|Isaacs, G. A.||Savory, Professor D. L.||Windsor-Clive, Lt-Col. G.|
|Joynson-Hicks, Lt.-Comdr. Hon. L. W.||Schoster, Sir G. E.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Keatings, Major E. M.||Scott, Lard William (Ro'b'h & Selk'k)||Womersley, Rt. Hon. Sir W.|
|Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Shaw, Capt. W. T. (Forfar)||Woodburn, A.|
|Lloyd, C. E. (Dudley)||Silkin, L.||Wootton-Davies, J. H.|
|MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W. D.||York, Major C.|
|McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Smith, Sir Bracewell (Dulwich)||Young, Major A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Mack, J. D.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Magnay, T.||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Makins, Brig.-Gen. Sir E.||Snadden, W. McN.||Mr. Pym and Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.|
|Marlowe, Lt-Col. A.||Spears, Maj.-Gen. Sir E. L.|
|Mathers, G.||Storey, S.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Dugdale, John (W. Bromwich)||Shinwell, E.|
|Bevan, A. (Ebbw Vale)||Hubbard, T. F.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Kirkwood, D.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Buchanan, G.||Lawson, H. M. (Skipton)||Walkden, E. (Doncaster)|
|Burke, W. A.||Lipson, D. L.||Willoughby, de Eresby, Major Lord|
|Cove, W. G.||Maclean, N. (Govan)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W. (Rochdale)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Oldfield, W. H.||Mr. A. Duckworth and|
Main Question put, and agreed to.
"That this House doth agree with the Committee in their recommendations."