HC Deb 05 June 1863 vol 171 cc406-25

said, he rose to move the Resolution of which he had given notice with respect to the expediency of appointing a permanent First Commissioner of Works. In doing so he should not trouble the House with any lengthened disquisition on matters of taste. No one would, he thought, be disposed to deny that it was desirable the public buildings should, as far as possible, combine unity of design and economy with efficiency, while there could be as little doubt that there was no unity of design displayed in the mode in which public buildings were constructed in London. Every hon. Member who had visited the Continent must have been struck by the difference which existed between the way in which public works were carried out abroad and in this country. The advantage which foreign nations enjoyed in that respect arose from the fact that in the construction of their public works unity of management prevailed. He was anxious that the House should take nothing upon his mere assertion; and if the House would accompany him in imagination through some of the principal parts of London, he would show that instead of unity and economy the utmost absurdity characterized the constructions of the public buildings in the metropolis of this country. He would, in the first place, call the attention of his right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works to Buckingham Palace, in support of the view on the subject to which he entertained. It was a curious instance of the mismanagement of public works in this country. The money to be laid out on Buckingham Palace was, in the first instance, £240,000. £1,200,000 had, however, been expended upon it up to that moment, and that enormous increase of expenditure had, he contended, arisen from the fact that there had been such constant changes in the management of the Board of Works. There was, he might add, an amusing circumstance connected with Buckingham Palace. It would be in the recollection of the House that the Marble Arch, which now stood at Cumberland Gate, was previously placed in front of the Palace. Hon. Members, however, were not, perhaps, aware that when it was placed there it had not been completed. It was intended to put very expensive friezes on the arch, and to place a statue of Minerva on the top—to indicate, he supposed, the wisdom of the Board of Works; but when the arch was removed to Cumberland Place—no one knew why—the friezes, instead of being placed on it, were stuck up in the inner court of Buckingham Palace, at a height of eighty feet, and the statue of Minerva had been changed into one of Britannia, and erected at the east end of the National Gallery, opposite St. Martin's church, where a hole in the wall had been made to receive it. He should next advert to the National Gallery, than the area of which, a Committee reported—and that opinion had been confirmed by others who had an opportunity of studying the sites of the metropolis—there was none finer in Europe. The late Sir Charles Barry, then Mr. Barry, proposed some extraordinary embellishments, in the shape of lions and tridents surmounted by a colossal statue of Neptune, which were, luckily; not carried out. After the National Gallery was erected there came the question of the Nelson Column, which gave rise to much discussion, and on which two or three Committees sat. The result was that the column was commenced where id now stood; but it was found that there was not money enough to complete it. And what did the Commissioner of Works do? He cut down the column, and made it twenty feet shorter than was originally intended. The hat was sent round to the public for subscriptions to finish the works, and the Emperor of Russia subscribed £500. That was to complete the lions at the base; but up to that day those lions were not to be seen. The lions were intrusted to Sir Edwin Landseer, a most eminent artist, whose talent was known and appreciated not only in this country but throughout Europe; but he was not aware that he had ever before been employed as a sculptor; and, if he was not mistaken, his right hon. Friend had informed the House not long since that that gentleman spent a good deal of time in the Zoological Gardens studying the habits of those animals, while an expense of some £200 or £300 had, he believed, been gone to for several casts made of an anatomical lion at Turin. Be that, however, as it might, the lions were not yet visible. Then there was the statue of Dr. Jenner. Dr. Jenner, it seemed, had gone to Kensington Gardens to smile on the admirable memorial of the right hon. Gentleman's taste which was there to be Found at the fountain end of the Serpentine. Now, Dr. Jenner's previous position was miserable enough; but he looked even more miserable where he at present was, inasmuch as he looked as if he were afflicted with the very disease which was so honourably associated with his name. Having inquired, he might add, where the fountains were in the vicinity, he was told that they were not playing, but that he could see the pipes. He asked when they played, and the answer was, "Oh, never, except when the engineer is here. He goes away for a long time together, and when he comes back he turns on the water with a key." Notwithstanding between £20,000 and £30,000 had been spent on the purification of the Serpentine, the water was the filthiest he ever saw. The fact was, that they had no clean water in the Serpentine, and that the mason work, which was intended to be handsome, was entirely thrown away. Instead, in short, of being purified, the Serpentine was, he believed, dirtier than ever it had been before. When walking by it a short time ago, he had passed the monolith, a big stone put in a hole, but which the right hon. Gentleman had, he understood, characterized as an admirable work, and which, it appeared, it was his intention to beautify with four fine poplars. Passing from the Serpentine to Burlington House, he there found another glaring instance of money thrown away. In that instance it arose, too, from the frequent change in the Commissioners, there having been no less than seven different Commissioners within the last ten years, while since 1845 there had been twelve. Burlington House, he