HC Deb 02 July 1833 vol 19 cc59-66
Mr. Hume

rose to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice on this subject. The hon. Member began by quoting the Report of the Committee to which this subject had been referred, and which declared that no alterations could make the present House fit for the convenient accommodation of the present number of Members, and that it was therefore expedient that a new House should be erected. This was the opinion, not only of the Committee, but also of a great many Members of the House. He would confidently appeal to the Members of even the least experience in that House, whether it was, in its present state, fit for the accommodation of Members, or for the convenient discharge of public business? Let any man look at the state of that bar, and say, whether in the manner in which it was crowded, night after night, it was possible to give proper attention to what was going on? It was now twelve hours since he had entered the House that clay, and it was often that he had to attend fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, and sometimes seventeen hours out of the twenty-four, and he would ask whether, in the fatigue consequent on such a long attendance, Members ought to be exposed to such an atmosphere, so little congenial to health as that which they breathed there? For the sake of health, then, they ought not to be crowded together in such a state as they were at present in that House. The suggestion of a new House did not originate in the present day. In the year 1739, nearly a century ago, and before the 100 Members for Ireland were added to the English Members, a plan of a new House was laid before the then Speaker, Mr. Onslow, and by that plan it was estimated, that the expense would not exceed 55,000l.; but the expense of the plan recommended by the Committee would not exceed much more than half that sum. It might perhaps be objected, that even this was too great an expense. It certainly was something new to hear from some of the hon. Members near him (some of the supporters of the late Administration) anything which indicated that they had taken on themselves the office of protectors of the public purse—an office to which they had heretofore not been much accustomed; but when he found, that many of those hon. Members had voted a million of money for the repairs of Windsor Castle, and he believed not less than 600,000l. for the building up and pulling down repairs of Buckingham-palace, he hoped that they would not object to so small an outlay as from 35,000l. to 40,000l. for a convenient building for the representatives of the Commons of England. He hoped, therefore, to hear no more of such objections from that quarter. It was proved in evidence, on the statements of the most competent judges, that the present House would not afford convenient accommodation to more than 350 persons; how, then, could the business be performed with any ease or comfort to hon. Members, when there were 400, 500, or as it sometimes happened, 600 present? He need go no further, than to refer to what took place that evening at five o'clock, in the passage between the door and the bar, where the crowd was so great, that it was impossible to pass in or out without the greatest inconvenience. The same inconvenience was felt on every night of a full attendance; and he need only appeal to those who were present on divisions of 500 or more Members, for the fact, of the annoyance suffered by the crowded state of the House. In the year 1794, George 3rd directed that a plan of a new House of Lords, as well as of a new House of Commons, should be laid before him, and such a plan was prepared by Sir John Soane, but circumstances had prevented any further proceeding in it. The Committee was unanimous in the recommendation of a new House. The only difference that existed between the Members was as to the site. Some were of opinion, that it should be at St. James's. He admitted, that that would be attended with considerable advantages, but then there was this objection—that if the House of Commons were removed to that place, it might be necessary to remove the Lords also, which would be a considerable addition to the expense. Several architects, who were examined, were of opinion that it would be best to erect the new House a little to the south-east of the present; others, that it should be to the east. His opinion was, that the best situation for a House would be due east of the present building, which might form the lobby of the new House, and be so contrived, by means of suitable folding-doors, as to afford very considerable accommodation, by shortening and facilitating divisions. If this plan were adopted, the House might be emptied in three minutes, instead of twenty being required for that purpose, and the time spent in divisions would be shortened from thirty-five or forty minutes, the present average in a full House, to fifteen. The economy of time to be thus effected was of the greatest importance. He thought a Commission might be advantageously employed in considering the subject, and carrying the plan which might be determined on into effect. The hon. Member concluded by moving two Resolutions to the effect—" First, That the present House of Commons did not afford adequate accommodation, due regard being had to the health and convenience of Members, and the despatch of public business, and that it was therefore necessary to erect a new building. Secondly, That an humble address be presented to his Majesty, praying that his Majesty would be graciously pleased to direct a new House of Commons to be erected, Parliament being prepared to place at his Majesty's disposal, a sum of money sufficient to defray the expense of such building." If these Resolutions should be agreed to, he intended to move on the first supply day, that a sum not exceeding 35,000l. be granted to his Majesty, for the purpose of building a new House of Commons. For his own part he should have been satisfied with 25,000l., but named the larger sum in order to meet the wishes of others; it being understood, however, that the amount might be increased or diminished as the House should think proper.

