HC Deb 15 February 1831 vol 2 cc586-94
Lord Althorp

laid before the House certain papers relating to the new palace of St. James's, and to the supply of the furniture of Windsor Castle. The noble Lord then moved that the papers be referred to a Select Committee. He said, that when he first entered upon the duties of the office which he then had the honour to fill, he found in that department a great number of papers relative to the workmen employed upon Buckingham-palace, who complained that money was due to them, and that they were suffering great distress from not being paid their just demands. He had found upon inquiry, that the cause of this, certainly not very reputable, state of affairs was, that the estimates of the works had been so enormously exceeded, that no money was left for the service at the disposal of the Treasury Board. The original estimates that had received the sanction of Parliament amounted to 496,000l. and the Lords of the Treasury had thought it proper to sanction a further expenditure of 3, 510l., making together the sum total of 499,510l. It appeared, however, by the accounts to Midsummer, 1830, that the amount of the sums expended up to that date was 576,353l., being an excess above the estimate of 76,800l. and, after allowing about 5,000l. for the produce of the sale of certain machinery, would certainly be 71,000l. more than there was at first any probability of expending. This related to works already done, but certain it was, that Buckingham Palace was not in a condition to be inhabited, nor any thing like it. The estimate of what remained to be spent upon the building, according to Mr. Nash's account of works not begun, was 21,000l. There were works stated to have been ordered by the late King, and not included in the esti- mate, which amounted to 25,000l., besides a further sum expended upon the gardens of 4,000l., so that the total now to be provided for, above the estimate, was about 121,000l. It was not fair to Mr. Nash to place this to his conduct, for many of the works were not calculated for by him, but it would appear, that as far as he was concerned, his estimate was exceeded by 46,000l. Before the House could be called upon to vote the sums required to complete these works, it would be necessary that a Committee should inquire why the estimates had been so much exceeded. It was not necessary for him to press upon the House that this was a point which ought to be inquired into, for he was sure that the House would feel as he did upon the subject. The other papers which he had produced related to the recent purchases of furniture for Windsor Castle. In order to arrange the furniture of Windsor Castle, and to check the estimates which were made of the probable expenses, a commission of three persons had been appointed, and after their examination into this part of the subject, they had come to the resolution of sanctioning an outlay which was not to exceed 239,900l. This sum of 239,900l. was all that they had sanctioned, but in the Lord Chamberlain's office there had been expended upon this account the sum of 287,719l.; and in the Lord Steward's department, 1,769l., besides the sum of 3,550l. laid out for tapestry, making in the whole the sum of 293,036l. The excess above the estimates, after making every deduction, was about 61,000l. This arose principally upon the furniture supplied by one single tradesman, whose bill was no less than 203,960l. being 60,960l. more than was sanctioned for his department, and who would not abate any part of the excess unless his bill was examined and found to be incorrect. The Treasury Board had not refused to pay 35,000l. of the excess, if the bill was found to be accurate upon an examination, for the articles supplied had been of so extraordinary a nature, that it was absolutely impossible to make any thing like a fair estimate, and some difficulties therefore existed as to checking his account. But still there remained, after allowing 35,000l. an excess of nearly 26,000l. Nothing could be more magnificent than the mode iv> which Windsor Castle was furnished. The furniture was of a de- scription very difficult for any tradesman to estimate its value, or what the expenses of supplying it might amount to. This, however, was a reason for a Committee to be appointed to inquire into the subject, and to decide whether a sum, if not extravagant, at least so greatly exceeding the estimates, should be voted by the House. He should beg leave to move that the papers be referred to a Select Committee of the House.

Colonel Sibthorp

was extremely anxious that the just dignity of the Crown should be supported, but he was also desirous that the hard earnings of the poor, that were wrung from them, should not be expended in an extravagant and unjustifiable manner, and he should therefore take the sense of the House as to suspending the works at Buckingham House and Windsor Castle, till they had ascertained the capability of the people of this country to maintain these exorbitant demands, which he must designate as unwarrantable luxuries and superfluous extravagances. These were his honest sentiments; and though he trusted that he should never be wanting in respect for the Crown, he also hoped that the House would go along with him in feeling what also was due to the people.

Mr. Hunt

stood up for the people of England; and if the House agreed to a Select Committee, he trusted that it would be such a one as would satisfy the public. The country was much indebted to the Press for noticing the profligate, unnecessary, and extravagant expenditure? but if the country had been in the greatest state of prosperity, he should protest against the payment of any portion of the charge till the whole had been investigated by the House. With regard to the taste of the tiling, all mankind that had seen it had unanimously decided upon that. He himself had long ago described it at a public meeting as a mixture of mud and magnificence; besides which, it was built at such a place, that if any of the family locked out of the windows they could see nothing but filthy public houses. Never had there been such a miserable affair before; and now that there was 200,000l. too much to pay for it, he protested against the payment of a single shilling, till the House was fully informed of the justice of the charge.