might add, was purchased by one Commissioner. The next did not know to what use to put it. It was originally proposed, he believed, to transfer the National Gallery there; but in fact no use had been made of it, though, if he was correctly informed, it had from first to last cost £200,000. Meantime, what had occurred? The changes in the National Gallery cost £18,000, and it was now found out that further changes were required, the whole of the money being wanted because gentlemen in office did not know their own minds. He should next advert to the Foreign Office, which furnished a proof of the absence of all purpose in the Office of Works. The old Foreign Office was, so far back as 1839, pronounced to be perfectly dangerous to those who had to inhabit it. That was twenty-four years ago, and yet it was only now that they were about building a new Foreign Office. All that time they had been incurring enormous expense, in consequence of the indecision of those in authority. In 1853 a Committee sat on the subject, and had before them a report of Mr. Pennethorne. That Committee reported strongly in favour of a concentration of the public buildings. Very large premiums were offered for plans for the concentration of the public offices, but good faith was not kept with the gentlemen who sent in designs. It was clearly understood that the works would be carried out by one or other of those gentlemen, and yet the task was committed to none of them. £5,000 was spent upon premiums, and an additional sum upon the fitting-up of Westminster Hall and other matters. Sir Benjamin Hall went out of office, and the whole thing was forgotten. For the last four or five years the battle of the styles had been going on in that House, and at last a decision had been arrived at which was no doubt satisfactory to the noble Lord at the head of the Government, that the building should be erected according to a style which, no doubt, would hereafter be known by his name—a combination of Gothic, Italian, and other styles; but in the mean time Mr. Scott had been making design after design, and all these operations were attended with great expense. But in order to show the happy results of a concentration of authority in dealing with public works he need only point to the beneficial effects that had attended the Local Management Act, which had been introduced by Sir Benjamin Hall, in 1855, and which had abolished that costly and ineffective system of superintending public works which had previously prevailed in the metropolis. He would next pass to the consideration of what had been done in respect to the Record Office. He found his right hon. Friend doing in reference to that matter what Sir Christopher Wren in the year 1673 had refused to do. Sir Christopher Wren had then said that he would never consent to the addition of a gallery to the Chapter-house, or to any records being placed in that spot, as he considered such a measure would be an act of desecration. But his right hon. Friend had no such scruple. The Chapter-house was crammed full of records; or, at all events, was so last year. The public records were, indeed, kept in most extraordinary places. Some of them were stored in houses in Chancery Lane, which were supported by pillars to keep them from falling down, while others were to be found in the stables the Master of the Rolls, behind the mangers of his horses. The right hon. Gentleman would probably tell them that he was going to take a Vote of £20,000 for the Record Office, but it was impossible that for that sum any satisfactory building could be erected. Another of their unfortunate architectural projects were the proposed Courts of Law. When the Earl of Derby was in office it was proposed by Lord Chelmsford that £100,000 should be voted for the erection of Courts of Law. That proposal was rejected, but a substitute for it was since devised by his right hon. Friend, who asked them last year to undertake the building of a series of Law Courts which would cost nearly £1,500,000. But the House had naturally refused to sanction such an outlay, and there seemed to be no prospect of their obtaining any fitting accommodation for the legal tribunals, although he believed that it would have been possible to secure that advantage at a cost of not more than £100,000. It was manifest, that when the Government, had got possession of a valuable piece of ground, they ought not to part with it without some very special inducement. But he found that the right hon. Gentleman had recently sold a piece of ground, near the Admiralty, of the value of £1,400 a year, on which he might have erected a building large enough to accommodate all the departments of the War Office, which were now lodged in various detached buildings, and scattered among a labyrinth of passages in which no one could find them. Such a building might have been erected for £100,000; and they were paying for the hire of houses for the accommodation of that department £12,000 or £14,000 a year. He mentioned that to show that there was no economy in the existing mode of conducting public business. Would hon. Members believe that the miserable hovels which were close to the site of the new Foreign Office had not yet been purchased? He had spoken to the owners of two or three of them, who said that they hoped that their houses would be bought, but that they would wait until the Foreign Office was up, and then they should get a better price for them. It should be observed that a Bill was passed to authorize the purchase of these houses, but the Government allowed its powers to expire. Was that economy or common sense? He would mention another instance of what he could not help regarding as the unfortunate management of the public buildings. Thirty-five years ago a State Paper Office was erected at a cost of £70,000; in the year 1855 it was proposed to put a new story to it, and in 1860 the right hon. Gentleman pulled it down, and there was an end of that money. Remembering these circumstances, all of which he had documents to prove, could the noble Lord suppose that the House would be prepared to vote £484,000 to purchase the Exhibition Building; £220,000 of which was to be spent upon decoration, of the style of which the House