HC Deb 09 February 1836 vol 31 cc234-45
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose in pursuance of the notice which he had given, for the purpose of moving the renewal of the Committee, which had been appointed last year, to consider the question of rebuilding the Houses of Parliament. The House would remember, that in consequence of an Address agreed to by that and the other House of Parliament, Commissioners had been appointed to consider of certain plans which were invited to be sent in by public competition. That was a mode which he thought had been wisely recommended by the Committee. In consequence of their recommendation it was the duty of the Commissioners to select out of a stated number of plans, amounting to nearly 100, ninety-seven, he believed, was the exact amount, a certain number, not less than two, nor more than five, as being those which, in their minds, were best adapted and fitted for the purpose in view. They had selected, he believed, four plans. The object of renewing the Committee was for the purpose of the Commissioners laying the plans before them, with a view to their coming to some decision upon them. The Report would then be finally laid before the House, in order that it might approve of the decision which had been made. His hon. Friend behind him had given a notice of a motion for an instruction to the Committee to reconsider the removal of the site of the Houses of Parliament. This, however, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) should feel it his duty to oppose, as that subject fell not within the province of the Committee. As to the composition of the Committee, he thought it better to renew it as it had been originally proposed by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tarn worth. It had been well attended, and he thought the House would have a better chance of a satisfactory result if the inquiry were followed up by the same Gentlemen who had been engaged in the previous consideration of the subject. One Member of that Committee alone was no longer a Member of that House, having been removed to the House of Peers, and he proposed to substitute for his name that of the Chairman of Ways and Means, Mr. Bernal. The right hon. Gentleman accordingly moved to re-appoint the Select Committee, to consider and report upon such plan as should be most convenient for the accommodation of the two Houses of Parliament.

