HC Deb 24 June 1858 vol 151 cc312-5

Order for Consideration read.


said, he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not object to an alteration in the Bill which he now intended to propose. The object of the Bill was to transfer the whole of the site at Kensington Gore to the Commissioners of 1851, with the exception of twelve acres, which Government was to retain for a specific purpose. The land to be retained was a small outlying corner at the south-east, towards Brompton, which in no way interfered with the projects of the Commissioners. According to the Bill, it was provided that it should be retained for the sole and specific purpose of science and art. Now, he agreed with what had been said the other night by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone), that it was highly improvident to tie up the hands of Government in regard to the future disposal of this land. The effect of his Amendment would be that so long as they might retain the land, the sum supposed to represent its value should be kept back. He knew that many hon. Members entertained a strong opinion that it should be made the site of a new barracks. It was quite clear that ere long they would want ground on which to erect three barracks; but he did not wish to close the question of how the land should be applied, but would leave it with the Government of the day to decide. All, in fact, that he asked was that the House should not bind the hands of Government in the matter, as it might hereafter be found convenient to remove the Department of Science and Art to some more central situation—and the ground might be required for other public purposes. When he remembered the jealousy which Parliament had always shown in not tying the hands of the Government with respect to the disposal of similar purchases, he thought it would be acting inconsistently if it were in this case to make an exception. With this view he should move the omission of the words, "in the occupation of the said Department," and the insertion of "for the use of Her Majesty's Government," the effect of which would be to allow the Government to dispose of the land for any public purpose.

Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 1, to leave out the words, "in the occupation and."


said, that this ground had been purchased with a distinct understanding that it should be applied alone to science and art. On no other terms could they have obtained it, and it would be a gross breach of faith to apply it to any other purpose, such as that which had been suggested the other night, of erecting barracks on it. He would, however, meet the hon. Gentleman so far as to enable the Government, if the Department of Science and Art was removed, to use the land for some other purpose connected with science and art. Therefore, if the hon. Member would consent to add the words "for the purposes of science and art," he would consent to the Amendment; otherwise he must oppose it.


asked, if the Commissioners were under any special covenant on this point, from which they could not free themselves?


said, the case stood exactly as had been stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Commissioners were under no legal obligation to the original vendors, but from the correspondence between the two parties it was clear that the moral obligation upon the Commissioners, not to apply the site to any purpose unconnected with science and art, was as strict as possible, for they had given the vendors the strongest assurance to that effect.


said, he had anticipated that the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) would open the question of the National Gallery. He trusted that a distinct intimation would be given by the Government that they did not intend to devote the ground to the purpose of a National Gallery by removing the pictures from Trafalgar Square.


said, he thought his hon. Friend's Amendment a very reasonable one, and upon this ground. There appeared to have been an understanding between the Commissioners and the parties from whom they purchased the land. Into the precise nature of that understanding he would not enter; but it clearly appeared that it originally sprung out of the voluntary consent of the Commissioners on the one hand and the vendors on the other. Now, although that understanding might and ought to continue, he could not see the necessity for making it the subject of statutory restrictions, and that more particularly as regarded a mere outlying part of the property. It appeared to him that it would be both objectionable in principle and inconvenient in practice if this honourable understanding were thus made the subject of restrictive legislation. The effect of the Amendment would be to leave that understanding upon the footing upon which it was originally placed.


said, he thought it was due to the vendors and incumbent upon Parliament to recognize in the Bill the undertaking given by the Commissioners. When the land was purchased the question of the erection of barracks had been raised, but it had been clearly understood that no building should be erected upon the land except for purposes connected with science and art, and it was only upon that understanding that the vendors consented to sell the land.


said, he should support the Amendment. The House was perhaps not aware that at present the barrack accommodation was 1,000 short of the number of men actually in London. The question of the Amendment, however, did not depend merely on the barracks. The partnership was now about to be dissolved; and ought the Government to preclude themselves from using the land for any public purpose unconnected with science on art? It was said that they were under a moral engagement to do so; but he should like to know if there was any such legal specific engagement, for he could not quite understand the meaning of a moral engagement in such matters. He apprehended that the object of the vendors was not so much to provide for an establishment connected with science and art as to put money in their own pockets, because, if they were merely desirous of disposing of it for purposes of science and art, they might have given it instead of selling it.


said, he entirely concurred in what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. S. Herbert), and he thought that if the Commissioners were about to enter upon building speculations on the land in question, which could not but prove advantageous, he was of opinion that the arrangement was extremely improvident with reference to our national interests. He still adhered to his opinion that they ought to retain a portion of the land for national purposes, as they would never again have an opportunity of holding land on terms so advantageous. He hoped his hon. Friend would take the sense of the House on the subject.


said, he did not consider that the question had been fairly stated to the Committee. Twelve acres were given up to the Government for the specific purpose of erecting a certain class of edifices—namely, museums and schools. It would not be fair to give the Government power to employ the land for a different purpose. That would be a breach of the understanding which had been come to with the Commissioners, and would give one party to the agreement an unfair advantage over the other. He should therefore prefer the modifications of the hon. Gentleman's Amendment, suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


said, that on the second reading of the Bill he had expressed an opinion that the clause was too restrictive, and that the Government ought to be allowed to retain the land for any national purpose whatever. Subsequent reflection, however, had led him to think that such an application of the land could not be made, and he now thought that if the Government were allowed to keep the land for any purposes connected with science and art, it would meet all the expectations of the country. For these reasons he should oppose the Motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite.


said, he thought that it would be carrying a tacit understanding very far indeed if they consented to put the land in mortmain ever after. At the same time he could see nothing to prevent the Government from endowing schools and museums for the purposes of science and art with the rents of the premises, and thus they might, if the proceeds were so applied, let the land to the War Department.


said, that such a proceeding would be a breach of faith, because the understanding was distinctly that the land was to be devoted to the purposes of science and art.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided:—Ayes 126; Noes 81: Majority 45.

Bill to be read 3o To-morrow.