HC Deb 30 March 1865 vol 178 cc489-500

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [23rd March], "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


presented a Petition from the Treasurer of Lincoln's Inn, signed by him on behalf of himself and the other Masters of the Bench of the Society. The Petition stated that in former Sessions of Parliament similar Bills had been introduced; that on those occasions the Benchers of Lincoln's Inn had petitioned against them, under the belief that the concentration might be attained by the Courts of Equity being allowed to remain in Lincoln's Inn, the Courts of Law being provided in the neighbourhood; but that during the present Session, the Petitioners, being unwilling to oppose the further progress of the measure, had determined to withdraw all further opposition, and in so withholding their opposition were influenced mainly by the consideration that the northern side of the proposed building was to be in close proximity to Lincoln's Inn, and that the portion which was to be appropriated to the Courts of Equity being nearest to Lincoln's Inn was calculated to obviate the inconvenience of the removal of the courts from Lincoln's Inn. The Petitioners went on to state that they had recently learnt that the question was being agitated for the abandonment of that site; and they expressed their opinion that if a site were to be selected at a distance from Lincoln's Inn, the members of that Society who were practitioners in the Equity Courts would be greatly inconvenienced. They prayed, therefore, that if the Courts of Law and Equity were to be concentrated, no change would be made in the Carey Street site.


said, he did not know whether the Government were prepared to give effect to what appeared to be the general feeling of the House when this matter was last before them; but, in order to raise the question, he meant to conclude by moving, as an Amendment to the Motion for the Speaker leaving the Chair, that the Bill be re-committed to the former Committee, and that it be an Instruction to such Committee to inquire into the capabilities of the Thames Embankment as a site for the proposed building. Notwithstanding the attention devoted to this measure in former inquiries, no opportunity had yet been afforded for considering whether the Thames Embankment would or would not present the proper site for the concentration of the new courts of justice. Only two sites had hitherto been considered. First, the Carey Street site, now adopted by Her Majesty's Government, and secondly, the only alternative site—a portion of Lincoln's Inn Fields—coupled with the offer on the part of those who possessed the freehold of Lincoln's Inn to make a very considerable metropolitan improvement. The latter proposition was rejected, and the Carey Street site approved of. But he maintained that the fact of the Carey Street site being approved of furnished no reason whatever why that House should be debarred from considering the large and important question of the site which was opened by the Embankment of the Thames. The extent of the site proposed to be taken in Carey Street the House was already familiar with. He would not, therefore, describe it beyond pointing out some material facts that would assist the House in the consideration of the question. The cost of the Carey Street site was estimated in 1861 to cost £678,000, and he apprehended that its value had not in any degree diminished since then. He did not find that the Select Committee to which that Bill had been referred had given any precise Estimate of the expenditure, but he would assume that the Estimate of 1861—namely, £678,000—was accurate, but it should be remembered that that was the cost of the site alone. The next point to be considered was whether that site would be sufficient. Now, the evidence of Mr. Pennethorne, the architect of the Board of Works, who was called as a witness by the promoters of the Bill, showed that several very important courts remained unprovided for by the measure. Mr. Pennethorne was asked whether he proposed to bring to that concentrated site the Central Criminal Court, and his reply was "No." He was subsequently asked whether the Bankruptcy Court was included in the list of courts for which provision was made, and he answered that it was not. The same witness also admitted that there was no provision in the plan for a court in which all the twelve Judges should assemble, similar to the present Exchequer Chamber. It might, however, be thought that the Carey Street site was so ample that accommodation might be found for those courts; but Mr. Pennethorne admitted that his plan was so made as to occupy the whole available space, and that if another Judge were appointed equivalent in rank to a Vice Chancellor, and as Chief Judge in Bankruptcy, accommodation could only be found for him by removing some of the offices upstairs. Thus, then, upon the showing of the witnesses called in support of the Bill, after a very large expenditure of money, several large and important courts would still be left wholly unprovided for. Now, since the Commission had sat, and since the Committee of 1861 examined this subject, another site had been opened which at all events deserved consideration before they incurred an enormous outlay upon the purchase of ground and the erection of buildings which would be inadequate for their purpose. At any rate, the suggestion deserved careful consideration. But, further, the Carey Street site would be difficult of access. The Strand was at present choked up with traffic, and although it might be said that the Thames Embankment would relieve the Strand, yet they knew that the more facilities were offered for the traffic of the metropolis the more that traffic was found to develop itself. He was a bold man, therefore, who believed that the Strand would be materially relieved by the Thames Embankment. The traffic along the New Road had in no degree been diminished in consequence of the opening of the Metropolitan Railway. It was possible, no doubt, to provide large open spaces in front of the new concentrated courts, and to widen the Strand in that part; but by doing so they would diminish pro tanto the space at their command for the new buildings. What had they at the Thames Embankment? They had the most perfect means of access on all sides. Some persons thought an excellent site would be available in the immediate neighbourhood of Westminster Bridge; others preferred the neighbourhood of Fife House, where a very large tract of land would remain at the disposal of the public. Of course, it was too late at the present moment to take any active measures to carry out either of these proposals; but when they were going to make a building that was to last for all time, and when they were about to lay out a very large sum of money, they ought to take care that in the choice of a site they did not perpetrate a blunder which would be a disgrace to the country for ages. Happily, they were living in times of peace, when there was no excitement connected with the administration of the law; but times might come when they could easily conceive it would be of great importance that there should be ready and easy access to the Courts of Justice. Such access, he thought, could not be had if the Carey Street site were selected. He begged to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be re-committed to the former Committee, and that they be instructed to inquire into the capabilities of the Thames Embankment as a site for the proposed buildings.