Colonel Davies

reminded the House, that a Committee had been formerly ap- pointed on this very subject, but it had unfortunately been brought to a very unsatisfactory conclusion; and when he had attempted the next year to renew that Committee, the sense of the House had been against it. Had that Committee been allowed, he should have been able to denounce the individual whom he believed to be the guilty party; and he even now trusted that lardy justice would overtake him. If his (Colonel Davies's) name were placed on the Committee now proposed, he could assure the House that no exertion on his part should be wanting; for never was there a question that had more excited the public attention; and the noble Lord could not have made a more popular proposal than that of the appointment of this Select Committee.

Mr. Hume

wished to know, if they were to be called on, year after year, to examine into estimates of overrun and unjustifiable expenditure, where the duties of the House were likely to end? If any individuals had incurred this expense: without having the sanction of the Parliament for it, let them pay for it. If the late Ministry had taken it on themselves to direct a larger expenditure than the House had sanctioned, he thought that short work ought to be made of it, and that they should be called on to pay. The only question was, whether the tradesmen had received orders or not? If they had not, they must suffer the loss: if they had, those who had given the orders were responsible. He therefore doubted the propriety of taking up the time of the House with these questions. There had been a regular set of Commissioners appointed to superintend these matters, and he should be glad to hear from any of them who were in the House, whether the extra expenditure had or had not been sanctioned by them?

Mr. Hudson Gurney

said, that he himself had heard the hon. member for Middlesex say, that he wished that a proper Palace should be built for the King of England.

Mr. Hume

said, that he certainly had said that he wished that a palace should be built once for all; but then he required that the plans and estimates should be laid before Parliament, and that there should be no deviation from them. When Lord Goderich was Chancellor of the Exchequer in that House, he rose on the occasion alluded to, and pledged himself that there should be no excess in the estimates, and he thought that that noble Lord ought to be impeached in that House for the excess which had taken place.

Sir J. Sebright

was of opinion, that when estimates were so greatly exceeded, the House was bound to make inquiry by whose authority it had been done. He entertained a most unfeigned respect for the Crown and its dignity, but he must say, that these expenses had done more to give the people a dislike, not for any particular individual, but for the monarchical form of government itself, than any speech that had ever been delivered. If those who managed these affairs chose to go beyond what Parliament had sanctioned, they ought to do it on their own responsibility: the thing should be at their peril, and they ought to be called on to answer for their conduct.

Mr. Goulburn

had waited to learn what was the feeling of the House on the subject of the noble Lord's motion; and as it appeared to be that the Committee should be granted, he begged to say, that he entirely concurred in such a proposal. As the case stood at present, he was precluded from going further into the question. If, however, he was the person that was to be put upon his trial, he had a right to ask the House to look at the documents before it decided: but if he was not the person, and the accusation referred to some one who had been subordinate to him, he would not say a word then to implicate them, but wait for the testimony of the Committee. j For these reasons he forbore, for the present, from saying more than that he concurred in the motion of the noble Lord; at the same time he could not help remarking, that he thought the hon. member for Hertfordshire (Sir J. Sebright) had gone rather far in pronouncing upon the character of the expenditure, as it was quite impossible that he could be acquainted with the facts contained in the papers that had just been laid on the Table of the House.

Sir J. Sebright

had only made a statement on the supposition that the orders had gone beyond what had been sanctioned by Parliament; and it was well known that those estimates had been exceeded, and that there had been a most shameful and scandalous waste of the public money.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that the hon. Member should wait till he was made acquainted with the facts of the case.

Sir J. Sebright

said, that in observing that far too large a sum had been expended, he was only expressing the opinion of every individual from one end of the kingdom to the other.

Lord John Russell

was sure that his hon. friend had not been expressing any opinion as to any individual, but only with regard to the system that had prevailed, of exceeding the expenditure that had been voted by that House: and as to that, he thought that there could be but one opinion in the House. That practice was a most improper one, and showed that there ought to be laid down a fixed rule which should prevent its recurrence—by doing which, they would in future be acting better, and better discharging their duty to their constituents. In the Committee that had been appointed last year, with respect to Windsor Castle, when there was a question, of recommending a vote of 100,000l., it was found that 70,000l. had already been expended; and inconsequence, remarks, in which the late Mr. Huskisson had concurred, had been drawn up, and inserted in the Re-port; and he thought that if that was referred to, they might find some sort of guide for their future proceedings. In that report it was proposed, that before any public work should be commenced, there should be an account laid before that House, together with a yearly statement of how much had been laid out, whether the estimate had been exceeded, and what was the probable amount which would be required to complete the work; by which means Parliament would no longer be voting money blindfold, but be enabled to see its way before them, and either reject the vote as too expensive, or if they chose to go on, be able clearly to see what the amount of the expenditure would be. With respect to the furniture of Windsor Castle, they had not been able to find out how much had been expended beyond the vote of Parliament; and he therefore rejoiced at the appointment of this Committee, because it would enable Parliament to come to some decision on the subject.

