HC Deb 27 July 1854 vol 135 cc873-83

House in Committee of Supply.

(3.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding 140,000l., be granted to Her Majesty, for the purchase of Burlington House and Grounds, Piccadilly, in the year ending the 31st day of March, 1855.


said, that up to the present moment the House had received no information as to what was to be done with the purchase of land at Kensington, and they ought, therefore, to pause in granting this additional sum of money for the purchase of Burlington House until they had had some specific plans and estimates laid before them. The sum voted for the Kensington estate was 200,000l., and the 140,000l. now proposed, was merely for the purchase of the site upon which Burlington House stood, and the Committee was in utter ignorance with regard to the expenses which were to incurred in building on those sites. When last the subject was discussed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the Secretary to the Treasury, stated that the cheapest way of dealing with Burlington House was to pull it down. So that, according to this suggestion, the nation was about to pay the sum of 140,000l. merely for the space upon which the house stood, and the old materials. With the example they had before them in the building in which they were then assembled, the first estimate for the erection of which was 700,000l., whereas 2,500,000l. had been expended, whilst it was a very great way from being finished, he did think the Committee ought to be careful and cautious in what they did, and not incur further expenditure. Unless some Satisfactory explanation were given, he should take the sense of the Committee against the Vote.


said, he understood at first that Burlington House was to be purchased for public offices. He thought it was very inconveniently situate for such a purpose. If land were wanted, why was not use made of the waste piece of ground at the end of Downing Street? That could be had for nothing. There was also public property lying waste in the rear of Somerset House. It appeared, however, that in truth it was wanted not for public offices, but for the accommodation of certain scientific societies. This was the second call which had been made on the nation in connection with the Exhibition of 1851, which thus promised to be a very expensive affair to the country. He should have thought that the splendid success of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham would have convinced the Government that such matters as this were best left to private enterprise. If the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Spooner) would divide the Committee on this Vote, he would cordially join him.


said, he presumed that, as Government came to the House of Commons to ask for the money to purchase Burlington House, they had not yet made the bargain. He agreed with what had fallen from the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner) and the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. W. Williams), and he could not help thinking that, if Burlington House was to come down, we were merely purchasing about three acres of land, for which we were going to pay 50,000l. an acre. He did not think that the present times justified such an expense being incurred for so small a return. As to the space being used for the erection of buildings for private societies, he thought such a proceeding was not necessary, and he believed that these societies could erect their own buildings at a much less cost than Government would be likely to do it for them.


said, he believed, on the contrary, that the estimate was extremely economical. He might state to the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner) what might perhaps lessen his objection to the Vote, namely, that he had heard it reported that if the Government did not buy the site of Burlington House for this purpose, it was the intention of the Roman Catholics to purchase it, and build a large cathedral upon it. He (Mr. M. Milnes) could not agree with those hon. Members who spoke slightingly of scientific societies, for he considered that the country was under great obligations to them. He certainly trusted that the Government would not pull down Burlington House, for it was one of the finest specimens of its style in England.


said, he objected to the grant on every ground, but one of his chief reasons for opposing it was, that the present beautiful structure would be pulled down. Next to the fine specimen of Inigo Jones at Whitehall, Burlington House would be one of the greatest ornaments to the metropolis, if it could be seen, and the only thing which could reconcile him to the Vote was the pulling down of the exterior wall in Piccadilly, and opening the building to the public view. He also thought that the present was an unsuitable time for that House to be asked for a Vote of this description, and he saw no reason why, because they were called upon to vote millions, they should not look after the thousands and tens of thousands.


said, that the Presidents of the different scientific societies had had a meeting the other day, and had all agreed that the purchase was desirable, and were obliged to the Government for proposing to buy it. Some of those societies had a fair claim on the Government for a location, as some of them had originally been provided with rooms in our public buildings.


