HC Deb 15 March 1836 vol 32 cc327-31
Sir John Hobhouse

brought up the Report of the Committee for Inquiry into the Plans for building new Houses of Parliament, which was read as follows:—" Your Committee, after considering the Report of the Commissioners which has been referred to them by the House, and after personal communication with the Commissioners, as to the grounds on which their selection of certain plans was made, are of opinion that the plan of Mr. Barry, numbered 64, ought to be so far adopted as to be made the basis of immediate further inquiries in respect to the cost of the plan above mentioned, and to the best mode of carrying it into execution."

Sir John Hobhouse

did not know whether it was necessary for him to preface his Motion by the statement of any details, or of the reasons which had induced the Committee to adopt the resolution now upon the table. He should however propose, in consequence of it, that a humble address be presented to his Majesty, praying that he would be pleased to direct inquiries to be made in conformity with the Report, and in such manner as his Majesty should deem most advisable. Me was ready to give any explanation that might be required, but it would be seen that the Report pledged the House to nothing, and merely declared that the recommendation of the Royal Commissioners had been adopted by the Committee. Should the House agree to the Report, the effect would merely be that proceedings would be taken to procure from Mr. Barry some statements of expense, without at all deciding that it ought to be incurred. The Report went no further, and the House would probably be of opinion, that under all the circumstances, due caution had been used in an important and somewhat delicate investigation. The Committee had judged it best to leave all inquiry into the details in the hands of Government; and, of course, the department to be selected for such a duty would be the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. They would obtain the best assistance that could be procured, and would proceed without any delay. He had reason to believe that if his Motion were adopted, an estimate would be presented to the House in a comparatively short time, upon which a final conclusion might be formed. The right hon. Baronet concluded by moving, "That an humble address be presented to his Majesty, praying that his Majesty would be graciously pleased to have an inquiry made as to the best mode of proceeding in conformity with the Report of the Commissioners in such manner as to his Majesty may seem most advisable."

Mr. Hawes

thought the Motion so important that it ought to have been preceded by a notice; and he was somewhat astonished, after what had passed on a former occasion, that the House should thus have been taken by surprise upon the subject. It appeared that one plan had been finally agreed upon, and although the Committee had been sitting for some time, and had taken evidence, the Report was unaccompanied by evidence, and this circumstance seemed to indicate that it had been prepared too hastily. He did not say that he would take the sense of the House on the Motion of the right hon. Baronet, but he apprehended that before it was adopted the evidence ought to have been produced. According to his understanding of the Report, it amounted to a final selection of a particular plan, and he wished to know whether the other plans approved by the Commissioners would be exhibited. The public had been long looking for them, and he thought that they were entitled to see them.

Sir John Hobhouse

felt bound to give an answer to his hon. Friend. Undoubtedly evidence had been taken, and the terms of the Report would show that the commissioners had been examined on the subject of the recommendation they had laid before his Majesty. As to the notice of the present Motion having been given, he could only say that it was not meant to take the House at all by surprise, and in fact the Report did not recommend any important or definitive step. All that had been decided was, that before any ultimate decision were come to upon plan No. 64, it was expedient that an estimate should be formed of the probable expense of carrying it into execution. If it were the general opinion of the House that it would be better to see the evidence, the Committee could have no possible objection that it should be produced. At present it had been considered that such a step would be rather premature, and that the evidence ought to be reserved for the final decision.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that the course proposed to be pursued seemed to him calculated to lay before the House, at the earliest period, the information by which it was to be guided in its decision. The Motion of the right hon. Baronet was in conformity with the plan proposed in the Committee; and, as he had supported it there, he should give it his cordial support here. The House of Commons, naturally distrusting its own judgment on a matter of this kind, had recommended the Crown to select Commissioners to review the whole of the plans. They undertook the duty, of course, gratuitously, and had devoted a great portion of time and attention to the consideration of about eighty or ninety plans; they had weighed the merits of each, in conformity with the instructions they had received, and given the preference to four out of the whole number. That of Mr. Barry had received their chief approbation, both for exterior form and interior convenience. When the Committee came to discuss the subject, the members of it had not thought themselves justified in recommending the House to adopt the plan of Mr. Barry, which they preferred, without first taking some steps to ascertain the expense; and it appeared to them that under the Crown, the responsible executive department was infinitely better calculated to collect all the essential materials for a final determination, than a Committee of that House. If the House should be of the same opinion, it would amount to a prima facie case in favour of Mr. Barry's plan; and surely the Committee was entitled to select it, not as the plan finally to be adopted, but as the basis of further inquiry. Then came the question, by whom that inquiry was to be made? and it would extend not merely to the cost of the buildings, but to the comparative expense of erecting them of different materials, and their durability as affected by London smoke and London atmosphere. The Committee thought that this inquiry could be better conducted by the Ministers of the Crown; and he was decidedly in favour of the proposal of the right hon. Baronet, which was only to induce the House to call upon the Crown to make the inquiry. He could not think that the House had been taken at all by surprise, since the object only was to obtain all necessary information, before a single stone was laid. No pledge was given; and if the hon. Member for Lambeth chose to divide the House, he (Sir R. Peel) hoped that the Motion would be carried by a large majority.

Mr. Hall

thought that all the plans were to be publicly exhibited before a final decision was formed. Mr. Barry's plan would not, he was afraid, be practicable on account of the expense.

Sir Robert Peel

If it should appear that Mr. Barry's plan—beautiful in its exterior, and convenient in its arrangement as it was—could only be carried into effect under an enormous and unjustifiable outlay, which would require too great a sacrifice of economy, the motion of the right hon. Baronet implied no pledge that it should be adopted by the House.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

saw no difficulty, as far as the Government was concerned, in making the inquiry, and obtaining the information. The object certainly was, that the plan, whichever might be selected, should be executed with all due regard to economy. With regard to the exhibition of the rival plans, he had been informed that if it were done immediately, and the drawings thereby taken out of the hands of Mr. Barry, it might be attended with great inconvenience; but there would be no difficulty in giving the public the opportunity of seeing Mr. Barry's plan with the others, before the House of Commons came to any final determination. On a former occasion a question had been put to him either by the hon. Member for Middlesex or Southwark, to which he was not then prepared to give a distinct answer. The hon. Gentleman seemed to imagine that there had been some previous communication of Mr. Barry's plan to the Commissioners; but he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was now able, in the most distinct and precise manner, to assert, that up to the moment when the seals were broken, not one of the Commissioners was aware which was Mr. Barry's plan.

Mr. Hume

trusted that at all events the evidence taken by the Committee would be laid before the House before they were called upon to consent to the expenditure of any portion of the public money.

The motion was agreed to.

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