HC Deb 17 February 1836 vol 31 cc501-7
Mr. Hawes

moved that it be an instruction to the Committee appointed to consider and report on the plans for the two Houses of Parliament, to inspect all the plans which had been submitted to his Majesty's Commissioners, &c., and to receive the estimates of the said plans from such architects as might be willing to furnish them to the Committee. He did not intend to cast any reflection, directly or indirectly, on the commissioners; but he deemed the inspection of all the plans necessary, in order to convince the public that, in selecting a plan for a building adequate to the purposes of the Legislature, the decision come to was right and proper. It would give the public greater confidence in that decision. The course he was anxious to pursue would by no means open up the whole question again, which he particularly wished to avoid.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

opposed the motion, It would be a re-opening of the whole case. Certain resolutions were affirmed by the whole House, which went to the appointment of a Commission for the purpose of selecting the best plans from among the many offered; and the Select Committee of the last Session had been revived this Session to choose one from the number thus selected. The Commissioners were men of experience and knowledge—and they were perfectly unconnected with the candidates, and perfectly unprejudiced. They had given judgment in favour of four plans out of the number submitted to them; and those they recommended to the consideration of the Select Committee of the House. The other plans were in the meanwhile open to public inspection and general canvass. If the House were now to refer the whole ninety-four plans submitted to the Commissioners to the Committee, the greatest embarrassment would be caused, and no good would result from it. He thought it inexpedient, therefore, to adopt the motion of his hon. Friend the member for Lambeth

Mr. Jephson

said, that the House should have an understanding with the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer before it proceeded further, that no estimate should be received, and no definite arrangement entered into by the Committee, until the public had had an opportunity of examining not only the successful plans but the unsuccessful ones also.

Sir Robert Peel

wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman opposite a question. When the parties were invited to send in their plans was there any intimation conveyed to them as to the limits of the expense which would probably be incurred by the nation? For instance, were they told that 500,000l, would be most likely voted, or a lesser or greater sum? If one party assumed that a million, or even millions, would be voted for the purpose of erecting both Houses of Parliament, and another assumed a smaller sum, he should not beat all surprised to find that the plan founded on the estimate of the greater was superior to that founded on the estimate of the lesser. The artist who assumed the expenditure of a million would have an advantage in framing his plan over the more penurious artist, who assumed the expenditure of only 300,000l. and so on, in an increasing ratio. Although the Commissioners might have given the reward voted by the House to the artist of the best plan, with every justice and reason, still it might be a question for the House to consider whether the artist who had combined the two main requisites—the best plan with the most economical estimate—should not be entitled to the preference. He begged an answer to his question—whether there had been any instructions given to the Committee as to the limitation of the expense in the plans for the construction of both Houses of Parliament?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said that the whole proceeding respecting the new Houses of Parliament had been the proceeding of the House of Commons, and that the course adopted by the Government respecting the plans, had been controlled by the resolutions of a Committee up stairs. No limitation whatsoever with respect to expense was contained in those resolutions; the principal object was to get the best plan that could be obtained of a building for the accommodation of the Legislature, and the artists were left entirely free as to the article of expense: no restriction being imposed on them, except as to the style of building. As no limitation of expense was imposed, of course all the architects were upon equal terms, except so far as one architect might let his imagination lead him very wide with regard to expense and decoration, while another might be more moderate in his conceptions.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that the particular and practical question he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman was—When the Commissioners were appointed by the Government to select the best plans and give prizes to the most deserving artists, were they directed to decide on the abstract question of whether one plan was better than another, or were their instructions to combine economy with beauty, and take into consideration the expenses as well as the fitness of the plans they selected? He wished to know whether the artists had any guide? and whether one said—"I'll send in my plan without considering the expense of it," while another said—"I'll consider the expense as well as the propriety of my plan for the purpose. If no limitation had been suggested or understood he was very much afraid that the Commissioners had selected the four best plans without reference to the expense.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

believed that the Commissioners were empowered to take nothing into consideration besides the beauty and convenience of the plans laid before them for selection. They could not take cognizance of the expense, as it was a question which did not fall within the line of duty marked out for them.