had no information, and which, if it was then settled, might be changed by some other Minister of Works who might succeed the right hon. Gentleman? The facts which he had stated were of a most startling character. The House discussed small items of £1,000 at Constantinople, or £500 somewhere else; but he was anxious to go ot once to the root of the matter, and show how a large amount of money might be saved. In dealing with the question he believed that one step in the right direction would be the appointment of a permanent Commissioner of Works. He did not say whether the Parliamentary Commissioner should be made permanent, or an additional Commissioner be appointed; but he was convinced that the adoption of one or other of those measures would, by giving greater stability to the Board, increase its authority in that House. It would have been presumption in him to have brought the matter forward on his own opinion, but he was supported by good authorities. Before the Committee on Miscellaneous Expenditure, in 1860, Mr. Hunt, a gentleman of excellent judgment, and who performed his duties at the Board in an admirable manner, was asked— Confining the question merely to the subject of works, do you think that the works themselves would be batter done if there was a permanent head? He replied— My idea has been that a great advantage would accrue if we had a permanent Commission I think that there should be two Commissioners who could divide the labour, because there would be a great deal to do. Those Commissioners would then have due authority to act, certainly in the routine business of the office. If Parliament determined that a Foreign Office should be built that work could be carried out without constantly seeking the co-operation or aid of the First Commissioner. Certainly, from what I have heard here, I think, that unless we were represented in Parliament, we should have some difficulty, because we should have to explain all our proceedings either to a Secretary of the Treasury or to a Lord of the Treasury, who would either have too much to do, or who would not care to be troubled with our technicalities; whereas a First Commissioner, whose time was wholly devoted to that speciality, would be more ready and able to answer questions in the House of Commons. But it seems to me that it is very desirable to have permanent officers in authority, who could take up and follow through continuously all matters of ordinary business. He was also asked— You have made two or three important recommendations which you think might conduce to a large saving of public money; first, to strenghen the constitution of the Board of Works, and give it continuity by the appointment of two permanent Commissioners, as well as a Parliamentary First Commissioner. And his answer was, "Yes." Lord Llanover said— I think one of the greatest absurdities existing in the State now is that the First Commissioner of Works should be a political officer. And in reply to another question he added— The duty of the First Commissioner is to carry out those works which are sanctioned by Parliament, and be ought to be a man who has some knowledge of works. He ought to be able to cheek the surveyors and architects; I do not mean with regard to a knowledge of the special details, but he ought to possess that general knowledge of works and of engineering that would enable him to go into the matters of architecture, and building, and surveying, with those with whom he is brought into contact. What can be more absurd than for a man with the great knowledge and ability of Mr. Hunt to go before the First Commissioner, and to lay a plan before him which is as dark to his mind, perhaps, as the Chinese language? Men may be appointed merely for political objects, and they have been so appointed, who know nothing whatever of the nature of conducting works, or of the conduct of property and management of it. Therefore I think the public service is damaged most materially by having such an officer. Mr. Austin, another high authority, took the same view; for on being asked— I suppose you would not hesitate to say, that if any scheme could be devised by which one head should continue to carry on the business of the office, that that would be more likely to secure good management? His reply was— Certainly; as far as the business of the office is concerned, I have no doubt of it. I think I have had experience enough of the office to say that beyond all doubt. There are questions on the point that are not quite so clear to answer; but those questions do not relate to the transaction of the business of the office, but to questions in which tire public take a great interest. By the present system the First Commissioner has an opportunity of answering in Parliament questions upon matters of a general interest respecting pub-lie works that may be put to him, whereas it seems tome, that if we had a permanent Commissioner, that means of furnishing information or explanation would fail. I assume, of course, that the Permanent Commissioner would not be in Parliament. Then, the objection which strikes you to a Permanent Commissioner refers only to the Parliamentary duties of the First Commissioner?—I think it is very much confined to that. With regard to general superintendence of this important department, you would say that a continuous system, under one head, would be more likely to contribute to the good working of the office?