Colonel Davies

rose to second the first Resolution for the purpose of obtaining an opportunity to state in what respect he differed from his hon. friend. No man could be more fully sensible than himself of the defects and inconveniencies of the present building. The result was most unfavourable upon the proceedings of the House. A stranger introduced to that place for the first time, and witnessing the disorder which prevailed, and the undignified conduct of Members, would naturally ask, "Is this the celebrated House of Commons? Are these the master-spirits of the age?" The appearance of the House was frequently rather that of a debating-club or a bear-garden, than of a deliberative assembly. The noise was excessive, and Members, instead of attending to the proceedings, amused themselves with talking, or laying stretched at full length asleep upon the benches. A great deal of this arose from the bad construction and want of proper accommodation of the House. He could not agree with his hon. friend in his proposed site for a new House of Commons, and thought that an entire change of situation, to St. James's Palace, for instance, would be advantageous, and infinitely more convenient to all Members who were not of the legal profession. The hon. and gallant Member referred to the Report, and quoted evidence in support of this opinion. In conclusion, he stated his intention to move as an amendment on the second Resolution, that the subject be referred to a Select Committee, to take into consideration the various plans proposed, and the evidence contained in the Report.

Mr. Peter

referred to the opinion of Mr. Hanbury Tracey, for the purpose of showing that the present House could be altered so as to render it convenient to the Members, and adequate for the discharge of public business. Assuming that this could be effected, he was averse from building a new House, at the cost of the loss of all the recollections and associations connect-ed with that in which they now sat, and which, in his opinion, were such, as no conveniences or accommodations could compensate.

Sir Matthew White Ridley

thought, if any alteration were decided on, that the plan proposed by his hon. friend (Mr. H. Tracey) and supported by the evidence of Mr. Hopper, must be admitted to be best. He objected to the first Resolution, because he did not feel the inconvenience in point of unwholesomeness, or inadequacy for the despatch of business, of which it complained. The present House of Commons was sufficient for all the purposes for which it was wanted, and they could not remove it from its present situation without moving the House of Lords with it, and that was quite out of the question.

Mr. Warburton

said, that he would support the first Resolution. The hon. Member who had just spoken had said, that the present House was not unfavourable to the health of the Members. Now, if the hon. Member had attended to the opinions expressed universally by hon. Members in their private conversation out of that House—if, instead of attending to what was spoken by Members in public within those walls, he had attended to their real honest opinions expressed by them in private conversation out of doors, he would have found that it was their general conviction, that the present House was unfavourable to the health of the Members. Several of his (Mr. Warburton's) friends had lost their health, and some of them their lives, in consequence of their continued attendance in that House. For himself, he would only say, that the scats were so inconvenient, that he never sat there for upwards of two or three hours, that he was not in a state of bodily torture, and he frequently spent twelve hours there during the Session at one sitting. The plan of the hon. member for Tewkesbury, while, in order to its being carried into effect, it would leave scarce a stone, with the exception of the roof and the floors of the present House standing, would remove but few of the inconveniences at present complained of. He thought that the Treasury should take the matter up.

Lord Althorp

said, that hon. Members spoke of the unhealthiness of the House, but he did not know that there was anything actually in the House that rendered the sitting there unwholesome. [Mr. Warburton here reminded the noble Lord, that he sat on the floor.] He certainly sat on the floor at present, but he had sat for years where his hon. friend opposite now sat. He apprehended that sitting to very late hours for successive nights any where would be injurious to health. He was ready to admit, that on certain occasions, when there happened to be very full Houses, inconvenience was experienced from the size of the House, but for the average number of Members that attended during the Session, the accommodation was amply sufficient. The noise and interruption that were occasionally experienced in the present House had been complained of; but he was not sure, that if the size of the House should be extended, when the House would not be so full, there would not be greater noise. He confessed, that he did not feel a strong opinion on this subject. He thought that business could be conducted perfectly to the satisfaction of the country in the present building. Still, if it should be the opinion of the majority of the House, that an alteration should take place in the present building, he would not throw any obstruction or difficulty in the way of effecting such alteration. As his hon. friend said, he would take the sense of the House on the subject, and as he (Lord Althorp) did not think that any inconvenience existed to render it necessary to make an alteration in the present building, he would vote against the Resolution.

