HC Deb 11 July 1831 vol 4 cc1015-23
Lord Duncannon

moved the Order of the Day for the second reading of this Bill.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

begged leave, agreeably to his previous notice, to call the attention of the House to the principle involved in the present Bill. In doing so, he counted on the support of those on the Ministerial side of the House who professed to consider Reform and Economy as perfectly synonymous terms; and of hon. Members on the opposite side, who, though opponents to Reform, were loud in their vaunts as practical economists. The subject to which he was anxious to invite their attention was one relating to the expenditure, without the scrutiny of Parliament, of a considerable amount of the public money. They had in that House two Chancellors of the Exchequer, presiding over two great branches of the public resources; one the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) on the Treasury bench, who, as Finance Minister, was bound to lay, every Session, before the House a full statement of the affairs of his office, the income and expenditure of the country, &c.; the other, the noble Lord at the head of the Woods and Forests, who had under his control 20,000,000l. of the national property, but who, like his predecessor, seemed to think it beneath the dignity of his office to furnish the House with any explanation of the expenditure of the large funds intrusted to his management. His abstinence on this score was indeed so countenanced by the large majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House, that it seemed to be supposed, that nobody could demand any account of him, and he had only to countenance a bill for any scheme or project of any speculator or jobber, and to bring it pro forma into that House, to obtain for it. the immediate sanction of Parliament. By such a course of proceeding the down property had become the prey of scheming speculators and merciless jobbers. And yet that noble Lord had the control of property worth 20,000,000l. sterling, producing an annual revenue available for the public service of upwards of 700,000l., and which, if judiciously managed, would, in the course of a few years, double that sum. So little, however, had it been the wont of Parliament to attend to the expenditure of this important item of the public revenue, owing in a degree to an illusion, carefully cherished by preceding Administrations, that it constituted part and parcel of the hereditary property of the Crown, that since 1815, not a farthing of it had been applied bonâ fide to. the public service—it had been squandered in erecting palaces and other buildings which was a disgrace to the country. Now, however, that the present King had, in the most open manner, surrendered all claims on the part of the Crown to the property of the Woods and Forests, he expected that the expenditure of that would be brought forward and examined like every other branch of the public revenue. Such was the main object of the motion with which he should conclude. And now with respect to the Bill. The noble Lord had not condescended to make any statement to the House, to show either the necessity or advantage of expending so large a sum as would be required, to make a new street from Waterloo-bridge to Bow-street. He considered it a needless expenditure of the public money—at least one, in defence of which they had not heard a syllable. If the noble Lord had a surplus revenue, why not apply it to the improvement of Westminster-hall, or to providing a place of security for the National Records, at present exposed to the danger of fire? or to improving the Chambers of the Judges? or providing the suitors in the several Courts a place not exposed to cold and damp, like Westminster-hall? or even to providing themselves and the public more appropriate accommodation in that House? Among other inquiries he had made, he had asked, what was the amount required by this Bill, and he understood it was to layout 60,000l., or it might be twice as much, of the public money, to run a street from the Strand to Bow-street. The estimate was 55,800l.; contingencies, ten per cent, 5,580l. more. As a set-off, they were told that the Duke of Bedford, whose adjoining property would be much benefitted by the proposed street, would subscribe 4,500l., and the Marquis of Exeter—mark the clumsy delusion—12,000l. "value of property to be exchanged." Did not this attempt to delude the public into a belief that the Marquis of Exeter had subscribed 12,000l. in aid of the plan, while, in fact, he was not subscribing one farthing, excite suspicion? The Marquis was only giving up property to a certain amount in one place, to receive it in another. They had also had sufficient experience of the fallacy of estimates, not to suspect that this might be got up for the purpose of inducing the House to sanction the commencement of the work, not doubting that it would concur afterwards in a larger one, to complete what it had sanctioned the beginning of. This had been the case with other public works; Buckingham House, for example. The first estimate for making the proposed alterations in which, was about 100,000l.; for which sum it was said the Palace could be put in a condition fitting for Royal occupation. What had, however, been the result? Had the expenditure not already exceeded 1,000,000l., and it was not yet complete? Again, the estimate for widening the Strand on the northern side was 500,000l.; the expenditure already exceeded thrice that sum—and it was not yet half finished. He was therefore justified in believing that this 60,000l. would exceed 100,000l. But then the measure was recommended, it was said, by its forming a grand opening into London, and that the line was to extend gradually from Bow-street to Long-acre, and ultimately to Tottenham-court-road. That was pleasing enough in idea, as would be the pulling down of Parliament-street to obtain a splendid view of Westminster Abbey; but that was the real question, was the utility equal to the expense? and if the outlay now proposed was only the beginning, the House ought to know the whole amount of what was likely to be the expense before the Bill was sanctioned. The late Sir Joseph Yorke had stated, in the last Session, that the Waterloo-bridge Committee, over which he presided, aware of the benefit that would most likely accrue to them from the formation of the proposed new street would contribute l0,000l. towards it. That Company afterwards altered its opinion, and refused to contribute anything towards its completion. The Theatres, also, whose property would be much benefitted, had not offered to subscribe one shilling. Had the Crown, or the country, which was the real contributor, any property in the vicinity which would be improved by the new street? Certainly not. The noble Lord was not justified, then, in the present condition of the finances of the country, in making a proposition for the expenditure of so considerable a sum on a project of doubtful utility, and of no financial benefit. He would suggest, that any sums of money to be hereafter proposed for the erection or completion of public works, should not be taken from the revenues of the Woods and Forests, but brought forward under the sanction and responsibility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He would conclude by moving, that this Bill be recommitted to a Committee up-stairs, in order that they might inquire into its expediency, and report their opinion thereon to the House.

