HC Deb 03 May 1830 vol 24 cc347-52

100,000l. was then proposed to defray the expenses of the alterations and improvements of Windsor Castle.

Mr. R. Gordon

opposed the Vote; he complained that the original estimate submitted to the House had been 300,000l. It was subsequently raised to 640,000l.; and in 1828, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that in candour he was obliged to state that 50,000l. more would be wanted to complete the works making it then nearly 700,000l. Another 100,000l. was voted last year, making it 800,000l. and now it was proposed, without any inquiry or investigation, to make the grant 900,000l., and this too without any pledge that the present demand would be the last; or, in fact, that.300,000l. or 400,000l. more would not be wanted. Encouraged then by the division on the last question, he would now move that the sum of 100l. be granted to his Majesty for the purposes of defraying the expenses of the alterations and improvements of Windsor Castle.

Mr. O'Connell

observed, that many hon. Members who had Irish constituents, voted for the last grant, and this at a moment when the Chancellor of the Exchequer had it in contemplation to impose 300,000l. additional taxes upon Ireland. He now called upon those Gentlemen to oppose this vote, for if they did so successfully, there might be 100,000l. of taxation spared to Ireland. It might be very ridiculous, but he was most happy to say, that the opposition to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's scheme of taxation was progressing in that country amongst persons of all parties and persuasions. On this ground, if he had no other, he would vote against the grant. The circumstance, however, of the original estimate of 300,000l. having been so greatly exceeded, afforded abundant reason for opposing such profligate expenditure.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the measure of repairing and improving the ancient seat of the Kings of England was, when first proposed, popular, not only in Parliament, but throughout the country. He stated that the causes which had led to the estimates being exceeded had been frequently detailed to the House; and he observed, that there was infinitely more difficulty in calculating the expenses required for repairing an old building than in deciding upon those which might be necessary for the erection of a new one. He could declare that many unexpected diffi- culties had arisen in the progress of the works; and in conclusion, submitted to the House, that the only question to decide was, whether the building should be suffered to remain unfinished, a disgrace to the country, or whether they would consent to the grant which had been just proposed. Buildings would not endure for ever, but must have extensive reparations. He believed that the mode in which these reparations had been executed at Windsor Castle was satisfactory to persons who were competent judges. He was confident that the people of this country did not grudge the expenditure which had taken place upon that building. He was equally sure they would not be dissatisfied with the amount of expense which might be necessary for its completion; and on every ground he thought it was impossible for the House to refuse this vote.

Mr. Brougham

said, I rise with unfeigned reluctance to express my opinions on this subject. For reasons to which I will not now more particularly allude, there is no time at which I would more willingly find it possible, if it were consistent with my public duty, not to say one word upon the question. But I cannot do so, and I shall, therefore, briefly and simply as possible, state the reasons why I, for one, shall vote for the motion of my hon. friend. If I could think that the question now submitted to this Committee was what the right hon. Gentleman has once and again stated it to be, I would vote for him. If it were put to me, "Shall the present buildings at Windsor Castle, with all the improvements which have been undertaken and are in part executed on this ancient and magnificent structure, the residence of our Kings-be completed, or shall they stop short where they now are?"—I say, if the question put to me were merely this, I should not hesitate before I said that these buildings ought to be completed. But I take that not to be the question. I take the question to be, whether we shall vote 100,000l. in addition to the 800,000l. already voted, before we ascertain how that 800,000l. has already been bestowed; before we ascertain whether the 100,000l. which is now required in addition to the 800,000l. will be found sufficient to complete the structure, nay, before even any one man has stood up in this House and stated that the 100,000l. now-required will be sufficient to complete these works. Let the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer assure us—let any one tell me that this sum will be sufficient— that it will enable the architect to finish the buildings, and I may then be disposed to vote it, though in the present state of the country I might grudge the expenditure of such a sum. But I am called on to vote this money without the prospect—nay, without the hope—that it will he enough; and the next time that a Committee of Supply sits in this House, I may he told that the structure is still unfinished, and I may again he asked whether I will allow it, for the want of 100,000l. more, to remain unfinished. I differ, Sir, from the right hon. Gentleman, in the view he has taken of the feeling of this House and of this country on this subject. He has said that the measure was popular in this House and the country. Why? Because this House and the country have held most justly, and I concur with them, that we ought to wish to see the Monarch provided for with a dignity that is becoming, and even a splendor which is befitting and decent; and when it was stated that 300,000l. ought to be given for repairing the palace of our Kings, though the sum was considerable, there was no objection made to the vote. But did it at all follow that the House and the country should be satisfied to vote 900,000l.—not for further repairs, but for a very different object—that this measure should still continue popular when it was no longer what it had been, but was totally changed? At this moment we are not told that 900,000l. will be enough, and, for aught I know, half a million more may yet be demanded. This is the plain view of the matter as opposed to that taken by the right hon. Gentleman. I, for one, should be ready to agree that his Majesty should have that palace repaired, or even extended, greatly extended—with which so many associations of the history of this country and of the former times of the Monarchy are connected. It is a reasonable and natural wish; but we do not put the matter fairly, if we state that we are only called on to make these votes for one palace, for while 900,000l. have been required for Windsor, we have voted 500,000l. and more—not for repairing a palace for his Majesty, but for building a new palace, on the site—not of an old palace, but of a modern residence, which of itself was, in my opinion, sufficient for the purposes of a Court. Even that I should not be disposed to grudge the Monarch, if I could only see an end, but (and I for one disclaim all invidious observations, and at the present am more than ever anxious to avoid them) but I must say that of these expenses we can sec the beginning, but even, when 1,400,000l. have been voted and expended, even at this hour, I can sec no end to them. I say, therefore, as a Member of this House, bound, on the one hand, to act with a view to protect the just dignity of the Monarch, and on the other to watch for the advantage and the interests of the people, that I feel it to be my imperious duty to vote against this grant, in the circumstances under which it is now proposed.