Sir Robert Peel

would not consent to make an alteration in the present House of Commons, on such a very imperfect Report as that which had been presented on this subject. Of all the reports of Committees that he had ever read, he would say, that this was the most imperfect, and, with every respect for the Chairman, the most discreditable report he had seen. The Report, in the first instance, expressed the opinion of the Committee—an opinion which the Members of the House could as well have formed without the assistance of a Committee—that the present House did not afford adequate accommodation for the Members; but when the Committee came to decide the question as to the erection of a new House of Commons, though twenty-two plans had been laid before them, they were not able to form a decisive opinion as to any one of them. It was ludicrous to hear all the faults of the House of Commons laid to the account of the building, There was, it appeared, often great talking, sometimes a considerable buzz, and, not unfrequently, much coughing; but they were the master-spirits of the age, and, of course, all those things were the fault of the present House of Commons. There was no doubt that the present House was not adequate to the accommodation of 658 Members, but the real question was, whether it was not amply sufficient for the accommodation of the average number of Members that attended in four out of the five nights in the week. If a larger house were built, it would not be as well calculated for the ordinary discharge of business, and besides, the hearing in a larger building might not be as good. The proposition to remove the house to St. James's, half a mile from its present site, was, of course, out of the question. He thought that it was a great advantage to the two Houses of Parliament, to be removed to some distance from that quarter where, as Dr. Johnson said, "the tide of human life swept along"—from Charing-cross, and its busy and bustling neighbourhood. If they were to have an alteration made in the present building, the necessity for which he questioned, he would prefer the plan proposed by the hon. member for Tewkesbury.

Mr. Hume

replied. The Committee could not, according to their instructions, recommend any specific plan to the House. The right hon. Baronet, instead of acting the part of a grave senator, had gone to work in a very childish way, to criticise the conduct of the Committee. The hon. Gentleman then defended the conduct of the Committee, and declared, that he would take the sense of the House on the Resolution.

Mr. Tracey

defended his own plan.

The House divided on the Resolutions

—Ayes 70; Noes 154: Majority 84.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Leech, J.
Attwood, T. Lennox, Lord W.
Bainbridge, E. T. Lloyd, J. H.
Baldwin, H. Martin, J.
Barry, G. S. Mildmay, P. St. J.
Bellew, R. M. O'Brien, C.
Bish, T. O'Dwyer, A. C.
Briggs, R. Ord, W. H.
Brotherton, J. Ormelie, Lord
Buckingham, J. S. Pease, J.
Bulwer, H. L. Penleaze, J. S.
Callander, J. H. Philips, M.
Clay, W. Potter, R.
Clayton, Col. Poulter, J. S.
Dalmeny, Lord Romilly, E.
Darlington, Lord Roche, W.
Divett, E. Ronayne, D.
Dykes, F. L. B. Ruthven, E.
Evans, W. Sharpe, Gen.
Ewart, W. Staveley, T. K.
Ewing, J. Strutt, E.
Finch, G. Talbot, C. R. M.
Galway, J. M. Tancred, H. W.
Gaskell, D. Tennyson, Rt. Hon. C.
Gillon, W. D. Vigors, N. A.
Gully, J. Wallace, R.
Hall, B. Warburton, H.
Handley, B. Wedgwood, J.
Hawkins, J. H. Whalley, Sir S.
Hay, Sir J. Whitmore, W. W.
Howard, Hon. F. G. Wilks, J.
Hughes, H. W. Wood, Alderman
Hyett, W. H. Yelverton, Hon. W. H.
Jephson, C. D. O. Young, G. F.
Lambton, H.