Mr. Hume

seconded the motion, because the statement laid before the House did not warrant them to expend so large a part of the public money in the formation of a new street of doubtful benefit. At all events it was manifestly necessary that some further inquiry should take place before the measure was agreed to. He was therefore happy that the hon. Member had proposed the amendment, and he also concurred with him in the observations he had made with regard to the revenue derived from the Woods and Forests. He had frequently, in former years, brought this subject under the consideration of the House, and he was glad the hon. Gentleman had relieved him, as he was satisfied the revenue derived from the Crown Lands was as much public money as that which was obtained by the duty on cotton.

Lord Duncannon

assured the hon. Gentleman who had moved the amendment, that the Woods and Forests were now differently managed to what they were formerly, and not a shilling could now be expended without the sanction of Parliament. In justice, however, to his predecessor, Lord Lowther—whose loss from the House every Member must deplore—he was bound to state, that no public man could have paid more attention to the duties of his office than he had done. He must, therefore, repel the insinuations which the hon. and learned Gentleman had made against his official conduct. The noble Lord, had very unintentionally, misled the House as to the amount of the money to be contributed by individuals. The Marquis of Exeter would certainly not be among them, for he found the proposed now street would rather injure than benefit his property. He believed the expense in this case would be about 40,000l. but it was expected that the sale of a portion of the Crown-property would produce the sum necessary to be advanced. The parties to this Bill bad been told by Lord Lowther, and also by him, that Government would give no assistance in carrying this street further than Long Acre, but it was then expected that the Mercers' Company would take it up, and carry the street further north. He had no wish to press this Dill faster than the House wished. If the House thought that it ought to go again before a Committee, he would not object, as he considered it as something of the nature of a private bill.

Mr. Warburton

said, that he had supported this measure when it was first proposed, and was still favourable to its being carried into execution, but its merits could be best discussed in a Committee up-stairs, where the plan, with all the details, could be fully investigated. The grounds on which he had recommended the Bill to be brought forward were, that if they suffered a theatre to be rebuilt which had been burnt, this opening could not afterwards be made without a much greater expense; and it might be well for the House to consider whether, if they agreed to making this new street to Bow-street, public Companies might not continue it to Tottenham-court-road. If they did, he would undertake to say, that the duty received for bricks and timber would be equal to the whole sum which Government would have to advance. It might be said, that he had some property in the proposed line of the new street, and he begged in reply to say, wished the House to detract from the weight of his opinion, in proportion to his interest; and he would further declare, that if a competent surveyor would make an estimate of the gains likely to accrue to him, he would be ready to subscribe to the undertaking to that amount.

Lord Althorp

said, that when the measure was proposed, he had stated, in accordance with what had fallen from the hon. member for Bridport, that unless it was then undertaken, we should lose the chance of making the street, and that if hon. Gentlemen would not allow the Government to continue this street to Bow-street, they would never have an opportunity of seeing the anticipations of that fulfilled. He had no objection to let the Bill be recommitted.

Sir John Wrottesley

said, the practice of widening streets had been much admired, but he did not think the public obtained much advantage, for stands of carriages were allowed to fill up all these new places, until Regent-street became reduced to the width of Swallow-street. Charing-cross, for the widening and opening which so much had been expended, was now full of coach-stands, and at times so much crowded, there was no passing. He hoped the police had power and inclination to prevent this, now that attention was called to it.

Mr. Croker

said, the whole argument against the proposed new street, and wide streets in general, was, that there was no adequate pecuniary advantage; but it was not now necessary to shew, that the recent alteration tended both to the beauty and advantage of the metropolis. He thought the congregation of carriages was beneficial to every class of the community. The Strand had frequently been so shut up, that commerce was entirely suspended for hours together, and its being widened, would facilitate all the purposes of trade. He had not the most remote interest in these improvements. The back streets and close courts must have been unhealthy, and on that account ought to have been removed. The proposed line of street was at first given up after the idea had been started, on account of the expense, but an accidental fire had created an opportunity which ought to be taken advantage of.