in seconding the Amendment, said, he was well aware that in the course proposed by the hon. Member for Worcestershire they were opposing the opinion of the lawyers; but the question really was whether when they were going to spend a large sum of money in the erection of a Palace of Justice they should not select the best available site for the purpose. The site afforded by the Thames Embankment was not in existence and could not be taken into consideration when the Bill was originally before the Committee. If there was room enough on the Thames Embankment nothing could be finer than the facade of such a building. The access to the Carey Street site was one of its great difficulties—nothing could be better than the access to the Thames Embankment. The question was, after all, one of finance; and looking at the question in a financial point of view the expense of the Thames Embankment site might be fatal to its selection; but that was a mere assertion, and he had been told on the other hand that it would be the least expensive of all. A portion of the property of the Duke of Norfolk might be taken, which consisted not of first-class houses, and a most magnificent site might thus he obtained. It had been said elsewhere that the Suitors' Fund would not be available if the site selected were the Thames Embankment; but he could not understand that objection. Either they had power over the Suitors' Fund, or they had not. The question could not depend on the choice of any particular locality. This was one of those questions on which he thought they could not have too much inquiry, He believed they would only be doing justice to the future as well as to the present, by having this matter further inquired into.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Bill be re-committed to the former Committee, and that they be instructed to inquire into the capabilities of the Thames Embankment as a site for the proposed buildings,"—(Mr. Lygon,) —instead thereof.

Motion made and Question proposed, that the words proposed to be left out, stand part of the Question,