Mr. Calcraft

was the Chairman of the Committee that had been just referred to by the noble Lord; and he agreed that the paragraph in the Report that had been mentioned would be of assistance in the future management of such votes. With respect to the furniture of Windsor Castle, it was true that a conversation had taken place on the subject; but it was held that it formed no part of the duty of that Committee to inquire minutely into it.

Mr. Labouchere

had no wish to decide before the Report of the Committee was made; but he agreed with the hon. member for Hertfordshire, that a heavy responsibility attached itself somewhere. He would confess that he had no objection to a liberal vote in favour of Windsor Castle; but with respect to Buckingham Palace, he had quite a different feeling. If, however, he understood the noble Lord aright, there was to be no further expense incurred there; or, at all events, the works, for the present, were suspended.

Lord Althorp

observed that at present all the works were suspended at Buckingham Palace.

Mr. Goulburn

was sure that the noble Lord would do him the justice to bear out his position, when he stated, that the moment it was known at the Treasury that the estimates had been exceeded, that moment were the works put a stop to.

Mr. Cust

said, that any Gentleman who had been over Buckingham Palace would soon see that one reason why there had been so great an expense was, the want of some one to control the architect. He did not say this in allusion to the taste that had been displayed, nor as casting any censure on the architect, but what he meant to contend for was, that it was only by establishing an authority in the Government, whose business it should be to exercise a control, that they could hope to avoid such extravagant expenditure for the future.

Mr. John Campbell

said, that on the Accession of his present Majesty, it had been stated, that an opening was to be made from Waterloo-place into St. James's-park. He now, however, wished to ask, whether the public expectation was not likely to be altogether disappointed?

Lord Althorp

was afraid, that he could not give a very satisfactory answer; but what he knew he would state. The works were in such progress, that he had seen the plans and drawings; but he believed that some difficulties arose from the owners and occupiers of houses in Carlton gardens.

Lord Lowther

said, that there had been a plan, which had been objected to; but when he quitted Office, he had left a plan in the office to which there was no legal objection or difficulty.

Mr. Hobhouse

said, that this discussion, if not satisfactory to the House, would at least be so to the country; for the admissions made by the noble Lord, and by the noble Paymaster of the Forces, together with the little responsibility which attached to those who kept the public purse, must show that some new arrangement in these matters was necessary. And it was not at all requisite to wait for the decision of the Committee, for the House to come to the opinion, that the public had been most grossly abused by the manner in which this expenditure had been heretofore conducted. It had been well observed, that there was no controlling power over the architect. But was this understood when the vote was required at the hands of Parliament? Was it made known that the demand for that grant was a mere farce, and was to be applied as might suit the absurd, extravagant, bizarre, and ridiculous taste of any person who might have the superintendence of the work? The noble Lord had told them, that the orders for the furniture were so extravagant and unheard-of, that no tradesman was able to estimate their expense; and now that the thing was done, it appeared that there was no one to be accountable for the fact. The right hon. member for Armagh (Mr. Goulburn) had very handsomely said, "If there is any blame, let it be divided amongst us; but I do not think that there is any blame." But he begged to ask that right hon. Gentleman one simple question—. Had there not been a gross excess above the amount of the estimate? And if the right hon. Gentleman allowed that, he ought also to be able to tell them on whose responsibility he had permitted it. Nor was this merely a question of pounds, shillings and pence. It ought to be carried still further; for on Mr. Nash's own testimony it appeared, that those expenses had been incurred "in consequence of the orders of his Royal Patron and Master:" he used Mr. Nash's own words. If, then, this was the case, he wanted to know how there had been found a Ministry ready to pander to such commands? In this shape it became a serious constitutional question; and he trusted that as such it would meet with full attention. It was true, that a set of Commissioners had been appointed, but what was it that they had done? Had they limited any expense? Had they placed any restriction upon the operations of the architect? He had heard of no such thing, so that, in fact, they only figured as a set of dilettanti, who had done nothing at all. He trusted, however, that the House of Commons would learn wisdom from what had gone before, and take care that the game was not played again, to the detriment of all justice, and to the injury of the country.

Mr. Hughes Hughes

wished to ask, whether it was true, that his present Majesty had declared his determination not to adopt Buckingham Palace as his residence; and if so, to what purpose that building was to be applied?

Lord Althorp

was not able to answer that question.

Mr. Ruthven

was glad that the House appeared to be generally agreed as to the propriety of the appointment of the Committee; for undoubtedly the people had, at least, a right to know how their money was expended.

Colonel Sibthorp

said, that, understanding from the noble Lord that the works at Buckingham House were suspended, he should not divide the House on that point.

The appointment of the Committee was then agreed to.

Lord Althorp

, in moving the names of the Members to form the Committee, observed, that in the question relative to the opening of a passage into St. James's-park, he had been taken by surprise. He now understood that there was no legal difficulty to the undertaking, and the passage to the public would be opened as soon as possible.

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