—I have no doubt about it. Finally the Committee expressed the same opinion in their Report, and stated— That the evils arising from constant changes in the office of Chief Commissioner of Works having been prominently brought before your Committee, they are of opinion that the appointment of a permanent Commissioner would seem the only means of removing them. Your Committee consider that, upon the appointment of a permanent Commissioner, the duties of the existing political office of First Commissioner in Parliament might be discharged by some other Minister of the Crown in the House of Commons Such was the unanimous opinion of the Committee, and he felt it would command the respectful consideration of that House. He had no wish to cast any reflections upon his right hon. Friend opposite; but when gentlemen were appointed on an average every two years to the important office of Chief Commissioner of Works, it was impossible they could bring to that position the knowledge enabling them to carry out its duties successfully. In France a very different system prevailed of conducting public works. The Prefet de la Seine, the officer corresponding to the English First Commissioner of Works, was a permanent functionary. Some persons might find fault with the public buildings in Paris, but all must agree in admiration of the unity of design upon which they were built, and in attributing to the remarkable man at the head of the French empire, no matter what their views of his political character might be, great taste in architectural improvements and wonderful determination in carrying out his plans. He should like next to quote the language of a great authority, a man of highly cultivated taste. Sir Charles Eastlake, speaking at the dinner of the Royal Academy, said— If any part of the domain of the fine arts can be said to be more worthy than another of their attention, it is, perhaps, that section which, in its various forms, is most before the world—I mean architecture and public works. It should be borne in mind, that if pictures are defective, they can easily be disposed of; that indifferent statues and even objectionable small structures can be removed; but spacious architectural arrangements and extensive buildings must remain either as a lasting credit to the taste and good sense of the nation, or as a lasting stigma, which all would repudiate, but which all must be content to bear. It might be said, indeed, that the evils to which he had referred were to be attributed to their system of a constitutional Government; but he thought it unfortunate that these iniquities should be charged upon constitutional government at the very time when the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the noble Lord at the head of the Government were holding up that form of administration to the imitation of foreign countries; countries in which the fine arts and public works by no means presented an equally pitiable spectacle. Constitutional Government, he maintained, had not failed at all; there had simply been neglect in carrying out the recommendations of the Committee. For the last forty years Commissions and Committees had been reporting in favour of the appointment of permanent Commissioners who could be relied upon, and whose capacity and merits would not be dependent on the fluctuations of party, and he therefore asked the noble Lord at the head of the Government to take that matter into his careful consideration. For his own part he believed that such a measure would, to a great extent, prevent that mismanagement which he had attempted to describe; and it was with that conviction that he begged leave to move the Resolution of which he had given notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "for the sake of obtaining greater unity of design in our public buildings, and with a view to the efficiency and economy of the public service, it is de-desirable a permanent Commissioner of Public Works and Buildings, or rather officer, should be appointed to the present Board of Works, —instead thereof.

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


said, his hon. Friend opposite had led the House a very agreeable tour round the buildings in London, enlivening his description by illustrations of considerable interest; but it was remarkable that the more important of his illustrations entirely demolished the argument which the hon. Gentleman was endeavouring to urge upon the House. His Motion was to the effect that greater unity of design in the public buildings, and greater efficiency and economy of the public service, would be attained by the appointment of a permanent Commissioner of Public Works; and in support of that proposition his hon. Friend quoted many instances of vacillation and useless expenditure in the public buildings of this country. But, unfortunately for his hon. Friend's argument, nearly all the instances which he had quoted of vacillation of purpose, change of mind, and useless expenditure of money, occurred at periods when either there was a permanent Commissioner at the head of the Office of Works, or when the Board of Works consisted of one Parliamentary head and two permanent Commissioners. In the year 1782 the original Board of Works was abolished, and a Surveyor General of Works was appointed, who was always to be a professional man. The gentlemen appointed successively, under that Act, were Sir William Chambers and Mr. James Wyatt, both eminent architects. In 1814 Sir Benjamin Stephenson succeeded to the office of Surveyor General, not being an architect, as it was thought desirable that a civilian should control the expenditure and direct the architects. In 1831 the Office of Works, having at its head a Surveyor of Works, was consolidated with the Office of Woods, and for twenty years the Board consisted of one Parliamentary and two permanent Commissioners, such as the hon. Gentleman wished now to be appointed. But the cases of mismanagement on which the hon. Member dwelt in making out the case in favour of his Amendment all occurred before 1851, when the Office of Works as at present existing was constituted. Nominally, the Secretary of State, the President and Vice President of the Board of Trade, were members of that Department; but practically the First Commissioner of Works was alone responsible for its conduct and direction. The plans affecting Buckingham Palace, as they all knew, underwent considerable modification. The first estimate was for £230,000, the intention being merely to alter the old palace. As the monarch of the day had no family to be accommodated, it was proposed to build a small palace; but afterwards, under altered circumstances, the estimates were enlarged to an extent much beyond the anticipations originally entertained. But the hon. Gentleman opposite attributed too much im- portance to the office of permanent Commissioner of Works, if he thought that Sir Benjamin Sephenson could have stopped the expenditure on Buckingham Palace, and ought to be held responsible for not having done so.