I believe I express the opinion of the great mass of hon. Members present, as well as my own, when I say that I trust the Government will not accede to this Amendment. I have not the least doubt that it has been brought forward in an earnest desire on the part of my hon. Friend that every consideration should be given before so important a step is taken as the selection of a site for this great building. But the House must observe that to carry this Amendment will be equivalent to the defeat of this measure for the present Session: and in a future Session no one can venture to foretell what may happen. But even suppose at this period next year we may get to this stage, who is to say whether hon. Members may not get up and propose inquiring into a third site, different from Carey Street and the Thames Embankment, which no one thought of in 1865? We shall then be in the same position as we are now. I confess I was anxious to hear from the two hon. Gentlemen who supported this Motion what are the reasons of greater convenience to the public on which the proposal of the Thames Embankment site rests. I did not hear them. No doubt the hon. Baronet (Sir John Shelley) says it would he a fine thing to have the ornamental facade of the Palace of Justice fronting the river. That may be; but the great consideration which puts Parliament in motion is the great inconvenience of the present arrangements; and the question is, which site will be most suitable for the purpose. Can there be a doubt as to what will be most convenient to the public? The hon. Baronet talks of lawyers; but who are the lawyers on this question? They are the great body of solicitors of London, who transact not only the legal business of London, but the legal business of the whole kingdom; and on what ground do they prefer the Carey Street site? Because on all sides in the immediate neighbourhood north of that locality they have their offices, and they could not get the same accommodation elsewhere—therefore, they say, give us some central Courts of Justice, which we can get at without going very far from our own offices, for our time is that of our clients. Then, on the south side of the Carey Street site is the Temple, where the barristers say the very same thing. Carey Street, then, stands exactly in the centre of these two localities, and would obviously be most suitable as a site for the proposed Courts. I will not enter into the question of finance; hut I know of no obstacle on that score to the Carey Street site. As regards the extent of ground, indeed, it is said that Mr. Pennethorne in his examination says the arrangement does not include the Central Criminal Court in this Palace of Justice. Now I, for one, am very glad to hear it. I hope there will be no Criminal Courts there. We all know, if there was no other objection, there is the fatal one that when you get Criminal Courts you must have the gaols in immediate connection with them. To bring prisoners to the centre, where the civil business of the country is transacted, would, I think, be extremely inconvenient, it would be unsuitable to them, and it would disturb the conduct of the other business. Then, as to the Exchequer Chamber, Mr. Pennethorne says no arrangement has been made for the twelve Judges meeting in the Exchequer Chamber. Now, any one at nil conversant with the detailed arrangements of the Exchequer Chamber knows that it is composed of the Justices of any two of the three superior Courts of Common Law, and when the time for their sitting comes—on very few days in the year—there must of necessity be a cessation of the business of the two Justices' own Courts, either of which would be available, pro hac vice, for the Exchequer Chamber. So, also, it is said, there is no arrangement for the Bankruptcy Court. Now the registrars and accountants being connected with the mere administrative and financial details of bankruptcy, I think their presence would be unsuitable in the Palace of Justice; but if any judicial business is to be transacted by a Judge in bankruptcy or by a Judge of appeal, accommodation would easily be found for business of that kind. It only remains that I observe upon what has been said with reference to access. I confess I am not moved by the objections arising from the crowding of the Strand; because anyone who knows the sort of people who go to Courts of Justice know perfectly well that there is very little crowding of carriages about them. I do not think the erection of the new Courts will cause any great addition to the traffic of the Strand; but if it should prove otherwise it must be remembered that one of the great advantages of the Carey Street site is that you have two parallel lines of access, one at the north and the other at the south; and if it should appear that there is not width enough for the Strand and Carey Street, it would be very easy, in pulling down the houses in Carey Street, to add a few feet to the width of the road way, and thus give as much access as could be required. I believe the site chosen is the best that could be selected, and in saying this I am satisfied I speak the opinion of all those engaged in legal pursuits. I do not think a single valid objection has been urged against it. As to the Thames Embankment, you might, perhaps, erect a very imposing building there; but you would sacrifice what is the first object which we should have in view—namely, the i convenience of the public and all those engaged in legal pursuits.