Mr. John Wood

had advocated several times the opening proposed by the present Bill, and although he wished the subject to be referred to a Committee, yet he should feel much regret if the Committee did not recommend the House to pass the Bill. He believed it would tend to the beauty of the town, and the convenience of the public. One material point seemed to be omitted by the opponents to the measure; that was, the easy mode of transit for men and horses this opening would allow. Who, that recollected the slate of the Strand at the narrow pass at Exeter Change, but would admit that the public had gained very considerably by the widening that had there taken place. In this country, time was as valuable as money, and a saving of the former, actually was a gain of the latter. He could not make any offer similar to his hon. friend, the member for Bridport, for he had no property, or the most remote interest, in the proposed opening, but he should not do his ditty did he not recommend this improvement to the encouragement and attention of the House.

Mr. Hunt

did not think the proposed new street would be of any benefit to the public, but it had come out there were three or four holders of property who had an interest in the measure, the Duke of Bedford, the Marquis of Exeter, the Theatres, the Waterloo Bridge Company, and others. When the subject was referred to a Committee, he hoped they would let those who were interested in the job take it up. Now that the Strand and Southampton Street had been widened, the public taxation for the convenience of men and horses was quite large enough. If the opening was advantageous to the proprietors he had mentioned, let them go on with it, and then, if the House voted as much as the public were interested, something might be gained, but after what the hon. member for Colchester had said about jobs, it was necessary there should be a strict inquiry.

Mr. Alderman Wood

had made some suggestions to the late Government, on the propriety of opening free access to all the Bridges of the Metropolis, from the conviction he entertained of the benefit that would thereby result to trade. He was still inclined to press these suggestions, although he had been charged with being connected with every job, whenever improvement was contemplated about the town. He had suggested to Lord Goderich, and the right hon. member for Harwich, when they were in office together, a method by which a sum of money might be raised for making the proposed new street, on the Government giving a sum of 50,000l. to carry it to a certain point, where it would have been taken up by the Mercers' Company, and so carried on to Gower-street. Now, it appeared, the intended line would stop short at Long-acre, and not touch the property of the Mercers' Company. He would still undertake to shew how the Government, by advancing 50,000l., could secure the continuance of the new street to the North-road, by the London University.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

had not intended to take any part in this discussion, but as the worthy Alderman had mentioned the possibility of carrying the new street to the North-road, he begged to take the present opportunity of inquiring from the noble Lord, whether it would not be highly advantageous, to render the North-road itself passable? The noble Lord had nothing to do with this as Commissioner of Woods and Forests; but in another character, as Trustee of the Metropolitan Roads, he had a control over the road in question. He was present when it was deemed expedient to take this road out of the hands of the trust, and put the expense of its repair on the parishes; the consequence had been, that the road itself, on the pretence of relieving the public from the expense of turnpikes, had been reduced to a most disgraceful state.

Lord Duncannon

was also present when it was determined to take the turnpikes oil' the New Road, and throw the expense on the parishes. It was then thought this would be a great relief and advantage to the public, and he believed this was the only complaint that could be urged as to the road. He must remark, in reply to what had been said by the hon. member for Preston, that the two noble persons whose names had been mentioned, were not in any way interested in the new street. The agents of the Duke of Bedford stated to the Committee, that his Grace was recommended not to advance one shilling towards its being carried into execution; the Duke, however, considering it would be a public benefit, notwithstanding this advice, still offered to give up that part of his property which was required, which amounted to about one-tenth of the expense of the whole street. The agent of the Marquis of Exeter had also said, that if his Lordship consulted him, he would recommend him not to do so, as he conceived the proposed street would do material injury to his property. Those whose property was situated in that neighbour-hood had been very badly treated. The measure had been put off since the last Parliament, and they were anxious to know whether the street was or was not to be made. If this motion was agreed to, he should move that the Bill be printed.

An Hon. Member should say nothing about the advantage or utility of the proposed new street, but he must remark, upon what had fallen from the hon. member for Preston, who had said the word "job," attached to the property of the Marquis of Exeter; now, he could declare, that that noble Lord had not received, and would not receive, one shilling from the plan. The whole had been carried on in the way of exchange, and in consequence of the delay in settling the business, the Marquis of Exeter would be a considerable loser in point of rent.

The question was then put, and the Bill ordered to be re-committed to a Select Committee, and a Committee appointed.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

, took occasion to observe, that he had neither cast, nor intended to cast, any imputation upon the official services of Lord Lowther.