He confessed that the whole history of the National Gallery was one that he looked upon with regret, as showing how such matters were mismanaged in this country. Its erection was resolved upon in 1831, at a time when the country was clamorous for retrenchment. The first idea, in order to economy, was that the King's stables should not be pulled down or materially altered. A Commission, presided over by Sir Robert Peel, was appointed, and it applied itself to the question of how they could most economically obtain a National Gallery. The House were determined to have a cheap article; they got a cheap article, and they had never ceased to regret it. Had a sum slightly in excess of the £70,000 actually spent been voted at that time, the House would have been saved the necessity of incurring further expenditure in order to obtain a National Gallery worthy of the country and its fine collection of pictures. It was rather strange that the hon. Gentleman should attach blame to the Office of Works in connection with the Nelson Column, which was raised by private subscription. It was only after the monument had been raised high in the air that, the Committee being totally unable to finish it, the Government were obliged to step in, and undertake to complete the structure. The hon. Gentleman also spoke of the vacillation and change of purpose exhibited in the removal of Dr. Jenner's statue. But did he wish so great a sacrifice to consistency as would have been required in keeping that statue in a position where architecturally it was out of place. That was a sitting statue on a 9 ft. scale, by the side of two standing figures on a 14 ft. scale. It was a blunder to place it there, and it would have been bad taste to retain it; the best thing was to remove it to a position where it was in harmony with the surrounding objects. It was accordingly removed to a quiet part of Kensington Gardens, where it was an appropriate addition to the ornamented stonework. He next came to the purification of the Serpentine, and he could only say that he was not responsible for the change of plan. His predecessor had taken very good advice. The late Mr. Stephenson advised that Mr. Hawkshaw should be consulted, and he recommended that the Serpentine should be purified by a process of filtration. When he (Mr. Cowper) came into office, he ventured to think that the project was a mistake, and that it would not succeed, He accordingly moved for a Select Committee, which, after a careful investigation, came to a unanimous Resolution that the filtration ought not to be proceeded with. The authority of the Committee prescribed the change, as well as that of the Board of Works; and if his lamented predecessor had lived, it was probable the Committee would equally have decided against his plan of filtration. He was sorry the hon. Gentleman had not seen the fountains playing in Kensington Gardens lately, because there was now a plentiful supply of water six days in the week during the hours when the gardens were most frequented, and he knew that vast numbers admired the fountains greatly. The money voted for the purification of the Serpentine had attained that object. The plan of filtration was abandoned in favour of a much simpler and more effectual scheme. A very deep well was sunk through the green sand into the chalk, and brought up an abundant quantity of the purest water in the vicinity of London, which poured into the Serpentine, and had a beneficial effect in keeping its water sweet. During the greatest part of the year there were no grounds of complaint about the water of the Serpentine. It was true, the basins were not in a satisfactory condition, but the defilement of which the hon. Gentleman had spoken did not arise from the water, but from the accumulation of weeds in the basins. Probably means might be found of clearing them out.

The hon. Gentleman next complained of the delay in regard to the use of the site of Burlington House. It was, however, a wise thing to secure so central a space when it was in the market, even although a temporary loss of interest was sustained. It was a most valuable possession for the country, and he hoped that before long the Government would be able to put before the House a scheme of appropriation for this site. With respect to the Record Office buildings he must deny that the Government were working without a well-considered plan. In fact, a plan had been prepared for the apportionment of the whole of the ground adjoining the Record Office. Every portion of the building now added was according to a plan, and would become part of a general whole. The money for a new wing was placed on the Votes of that year, and that would be as much as was necessary to meet the existing requirements of the office; but as those requirements increased, the buildings would be extended.

