HC Deb 01 June 1815 vol 31 cc572-7
Sir James Shaw

appeared at the bar with the report of the Post-office Bill, which he was proceeding to bring up, when the Speaker informed him that the question was not yet put.

Mr. Atkins Wright

said, he should object to this report being received at all. He could not consent to impose any additional burthens on the public, unless there was an absolute necessity for such a proceeding; and as he was not satisfied that the erection of a new Post-office was indispensable, he should oppose the appropriation of the public money to such an object. The business of the Post-office was at present carried on with the greatest degree of celerity; and for his own part, he saw no necessity for alteration. It was possible, that advantageous alterations might be made, but those ought to be postponed to a convenient season.

Mr. W. Smith

objected to the situation in which it was proposed to place the new Post-office, as it would be in the way of the greatest improvement that could be made in the metropolis, that of making a street strait from Blackfriars-bridge (by removing Fleet-market) to the northern road. He could not approve of expending 200,000l. on a new Post-office, while Somerset-house remained in an unfinished state. If the works there were completed, he thought it possible room might be found for the Post-office. Some alteration in the Post-office, he admitted, ought to be made.

Mr. Barclay

opposed the bringing up the Report, from an unwillingness to vote away the public money, on works of mere ornament or magnificence, whilst the country was burthened with such heavy impositions. To erect such a building as that proposed in the centre of a suffering population, would carry, in his opinion, the appearance of an insult on the difficult circumstances to which an unavoidable war had reduced them. He had heard of the liberality of the City, but he confessed he could see very little of it in this affair.

Mr. Alderman Atkins

defended the pro- posed improvement, and the manner in which part of the expense was to be met by the city of London.

Mr. Gordon

said, the sum offered by the city of London was a delusion. In point of fact, the city would not pay more than 12,000l. towards the undertaking, while they threw a considerable burthen on the neighbouring counties.

Mr. Protheroe

thought the improvement contemplated the most economical plan that could be acted upon.

Mr. Bankes

lamented that it had been deemed necessary to introduce this Bill at the present moment, when the nation was so heavily burthened. At any rate be thought the House was not yet sufficiently informed upon the subject, and that it ought to be postponed until next year. He believed that a trifling addition to the present Post-office would be quite adequate for the present purposes. He adverted to several unnecessary expenses in public buildings, particularly at the Transport-office in Cannon-row, which was ornamented by a colonade of Ionic pillars and a basement story of Portland stone. The Mint, also, after 300,000l. had been expended on it, and eighteen private houses erected within its walls, it appeared, wanted a still further sum to increase its public offices. From thus considering the expenditure of the country, he felt a decided objection to the adoption of a measure like the present, which at all events he thought it would be well to postpone. With this view he would propose as an amendment, "That the Report be received that day three months."

Mr. Lockhart

supported the amendment, on the grounds, that the pressure of the times required a strict attention to public economy. Besides, if means were necessary for a purpose of great local improvement, why not draw them from some of those great city funds, the application of which had been, from a variety of causes, diverted from the original intention of the donors? For instance, large sums were appropriated for the redemption of Christian captives in Algiers, and he had not of late years heard that any such persons had been so released. If a liberal contribution were called for, why not afford it from some part of this local purse, which would be particularly augmented by the adoption of the measure, instead of drawing it from the public, under the present state of the country?

Mr. Holme Sumner

was of opinion, that if a new post-office must be erected, there could be no better spot chosen than Somerset-house, in which case that building could be put in a state of architectural completion. Much had been said of the unwholesome nature of the situations in which the present office was compelled to transact its business; and yet when Mr. Freeling was examined upon this point, he admitted that no argument in favour of the alteration could be drawn from the existing state of health of those who were employed in the various departments. The hon. member then took a review of the proceedings of the city of London, when they caused the London-bridge toll to be taken from their own backs, and placed on those of their neighbours, and maintained, that at a moment when five million of subsidy was about to be transmitted for the common defence of the country, such a principle of local taxation as that which the present measure imposed, ought not to be admitted. Nearly 1,000,000l. had already been drawn from the public for such purposes; there was 500,000l. for new streets 3 or 400,000l. for this post-office, 35,000l. for a penitentiary-house, and 30,000l. for the colonade in Cannon-row. The aggregate of these sums would be sufficient for a two-months subsidy at least, and there were moments when the ready payment of such a sum would probably terminate a campaign, which otherwise would be incomplete. He was therefore decidedly hostile to the measure.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that if he had thought it possible to save the money that would be expended in the erection of a new post-office, in his responsible situation he should have been most anxious to do so; but after the fullest inquiry, and the most patient examination of witnesses, he had been reluctantly compelled to decide in favour of the measure. The sum expended on this post-office would repay itself in a very short time, and there seemed a great probability, that by the arrangements which the new building would facilitate, an increase in the revenue of 50,000l. would, at no great distance of time, take place. On the ground of public economy, therefore, the measure was justified. As to the application of the local fund at the disposal of the city of London, it was but fair that the local improvement should be paid for out of the local fund. The public, who would receive the greatest benefit, would contribute the largest share, and the city of London would contribute that proportion which was a fair compensation for the benefit it would receive from the improvement in point of convenience and appearance, from opening an avenue in that part of the town where the office was to be built. A further delay would much enhance the expense of purchasing the site, and the public would pay at a most ruinous rate of interest for the saving which might be occasioned by that delay. An objection had been made lo the application of money from the Orphans' Fund; but that fund, whatever was its origin, was at present to be regarded in no other light than any other local fund; many of the same nature existed in the ports of the kingdom: the duty by which it was supplied, sixpence on the chaldron of coals brought into the port of London, was scarcely felt: a proof of which was, that no one had experienced any benefit from the repeal of the war-duty to a much larger amount, viz. 3s. a chaldron. As the post-office must be rebuilt, and as no equally good situation could be found, he thought the House had strong reasons for agreeing to the Report.

