HC Deb 16 September 1841 vol 59 cc511-7
Sir R. Peel

I rise, Sir, to move for a paper to which it is, perhaps, desirable that I should at once call the attention of the House, and which is connected with the execution of those works which are now in progress for building the two new Houses of Parliament, and with the adoption of measures for warming and ventilating the present Houses. In making this motion, it will, perhaps, be for the general convenience of the House, that I should avail myself of the opportunity of stating the course which it is my intention, on the part of her Majesty's Government, to pursue with respect to the public business of the country. Notice has been already given for to-morrow, of taking into consideration those estimates for which complete provision has not been made in the late Session of Parliament. That vote will refer to the miscellaneous services of the year. One half of the sum which will be required for the provision for those services has been already provided by her Majesty's late Government in the last Session of Parliament; and what I propose to do is, to adopt those estimates, without exception, as they were framed by her Majesty's late Ministers, and to submit them to the House exactly in the form in which they were proposed by them to the last Parliament. The course pursued on former occasions has been to take, by one vote, the remaining sum which might be required to provide for those services; but, in the present instance, these estimates themselves have not been submitted to the detailed consideration of the House. A sum was taken on account in the last Session; and I apprehend that it would be more desirable, and more satisfactory to the House, that the estimates should be taken into consideration in detail now, rather than one sum should be taken in gross to provide for the public service. I propose, therefore, to submit each sum to the House in detail, and to take a separate vote with respect to each of them. I know not, Sir, that it is necessary to make any proposition to the House, with respect to estimates for any other services than those which were included in the estimates presented to the House by the late Government, during the last Session of Parliament; but there is one item of expenditure, at the same time, to which it will be my duty to direct its attention. It is connected with that particular item of expenditure to which I have already referred, namely, the additional sum which will be required with reference to the construction of the two new Houses of Parliament now in process of erection. The works connected with those buildings are now advanced to such a period, that if the two Houses of Parliament shall determine that it is desirable that mode of warming and ventilating the new Houses, similar to that which has been provided for this House, should be adopted, it will be necessary that provision should at once be made for that purpose. The state of those buildings is such, that the flues and other works necessary to the carrying out of that design must be immediately provided. If these works are to be undertaken, they must, the House will perceive, be commenced without further delay. I cannot but think, however, that it is not fit that anything in connection with a work of such magnitude as the building of the new Houses of Parliament should be carried out by money from the Treasury without that money being first voted under the sanction of the House of Commons. On a former occasion, upon a question of a similar nature, a committee was appointed by each House to consider the subject, and, in my opinion, it would be convenient and proper that a similar course should be pursued in the present instance. I think it is advisable, that a sum of money, amounting, if the works are to be carried out in accordance with the propositions of Dr. Reid and Mr. Barry, to between 80,000l. and 90,000l., should not be expended without having received the previous sanction and approbation of Parliament. If, therefore, any committee shall be appointed upon this subject, I can only express my hope and trust, that it will confine itself to the consideration of the object for which it will be nominated— that it will limit its inquiries entirely to the consideration of the proposed mode of heating and ventilating the new Houses— and that it will not extend it to anything which may cause inconvenience or interference in the progress of those works. Sir, it will be my intention to propose a bill to continue in operation those laws which would expire within a limited period with- out the intervention of Parliament. There are some laws which would expire within a period definitely fixed, and others that would expire at the end of the first Session of Parliament. With respect to these laws, I would submit to the House the propriety of extending them to a definite period. Of these the most important is unquestionably the Poor-law Act. That part of that Act which constitutes the Poor-law commission will expire on the 31st of December next unless it shall previously have been renewed. I shall, propose, therefore, to continue that bill as it stands to the 31st of July, 1842, in order to enable her Majesty's Government to consider, in the mean time, the nature of those provisions which they may think it their duty to bring forward in connection with the Poor-law. There are, also, other laws, some of them of greater, and some of lesser importance, which will expire at an early day, or at the end of the present Session of Parliament, and with regard to these laws I shall propose bills to secure their further operation to a definite period. The Poor-law Act, however, involves a most important principle, and it will be for the House to decide, whether or not it will be the most convenient course that that Act shall be extended for the present by means of a continuance bill. If a strong opinion should be expressed on the part of the House, that the continuance of the Poor-law should be provided for by means of a further and separate law upon the subject, rather than by the manner to which I have referred, I shall be ready, although I have an objection to load the statute-book unnecessarily, to listen to any suggestions on the part of the House upon the subject. With regard to election petitions, Sir, it appears to me, that it will be for the general interest and convenience of the House to adopt no precedent respecting them at present. I believe, that under the present law relating to such petitions, no Act of the House is necessary in order to suspend proceedings connected with them, but that it rests with the general committee on election petitions to appoint and determine the days on which they shall be heard, and I trust that the House will feel, that it would be highly inexpedient to proceed with the consideration of any election petition at the present time. With respect to the financial arrangements of the country, my right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will, on the earliest day on which a committee of ways and means can be fixed, state to the House what is the extent of the deficiency to be provided; for, viz., the difference between the revenue and the estimated expenditure of the present year. I apprehend, that that deficiency will be found not to fall short of the estimate given by the right hon. Gentleman, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that it is probable, that a sum of 2,500,000l. will have to be provided for the service of the present year. My right hon. Friend will inform the House with respect to the details of the particular classes of deficiency on the occasion to which I have referred, and will avail himself of that opportunity of stating the nature of the measures it will be his intention to propose, with a view to make temporary provision for the removal of the deficiency in question. With reference to measures, however, of a more permanent character which it may be necessary to adopt with regard to the equalisation of the revenue with the expenditure of the country, it is not my intention, during the present Session of Parliament, to submit any propositions to the consideration of the House. I have, as the House is aware, already stated my opinion, that it is absolutely necessary that some means should be provided to equalise the revenue with the expenditure, and it is our intention to avail ourselves of the earliest opportunity, after, and consistent with, the maturest consideration of all the circumstances of the country, of submitting to Parliament measures for the remedy of the existing evil. Whether that remedy can be best effected by a diminution of the expenditure or an increase of the revenue of the country, or whether it can be best secured by a combination of these two means; namely, by a diminution of expenditure and an increase of revenue, is a question which I must postpone for future consideration. It is sufficient for me to state a strong opinion that it is impossible that the country, consistently with a due regard to the public service, can continue to proceed in the course which, perhaps unavoidably, has been pursued for the last few years; viz., that of creating a large deficiency in time of peace, and incurring a considerable debt. But as to the mode in which that great evil can be remedied, I must ask for that degree of confidence from the House which will enable her Majesty's Government to give the subject their most serious consideration. With respect to other measures of permanent operation and important character, I must make the same appeal to the confidence of the House. It is quite true that, for some days past, I and my colleagues have been in possession of the Government of the country, but I dare say the House will readily believe that the arrangements which it has been my duty to make for the constitution of the Government, and other arrangements connected with it, have not placed me in a much better situation to pronounce a positive opinion on measures of such immense and paramount importance, than I was before. I do assure the House that it is not from any neglect of public duty that I forbear from immediate legislation on matters of such importance. I can assure the House that I forbear, not on account of the advanced period of the year, not on account of the probably deficient attendance of Members, not on account of the temptations of other avocations to withdraw attention from Parliamentary duties—for I am of opinion that all such considerations ought to be sacrificed to the principle of public duty, and ought not to interfere in the slightest degree with the consideration of measures affecting the public interests; the grounds on which I forbear from calling the attention of Parliament to measures of that important character rest in the peculiar circumstances connected with the formation of the Government. I thought I might infer from the general expression of opinion, and, as it appears, the just and liberal expression of opinion which took place before the late elections, that there was a general desire on the part of those who would probably be the warmest opponents of her Majesty's Government to give them a fair opportunity of considering the measures which it might be their duty to submit to the Legislature. I firmly believe it is for the public good that that opportunity should be given, and that on the earliest possible occasion after the time that Parliament ordinarily meets, the opinions of her Majesty's Government on those important subjects should be stated to Parliament; but in the mean time I trust there will not be any misconstruction of what appears the general feeling, that on the whole it is advisable upon the constitution of the new Government that time should be afforded them to weigh maturely the measures they may think it their duty to submit, connected with the permanent, financial and commercial arrangements of the country. I beg leave to move, Sir, for a copy of a letter from the First Commissioners of Woods, &c. to the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the subject of warming, ventilating and securing from fire the new Houses of Parliament.

