HC Deb 10 March 1865 vol 177 cc1525-8

said, he rose to ask the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Tite) as Chairman of the Westminster Improvement Commission, whether any, and what, feteps have been taken by the Commission to secure the erection of buildings suitable for the accommodation of the Mechanic and Working Classes, of whose dwellings in Westminster so wide a clearance has been made by the proceedings of the Commission. The subject, suggested by this notice, was one which had attracted at various periods a good deal of attention in this House. The progress of improvement had had results which seriously affected the working classes, for their residences had been displaced from time to time to an extent which inflicted upon those classes great loss and inconvenience. The railroads not only in the outskirts but in the metropolis itself produced extensive clearances; then there was the great clearance in the vicinity of the Strand for the new Courts of Justice; then there were those clearances which had been made on Lord Westminster's estate, and in that case he was glad to hear it stated in the House a few nights since that the noble Marquess had taken measures to secure the erection of proper residences for those of the working classes whose houses had been removed. If any duty more than another attached to large properties of this kind which covered a large area it was in his (Mr. A. Smith's) opinion that of building proper dwellings for the working men employed on an estate, or which were essential to the various branches of trade and industry required by the necessities of the locality itself. Then they heard the other night of another considerable clearance in contemplation near Downing Street; but the great clearance of all was that effected some years ago by the Commission called the Westminster Improvement Commission, which projected a great number of buildings which remained for a long number of years altogether untenanted. Two or three years ago a Bill was introduced into that House with reference to that Commission, whose affairs were in a state of the most inextricable confusion. A new Commission was constituted, and the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Tite) was appointed the Chairman, the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner justifying the introduction of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Tite) as an appointment which imparted new blood into the Commission, and which that hon. Member himself justified himself in undertaking as having considerable knowledge of architecture and some acquaintance with the principles of good taste. When he saw the west point of that noble Abbey blocked up with rows of Brobdignan buildings, and that the new street when finished would be one of the dullest, gloomiest, and most lugubrious streets, he could not see much development of the architectural principles of taste. As far as he could see, there had been no care displayed by the Commission to do that which had been particularly impressed upon them and which had been made one of the chief objects of the improvements contemplated by the Commission itself as specified in their Act—namely, to keep open as much as possible the view of Westminster Abbey on the south side. He, however, hoped their attention had been directed to a more humble and practical object. He (Mr. A. Smith) had attempted to get the Bill he had named referred to a Select Committee in order that, among other things, they might inquire into the inconvenience arising from the displacement of so large a number of the working classes. A large number of those classes, especially such as were in the Government employment, as, for instance, policemen and postmen, now had great difficulty in procuring residences. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would now give the House some account of what care had been taken by the Commission to procure buildings for the accommodation of those classes whom the Commission had displaced.


said, he was afraid that at present all the Board was able to do was to facilitate the undertaking of which the hon. Gentleman had spoken. He had to state, however, that an enormous mass of buildings had been erected on some vacant land by the liberality of a private individual, Mr. Gibbs—an earnest philanthropist, who "did good by stealth and blushed to find it fame"—in which residences were provided for the working classes with all possible advantages of light and air, and every decency that ought to belong to a working man's dwelling. In that enormous building the working classes who had been displaced by the Commission could find accommodation. When Victoria Street was first projected as a great public improvement, certain persons undertook to raise £75,000, on the condition that the Government would provide £50,000; and when it was shown by examination by the proper authorities that the £75,000 had been expended, the Government furnished the £50,000. Subsequently £30,000 more was advanced by the Government on the security of the rates of the parishes interested, which he believed would ultimately be repaid. But it turned out that the managers of this great scheme had been so straitened that they had mortgaged all their surplus lands for no less a sum than £300,000, and that they had also issued debentures, which he believed to be illegal, to the amount of £700,000 more. The total expenditure had been £1,200,000. In that state of things the whole affair came to a standstill, no land could be sold or let for no title could be given. A few years since a new Act was procured, and he was requested to accept the Chairmanship of the Commission. But that new Act was really one for winding up the concern. The Commissioners had sold and realized land to the extent of £130,000, which had been paid into the Court of Chancery for division amongst the mortgagees; and they had also an income of £2,200 a year. But they had no power to originate anything; all they could do—which they were doing to the best of their power—being merely to wind up the scheme, and to secure, if possible, some small return to the debenture-holders. The Commission had a Bill now in Parliament for further improvements, which if it passed into a Law would enable them to facilitate the operations of Mr. Gibbs and would therefore increase the possible accommodation for the poor. He need scarcely assure the House that if the Commission could do anything towards providing house accommodation for the working classes, they would be exceedingly happy to do so.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

Forward to