HC Deb 07 March 1865 vol 177 cc1301-8

moved for leave to bring in a Bill to enable the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Works and Public Buildings to acquire additional lands for improving the site of the new public offices in Dowinng Street, and the approaches thereto.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Works and Public Buildings to acquire additional Lands for improving the Site of the New Public Offices in Downing Street, and the Approaches thereto."—(Mr. Cowper.)


strongly urged the policy of purchasing the houses between the new Foreign Office and Great George Street. It would turn out the best economy in the end; and if, three years ago—as he had suggested—the purchase of this block of houses had been carried into effect there would have been a great saving of public money.


thought that the proposal of one scheme with regard to all the proposed buildings would be best, instead of proceeding piecemeal.


asked what amount would be charged on the revenues of India for the proposal for improving the site of the new India House. He should like to know what addition to the £50,000 already voted would be made.


should first like to know what the English and Irish taxpayers would have to pay for these public buildings. The present Government seemed to ignore economy altogether, and quite to disregard the expenditure of public money.


did not think any charge would ultimately be thrown on the revenues of either of this country or of India by the proposed arrangement. The House had formerly rejected the scheme of Lord Llanover, to purchase all the buildings between Downing Street and Great George Street, and the Government now proposed to take only the amount of property which was absolutely necessary for the erection of the buildings. The Government believed they would make a very good bargain by purchasing the freehold under the Bill, as it would give them ground not only for public offices, but also for the erection of a better class of houses in the neighbourhood of those offices. The Government were only doing what was being done by the Marquess of Westminster, and there was no fear of their losing money by the purchase, as they would be able to let the property which they did not require for themselves.


regretted the increase of cost to the country which was likely to be entailed upon them, and he should like to have a distinct pledge from the Commissioner of Works that this particular scheme would not be a charge upon the public purse, though he should very much doubt the propriety of spending public money in a building scheme.


thought that the Irish Members had an interest in this matter. Money had been refused for improvements in Ireland, which they had been told ought to be effected by private enterprise, but now the Government were about to speculate in the building of houses.


hoped that the Government did not hold that the houses occupied by honest poor persons were not respectable houses. He also hoped the interests of the humbler classes would be considered by the Government.


looked with some suspicion on the proposal. He had visions before him of a clearance of all the houses between the Palace of Westminster and the Foreign Office, and of the erection of a grand and ornamental building on the site where those houses now stand; and he apprehended that all this would be accomplished at a heavy cost to the country.


thought that Government was going to undertake the business of a building society; and as to private landowners, they waited until the leases fell in and the houses could be advantageously acquired before they pulled them down. The speculation of the Government might turn out to be profitable, but it was certainly quite novel.


complained that the works in reference to the Shannon had not been completed effectually, although so long a time had elapsed; and asserted that if London improvements were to be carried out by the Government at once, he thought that equal justice would not be dealt out.


complained of the course taken by the Government in bringing on this Bill without having laid any plan before the House or having asked the House to sanction the expenditure.


demurred altogether to the proposal of the Government to buy land on a building speculation.


said, there were two ways in which property could be purchased for these public offices. One was that proposed by Lord Llanover for buying all that could be ultimately wanted. The House, however, was unwilling to spend a large sum of money for remote and uncertain needs, and the other plan was adopted of asking the House to vote such sums of money as were wanted for immediate use. The purchase which he now proposed had been contemplated from the beginning, and the next purchase contemplated was that of the block of buildings between Parliament Street and King Street, that would be immediately in front of the eastern elevation of the new offices. There was less urgency for taking the latter property, inasmuch as the greater part of the fee simple of those houses was in possession of the Government, and the leaseholds did not increase in value as the freeholds. What was now proposed was to purchase the property on the south side of the Downing Street site; on which adequate offices for the public service for some time to come could be built. When the Foreign Office was completed the erection of the Colonial Office would be commenced, and further offices would afterwards be provided. But there was no necessity for forcing on an expenditure before the time came when such expenditure was necessary. The northern boundary of the new offices would be Downing Street, on the west would be the Park, and on the east Parliament Street, when the block of houses was pulled down; but if this property were not purchased the southern boundary would be a narrow street of squalid, low houses, and the effect of the buildings on that side would be totally spoiled. It was therefore necessary that that street should be widened. The surplus portion of land between Charles Street and Gardner's Lane, which would not be wanted for this improvement, could be sold with advantage, and the Indian Department would only follow the usual course in selling the land which was not required for their purposes. The portion which wa3 opposite to the other public offices comprehended the police station, and he did not propose to purchase that or to dispossess its present occupiers. The actual cost that would fall upon the country would be about £30,000, and an Estimate would be laid before the House in due course, but it was necessary, in order to save the Session, that this Bill should be introduced before the time at which the Estimate could be laid before the House. The Bill could hardly pass into law before the Estimate was before them, and the two would proceed simultaneously. Plans would be laid before the Committee. The houses in Charles Street were shops and public-houses, and in Gardner's Lane they were dwellings of the working classes. He thought the best arrangement would be to enable the police station to get the benefit of enlargement; no class required better accommodation more than policemen, who were obliged to live in the district, and at present were compelled to put up with very bad accommodation for themselves and families. Perhaps there could be no better use of the extra ground than a building six storeys high, which would afford accommodation for police who rent apartments in the district. Of course, the Government would not become owners of these residences; but such ground as was not required would be disposed of, and care would be taken to see that it should be used in a manner suitable to the wants of the district. The proposal of the Government was not open to the charge of extravagance, as the Government only intended to ask the House to vote money for necessary purposes.