The hon. Gentleman had confused two very different things—the proposal of Lord Chelmsford to build two Vice Chancellors' Courts at an expense of £100,000, and the proposal of the Government to build a Palace of Justice, in which all the Courts of Law and Equity, the Probate and Divorce Court, might be located. A Royal Commission had sat on the subject, and had recommended a costly and comprehensive scheme for concentrating the whole of the Law Courts and offices at one spot. He could not plead guilty to having sold that portion of the end of Carlton Terrace to which the hon. Gentleman had referred, because it was Crown land under the management of the Commissioners of Land Revenues, not of his office. It was not, however, land suited for public offices, as supposed by the hon. Gentleman. The site reserved for the extension of offices was in the neighbourhood of Downing Street, for which so large a sum had been paid. The hon. Gentleman said it was very wasteful not to buy the northern portion of Charles Street, when the Government had bought the southern side. His answer was, that the northern portion of Charles Street would never be required. About one-third of the site of Downing Street—namely, 43,000 yards, was unappropriated, and in future years, when it was necessary to extend the public offices, they would be extended to the north, and not to the south. A large site could be obtained on the northern side, because there was not only the land on which the offices of the First Lord of the Treasury, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Colonial Office stood—all which must be rebuilt—but there was also the garden, attached to the residence of the First Lord of the Treasury. Then there was another site—the portion of land in New Palace Yard, between the Clock Tower and Great George Street, which had been partially cleared by the removal of the old houses in Bridge Street. With all that available space, it would have been a gratuitous piece of extravagance to make any further purchases on the south side of Charles Street. Upon the whole, he must contend, that the hon. Member had not succeeded in showing that any extravagance or vacillation arose from the want of a perpetual Commissioner at the head of the Board of Works.

The hon. Gentleman had quoted the Report of a Select Committee in the year 1860, which Report, however, was not adopted unanimously, but by a small majority. That Committee attached an exaggerated importance to the permanence of the office of Chief Commissioner of Works. Unquestionably, there would be some advantage in the head of such an office having an experience of many years in the discharge of his duties; but the balance of advantage would be against the permanency of the appointment. A man long in the same office was apt to acquire a narrowness of view, a partiality for those who were under him, and a disregard for public opinion. If, without actual misconduct, he were to turn out to be ill fitted for his post, still there could be no change, and the public interests would suffer in his hands. The heavy price which the House would, however, pay for the permanence of the office, would be, that it would deprive the Legislature of the benefit of having a Member of that House with the knowledge and responsibly attaching to the head of the office, and that it would deprive the office of the influence of a Parliamentary head. It was in his opinion absolutely necessary that the head of the office should have a seat in that House. The reasons urged for making the head of the Works permanent applied also to the First Lord of the Admiralty, the President of the Poor Law Board, the Vice President of the Education Department, and to other Ministers. But the question was whether the advantage of having a permanent officer was at all commensurate with that of having the office represented in the House of Commons. The Committee of 1860 must have been misled by a fancied analogy between the Offices of Works and of Woods. The business of the Office of Woods was mainly to receive money for which it was accountable to the Treasury, and it had no direct transactions in that House. But a very short time since they had a marked instance of the disadvantage of having an office even of that character not represented in the House of Commons. Hon. Gentlemen would remember that a feeling sprang up that the policy pursued by the Office of Woods and Forests with regard to Epping and Hainault forests was one which ought not to have been adopted; that forestal inclosures ought not to be encouraged, because the inhabitants of London were thereby deprived of en- joyments which hitherto had been within their reach, If the head of the office had had a seat in that House, he might have so explained his policy as to alter the opinion of the House, or the debate might have convinced him of the propriety of a change. But in the absence of such an officer the House was obliged to adopt a rough, rude, and violent way of attaining its object—namely, by an Address to Her Majesty that no inclosures of lands near the metropolis should take place, thereby bringing matters to a dead lock. What was desired of the Office of Works, was that it should combine efficiency with a wise economy. The best guarantee for such economy and efficiency was to be found in the determination of the head of the Department to secure them. If the House wished to exercise a control over him, it was well that he should be personally within range of the influence of its opinion, especially as there were so many matters within his province in which the House took a very great interest. On the other hand, it was moat important that the House, in voting estimates for public works, should have a person present who was responsible for the details of those estimates, and would explain how the money would be spent, and how money voted previously had been expended. The presence of such a person in the House, was the best check to that natural tendency which was always found in public assemblies to run into one of two extremes—either to rush into such a lavish expenditure as had been incurred in the case of the Houses of Parliament, or to adopt such a small and delusive economy as cutting off £400 a year for a clerk of Works whose business it was to keep down expenditure. It was quite clear, if the First Commissioner of Works had not a seat in that House, he would lose that authority which he ought to possess. A suggestion had been made, that if the office were permanent, the Parliamentary work might be done by some other Department of the Government. But the person representing the office in the House of Commons ought to be able to speak with all the weight attaching to responsibility, and with the fullest knowledge of what was to be done, otherwise he would only be delivering information second-hand, and would meet with no attention. So absurd an arrangement would not long continue. The plan of a Board had been already tried for twenty years and failed. The hon. Gentleman alluded to the case of Paris, and said they ought to follow the example set there. But the hon. Gentleman did not observe the distinction, that the person who carried on all the great works there was not the Minister of Public Works, but the municipal authority. The Prefect of Paris was a municipal officer, the head and chairman of a municipal council, and therefore the person to whom he should be compared was not the First Commissioner, but the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works The latter was a permanent officer, but that was not sufficient to secure the work being done like that of Paris. The difference between Paris and London was this—in Paris there were ample funds; whereas in London the money provided, whether by the municipality or the Government, was not sufficient for the great improvements which might advantageously be made.