said, he was I afraid the House was going to commit another great blunder in erecting a building, at an immense expense, upon a site I where a sufficient access could not be provided, and where the building could not be seen; whereas 100 yards further towards the south the finest situation in London could be obtained, and where now a great public work was being carried on. He had not been convinced, by all the high legal authorities, as to the propriety of the Carey Street site. So many errors had been committed with reference to our public buildings—and every year added to their number—that he believed any Englishman who had travelled through Europe was justified in giving an opinion upon this subject. In other countries we found utility and beauty combined, and the public buildings placed in a fine situation; but here it was the direct contrary—they were going to erect a Palace of Justice which would be inaccessible to the public, and where it could not be seen—while on the Thames Embankment they had a most accessible site, and whore any beautiful building could be seen and admired. All our public buildings were a reproach to us in Europe, and he hoped the House would not allow the Government to add to our defects in that respect. He could not put the slightest confidence in the recommendations of the Committee, the constitution of which was very unsatisfactory. It was composed of a Minister of Works, an ex-Minister of Works and one other Member, with three Members added by the Committee of Selection, but; the Report was arrived at without any one of the three independent Members being present. On these grounds he should deem it his duty to support the Amendment.


said, he considered the Carey Street site to be the best that could be selected, and he earnestly hoped that the Government would not accede to the Motion. It was impossible to disguise from themselves that the result of that Motion, if adopted, would be to defeat the scheme altogether. A plan which had met the universal approbation of the profession of the law had at last been arrived at, and he therefore hoped it would meet with no serious opposition. Carey Street was the site universally approved of by the profession, from its being the centre of the legal world. It was surrounded on the north, south, east, and west by the chambers of the lawyers, and that which would be convenient to the lawyers would be so to their clients, who were the public at large. Should they sacrifice to architectural beauty the convenience of the public and all the other objects which they desired to attain? Mr. Pennethorne's evidence had not been justly dealt with by some Members of the House. No plans had been prepared, it being the intention of the Government to appoint a Commission for that purpose; and the great question, therefore, before the Committee was as to whether the Carey Street site was of sufficient area. It had been abundantly proved that 7½ acres, which the Carey Street site contained, would be abundant for all the accommodation required. The members of the legal profession would rather that the whole scheme were abandoned than that the new law courts should be erected on the Thames Embankment. The approaches obtainable for the Carey Street site would be amply sufficient, because all those who were in the habit of attending at Lincoln's Inn knew that there were very few carriages driving along the approaches during the day, and a comparatively small number of people attended the courts. He contended that the cost of the site on the Thames Embankment would be as great as that at Carey Street, as it would be necessary to purchase property in Essex Street. He did not consider that the hon. Members who had moved and seconded the Amendment were so competent to judge of this matter as the 10,000 legal practitioners who were unanimous in favour of the Carey Street site.


