HC Deb 22 May 1857 vol 145 cc717-20

said, he wished to ask the First Commissioner of Works as to the state and condition of Westminster Bridge, and whether the Government have come to any determination to proceed with the works commenced for a new Bridge? A Committee had been appointed at the close of the Session of 1856 to inquire into the state of Westminster Bridge, and had recommended that the works which had been begun for the erection of the new bridge should be suspended in consequence of a Report which had emanated from the Committee on Public Offices advocating the purchase of a larger tract of land in the immediate neighbourhood of the existing bridge, with a view that public offices should be erected upon it. He perceived from the Report of what had occurred in another place, that the noble Lord the President of the Council, had stated that it was not the intention of the Government to apply to Parliament to sanction the purchase of a larger plot of land, and he therefore felt called upon to put to the right hon. Baronet the question of which he had given notice. He should inform the House that a sum of £50,000 had already been expended upon the new bridge, and that the river had been very much blocked up and impeded by the erections which had been rendered necessary in order to carry on the works. He believed he was also right in stating that many of the piers which had been constructed for that purpose did not correspond with the piers of the old bridge, but actually occupied the waterway between them, so that—as had been stated in the evidence given before the Committee£the result of a heavy frost might be to produce the most dangerous consequences, as the accumulation of a great body of ice might either lead to the carrying away of the bridge bodily by impeding the flow of the river, or to the inundation of the low lands in the neighbourhood.


said, that a similar question to the one now asked by the right hon. Gentleman had been put to him on the 9th of February last by the hon. Member for Lambeth, in reply to which he had stated that he had seen Mr. Page, the engineer, on the morning of that day, who had reported to him that, notwithstanding the suspension of the works connected with the new Westminster Bridge, it was his opinion that no danger was likely to result, as the condition of the old bridge proved it to be as safe as it had been in the preceding year. In consequence of the notice which the right hon. Gentleman had given him that he was about to bring the subject under the consideration of the House, he had sent for Mr. Page again that morning, but had not been able to see him. He had, however, received from his clerk of the works precisely the same information as Mr. Page himself had given him upon the former occasion. With respect to the question whether the Government had determined to proceed with the works of the new Westminster Bridge, he might say that two Committees had, in the course of the Session of 1856, been appointed, the one to investigate the state of the public offices, the other, of which the right hon. Gentleman had been the Chairman, to take into consideration the condition of the old Westminster Bridge, and the course which should be adopted in reference to the progress of the new bridge. The former Committee had come unanimously to the Resolution that it was desirable to concentrate the public offices in the immediate neighbourhood of Downing Street, and the Government having taken that Resolution into their consideration, had determined that, in consequence of the state of the War-office and the inconveniences which arose in the conduct of the business of that department, it was expedient that a new War-office should be erected. They had also come to a similar conclusion with reference to the building of a new Foreign-office, and he felt assured that the right hon. Gentleman would concur in the propriety of that conclusion when he recollected that the noble Lord who had been at the head of the Foreign Department under the Government of Lord Derby, might have suffered most seriously in consequence of a portion of the ceiling of one of the rooms having fallen in, owing to the dilapidated condition of the building. The Government, under these circumstances, had endeavoured, in order that the new edifices might be worthy of the metropolis, to procure by means of competition, the services of the best architects, not only in this country but through out the world, and had with that view sent out specifications to almost every quarter of the globe. The appeal had been most nobly responded to, as was clearly shown by the designs which were now being exhibited in Westminster Hall. In connection with the designs for the two public offices to which be had alluded, however, it had been deemed expedient by the Government, taking into account the report of the Committee upon Public Offices, that specifications for designs for laying out the ground between Richmond Terrace on the north, Great George Street on the south, the Thames on the east, and St. James's Park on the west, should also be sent out. His noble Friend the President of the Council had, however, said correctly that it was not the intention of the Government to purchase the whole of that site, but he might state that they were prepared to propose a Bill with a view of acquiring the property which lay between Downing and Charles Streets, in order to build upon it a War-office and a Foreign-office, should Parliament sanction their erection. One portion of the Report of the Committee on Westminster Bridge had been to the following effect:-— Your Committee are of opinion that, subject to the consideration of professional advice to be obtained by the First Commissioner of Works as to the security of the old bridge, the further progress of the works of the new Westminster Bridge should remain suspended until the Government have had an opportunity of considering and deciding on the advice to be offered to Parliament upon this lost subject, when the site of the new bridge might be considered in connection with any general plan of alteration and improvement in the neighbourhood, as well as the all-important subject of the headway under the bridge. Now, in deference to the opinion which had been expressed by that Committee, he had set forth in the specifications the necessity of taking into consideration in any block plan which might be furnished the fixing of a site for the new Westminster Bridge. He had, a short time ago, with the sanction of the Government, appointed some gentlemen to consider the plans which had been sent in, in accordance with the specification, and he expected that those gentlemen would make their Report about the middle of next mouth. As soon as that Report had been presented, he should lay it upon the table of the House, when an opportunity would be afforded to hon. Members to enter into the whole subject, and to determine whether the new Westminster Bridge should or should not continue in its present site, and if so, whether it was expedient that the works should be proceeded with upon the present or upon a totally new plan.

Motion agreed to.

House at rising, to adjourn till Monday next.