The motion having been seconded,

Lord John Russell

said Sir, with respect to the immediate purposes for which the right hon. Gentleman has moved for these papers, I am certainly not likely to differ from any measures which may be proposed in accordance with them. I have entire confidence in the course which I conceive the right hon. Baronet may think fit to adopt on that score, and I think we have all of us experienced the benefit of the plans which these papers suggest and recommend. With respect to any expense that may be required for the purpose of carrying out the end aimed at, I have no doubt that the Treasury and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will use every requisite expedition in attending to it. With respect to the estimates, to the framing of which I was myself, well as the other Members of the late Government, a party, I can, of course, only say that I shall offer no opposition to their being granted, and I shall consider it my duty to give my support to any of them, the necessity for which shall be questioned. But with regard to the other questions to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, I shall take an opportunity, before the House goes into a committee of supply to-morrow, of stating the course which I think ought to be pursued with reference to the present slate of public affairs. I do not think it would be convenient that I should enter now into these considerations. I am of opinion that the course I propose to adopt—that of making the observations I wish to address to the House before going into supply to-morrow—more consistent with the practice of the House. I can only say, on the present occasion, that I heard with great concern the intention of the right hon. Gentleman not to propose any measures of importance in the present Session of Parliament. I will not say, that during the last few days in which the right hon. Gentleman has been occupied, agreeably with the instructions given him by her Majesty, in the formation and construction of the Government, he can have given any very great share of his attention to the measures which he may wish to introduce; but, considering the great length of time which has elapsed since the proposal of important measures by the late Administration, and considering the present state of the country, I must say that, in my opinion, the Government, as now constituted, ought at once, or in the course of the present autumn to lay before Parliament the measures it intends to propose. I inferred from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that it is his intention, having obtained the necessary supplies—having made temporary provision for the public credit, and having renewed the Poor-law and some other expiring acts for a few months—not to call the House of Commons together again until the ordinary period of assembling— at the commencment of the next year. Now, Sir, I do not consider that course to be advisable in the present state of the country, and particularly as the right hon. Gentleman has himself said, that the House of Commons ought not to attend to questions of personal convenience when matters of great political importance require our attention. I will not now, however, enter further into these matters than to say that I will take the opportunity to which I have referred of stating my opinion upon them to-morrow; and I may be permitted to add that in so doing I am not actuated by any desire to offer any embarrassing opposition to any course which the right hon. Gentleman may think proper to adopt, but merely wish to state that, which in my own opinion, is the course, which under the existing circumstances of the country, ought to be pursued.

Motion agreed to.

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