said, the Committee which had been alluded to, and of which he had the honour of being a Member, came to the conclusion by a very large majority, that a permanent Commissioner of Works ought to be appointed, and they had in view a very easy way of getting over the difficulty of not having some one in the House who should be responsible to Parliament. They thought that certain official Gentlemen who sat day after day and night after night on the Treasury bench, and received salaries for doing little work except signing certain papers—he meant the Lords of the Treasury—might add to their importance if they were bound to answer in that House for the officer who presided over the Office of Works. But the right hon. Gentleman had not alluded to the main question in the public mind—he had not ventured to say that the present system had given satisfaction to anybody. No doubt the conclusion come to by the Committee would be unsatisfactory to the front benches on both sides of the House, because it was a great thing for a Minister, when about to form a Government, to have such an appointment as that of First Commissioner of Works to give away. But was it not true that the Gentlemen appointed to that office were appointed on account of their political opinions and associations, and not because of any capacity or fitness on their part? Without wishing to say anything invidious either to his right hon. Friend the present First Commissioner or to his noble Friend (Lord John Manners) who held the same office under the Government of the Earl of Derby, he believed it would be possible to find in this country persons who, from education and early training, were better suited to perform the duties required. The Government in office might be turned out any day, and then a Gentleman from the other side might come in with views entirely different from those of his predecessor. They had seen an instance of that not long ago. The more he considered the matter, the more he was of opinion that it would be advisable to have a permanent officer at the head of the Works Department. The office might very well be represented in Parliament by a junior Lord of the Treasury.


said, that having executed many large works for foreign Governments, he had been brought much into communication with foreign Ministers of Public Works, and he had always found that they were really Ministers of Public Works. But in this country the First Commissioner of Public Works was no Minister of Public Works at all. He should be very sorry if the Minister of Public Works had not a seat in that House, and be amenable to those discussions and questions which must arise under a constitutional form of government. But what he wanted to see in England was what they had in France, an able body of men in association with the public minister, competent to deal with these questions in such a way as that they should not suffer from the disappointments they then felt in finding so many of their public works, particularly in reference to the estimate and ultimate cost, a by-word and a proverb. He had executed immense works for the Government of France; and he had always found their estimates so well considered, their plans so thoroughly well sifted, and the whole affair so thoroughly considered in all its branches, that he had been able to adopt the estimates of the ministers as they stood, and execute the works by contract for that sum, and had never found himself a loser in any one instance. The consequence was, that great works were carried out in France for the amount of the estimate which was laid before the country for those works; but in this country no works could be mentioned which ever were carried out within the estimates. That, of itself, condemned the whole system. The House of Commons could not do justice to its constituents unless it had estimates laid before it which were completely reliable, and a Department which could not lay before them estimates which had been thoroughly and honestly considered was not worthy of confidence. In this country many of the public works were not under the con- trol of the Commissioner of Works at all. Some were under one Department, some under another. The Admiralty, for instance, had charge of the construction of harbours of refuge, breakwaters, and docks; but of public works they knew nothing whatever. They might be good sailors or mechanicians, but of public works they knew nothing at all. If the Admiralty in France wanted a dock, they went to the Minister of Public Works and told him that a dock was required. The First Lord and the Secretary of the Admiralty had nothing to do with it. The Minister of Works became responsible for the execution of the work, and the consequence was they never found an estimate of £200,000 or £300,000 ending in an outlay of £1,000,000. What they wanted was a thorough reform of the system. The Minister of Public Works ought to be really a Minister of Public Works; and when he came down to that House to propose a public work, and to offer an estimate, he ought to be responsible for that estimate, and then the House and the country would not be subject to such lamentable excesses. There were estimates before the House that night for works which had cost millions, and were utterly worthless, and never could be used. That would not have occurred in any country on the Continent. They had no Holyhead Harbour abroad, three or four times altered no—Alderney on which hundreds of thousands of pounds had been absolutely thrown away. There was no instance resembling the £600,000 or £700,000 which had been spent at Jersey in creating obstructions which it would be necessary to remove at great cost, for the very safety of the navy itself. Let them take the First Commissioner of Works, be it the noble Lord opposite, or the right hon. Gentleman; give him a board of association to act with him, and let him have all the public works to carry out, leaving none to be executed by the Admiralty or the Treasury, and make him responsible for the estimates, and responsible for the plans. Then, if he was found fault with, he could turn round to his Board, point out to them their own condemnation, and select another more worthy of his confidence. Thus they would be enabled to avoid the disappointments and expenses with which the existing system was attended.


