HC Deb 23 March 1824 vol 10 cc1381-5
Mr. Bankes,

rose, to move for a committee to inquire into the state of the Courts now erecting in Westminster hall. Whoever brought forward a proposition in parliament, was bound, not only to support his own reasons, but to anticipate those of his opponents. In the first place, the present was only a motion to inquire. If the objections which he took to the taste and order of those buildings should not be supported by the opinions of the committee, the House would hear no more of them. He justified his earnestness on behalf of the style of public buildings, by the honour and renown which had accrued to small cities by one or two well-proportioned and judiciously decorated buildings. If the committee which he asked for were granted, it would not incur any considerable expense. He was quite aware how material it was that courts of justice should be provided with as little delay as possible, and he thought that the committee would have no difficulty in finding a site for their erection on the other side of Westminster hall, where a number of old buildings stood, and where the Exchequer-office was at present. He would conclude by moving, that the estimate and plan which had been laid before the House should be referred to a committee to examine the same, and to report such observations thereon to the House as they should think fit.

Mr. Agar Ellis

seconded the motion.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer,

said, he found himself on the present occasion in rather a novel situation. It was usually his lot to have to propose to the House the expenditure of the public money; but now it became his duty to state the reasons for not thinking it expedient to acquiesce in the motion which had been made by his hon. friend. In the first place, he thought the individual by whom the building was executed had been severely dealt with. That gentleman had been called upon to furnish a design, and to carry it into effect, under circumstances which left him little latitude for the display of his taste. It would be remembered, that some years ago, the decoration of the metropolis was not contemplated by the House. Even upon the occasion of a vote for the purchase of that magnificent collection of the remains of ancient art, which was now confessed to be one of the most splendid and valuable ornaments of the country, great opposition was manifested. It was said, that the burthens of the people should be relieved, before the public money should be applied to any such purposes. That feeling had by no means ceased to operate, when the design for the new courts was ordered, and it was therefore too much to assume that either the government, or the individual by whom the design was made, were to be blamed for what had been done under circumstances which prevented them from following their own inclinations or the dictates of good taste. As the buildings, too, were wanted for a purpose connected with the administration of justice, it was expedient that no time should be lost, and, although he was very ready to admit, that if they had been continued on each side of Westminster hall, instead of on one only, they would have been in better taste, he knew also that this would have occasioned great delay. The delay which had necessarily taken place, had been much complained of by the profession. In the session before the last, his right hon. friend, who then occupied his office, and in the last session he himself, had been exposed to a formidable battery, which the members of the profession had opened upon them respecting those buildings. He remembered that his hon. friend the solicitor-general and the member for Winchelsea, had complained of the general inconvenience which that delay occasioned. With respect, however, to the individuals concerned in the works, colonel Stephenson and Mr. Soane, he was compelled to say, that they had really acted with their hands tied. It would be very hard on the latter gentleman, who was an architect, to have brought down upon him, in his professional character, the whole weight of the censure of that House. He could not, under a full impression of what he felt due to the public interest, consent to go into a committee, having for its object to consider the propriety of pulling down buildings which were now so near their completion. He feared also, that the removal of the one excrescence would only lead to the creation of another. These were the grounds on which he felt himself bound to oppose the motion of his hon. friend He should, however, leave the question to be dealt with by the House as it should think fit. He appreciated fully the liberal spirit which parliament had displayed in the embellishment of the metropolis; but he thought he should not have discharged his duty, if he had omitted to state his disapproval of the measure proposed.

Mr. G. Bankes,

wished it to be understood, that in voting for the appointment of a committee, he had no intention of casting the slightest imputation upon the professional character of Mr. Soane. Having lived for a considerable time in foreign countries, he was occasionally called upon to shew the public buildings of the metropolis to foreign visitors. In inspecting Westminster hall, he was frequently asked—"who erected this part; and "who the other?" To these questions he answered, William Rufus did this, Henry the third that, and Richard the second the other; but, when significantly asked as to these additions, he answered with regret, but with an omission of the names.

Sir James Mackintosh

rose for the purpose of vindicating his legal friends from the charge of impatience which had been made against them by the right hon. gentleman. They had only expressed a desire, that the buildings should be completed for the public convenience. The explanation of the right hon. gentleman had been most satisfactory to him; because it enabled him to give his vote without conveying any imputation on the gentlemen, who had been concerned in the buildings alluded to.

Mr. W. Williams

thought it was possible to find a convenient place for the erection of courts of law, closely adjoining Westminster-hall which would also do away with the right hon. gentleman's objection.

Lord G. Cavendish

was of opinion, that the mere circumstance, admitted on all sides, that the buildings were not approved of, was sufficient to induce the House to enter into the proposed inquiry, not, however, pledging themselves to go any further.

Mr. Hume

hoped that this good at least would spring out of the question before the House—that a rule would be adopted in future, by which no public buildings should be commenced until they had been submitted to a committee of the House. In the present state of the buildings, he did not think it would be prudent to pull them down, because, if once the House began to pull down buildings that were not in good taste, they ought to do the same by the front of the House of Lords; and no one knew where they would stop. With regard to Mr. Soane, it was agreed by all who knew him, that he was a sincere lover of the arts. His public and private reputation were highly honourable; and he therefore regretted that imputations should have been cast upon him. If this motion were pressed to a division, he should certainly vote with the chancellor of the Exchequer against the committee.

Sir C. Long

said, he had long been acquainted with Mr. Soane, who, in his profession, was a man of great merit indeed. All persons differed in matters of taste; but, in the execution of any of his undertakings, no man was more laboriously attentive. He objected to the style of his buildings, and would have preferred to have seen them in unison with the beautiful Gothic style of Westminster-hall, which should have been like the aisle of a large cathedral, while the courts might have formed small chapels around it. Whether, however, the present buildings should be pulled down, was quite another question; and the affirmative of this he was not prepared to support.

Colonel Trench

insisted, that the building in question was odious and obnoxious, and for this reason he would support the motion.

The House divided: For the committee 43; Against it 30. A committee was accordingly appointed.