said, he could not well understand the arguments made use of by the hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Bankes). That hon. Gentleman stated that his objection to this Vote would be either withdrawn or greatly modified if it were proposed to pull down the wall in front of Burlington House; and, having made that statement, he proceeded to say that, at the present time, it was absolutely necessary, on account of the war, to refrain from applying to Parliament for money to be expended for a purpose not absolutely necessary. He could not understand how those two arguments could hang together, nor could he admit that either was tenable. The proposition for pulling down the wall, and so opening the view to Burlington House, was a proposition not to be endured—["Oh, oh!"]—that was to say, not to be endured by those who were intrusted with the management of the public resources at the present time; and, on the other hand, he protested against the doctrine, that the country was so reduced in means that no money could be voted except for purposes of what might be called absolute necessity. With respect to the acquisition of three acres and a half of land at a price which every one must admit was by no means extravagant, in the very heart of London, in a most commanding situation, in a great thoroughfare, he could only say that, if the opportunity were allowed to pass, it might be many generations before such another occurred, and in the forty or fifty years which might elapse before such an opportunity occurred, in what way could the public demands for space be met? What was to be done with the institutions, and the objects of interest which would have to be removed from Marlborough House in a few years, when that house was given up? It would be cheaper to devote the rooms in Somerset House to offices, than to build new offices at a distance. With regard to the statement that scientific societies could furnish themselves with room at a cheaper rate than the Government could provide it for them, he must say that he could not agree to that statement; because, if they were provided with space in any Government building, other parts of the building, which would be useless to them, could be turned to account by the Government. The difficulty which those societies met with in obtaining accommodation was the difficulty of procuring a large room for their meetings, but if they were provided with space by the public, one large room would be sufficient to answer the requirements of all. The hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. W. Williams) had spoken of the vacant space in Downing Street; but that site was wanted for other purposes. The position of the great State offices in Downing Street was absolutely disgraceful. Some of them were even dangerous, and others inconvenient in the highest degree, and it had become a matter of necessity that they should think of an alteration and enlargement of those offices on a great scale. For such purposes the vacant space in Downing Street would naturally be required. To transfer any of the great offices of State to Burlington House would be altogether inconvenient, and it was important they should all be centred in the neighbourhood of Downing Street. But for Commissioners' offices and establishments of that kind, Burlington House would be found exceedingly convenient, and he therefore thought that for such purposes the proposed arrangement was an excellent one. He hoped, therefore, that the present question would not be mixed up with the one about Kensington, or in any way confounded with the question of the National Gallery, which had been discussed and settled, as was understood, conclusively, in the course of last Session.


said, there could be no doubt of the soundness of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman, that nothing could be more valuable, or rather invaluable, to the Government of this country than those spaces of ground that from time to time might be procured in the metropolis. But, before he adverted to that subject, he would venture to make a remark on one or two observations that had fallen from some hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Member for Lambeth had commented on the propriety of some alterations in Somerset House, for which he (Mr. Disraeli) was responsible, and in some measure he approved of what had taken place. He was quite prepared to show, if it was necessary to go into the question, that those alterations were all for the convenience of the public service, as well as economical in so far as regarded the public expenditure, and that, in so far as the management of the Duchy of Cornwall was concerned, the alterations were unquestionably all in favour of the public. So far, indeed, from there being anything like a suspicion of what was called "a job" in this matter, the Duchy of Cornwall would have been perfectly satisfied to remain in their old quarters. The hon. and gallant Member for Bath (Captain Scobell) had made one of those, he might say, habitual attacks on purchases that were so common in that House, and on a former occasion had found fault with the purchase at Kensington Gore on account of its expense. He then stated that 200,000l. had been paid for twenty acres of land, whereas the fact was, that it was not twenty, but ninety acres of land that were purchased; and, therefore, when the hon. and gallant Member for Bath wished to establish his reputation for economy, and made his attacks on these purchases, he ought to be more statistically correct in his figures. Neither could he agree with the hon. and gallant Captain, that the site of Burlington House was eminently qualified for a National Gallery. Before they determined what was a good site for a National Gallery, they should come to a conclusion as to what was meant by a National Gallery. He thought that the present National Gallery was the greatest disgrace that existed in this country, and he would much sooner there was no institution bearing the name than that the small collection in the present institution should be where it now was in this metropolis. In his mind, the site of Kensington, which had been recommended by a Committee of that House, was not too small for a National Gallery, a great palace of art, worthy of this nation, and he earnestly hoped no attempt would again be made to raise a National Gallery, such as a National Gallery ought to be, unless they attempted to do something really worthy of the country and the subject. There was nothing on this question so important as that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had so strongly impressed on the House, of every existing Government seizing upon every opportunity that presented itself of purchasing such spaces of ground in the metropolis as might be thrown upon the market. It was absolutely necessary to avail themselves of these opportunities of promoting the public service, and that in no niggardly spirit. It was of the utmost importance that they should have more accommodation for the public offices, and it was hardly less important that the public servants should be as much as possible brought together by the contiguity of the offices in which they were placed. Indeed, contiguity was, to a certain degree, as valuable as additional space. For these reasons, if the Government recommended the purchase of those three acres and a half of ground at Burlington House, he would be prepared to support them. But there was one point on which he wanted some information. He was himself so impressed with these feelings when in office that when a distinguished nobleman, who held a Crown lease which was about to cease, wished to have that lease renewed, the Board of Treasury, of which he was a member, refused the renewal. Application was made to have the lease of Montagu House renewed by the Duke of Buccleuch, a nobleman who was respected by every Member of that House; but it appeared to the Treasury that the claims of the public service were so paramount that hey were not at liberty to renew the lease. On that occasion he felt it his duty, remembering that Montagu House stood in the immediate vicinity of the public offices in Downing Street and Whitehall, to retain the site for the use of the public; but no sooner was he out of office than that decision of the Board of Treasury was rescinded, and the lease of Montagu House was renewed to the same distinguished nobleman he had already referred to. Although he was fully prepared to support the purchase of Burlington House, because he thought it conducive to the public good, still, he thought, for the reasons expressed by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, he ought not to have rescinded the resolution arrived at by his predecessor with respect to Montagu House, and that that very important and valuable site should have been preserved for the public use.


