HC Deb 23 June 1846 vol 87 cc905-9

, in bringing forward the Motion of which he had given notice, respecting the Record Office, said he did not mean to detain the House at any length on the subject of the Resolution, for it was one the importance of which was so obvious as to render comment unnecessary. His object was to procure the appointment of a Select Committee, to consider and report on the best means to provide a general Record Office in which to deposit the public records of England and Wales. A Committee, over which he had presided as chairman, had directed the attention of the House to this important subject on a previous occasion, and had strongly recommended that no time should be lost in providing a suitable office. Those hon. Members who had served with him on that Committee would remember the annoyance to which they were subjected, in having to go about from one place to another in visiting the various receptacles of the State Papers; and, indeed, it must be obvious to all that great inconvenience and disadvantage must necessarily result from having the records of the country distributed through a great many depositories. This consideration was independent of the yet more important one that the documents themselves were exposed to very great danger where they were at present placed. This matter had engaged the attention of the Master of the Rolls, who, in virtue of his office, was charged with the custody of the records, and by whom the subject had been repeatedly brought under the notice of the Treasury. It was unnecessary that he should enter into any detail of the mode in which the correspondence between the Master of the Rolls and the authorities of the Treasury was for a length of time carried on, without anything having been done with a view to the settlement of the question; but he was sure that hon. Members on all sides would concur with him in thinking that the time had arrived when that House should take some step in the matter. Various suggestions had been made from year to year, and amongst others was one to the effect, that in the New Houses of Parliament a compartment of the building should be especially set aside for the reception of the records; but the result of the consideration given to this matter by the Master of the Rolls was, that none of the suggestions offered appeared to conform with his views of the public interests. These were considerations, however, which would come under the special cognizance of the Committee he was moving for, the Members of which, no doubt, would devote their best attention to the subject, and recommend that course which appeared to them the most desirable and the most beneficial for the public. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving for the appointment of a Select Committee.


expressed his concurrence in the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard, and suggested that the additional duty should be assigned to the Committee of providing for the classifying the records and procuring the publication of such of them as possessed historical interest. This was a task which had been undertaken, in compliance with a vote of that House agreed to as far back (as well as he could recollect) as the year 1821 or 1822; but it was very much to be regretted that the project had not been completed, but remained still in abeyance. It was very little to the honour of the country that such an undertaking should not have been prosecuted to completion; and he trusted that the House would take measures to have the reproach removed. The Scottish Acts of Parliament had been carefully collated, and were published under the authority of the Commission, with the exception of the first volume, which was to contain the introduction; but the work had been suspended for the last ten or fifteen years, which could not but be a matter of regret. He trusted, however, that the publication would be soon resumed, and that the general task of supervising the publication of such of the records as possessed an historic interest would be committed to the charge of some persons of taste and erudition, and in all respects qualified for the task.


fully approved of the Motion of the hon. and learned Member, and hoped that the Government would perceive the necessity of setting about building a proper Record Office at once. It was little less that a reproach to the state of civilization in this country that so little attention should be paid to this matter. No nation that had a history, and valued it, would be careless or negligent of such documents. They were, in fact, its history. A building should be erected specially and exclusively for the reception of these documents, and they ought to be classified with the utmost care. Something ought, certainly, to be done in this matter, and that too without delay; for the present state of things was positively disgraceful. It might not perhaps be within the knowledge of every hon. Member who heard him; but it was, notwithstanding, the fact, that the riding-house at Old Carlton House was at present the principal, almost the only, place of receptacle for the public records. He would have great pleasure in supporting the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard, but could not say that he felt equally disposed to favour the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montgomeryshire. They ought certainly to pause before they undertook to publish the records at the public expense, and at all events it would be vain to undertake the task before the documents had been arranged and classified. Moreover, he was inclined to think that it was an objectionable proceeding to impose upon one Committee two classes of duties so dissimilar, and in each case so important.


thought it would be inexpedient to adopt the suggestions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montgomeryshire; but the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard appeared to him to be one, the object of which was exceedingly desirable, and he would accordingly have great pleasure in supporting it. The question of how far it was desirable that all the records should be brought together into one building, or distributed through various departments, was one which he trusted would engage the especial attention of the Committee, who, he hoped, would come to a satisfactory determination, and take care to make proper provision for the preservation of the documents, at the same time that they avoided involving the country in unnecessary expense. Especial care should be taken that no building should be erected that was not in all respects properly adapted for the purpose which was in view, for otherwise unnecessary expenditure to a very large amount would be the result.


observed that the work which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Wynn) proposed to be done by the Committee was not only alien to its duties, but it was hardly a work to be left to a Committee of that House at all. It was a matter of literary judgment and knowledge, and required to be conducted with the greatest amount of literary and historical taste. He thought a selection should be made of those historical works, and that the public would be better satisfied if the matter were referred to some commission of men conversant on the subject than to a Committee of that House.

Motion agreed to.