thought the right hon. Gentleman had not given information that was relevant to the question. He had not told them from what funds he expected to derive the £30,000 that would be required. [Mr. COWPER: To be voted by Parliament.] He submitted that in that case the rules of the House came into play. It concerned a grant of money, and therefore involved a charge upon the public. In a book, which was a high authority upon that subject—May's Law and Practice of Parliament—he found it laid down that where funds were required to purchase land it must be voted in Committee. The propriety of that rule was obvious, because in Committee there was a full opportunity of obtaining explanations; but while the Speaker was in the chair a Member could only speak once. He would submit to the Speaker as a point of Order that this was a Bill that should be originated in Committee, and should the right hon. Gentleman's ruling be against him, he should divide the House against the Motion for leave to bring in the Bill.


thought the course that had been followed on this occasion was the usual course. The Bill only proposed to give the Government power to buy land, but for that power to be of any use an estimate and plans must be submitted and voted in Committee, when the hon. Gentleman would have the opportunity of speaking as often as he pleased.


understood that what was wanted was to learn from the noble Viscount something which, with his usual happy knack of explaining, he had left unexplained. What was required from the noble Viscount was an explanation whether it was intended to purchase with public money certain land for indefinite purposes. The noble Viscount said this was the usual course, but still he left the House in complete darkness as to the intentions of the Government. The work which had been referred to laid it down that when a grant of public money would be required the invariable practice was that a Resolution in Committee must be the origin of the proceeding. If it was intended to purchase land without any grant of public money, then there was nothing to be said upon the occasion, but it did not appear that we had yet arrived at that happy state of things when public works could be effected without the aid of public money.


said, the rule referred to was quite correct. This Bill would not enable the Government to purchase a yard of land until the House in Committee had considered the plans and estimates, and had agreed to them.


moved the adjournment of the Debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Packe.)


said, the natural course would be to allow the Bill to be brought in. At present they were discussing a Bill they had not seen. The hon. Member (Mr. Hennessy) forgot his national proverb—namely, "You should not name a child until it is born."


We have the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman.


said, that when the Bill was brought on, if it could be shown that it was informal, and that it ought to have originated in Committee, it could then be withdrawn and the proper course pursued.


remarked that there was a precedent in the Fortifications Bill introduced a few years ago by the noble Viscount, upon the understanding that estimates and plans would be afterwards submitted. The estimate was subsequently prepared, and the sums required voted in Committee of Supply, but the Bill itself which bound the House to the purchase of lands was brought in in Committee of the whole House.


said, the Bill before the House was of exactly the same character as five or six Acts which were upon the statute-books, all of which had been introduced in the same manner, and which, indeed, could not, by the rules of the House, have been introduced in any other way.


said, he wished to know whether the Bill would place the House in the position of house and land jobbers. According to the statements of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper) it was proposed to lodge police in the place of poor people who now lived in a set of squalid buildings, and the right hon. Gentleman had stated that he was only following the example of the Marquess of Westminster, who, it should be remembered, however, had dealt most liberally with the poor people who were deprived of their habitations; his Lordship having taken care that they should be provided with cheap and better accommodation.


repudiated the idea of any attack having been made upon the Marquess of Westminster, who, in the improvement of his property, had acted like a man of common sense. The mode which the Government proposed to adopt was one which had been uniformly followed. Streets were to be widened, and ground was to be sold for the purpose of contributing towards the expenses. The only object of the Bill was to obtain power to take the property that was necessary.


said, that they now heard for the first time that the Bill did not involve an expenditure of money, but merely gave the Government the power of acquiring land.


said, that the statement of the Government was not that no expenditure of money was contemplated, but that the Bill did not authorize the expenditure of any public money.


referred to the proposal for authorizing the Government to purchase lands and buildings in South Kensington, which was introduced in a Committee of the Whole House—a plan which should have been followed in this instance, because, he maintained, that the Bill would practically authorize the expenditure of public money.


said, that the object of the Bill was to enable the Government to take ground for certain purposes. It did not give them power to purchase the property; the funds for that purpose should be voted afterwards in Committee of the Whole House. There was, therefore, no question of Order.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. COWPER and Sir CHARLES WOOD.

Bill presented, and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills. [Bill 55.]