Sir J. Sebright

thought there would be no limit to such extravagance unless that House fixed a limit by a decisive resolution, Some Members had no constituents. He had, and always voted to the best of their interests, and he felt that he should not do so if he did not vote against this grant. He should be much surprised if the hon. Member did not obtain a majority.

Mr. R. Gordon

said, his object was not to refuse the vote, but to refer it to a Committee of Inquiry, and as he had moved that 10,000l. should be taken on the last vote on account, in order to refer it to a committee, he thought it would be more decorous to shape his present amendment on the same principle.

An hon. Member was of opinion that some competent person should give the House an estimate of the sum that was really wanted, before the money was voted.

Sir M. W. Ridley

recalled the attention of the House to the fact that the original estimate was 300,000l., and the excess of that estimate was fully explained when the two grants were afterwards made. The present vote, therefore, did not come upon the House unawares, but was in consequence of a distinct and well understood proposition for carrying on further improvements at the castle than were at first proposed. Some Members might ask whether the sum now required would, if granted, be sufficient to complete the works? He had not sufficient opportunity to inquire into the subject to be able to answer that question distinctly; but he thought, that in the state in which the works were now, any further demand could not proceed to a great extent.

Mr. Hobhouse

believed that the case in favour of his hon. friend's Amendment was made much stronger by the hon. Member, one of the commissioners for these works, who had just spoken. Like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that hon. Commissioner was quite unable to answer for the future demands that might be made on ac- count of Windsor Castle—an inability which in itself was the strongest reason for the proposed inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had spoken of the responsibility imposed on the Ministers in affairs of this sort. Let him consent to this committee, and they would be relieved from it. The right hon. Gentleman was mistaken in supposing that the people of England were interested in these works, though it might possibly be true that they would have been interested in the works, if they had been merely confined to the reparation of the old Castle. He was convinced the people would not be satisfied if this sum were granted without inquiry.

Lord Sandon

thought, an inquiry was necessary, and he would support the Amendment.

Sir T. Acland

had ever been disposed to vote for a liberal expenditure to provide a residence worthy of the sovereign and of the people of England, but until he heard some satisfactory explanation as to the amount of the sum which would be finally required, he could not vote for this Estimate. If he were satisfied that a delay in making the grant would be detrimental to the contemplated improvements, he should hesitate in voting for it; but he did not fear any such result. The House had not the full estimate before them, and when he saw a crippled estimate he suspected something was wrong. He thought that it would be more worthy of the House, and more satisfactory to the public, if the Government would do what it ought, and give a more distinct explanation of the whole case before this vote was proposed. Under such circumstances, he felt it his duty, though it was most exceedingly painful to be obliged to do so, to vote against the grant, and in favour of the Amendment.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

quite agreed with those hon. Members who said, that there were circumstances at the present moment which rendered a discussion on this subject exceedingly painful indeed. He was ready to say, that if it were the general feeling of the House that this Estimate should be referred to a committee, he should no longer resist that feeling, and he did not think that he showed any undue deference to the opposition which had been raised on this occasion, if under such circumstances he consented to have this vote referred to a committee, for the purpose of ascertaining what might be the ultimate expense necessary for the completion of Windsor Castle. He did so, he confessed, with considerable pain—but under the conviction that, at the present moment, he was taking that course which was best calculated to prevent a most painful discussion, and to prove that the recommendation which he had made to the committee was one which he was justified in making, and which, after the information which he should lay before it, the committee would feel justified in carrying into effect. He should therefore withdraw this vote for the present, with a view to ascertain what might be necessary to complete these works.

Mr. Gordon

was rather inclined to persevere in his Amendment, as he should have, in case of its being carried, the appointment of the committee up stairs, which would be otherwise with the right hon. Gentleman, who, he must say, was not most happy in forming his committees. However, if it were the feeling of the majority of the Members, he would withdraw his Amendment, and he trusted a proper committee would be appointed to investigate the subject.

Mr. Brougham

said, the right hon. Gentleman was quite correct in assuming that he made no undue deference to the opinion of the House in withdrawing this Estimate, for that opinion had been too decidedly expressed to allow any such vote to be passed; and he (Mr. Brougham) would venture to say, that neither the right hon. Gentleman, nor the whole power of the Government, could any more have succeeded in carrying this vote on the present occasion than they would have succeeded in carrying a vote for 10,000,000l. sterling for the same purpose.

The proposed grant withdrawn.

On the Motion of Mr. Hume, that the Chairman do report progress, the House, after some conversation, resumed.