Mr. Hume

was anxious to take the opinion of the House upon a point which appeared to him of considerable importance. The first question he had started as a Member of the Committee was, that they ought first to consider what the situation of the Houses should be. He was free to confess that on that occasion he was in a very small minority, but small minorities did not always deter him, and as a proof that they should not be considered as decisive of a question, he might mention he was in the very same minority on a proposition that there should be no competition for plans, and yet the Committee afterwards agreed unanimously to a competition,. This was an encouragement to him in his present object. The only point he blamed himself for was his not taking the sense of the House upon the question when the Report was brought up. He was bound to say that he was not in his place at the moment when that occurred, although it was not often he was absent. Since that period the subject had engaged the attention of many persons in the country, who had never thought of it before, and he found that a large proportion of individuals, as capable of forming a judgment as any Gentleman in that House, thought the Select Committee had made a bad choice—that the situation was low, and was attended with many inconveniences, and that, in fixing a place for Parliament to assemble in for ages to come, regard ought to be had to all the peculiar circumstances applying to the case. One thing particularly struck him, that situated as we were in a climate not always the clearest, with an atmosphere dark and murky on many occasions, the Houses of Parliament would require a free and open space. In the neighbourhood of that large building, Westminster Abbey, they lost an hour or an hour and a half of daylight in comparison with what they would gain if they were at the west end of the Abbey. The vicinity of Westminster Hall, too, greatly interfered with the light and air. He did not go so far as to say that the neighbourhood of the Law Courts was bad, but he was free to 'confess that he would rather be at a distance from them. He knew it was held by many that the situation was convenient for those lawyers who had to attend the House; but looking at the small number of those Gentlemen compared with the other Members of the House, he did not think that their convenience ought to weigh much if there we re other circumstances to counterbalance it. He might be accused of wishing for a radical change in this respect, because he would remove the Courts of Law from their present inconvenient situation. He would propose to build proper Courts in the centre of, Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, in the vicinity of all the lawyers. Let them be all together. This would be much more convenient for the public and the lawyers themselves. He had scarcely ever seen such inadequate accommodation as the present Courts furnished; and although a great deal of money had been expended in fitting them up, he did hot think that any loss would be sustained; but that, on the contrary, great public convenience would be obtained by getting rid of them altogether. Gentlemen would see from this that he reckoned the vicinity of Westminster Hall as very little in favour of the present House. They were not the least allied to each other. Judges and lawyers were very proper persons to carry into effect the Acts of the legislature; but they had no necessary connection with the daily pro- ceedings of the Houses of Parliament. They were altogether distinct. He thought it would be better to remove the Houses of Parliament to St. James's Park, to some elevated situation, where, having a southern aspect, they might occupy the position of Marlborough House, or of St. James's Palace. Let Gentlemen contrast the present buildings on an area of about 4,000 feet in length, and some 340 in depth, with the Abbey and the Hall overlooking them. Let them contrast this with a handsome building on the site of St. James's Palace, or on the two or three acres of Marlborough House and gardens. They would be there as quiet as in the present situation; with the advantages of better air and more light. The position would also be more convenient to five-sixths of the Members as well as to the public. At present the Houses were out of every one's way. There was another situation which had been pointed out, and which, he confessed, would have been a better situation, if the building of the National Gallery had not been begun; but at the back of that building they might have twice the room they now had if they removed the barracks, which had so long been complained of, and took in some ground, which could be had at a little or no expense. That would certainly be a better and more convenient situation than the present. Here, then, were two situations better than the present site; but his favourite spot was St. James's Palace, and he would state why. We had just finished the palace at Buckingham-gate, and if St. James's were not used in the way he proposed, it would still be used as a palace. He thought, therefore they could not do better, for the sake of economy, as well as for good air and the situation of the ground, than to occupy it. The ground required was not so very large. He had seen plans which required for the whole buildings of the Houses and their offices a very small compass indeed. He should be happy to hear the opinion of the House, and to have it decided whether they should not take this point into consideration before they proceeded to consider the other parts of the subject. He might be told that they had already gone to a great deal of trouble and expense. As to the trouble, with the experience of the architects, he considered that very little; and for the expense he believed 3,000l would cover it. He was anxious that all further expense should be stopped until this question was decided, and one advantage would arise— namely, that time would be afforded to those architects who wished to come forward with plans. He knew of no valid objection to his proposal, except two. One was on the ground of the old associations connected with the place in which the Parliament had so long sat. He believed, however, that the fire had destroyed a great deal of those associations, so that that objection was not good for much; and with regard to the vicinity of the Courts of Law, he hoped he had said enough to show that that ought not to interfere from the comparatively small number of those who were interested in it. He knew that many others took the same view of the subject as he did, and he was unwilling to detain the House longer than by moving that it be an instruction to the Committee to reconsider the removal of the site of both Houses of Parliament.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose, as he had already said he should, for the purpose of entreating the House to resist the proposition of his hon. Friend. He wished in a few words, to lay the actual facts of the case before the House. His hon. Friend had stated that a Committee had been appointed for the purpose of considering the whole question. That Committee certainly was not to be objected to either for the names of which it was composed or for the ability or the means they possessed of discussing the subject. When it was before them they negatived this proposition after a full consideration of it. But his hon. Friend said, that, having been in a minority, be regretted not having taken the opinion of the House on the point. Why, in fact, the opinion of the House was taken, and that in a manner more authoritative than the mere reception of a Report, because as soon as the Report was laid on the Table, and when they came to the estimates, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was pressed most earnestly to lose no time in carrying into effect the recommendations of the Committee with reference to the situation of the two Houses before any plans were received, or other steps taken. Since then Gentlemen on all sides of the House had entreated him to take a vote in a Committee of Supply, in order to carry on the necessary arrangements, and he was entitled to presume that his hon. Friend was present on those occasions, because they were occasions upon which he was never absent. He was, as he had stated, entreated to take a vote, for the express purpose of enabling him to take all the preliminary steps with reference to the subject. He accordingly prepared an estimate. The money was voted—Houses were taken down, and the work of clearing away was commenced. His hon. Friend was a consenting party to that proposition, which it was now proposed to negative; because when there was a proposition for the purchase of land in Abingdon-street, and when he proposed to take as much as would be necessary, his hon. Friend assented and said, take as much as will enable you to purchase the ground in Abingdon-street. You must not let money stop you in this case." So that after the site had been decided upon, and his hon. Friend had supported a proposition for rebuilding the Houses on the old site, he now wished to depart from it. Perhaps the reason of this inconsistency was simply that the hon. Member wished to claim the privilege of his northern brethren — a second site—but this would not have any magical effect upon the House. The case did not rest simply upon a vote of the Commons, but it was a combined movement of both Houses. The Resolution of the Lords had been communicated to that House, and their Resolution had been communicated to the Lords, and both had adopted the same plan with respect to the situation. The whole of the plans had been called for with reference to the present site. His hon. Friend said, very candidly, that all that had been done would be so much money thrown away with reference to building the Houses of Parliament, if his present proposition were agreed to; but he said that it would be attended with other advantages—that it would be an encouragement to architects, He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) thought the selection of a proper position for the Houses of Parliament a point infinitely more important than any such encouragement to architects. His hon. Friend had very large plans, and he had opened them all before the House. They embraced not only the quitting that spot, but also building the Law Courts in the centre of Lincoln's Inn-Fields, and building the Houses of Parliament in the Mews, where he thought his hon. Friend would be puzzled to find freer air and freer access than they had at present. He therefore, trusted that the House would not be induced to depart from the Resolutions of the Committee.