said, that he had never heard weaker arguments urged in opposition to a Bill than those of the Mover and Seconder of this Amendment. He maintained that an unfair construction had been put upon Mr. Pennethorne's evidence. From the year 1860, every one appeared to agree that 7½ acres would be amply sufficient for the new Law Courts, and in that opinion Mr. Pennethorne himself concurred. He distinctly stated when called before the Committee that the site was sufficient. But supposing for a moment that the Courts of Law could not be properly accommodated on the ground floor, nothing could be easier than to increase the accommodation by placing some of the courts on the first floor. He believed that even without this increase, which could be easily made, 5½ acres would be found sufficient for building, not only for the present but also for future requirements. The site itself was also not limited, because additional property in the immediate neighbourhood could easily be purchased. His hon. Friend behind (Mr. Henry Seymour) had stated that the Bill ought to be re-com- mitted, because it had been considered by a Committee consisting of only three Gentlemen; but that was the number of the Committees on unopposed Bills, among which this measure might practically be included. It was practically an unopposed Bill. A large number of petitions were presented in its favour, and only three against, and those referred not to its principle but merely required alterations in the clauses. It could not be urged that the Members of the Committee were all selected from one side, for one of the Members was the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Selwyn). Therefore, there was not the slightest ground for re-committing the Bill, because of the constitution of the Committee. If, however, the object were to render this great building subservient to the embellishment of London, it was an object with which he sympathized. From its natural features, the fine buildings about it, and the proximity of the river, the Embankment would be the finest feature of the metropolis. Having introduced the Embankment Bill, he naturally felt desirous that it should be adorned. After full reflection, however, he had come reluctantly to the conviction that it would be totally impossible to place the Courts of Justice upon the Embankment. If erected between Somerset House and the Temple the new courts could not be built in advance of their line of frontage, because if such a course were adopted the appearance of Somerset House and the Temple would be injured. They would, therefore, have to be erected upon that portion of the Strand between Somerset House and the Temple, on which there stood at this moment the best houses to be found in that part of the town. By choosing this site a great sacrifice both of convenience and money would be incurred simply for the purpose of procuring additional beauty and ornament. Although, therefore, having had a great share in forming the Embankment, and being naturally desirous of seeing it lined by fine buildings, he had been obliged to come to the conclusion that the Palace of Justice ought not to be erected there. It was obvious that by adopting this site the chief purpose for which it was proposed to incur this expenditure would be frustrated. The concentration, which they so much desired, could only be obtained by the selection of a site in the immediate neighbourhood of the Inns of Court, the chambers of counsel, and the offices of solicitors. As all the Inns of Court, with the exception of the Temple, were situate on the north of the Strand, the access to the new courts, if erected between Somerset House and the Temple, would be extremely inconvenient for Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn. Barristers from the latter Inn especially would have to make their way through the tangled maze of courts and alleys which by the present Bill were to be swept away to make room for these new courts. The inconvenience consequent upon the distance from the chambers of counsel would fall upon the suitors, whose convenience would be best consulted by a concentration, which would enable them at any moment to procure, if they desired it, the services of those learned gentlemen. The chief difference, however, between the two sites, was one of cost. The Carey Street site was at present occupied by wretched and unhealthy buildings, while that on the south side of the Strand would, from the very nature of the buildings which covered it, be extremely expensive. A competent authority had estimated the compensation in the latter case at about double what would be required in the case of Carey Street. This was too great a price to pay merely for embellishment, and he thought it was not a proposition which could be entertained. The only result, too, of the Embankment site being selected in preference to that in Carey Street, would be the postponement of the erection of these courts. If the Bill were defeated, in the hope of procuring a better site, a vexatious delay would be occasioned, which would continue the present waste of time, and the separation of the Courts, which nearly the whole profession concurred in regretting.


said, this question had been viewed in two lights, the architectural and philanthropic. It was said the Carey Street site, as proposed in this Bill, would dispossess a number of poor people. That point had been got rid of, as it was shown that the removal of these houses would be a benefit to the poor people themselves. As to the architectural view, he thought the House ought not to allow itself to be influenced by that, since in very many cases where it had been considered the result had been far from satisfactory. The simple question for the House was whether this site was the most convenient. He thought it was, and that the object of the Amendment was simply to defeat the Bill altogether.


wished to point out one feature connected with the Thames Embankment which had not been noticed. One of the arguments in favour of selecting that site for the Courts of Justice was its presumed cheapness; but it should be remembered that the Courts of Justice were for the benefit of the whole nation, while the cost of constructing the Thames Embankment was defrayed by the ratepayers of the metropolis. It would not be fair to deprive the ratepayers of the improved value of the property which their outlay had created. He might also observe that the site on the Thames Embankment would be as inconvenient to the great body of solicitors whose offices were in the City, as the present arrangement of the courts sitting at Westminster.

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

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3. (Description of Purposes of Act.)


expressed a hope that care would be taken to acquire sufficient land to insure proper access to the new courts, and that there would not be the same necessity as had arisen in the case of the new Foreign Office of purchasing additional land to provide proper approaches. It was bad policy, first, by the outlay of public money to increase fourfold the value of surrounding property, and then to purchase at that enhanced value.


assured the right hon. Gentleman that every care would be taken to make proper approaches, and he thought he might venture to state that there would be good access to the new courts, on all sides of the building.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read 3° To-morrow,