HC Deb 12 June 1815 vol 31 cc738-43

The order of the day for the further consideration of the report of the Post-office Bill, having been read, Mr. Lushington moved, "That the Bill be now re-committed."

Mr. H. Sumner

then rose, and stated the objections he had uniformly advanced against the re-building of the Post-office, on the contemplated plan, since the measure was first agitated. He apologised for being absent when the subject was last discussed. The reason of which was, that, as it stood amongst the orders, and a great variety of notices preceded it, on a day when the notices were to come on first, he had no idea that the subject would have been discussed on that evening. Many of the notices were, however, deferred, foe the purpose of then considering the Bill—a proceeding which he did not think fair or candid. With respect to the mode in which the expense of erecting the new Post-office was to be defrayed, it appeared to him to be in the highest degree unjust. All taxation should be as general as possible; and, except in cases of local improvement, this principle ought never to be deviated from. But, in the present instance, the citizens of London, and the inhabitants of some of the adjacent counties, would be taxed for a public work, from which they would derive no more benefit than the other subjects of the empire. He never could agree to charge, on the Orphans' Fund, any part of the expense of the new building. That Fund was placed under the management of the corporation of London; and he was one of those who did not much admire the way in which they had discharged the trust committed to them. No less than. 900,000l. had been subtracted from that Fund, and appropriated to that for which it was never intended. The bonds issued to raise 600,000l. of that sum, bore a discount of 16, 18, and even 20 per cent., so that in raising the money, the public had sustained a loss of not less than 160,000l. The works which the City had caused to be executed, and which were to be defrayed out of this Fund, were not entitled to approbation. Blackfriars Bridge had been open about 43 years, and it was now in such a state of decay, that, unless 40 or 50,000l, were laid out in necessary repairs, it would not probably last for twenty years more. How ill Newgate was adapted to the purposes for which it was erected, was a complaint made by every person who examined it. That building cost 95,000l.; and the committee of that House, lately appointed to examine the slate of the gaols in the metropolis, observed, in their report, that it was much to be lamented so large a sum had been so ill applied. In his opinion, the Orphans' Fund, placed as it was, under the direction of the corporation of London, was a perpetual source of job to many of the officers connected with that corporation. The hon. gentleman then adverted to the accounts of the balances of the Orphans' Fund, which had been laid before the House, and which, be expressed his belief, were not correct. He denied the necessity of having a collector of the coal duty in the port of London—although the person who filled the situation, he admitted, was very moderately paid, having only 150l. per annum. But where there was a chamberlain, into whose hands the money ought to be paid, he could not see the prudence of allowing balances to accumulate in the bands of another person.

Sir James Shaw

defended the city of London from the imputations attempted to be cast upon it by the hon. gentleman who had spoken last, and repeated the arguments which he had urged on former occasions in favour of this Bill. He considered the Orphans' Fund could not be better applied than in the erection of a new Post-office, which would not alone prove beneficial to the city of London itself, but to the country at large, from the great facility which would be given in the transaction of public business in this department.

Mr. Grenfell

considered that his hon. friend was entitled to considerable praise for the zeal which he had displayed in his opposition to this measure. He could not agree, however, in the comments which he had made on the hon. alderman opposite (sir W. Curtis), whose conduct he considered as having been unobjectionable in every sense of the word, as far as regarded his duty of collector of the duty on coals.

Sir W. Curtis

defended himself from the charge which had been brought against him, and submitted, that the compensation which he received for the trouble of collecting the duties on coals was far from being too liberal. There were many situations in which collectors received per cent, for the execution of their duties, whereas he received but two-pence in the pound, and he was responsible for very considerable sums. With respect to the course taken by the city of London in the appropriation of the Orphans' Fund, he thought they could not do better than in appropriating it to the improvement of their streets.

Mr. Baring

was convinced that whatever the hon. baronet had had to do with the Orphans' Fund, had, like every other transaction of his life, been conducted with the strictest honour. But he could not let the subject pass without again entering his protest against the wanton and unnecessary expenditure of money on the building of the new Post-office. There was no doubt that it was intended to prolong the duty upon coals, in order to replenish the Orphans' Fund, and make up for the money to be taken from it. The city of London imposed these duties not only upon the city of Westminster, but also on the country for thirty or forty miles round; and this tax, altogether objectionable, was laid upon people who had no interest in the improvements to which it was applied. The hon. gentleman then repeated the objections be had made against the Bill in its different stages. It seemed as if the Treasury overflowed with money, and that Government was looking about to see how it could be expended. Something between 80,000l. and 90,0000l. had been spent upon the present Post-office within the last ten years; and before much of the mortar was hardly dry, the same persons who had thus enlarged it, came to parliament to apply to have it pulled down and rebuilt, at an expense of 600 or 700,000l. The buildings as they now stood were in good repair, and perfectly adequate to the purposes to which they were devoted. The hon. gentleman concluded with moving, as an amendment, that instead of 'now,' the House should go into the committee 'this day three months.'