Mr. Hume

agreed with the observations of the right hon. Baronet. The House, in his opinion, had made one or two serious errors in their decision of the question. The first was permitting the Commissioners to decide on the best plans. Some of these plans, if he was rightly informed, were exhibited to the Commissioners themselves and to the public by the architects long before the decision had been come to respecting them. Besides, accustomed as the Commissioners were to the styles of different architects, they could easily recognize in the several drawings the hand of the artist. He had been informed that Mr. Barry, the successful candidate, had exhibited his plan publicly before the decision of the Commissioners in its favour. The next mistake was with regard to the question of expenses. It was not his fault, however, as he had suggested to the Committee that the expenses should be limited; but they did not seem to think as he did on the subject. He fully agreed with the observations of the right hon. Baronet, that a plan formed on an estimated expenditure of two millions would be likely to be far superior to one formed on an estimate of a quarter the amount. He thought the whole of the plans should again receive inspection and consideration, both with regard to the expense and the beauty, and that the whole House should decide on that which was best in all respects. He thought the course suggested by the hon. Member for Lambeth was best calculated to meet the emergency and obtain for the House the information which it stood in need of.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

declared that the reproaches which had been directed against the Committee were highly unjust. There was not the slightest information given to the profession which could enable one interested party to take an advantage of another. So little aware were the candidates of the opinions of the Committee that one of the successful parties had actually taken steps to exhibit his plans along with others, imagining that he was among the rejected.

Mr. Warburton

said, that the hon. Member for Middlesex appeared to be mistaken as to the recommendation of the Committee that a public exhibition should be ordered by the House, whereas it was a private exhibition by the artists themselves that they had sanctioned. There was also a great fallacy in the idea that several estimates by distinct architects could be expected to harmonies. Where, for instance, one man adopted a different standard of value for labour, or bricks, or timber from that of another, it would be impossible to arrive at any useful comparative result, and it would be a palpable loss of time to all parties to enter on such a course, though, he confessed, it would be only consistent to require a satisfactory estimate, with working drawings, of any plan that the House might be inclined to approve, before they finally adopted it. It would, however, be mere folly to require estimates of ninety-five plans. The cost would be enormous, and the advantage nothing.

Sir Robert Inglis

trusted that the House would not adopt any course that would have the effect of delaying the erection of the new buildings and embarrassing the Committee. He hoped they would see the propriety of the following course pointed out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and, having advanced so far in their most desirable work, not turn back again and undo all the Committee had effected. If not retarded by the adoption of this Resolution, he expected fourteen days more would suffice to fulfil the duties which yet remained for the Committee to execute in the preparatory steps requisite to enable the House to adopt a plan, which he hoped would then be proceeded with immediately. If no needless delay were occasioned he hoped to see the work in progress in April.

Sir Frederick Trench

said, the candidates and the House also would have been saved immense difficulties if a maximum of expense had been stated for their guidance. Each of the plans selected by the Committee might (for want of such previous instruction) cost two millions, perhaps, instead of one, if put in execution; so that, when the House came to decide on the best, it might find the whole four objectionable in this view, and it might therefore find itself placed in great difficulties, and be obliged to begin de novo. He thought the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, to place the four approved plans in a room together for the inspection of Members, to enable the House to arrive at a fair choice amongst them, was very good. He had no doubt, however, that the Committee had selected the best, and that the House would confirm their decision; but he feared that the best might be found inadmissible in point of expense, and that, after all, none of them could be executed.

Mr. Hall

agreed with the hon. Member, that, although one plan had received a premium of 1,500l., and three others 500l. each, it did not follow that any of them were to be executed. It would' be impossible to accede to the proposition before the House to receive estimates and report on the merits of ninety-five plans. It would require at least five or six months to draw up an estimate of Mr. Barry's alone, with working drawings, sections, and elevations; and the calculations and inspections necessary to verify the whole would be an endless work. It would certainly be highly satisfactory not only to the successful architects but to Members and the public if both classes of plans, the selected and rejected, could be exhi- bited together, so that the labours of the artist and the judgment of the Committee could at the same time be fairly appreciated.