Sir Frederick Pollock

would not have troubled the House on the subject before it, had not reference been made by the hon. Member for Middlesex to the circumstance of consulting the convenience of the members of the profession to which he (Sir Frederick Pollock) had the honour to belong. He could say for himself, and he thought also for the other members of the bar who had seats in that House, that it was a matter of perfect indifference to them whether the new Houses of Parliament were built in the neighbourhood of Westminster Hall or where St, James's Palace now stands. Quite sure he was that the members of the bar would be the last persons to go against the general feeling of the House. It would be no sacrifice to him if the site were changed, but a matter of absolute indifference. It must also be recollected, when it was used as an argument that the consulting of the convenience of the members of the learned profession was one of the reasons for determining on rebuilding on the old site, that the sittings of the Courts at Westminster Hall were not continuous during the whole period of the Session, but only during Term. The different Courts of Equity during the other portions of the year held their sittings in the neighbourhood of Lincoln's Inn; and the Court in which his practice laid held a great part of its sittings at the other end of the town, in the immediate neighbourhood of the Guildhall of the City of London. Having said thus much as regarded the members of the bar, he would refer to another class of professional persons—namely, attorneys, to whom he believed the proximity of the Courts of Law to the Houses of Parliament was a matter of great importance. When the House of Lords was sitting; in its judicial capacity, and when Committees of both Houses were also sitting, it was a matter of great importance to the members of the profession to which he referred, that the places where their business required them to be present, should not be severed. As to professional men, Members of the House, he need hardly remark, that none of them could practise before Committees of the House.

Mr. Kearsley

said, that after what had fallen from the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in reply to the hon. Member for Middlesex, it must be evident to every one that the observations of the hon. Member were nothing but humbug— sheer humbug. With the pretensions of that hon. Member, on all occasions, to a peculiar desire for economy, he must say that when the hon. Member talked about the loss of 3,000l. being a matter of no importance he certainly was not acting an honest part. ["Oh! oh. !" "Chair!" and laughter]

The Speaker

said, that the hon. Member must be aware that it was not right for him to apply to any other hon. Member the terms of which he had just made use.

Mr. Kearsley

—I cannot speak differently from what I think.

The Speaker

—The language made use of by the hon. Member is not such as ought to be heard within the walls of this House. I feel that it is my duty to interpose, and submit it to the judgment of the House, whether or not such language should be allowed. The hon. Member has imputed dishonesty to another hon. Member, and that certainly is not a term fit to be used here.