The House divided: For the amendment, 35; Against it, 85—Majority, 50.

The House then went into the committee, when Mr. H. Sumner proposed an amendment to the clause relative to the committee for superintending the building. It was, that instead of the names of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council of the City of London, be substituted those of the members for London, Westminster, and the four counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Essex, and Kent. On this a division took place: For the amendment, 15; Against it, 62—Majority, 47.

The committee proceeded to go through the remaining clauses.

Mr. Sumner

observed, that it would be proper to restrict the power of purchasing buildings, which was now given to the public for five years. He thought they should be obliged to decide in eighteen months what buildings or ground they would purchase, and to complete the purchase within six months after.

Mr. Gordon

observed, that there was no clause in the Bill to insure the competition of architects in preparing estimates.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that it was for the Treasury to procure a plan by competition between the architects, but he did not intend to propose the insertion of a clause to that effect in the Bill. Before Parliament met again, it might be in the power of the Government to select the plan and submit it to the House.

Mr. Sumner

thought that the House should see the plan and estimate before the money was voted.

Mr. Butterworth

observed, that a fair estimate, founded on the size of the proposed area, had been given in.

Mr. Bankes

thought the proposed area Was much larger than necessary.

Mr. Sumner

said, that he always suspected, and still did suspect, that there was some abominable job lurking in the back ground. When an area was purchased so much larger than the necessities of a post-office required, he did suppose that the object was to build elegant Houses for the persons employed in the Post-office. When he endeavoured to get information for the committee on this subject, the constant answer was, that almost every office he could mention must be on the ground floor, or there might be a most serious public inconvenience. He had even asked, was it absolutely necessary that the room in which the coachmen's great coats were left should be on the ground floor, and he was told that it was necessary. The consequences that he expected to follow were—that after a very great area of ground was bought, and covered with all the necessary offices for carrying on the business of the Post-office on the ground floor, it would then be proposed to fit up elegant apartments over them, for the accommodation of those persons to whom it was wished to afford this accommodation.

Upon the clause for appointing commissioners to superintend the clearing of the ground,

Mr. Sumner

observed, that the value of the materials of the houses purchased for this area would be about 60,000l., of which the Orphans' Fund ought to be given credit for its proportion. He understood that all this was to be applied to making a new great sewer. Now he could not see, if a sewer was necessary in this part of the town, why it should not be made at the expense of the parishes, or why it should be thrown on the Orphans' Fund.

Upon the clause, that the sum of 240,000l. should be granted by Government for the purposes of the Act,

Mr. Sumner

declared, that he was not one who found fault with the right hon. gentleman for raising 36,000,000l. for carrying on the war. He considered it as a choice of two evils, and was decidedly of opinion, that it was better to engage manfully in the contest at this moment, than to labour under more disadvantages twelve months hence. He thought it better to make the effort at once, and give his concurrence most cordially to the policy that was about to be pursued. At the same time, however, it was painful for him to find many grievous and unnecessary burthens brought into the account; he considered it quite unnecessary to vote so large a sum of money for building a new Post-office, whilst the Country was groaning and dying under the anticipation of future taxation. He objected to every superfluous expense, and must, therefore, resist this clause.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought it more manly to bring forward the expenses at once. It was not to be understood, that the whole of the money would be wanted immediately, but power was given to provide for the charges, as they should be required from time to time.

Mr. Sumner

maintained, that a progressive vote would manifest a due and proper attention to the expenses of the country, under existing circumstances. It would show a wish on the part of Government to reduce the expenditure as much as possible.

Mr. Gordon

could not understand that it was absolutely necessary to build a new Post-office this year, as the business had been hitherto conducted with so much ability. He trusted, therefore, that his hon. friend would press a division on this clause.

The House divided: For the Clause, 48; Against it, 14;—Majority 34. The House resumed, and the report was ordered to be received to-morrow.