Mr. Hughes Hughes

thought that the subject of expense should receive immediate attention, as very erroneous views had gone abroad on the subject. He had heard that the author of one of the selected plans had been congratulated on his success by some one who expressed a doubt that the expense would be a bar to its erection, and that the architect had declared it could be erected for 500,000l.

Mr. Williams Wynn

defended the propriety of the original determination of the House to obtain the best plan without a view to expense, and agreed with the hon. Member for Bridport (Mr. Warburton), that the various units of value adopted by estimators for timber, stone, bricks, labour, &c., would probably have only led to false conclusions, especially when they considered the site of the building in the vicinity of the river, and the various views that architects might be expected to take of a proper foundation in that locality. The experience they had obtained in the case of the Custom House proved that the cheapest plan was not always the best; and he thought the safest way in the present instance was, to refer the task of drawing up an estimate for the adopted plan to some builder of eminence, who should not be interested as a competitor in the transaction. An estimate furnished by the architect would, after all, be quite valueless, for it would be impossible to expect that in a national work of this nature he could find security that it should not exceed the amount of his calculation; and though he might estimate the cost at 300,000l., it might, when finished, be found to exceed a million. Nothing was so easy as to make mistakes in these matters; the error of Sir William Chambers in the case of Somerset House was well known, which cost treble the sum estimated, on account of unexpected difficulties encountered in the slimy soil in which the under-ground buildings were necessarily constructed, and which, (he understood) no architect could foretell the cost of in similar circumstances. He thought it therefore best to persevere in the course adopted by the House last year.

Lord Stanley

was very desirous to cor- rect an erroneous impression which had gone abroad relative to the award of the Commissioners. He had seen it very generally stated that they had awarded 1,500l. to the gentleman who had sent in the first plan, and 500l. to each of the other architects whose designs they approved of. Now, unless he was much mistaken, they had no power to make any such award. All they had to do was this—to select a number of plans, not less than three, nor more than five, to be referred to a Committee to be appointed subsequently, composed of Members of both Houses of Parliament; and to declare each of these plans entitled to a premium of 500l. A further recommendation of the Committee was, that the architect of the plan ultimately selected, if he were not employed to build the Houses of Parliament, should receive a further premium of 1,000l.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

admitted the accuracy of his noble Friend's recollection of the extent of the powers intrusted to the Committee.

Mr. Hawes

would leave the case to the decision of the House.

Lord Sandon

observed that it had been hardly ever found, in any case, that an architect was enabled to give in a correct estimate of the probable expense of a building, until it was actually erected. He hoped the principle of the Resolution Which bad been moved by the hon. Member for Southwark would be recognised and adopted by the House.

The House divided: Ayes 48; Noes 120; Majority 72.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Halford, H.
Angerstein, J. Heathcoat, J.
Balfour, T. Hume, J.
Barnard, E. G. Johnston, A.
Bateson, Sir R. Kirk, P.
Blake, M. J. Leader, J. T.
Bowring, Dr. Lefroy, Sergeant
Bodkin, J. J. Lefroy, A.
Brotherton, J. Lewis, D.
Brownrigg, J. S. Lister, E. C.
Buckingham, J. S. Maunsell, T. P.
Coote, Sir C. H. Pelham, Hon. C. A.
Crawford, S. Pryme, G.
Eaton, R. J. Praed, W. M.
Elphinstone, H. Potter, R.
Evans, G. Bundle, J.
Fielden, J. Sheldon, E. R. C.
Fleming, J. Sinclair, Sir G.
Forbes, W. Smyth, Sir G. H.
Gaskill, J.M. Thompson, Col.
Gore, W. O. Tulk, C. A.
Wakley, T. Yorke, E. T.
Villiers, C. P. TELLERS.
Walter, J. Hawes, B.
Walker, R. O'Brien, W. S.