said, the latter point adverted to by the right hon. Gentleman required an explanation. As he understood that statement, the right hon. Gentleman said, that at the time he left office, the renewal of the lease of Montagu House to the Duke of Buccleuch had been refused, but that on the coming of Lord Aberdeen's Government into office, they had granted what had been refused by the previous Ministry. The subject had not been brought before him for some time, and he would not now enter into details on the subject; but he would frankly own that the right hon. Gentleman was quite right in calling attention to the matter, for he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was distinctly of opinion that an error had been committed in renewing the lease in question. With respect, however, to the time at which, and the persons by whom the error had been committed, he would not now say anything, as it was capable of being shown by full documentary evidence. He thought, therefore, it would be better, with the leave of the Committee, to allow the matter to stand over till the earliest period at which these documents could be produced. For once the right hon. Gentleman and himself were happily agreed as regarded opinions and principles, but with regard to terms he was afraid that they would not be so much of one mind. If the Committee would allow him to look up the documents, there should be an opportunity of their coming to a full judgment on all the facts of the case.


said, he must confess, that what had fallen from his right hon. Friend (Mr. Disraeli) had made him more determined to take the sense of the Committee upon this Vote. Instead of taking this grant for Burlington House, he would venture to recommend to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to sell the property at Kensington. It appeared to him (Mr. Spooner) that there was some secret about the Kensington property which he thought ought to be unravelled, for it was impossible that ninety acres of land could be required for a National Gallery. He could give no better name to this matter than that it was an extravagant job.


said, he wished to know whether it was the intention of the Government, if they purchased this property, to pull down the building?


said, that he thought it would be an unreasonable and extravagant application of the ground to keep the house standing; but it was premature for them at present to come to any decision upon this point.


said, he thought that the purchase of the ground in the present case was a good bargain, but he must beg to say that his approval of this did not bind him to sanction any scheme the Government might bring forward with reference to this ground.


said, that when the plans had been prepared, an opportunity would be afforded the House of fully expressing an opinion on them.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 143; Noes 23: Majority 120.

Vote agreed to.

(4.) 10,000l. New Consular Offices, &c. Constantinople.


