HC Deb 01 March 1861 vol 161 cc1198-202

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said he felt bound to oppose the second reading. He thought it very necessary for the reputation of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster that public inquiry should be made into the matter for common report, or something more said that they had made it the price of their withdrawal of opposition to the Bill, that the Westminster Improvement Commission should first of all buy the land which they intended to clear for the purpose of opening the abbey, and then that they should re-sell it to them, and that they should be allowed to erect buildings, which they had already erected. But it would be almost impossible to believe, if one were not convinced by ocular demonstration, that those buildings not only shut out the west front of the abbey, but actually crossed the line of communication to effect which the Westminster Improvement Commission had been formed. He had last year, towards the end of the Session, asked the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cowper) to grant an inquiry before a Select Committee, so that, by the aid of the information which might then be collected, and by the intervention of the Government, a satisfactory termination should be put to that which had now lasted a great number of years. The right hon. Gentleman said, in reply that it was a common building society, and that it would be most inexpedient and wrong for Government to set an example for such an inquiry into such matters. Now, he (Sir William Gallwey) would endeavour to show that it was no common, but rather an uncommon building society, and that it ought to be dealt with, not through a private Bill, but that the whole matter should be referred to a Select Committee up stairs. First of all the miscalled Improvement Commission came out as a Royal Commission. It was inaugurated, he believed, under the auspices of a noble Lord then in the Government, a great after-dinner orator of the Whig party, who opened the proceedings at a magnificent feast. But that was not all. It should be remembered that though the Commission was to confer a public benefit still it was formed for private profit. Well, Government began by granting to the Commission a sum of £50,000 as a gift, and they added an advance of £30,000, which from the want of security had become a gift; for he believed—and the right hon. Gentleman would set him right if he was wrong—that the Government had never received one sixpence of that advance. Now, he thought that the House would agree with him that they could not call a Commission for the purpose of improving an important portion of the Metropolis, and sustained by Government with £50,000 of public money and an advance of £30,000, a private building society. But that was not all. By the 10 & 11 Vict., c. 131, clause 68, in return for the money thus advanced, the Government, by the then First Commissioner of Woods and Forests, very properly required that a most stringent and detailed account should be furnished to the Government half-yearly, for the purpose of showing how this public money was spent. That, he thought, was a reason why the matter should engage public attention and receive public inquiry. Now, he had inquired very strictly into the whole business, and he found that the unfortunate bondholders, who might be said to have lost all their capital, attributed it entirely to the neglect of the Woods and Forests. He believed that the enactment which provided that the account should be rendered to the Woods and Forests, by a clear inference rendered it incumbent on Government to have carefully audited those accounts. But that was never done. Then, in 1852, a Bill was passed through that House—and how such an iniquitous Bill should be passed he could not understand—which gave an additional power to the Westminster Commissioners to issue any amount of bonds they chose, resting on no security whatsoever, and he believed he was right in saying that they made the most prodigious use of that power. A short time before, having acquired by Act of Parliament that right, they issued double the amount of bonds which they ever previously issued; and not only that, but he was told that they sold them by public auction, and that they had allowed the bonds to be put up as securities guaranteed by Government. Now, the Bill before the House recited that a committee, of which the right hon. Gentleman on his right (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) was chairman, recommended that the Commission should be wound up; but the Committee specially recommended in its Report that the First Commissioner of Woods and Forests should either himself be a commissioner, or should appoint one of the commissioners to watch over the public weal. Now, they would find by the Bill that no such commissioner was to be appointed. It was true a commissioner was to be appointed by the Metropolitan Board, but he did not think the House should agree to that change. He should therefore move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


seconded the Motion.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."

Question proposed, "That the word 'now,' stand part of the Question."


said, he thought that the Bill ought to be read a second time and then referred to a Select Committee. He feared the bondholders had lost the whole of their money; but there was no use in looking back upon the past upon that occasion. The question was what should they then do in the matter; and he believed that the object of the measure was to enable certain Commissioners to deal with the property and to put an end to the present state of things.


said, he thought if this Bill were not read a second time it would be a public calamity, and therefore he trusted the House would not object to do so.


said, he could not agree with the hon. Gentleman who had moved the Amendment, that it was a matter which the Government ought to take into its own hands, as it would do if it were to appoint a commissioner of its own. It was quite true that £50,000 had been granted out of the public funds for the purpose of making a great public thoroughfare; but the Government had no control over the management of the money, nor could he find any trace in the office over which he presided of any accounts having been ever rendered to it. He considered the Bill one which might be safely read a second time, and sent up to the Committee on Private Bills, and should therefore oppose the Amendment. He had not heard, however, any reason why the Bill should not be sent to a Committee.


said, he had been Chairman of a Select Committee which had to consider a Bill on the subject some time ago, and they found the whole Commission in a state of hopeless and inextricable difficulty. The Commissioners had not fulfilled one of the obligations imposed upon them, and the opinion of the Committee distinctly was, that the matter was deserving of the most serious consideration of Parliament. The Commission had squandered at least £700,000 —he had heard it stated as high as £1,000,000—and there was no hope of any extrication from the difficulty while the matter remained in the hands of the present parties. Moreover, the interests concerned were so divergent and contradictory in their nature, that their reconciliation was impossible. Under these circumstances the Committee threw out the Bill, and recommended that a proposition for a new body to whom the differences should be referred, should be laid before Parliament. But the proposal now made did not in any way correspond with the recommendations of the Committee, lie thought, however, it would not be right to stop the Bill at this stage, but that, considering the multitude of interests concerned, and the inextricable difficulties and complications which surrounded the matter, the only proper thing would be to refer it to a Select Committee of five Gentlemen to be named by the Committee of Selection. He hoped the hon. Baronet would withdraw his Amendment.


said, he protested against the Bill being sent before a Select Committee, as he thought that private individuals ought not to be compelled to incur heavy charges in connection with the matter. He complained that Government had parted with the money without exercising any control over its expenditure.


expressed his regret that the Government had not taken the matter into their hands. But as the Bill had been brought forward he thought it ought to be read a second time and referred to a Select Committee.


remarked that he concurred in what had been stated, that the question partook of the nature of a public matter, and ought to be dealt with by a public and not a private Bill.


said, ha would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2ª, and committed.