said, that his hon. Friend's proposal was confined to the constitution of the Office of Works; whereas the remarks of the hon. Baronet had extended to that of the Admiralty and the War Office. In his hon. Friend's criticism of some of the more conspicuous and notorious failures in our public works he (Lord John Manners) was disposed to agree. The hon. Baronet, in his able speech, had advocated not merely a permanent officer at the Board of Works, but a very large reform of all the departments to which different works had been intrusted. That subject he (Lord John Manners) thought was hardly yet ripe for discussion. But as to the more limited question of his hon. Friend behind him, he could not see that the proposal was one which would sensibly diminish the evils of which he complained, or in any degree effect their removal. Besides which, as it stood, his hon. Friend's proposal was already practically carried out. When he asked for a permanent officer, his (Lord John Manners') answer was, that a permanent officer already existed in that distinguished public servant, Mr. Austin, from whose evidence he had quoted. A better man no First Commissioner could desire to have at hand. He would put it to his hon. Friend whether the objection he felt to the non-permanent character of the head of the department of Public-Works might not be equally applied to every other great department of State? In fact, the organization of the Office of Works was precisely the same as that of every other Department. It had its political non-permanent head, who was responsible to Parliament, and who acted in harmony with his Colleagues in the Government; and it had its permanent officer—in some Departments called an Under Secretary—who was responsible to Government, and not to Parliament. He doubted whether the evils complained of would be cured by the establishment of a permanent officer. The hon. Baronet (Sir John Shelley) had gone into details, and had given it as his opinion that some person, as a Junior Lord of the Treasury, should be appointed to superintend the office. But, without disparaging Junior Lords of the Treasury, past, present, or to come, he (Lord John Manners) could not think they were likely to be very conversant with the details of undertakings in the origination of which they had had no voice, and which they might find it a a difficult task to defend in the House of Commons, if they were objected to. He thought the proposed arrangement would be found to work extremely ill in practice, and he would remind the House of a some- what similar case. A few years ago the Poor Law Board was not represented in the House. Great inconvenience ensued, and, acting upon the advice of the late Mr. Charles Buller, it was decided that the Poor Law Board should be represented directly in the House. But how? It was not proposed that a Junior Lord of the Treasury or a Junior Lord of the Admiralty should be the mouthpiece of the Poor Law Board. The responsible head of the Board was brought into the House, and the result was that the business had been carried on to the satisfaction of the country ever since. He thought that the practical remedy was to be found not in an alteration of the existing system, but in the discretion, in the tact, and in the good feeling of the various heads of the office who succeeded each other. Whatever mischief had been done had arisen from the over-zeal of the incoming Commissioner, wishing to carve his name on some marble or bronze monument, and for that object subverting all that the previous Commissioner had established. In that way changes had been hastily adopted which had far better have been avoided. But he held that to be one of the necessary evils of a constitutional form of Government. If there was a change of Government, it must be left to the responsible head of the new Government to place the right man in the right place. If the Prime Minister made an unfortunate selection, inconvenience ensued; but he could not see that there was any greater mischief from not having a permanent head at the Office of Works than for not having a permanent head at the War Office, the Colonial Office, or any other of the great offices of State.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.