Mr. Rose

said, that in the opinion which be gave, he was entirely guided by the previous recommendation of the committees which had sat on the subject. If the present post-office was decided to be inadequate for its uses, the balance of expense between its enlargement and the erection of a new one, was, in his opinion, in favour of the latter, from the many advantages which it embraced.

Mr. Browne

defended the decision of both committees, which had fully entered upon every consideration relative to this question, although they had heard every thing which was pertinaciously urged in opposition by the hon. gentleman near him (Mr. Sumner), and also by the hon. member for Taunton (Mr. Baring), who he supposed had altered his opinion on the subject, as he no longer persevered in his opposition.

The House divided, when the numbers were:—For receiving the Report, 56; Against it, 16:—Majority 40. On the motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Report was ordered to be received on Monday next. The Chancellor of the Exchequer then moved the order of the day for the House resolving itself into a committee of supply. In the committee, the right hon. gentleman moved, "That a sum, not exceeding 240,000l. be advanced from time to time out of the revenue of the Post-office of Great Britain, for defraying the expense of providing a site for a new Post-office, and making proper avenues thereto; one third, part whereof shall be repaid to the said revenue from the Orphans' Fund."

Mr. Gordon

observed, that some delusion must have been practised on the House, as it was understood that the whole expense to the public, both for the purchase of the ground and the erection of the building, was to be 240,000l.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that there was a deduction made in the estimate on account of the value of the present Post-office materials, and the ground on which it stood.

Mr. H. Sumner

thought it should be distinctly understood, before the House voted a large sum for clearing the ground, what was to be the building to be erected on it. No plan had been before the committee of the upper stories of the building; and he much suspected that those parts would be occupied with apartments for the officers, which, besides being an indirect increase of their salaries, would by augmenting the number of residents increase the danger of fire.

Mr. Grenfell

read a part of the Report, which distinctly stated that the whole expense to the public would be only 240,000l. both for the site and building of the new Post-office.

Mr. Bankes

observed, that such would be the amount (it was true) of the ultimate expense; but in the mean time the purchase-money must be provided, which would be reduced by the re-sale of part of the ground, by the contribution from the Orphans' Fund, and the value of the old Post-office.

Mr. Gordon

urged the propriety of building the Post-office at Somerset-house, where there was sufficient ground already in the hands of Government.

Mr. Wrottesley

thought the space vacant at Somerset-house would be quite inadequate to the extent of the building required.

Mr. H. Sumner

, on the ground that the sum of 240,000l. would not be required till the exact extent of the building to be erected was determined on, proposed an amendment, that the sum of 100,000l. be voted for the purpose above mentioned.

Mr. Butterworth

observed, that the sum of 240,000l. would be paid, not all at once, but by instalments.

After a few words from Mr. Pole Carew, Mr. H. Sumner, and Mr. P. Grenfell, the amendment was negatived, and the original grant was carried.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

next proposed, that the parish in which the new Post-office is to be erected shall be compensated out of the revenue of the Post-office, for the diminution of parochial and ether rates, for paving, lighting, &c. which may be occasioned by the houses to be pulled down.

This proposition was opposed by Messrs. Calvert, Gordon, Sumner, Grenfell, and sir M. Wood, on these ground:—that no estimate of the amount of the proposed compensation was presented; that in fact no indemnity was due for poor's-rates, because as the houses were to be taken down, if the amount of the poor's-rates were reduced, there would be also a proportionally diminished claim upon those poor's-rates in consequence of the reduced population; and also that there was no precedent for such claims; nothing of the kind having been ever suggested in Westminster, upon the removal of so many streets to make room for the recent improvements.—The Chancellor of the Exchequer argued on the other side, that it would be unfair to allow the funds of a particular district to suffer a severe loss, by the creation of an establishment for the public good, and that there was a precedent for this proposition in the case of the new gaol of the City.—A division took place: For the motion, 52; Against it, 21: Majority, 31.