said, he objected to the form in which the Vote had been placed upon the Estimates, inasmuch as no information was afforded as to what amount of money was to be expended under each of the heads to which the Vote was to be applied. So far as the item relating to the hospital was concerned, he could only say that nothing could be more necessary than the erection of such a building. A medical officer, residing at Constantinople, had borne testimony to the inadequate provision at present made in that capital for the relief of such of our seamen as might be attacked by illness. The gentleman to whom he referred stated that the present hospital was lunch too small; that it was impregnated with filth of every description; that it afforded no means of effecting a separation between those who were afflicted with infectious diseases, and those who were not; that the diet provided for the sick was insufficient in quantity and bad in quality; that there was no surgical apparatus kept in the hospital with the exception of a few splints; and, in short, those unfortunate patients who were placed there while suffering under severe illness, had but a very small chance of recovery. Such was the accommodation that was provided for our poor merchant seamen; and he having himself seen the hospital, was bound to say that the description given of it by the medical officer whose statement he had just quoted by no means exceeded reality. Notwithstanding, however, the nature of the accommodation, those who were forced to become inmates of the hospital in question were obliged to pay out of their wages sums which, regard being had to the character of the relief which they received, were enormous. The French hospital at Constantinople presented the greatest possible contrast to the English hospital, and both by day and night the sick in it were carefully attended to by those estimable women, the Sisters of Charity, and paid only one-third of the amount exacted from the English seamen in the British hospital. When in Constantinople, he told Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, who out of his own private resources contributed munificently to the charity, that he had been requested to bring the state of the hospital under the notice of the House of Commons, and that noble Lord expressed a hope that he (Lord D. Stuart) would do so, as much good might be effected by calling public attention to the matter. The hospitals in Constantinople for the use of the Turks were magnificent buildings, both for the military and for civilians of all ranks. He found the same to be the case at Adrianople. When he found these infidels acting in this noble way, he felt shame at the contrast which the hospitals of this great Christian country presented. He had felt it his duty to call the attention of the Committee to this subject, and he hoped his right hon. Friend the Chief Commissioner of Works would inform the Committee how much money was to be appropriated to the building of a new hospital at Constantinople, and would at the same time give them some assurance that regard would be paid to the interior arrangements and to the comfort of the sick.


said, that one object of the Vote was to remedy the defect of the present hospital at Constantinople, and another object of the Vote was to build new consular offices and a prison. The estimated cost of the new offices was 5,400l.; of the hospital, 3,400l.; of the prison, 2,600l.; and other contingencies, 1,911l. It was calculated that the time it would take to erect the hospital would be about two years. At the expiration of that time, he hoped they would have a hospital in Constantinople which would be fit for the reception of British sailors, with an efficient medical staff to minister to their wants.


said, he wished to know under whose superintendence the building would be placed, and whether the sailors would be charged anything for the medical services required by them?


said, the Consul General was charged with the whole of the arrangements. He thought the noble Lord (Lord D. Stuart) was misinformed when he stated that the sailors were charged very highly at the hospital. The charge made to them was very low. The ar- rangement made for the support of the hospital in future was this—the English merchants had consented to pay a tonnage on all merchandise taken into port for the purpose of maintaining the hospital, so that he did not think any charge would henceforth be necessary to be made on the sailors.


said, the Lon. Secretary of the Treasury had given a flat contradiction to his statement. He (Lord D. Stuart) had said that the sailors paid a very extravagant sum for hospital accommodation. The hon. Gentleman got up and said that they paid a very low sum. Now, he would repeat, when he was at Constantinople he was told that the men had to pay a great deal more for their accommodation at the hospital than their own wages amounted to—that they had to pay between five and six pounds a month, while they were only receiving three pounds a month wages. He begged to express a hope that the noble Lord the President of the Council would communicate upon this subject with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, so that this monstrous evil might be immediately corrected.


said, he thought a Vote of 3,400l. was a small sum for the erection of a hospital, and he should like to know what was the average number of sick persons to be provided for?


said, that accommodation would be afforded for forty patients, which was considered to be quite sufficient.


said, the Ambassador's palace at Constantinople had cost an enormous sum, but it was only proposed to lay out 3,400l. in the seamen's hospital. He could bear testimony to the description which had been given of the present hospital, and he begged to ask whether it was intended that the new hospital should be built of wood or stone, because, in Constantinople, that made a great difference? There was a large amount of fees paid to the Consul General in Constantinople, which, he believed, were destined for this establishment.


said, no fees went to this establishment. The Consul General there was obliged to hold a court of justice, and the fees went to support it.


said, he did not see any reason for so large a sum as 5,400l. being appropriated to the erection of offices for the Consul, when it was known that he already possessed what might be termed a palace in Constantinople. He would again inquire whether the hospital would be built of stone or of wood?


said, that it was the intention of the Government that the hospital should be built of stone. In answer to his noble Friend (Lord D. Stuart), he begged to state that he would immediately communicate with his noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on the subject of the hospital at Constantinople.

Vote agreed to.

The House resumed.