Mr. Kearsley

—I trust I shall be permitted to say, that I think that if I had acted as the hon. Member for Middlesex has done, I should not have been acting an honest part. [Cries of Chair! chair!]

The Speaker

—Am I to understand that the hon. Member means to retract the expression of which he has made use?

Mr. Kearsley

—"I cannot say what I don't think." [Loud calls of Chair!]

Mr. Thomas Attwood

observed, that if the hon. Member had used unparliamentary language, he was quite sure that the hon. Member had meant nothing towards the hon. Member for Middlesex personally, although the word "unfair" might have been used as applied to the course of conduct pursued without any infringement on the rules of Parliamentary procedure. The phrase used by the hon. Member was certainly one not fit for the society of Gentlemen, and he hoped that an explanation would be afforded.

Mr. Kearsley

—My remark was intended to apply to the argument of the hon. Member, and not to himself. I know very well the point I wanted to come at, and did not want the Birmingham bridge to carry me safe over.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

was very happy that the discussion had passed off in this pleasant and convivial manner. With respect to the subject under discussion, he (Mr. Attwood) said that he was opposed to the motion of the hon. Member for Middlesex, because he thought that the historical associations of six hundred years ought not to be disregarded in the choice of a situation for the new Houses of Parliament, nor that any unnecessary departure should be made from a spot so intimately connected with the liberties of the people of England as the present. The Houses of Parliament had stood on their present site for nearly six hundred years, and he hoped they would stand on it for six hundred years to come.

Lord Robert Grosvenor

agreed with the hon. Member for Middlesex, that the present site of the Houses of Parliament was extremely inconvenient, and he thought great advantage would be derived from the erection of the new Houses in one of the situations pointed out by the hon. Member. Looking at the list of hon. Members' residences, it was perfectly clear that the present position of the Houses was, to nineteen Members out of twenty, altogether out of the way and inconvenient. The free circulation of air was a matter of the utmost importance in a city like this, and nothing could offer greater obstruction to the circulation of air than erecting a lofty building on the banks of a river such as the Thames, in a neighbourhood so choked up with houses as that part of Westminster was. The original intention was that Westminster Abbey should open to the River; and for his part he should prefer seeing that done, with the removal of St. Margaret's Church, which was almost an eye-sore, and the restoration of St. Stephen's Chapel, to having the new Houses of Parliament erected on the present site. Another situation might easily be chosen for the purpose, which would not be liable to the same objection, and he must say that they should not be deterred from placing a building intended for national purposes in a position which would be free from all defects, merely because of the trifling additional outlay of money which it might entail.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that unless some satisfactory and conclusive reason could be given for adopting the proposal of the hon. Member for Middlesex, it would be of importance to adhere to the decision which the House had already come to. Only last Session this matter had been referred to a competent tribunal, who had considered this particular point, and by a majority of seventeen had determined to adhere to the existing site. In consequence of that decision, all the architects of this country had been invited in free competition to send in plans: of those sent in four had been selected, and the artists had received the rewards proposed. Having taken this course, it did appear that unless some cogent reason were given for departing from their decision, it ought to be adhered to. The plans sent in might be of little or no value if the site were changed, for they were all drawn in reference to the existing site. No cogent reason having, in his opinion, been adduced, the House should adhere to their former resolutions. It was not much his habit to cheer the hon. Member for Birmingham, but on this occasion he very cordially applauded the sentiment which had induced him to advocate the retention of a site with which were associated many of our most glorious historical associations. It was not a mere difference of prejudices, but he thought it would always be a satisfaction to the feelings of the English people to know the site of the ancient Palace of Westminster, and where the British Parliament had for so long a time sat. Let them just consider the weight of the argument of the hon. Member for Middlesex. The hon. Gentleman said, that by erecting a large building in the present situation they would intercept the air, and lose an hour's light every evening; but what was the hon. Member's proposition? Why, that the new Houses of Parliament should be placed in the rear of the National Gallery, with that building to the south- The hon. Gentleman proposed to benefit them in point of air; bat he must be permitted to doubt whether placing them in the mews, behind the National Gallery, would be any improvement. But the hon. Gentleman complained that the present situation was unhealthy. Had it ever been found so? He did not think it had; and what was more, he did not believe that the history of the plague, the cholera, or any other of those contagious diseases which had visited this metropolis, furnished any authority for supposing that the banks of the river were unhealthy. It was said that the currents of the air induced by the tide were healthy, and if so, why should not Members of Parlia- ment have the advantage of it? Another objection was, that the Houses of Parliament were too remote from the residences of the Members; but, instead of regarding that as an objection, he considered it as an advantage, inasmuch as it not only insured them exercise, but the House an attendance, which, in all probability, could not be obtained if their residences were at hand. It was also said, that the House was too far removed from what Dr. Johnson called that "great confluence of human existence," Charing-cross; but he much doubted whether there was not an advantage in being removed a little from so great a channel. They were not far out of the way; and he thought it better, perhaps, to be situated where they were than to be nearer. It appeared to him that if in other respects, the advantages were nearly balanced, some consideration was due to the habits of the people with reference to the present site, and also to the property invested in the immediate vicinity. If, as a consequence of adopting the recommendation of the hon. Member for Middlesex, they were to pull down St, Margaret's church, and to build new courts in Lincoln's Inn-fields, unless some particular advantage were thus to be secured, considerations of economy would rather induce them to maintain things as they were. He thought it one important recommendation of the present situation, that it enabled the election Committees, which were appointed after a general election, to obtain the assistance of the most eminent members of the legal profession.

