HC Deb 24 July 1854 vol 135 cc587-91

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be read the third time upon Tuesday next."


said, this was another of those Bills which were being hurried through the House without due explanation or time for consideration. The object of this Bill was stated to be to facilitate the transfer of the Duchy of Cornwall offices from rooms in Somerset House to a new house to be erected for that purpose. In order to carry this out, it was proposed to give the Duchy 16,889l. for their present premises, and also to pay half the amount of the excess above that sum which the new premises might cost. Now, before he assented to this Bill, he wished to be satisfied that the Duchy of Cornwall had a vested interest in the premises in Somerset House under the 59 Geo. III., a matter on which he entertained considerable doubt. Of course, if there was such a vested interest, it would be necessary to pay for it. But even in that case he strongly objected to pay any portion of the additional cost of the new premises. The revenues of the Duchy now amounted to 57,000l. per annum; 13,000l. per annum was paid in salaries to officers, and the Council were laying by 25,000l. per annum for the Duke of Cornwall. Under these circumstances, he could not assent to charge the nation with any part of the cost of building an ornamental building in Pimlico for the convenience of the Duchy Council, who were administering what was always contended to be private property whenever Parliamentary inquiries were talked of. He thought that some further explanation should be given before the House consented to read the Bill a third time, for it was read a second time on Friday after midnight, had gone through Committee on Saturday, and was again before the House on Monday morning; and this adjournment was the more necessary. as the Supplementary Estimates were fixed for this week, when this Vote of 16,889l. would be taken. He wished to have a copy of the contract, and an estimate of the proposed works, and of the value of the rooms now occupied at Somerset House. He had taken some trouble to ascertain whether the Duke of Cornwall had a vested interest, but all he could find was an Act of the 15 Geo. c. 33, which stated that His Majesty having purchased Buckingham House and the large gardens adjoining, wished to settle that palace on the Queen instead of Somerset, or, as it was then called, Denmark House, and proposed to give the nation Somerset House in exchange. This arrangement having been completed, the Palace was converted into offices for public business, such as for Stamps, Navy, Ordnance, and the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall. He did not see how the Duke of Cornwall obtained any vested right by this arrangement, and it would be very difficult to prove to him how a few rooms, worth, perhaps, 2,000l., could create a claim for a consideration of 16,889l., or even double that sum, which this loosely drawn Bill might entail upon us. As a representative of the people, he protested against these constant attempts to take the public money for such unnecessary, and, he must add, such unjustifiable purposes.


said, the only object of this Bill was to give to the Duchy of Cornwall precisely the same holding in the public offices to be established at Pimlico as it now enjoyed in Somerset House. In order to build those offices it would be necessary for him to come to the House for a Vote of 16,889l., and he would on that occasion explain the reasons for the proposal, if the House wished. The removal of the offices of the Duchy of Cornwall was entirely for the convenience of the Inland Revenue Department, and it was thought to be well worth paying half the excess required for the new offices to have the additional accommodation at Somerset House for that department. He would reserve any further explanations until the House went into Committee of Supply.


said, he objected to appropriating the public money to any such purpose, for, if they affirmed such a principle, there was no knowing where the expenditure would stop, and the nation had already spent hundreds of thousands in beautifying and adorning edifices in that quarter. If it was necessary for the convenience of public business that the space occupied by the offices of the Duchy of Cornwall should be devoted to other purposes, why not give them an equal number of rooms at Whitehall or some other public office. But he must say he could not understand why it was necessary to erect a magnificent set of buildings for this purpose. Many noble Lords and hon. Gentlemen possessed estates producing 57,000l. per annum, and they did not require a large building for the transaction of their business. Until the whole matter was laid before the House, he should offer his decided opposition to it.


said, this Bill stood in precisely the same category as the preceding Bill; it was read on Saturday for the second time, and he, with other Members, knew nothing about its contents. He demurred greatly to the principle laid down in the Bill with respect to the payment of only half the unknown expenses of the Duchy of Cornwall. The Bill pledged the country to an unlimited amount. There was no estimate of expense, or of the probable cost that would fall on the country, by transferring the offices from Somerset House to the new building in Pimlico. This sort of bargain the country ought to be no party to. He hoped the right hon. Baronet would consent to postpone the Bill until they had the Estimates before them, and heard the explanation.


said, he did not think the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) correctly understood the nature and object of the Bill. It was thought convenient for the public service that the Inland Revenue Department should be removed from the offices it formerly occupied. The premises in Broad Street accordingly were sold, and they realised upwards of 100,000l., and the department was removed to Somerset House. When it had removed to Somerset House it was found that there were certain offices there established by Act of Parliament which were wanted for the Inland Revenue Department. Well, the question was, whether the House would refuse to sanction such an arrangement as that proposed or not. The Duchy of Cornwall had no wish to remove. If it was the wish of the House that there should be sufficient accommodation for the Board of Inland Revenue, of course they would carry that wish into effect; but he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that the House ought to have full information, and he had no objection to postpone for some days the consideration of this Bill in order that that information might be afforded. The Bill was good for nothing unless the Vote in Committee of Supply was granted. All that the Duchy of Cornwall could wish was, that if they were turned out of their rooms in Somerset House. they should have other rooms in which to conduct their business. There could be no need to erect a great building for that purpose. He would move to postpone the third reading till Thursday.


said, he thought a postponement would not altogether meet the case. He considered the proceedings of the Council of the Duchy of Cornwall tyrannical and overbearing in the extreme, and he was not disposed to vote away the public money for the purpose of building offices for their convenience. He would, therefore, move as an Amendment that the Bill be read a third time that day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "Thursday next," in order to insert the words "upon this day three months," instead thereof.

Question put, "That the words 'Thursday next' stand part of the Question." The House divided:—Ayes 79; Noes 18: Majority 61.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill to be read 3° on Thursday next.

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