Mr. Hawes

was rather averse to having the site altered. It appeared to him that all the plans laid before the Committee ought to be submitted to public inspection, and that his Majesty's Government ought to afford facilities for such an exhibition. The artists whose plans had not been adopted were, he believed, desirous of an opportunity of exhibiting their works, but he thought the public should be allowed to inspect also the plans which had been selected. The estimated cost to the artists of the ninety-seven plans sent in, was not less than 25,000l.

Mr. Roebuck

supported the Amendment. The right hon. Baronet had remarked that one hon. Gentleman complained of the present site as low and; unhealthy, while another had urged that from the river there was a current of fresh air, which, instead of being obstructed by high buildings, as at present, ought to be allowed to circulate through the town. There was, however, no inconsistency in their arguments. When a site was below a certain level, a current of air might blow over it, and be exceedingly beneficial to more remote parts of the town, while the site itself remained very unhealthy. A reference had been made to history, but he thought there was not much in the historical recollections connected with this site to endear it to the people of England.

Mr. Ewart

said, the question was, which was the best situation? He should say that the present was not the best, because the whole neighbourhood was choked up with houses. St. James's being free from this objection, he thought it the more eligible position. He was of opinion that they ought not to hesitate to reconsider the subject merely because the plans had been sent in.

The House divided—on the original motion Ayes 141; Noes 42; Majority 99.

List of the NOES.
Acheson, Lord O'Brien, C.
Aglionby, H. A. Oliphant, L.
Baldwin, Dr. Pattison, J.
Bateson, Sir R. Pease, J.
Bish, T. Patter, R.
Bowring, Dr. Pryse, P.
Brocklehurst, J. Roche, D.
Brotherton, J. Roebuck, J, A.
Buckingham, J. S. Scholefield, J.
Dillwyn, L. Strutt, E.
Fector, J. Thompson, T. P.
Gillon, W. D. Thompson, B.
Glynne, Sir S. Tulk, C. A.
Grosvenor, L. R. Verney, Sir H.
Grote, G. Wakley, T.
Handley, H. Wallace, R.
Hindley, C. Wigney, I.
King, E. Williams, W.
Lennox, Lord A. Williams, Sir T.
Lennox, Lord, G. Tellers.
Marshall, W. Hume, J.
North, F. Ewart, W.
O'Brien, W. S: