HC Deb 05 June 1866 vol 183 cc1955-68

, in rising to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying for a Royal Commission to make inquiries with a view to secure the better and more economical government of the Metropolis, said, he did not think that any person who considered the question could dispute the justice of the proposition contained in that Motion. The inconvenience and expense of the present system and the present state of the metropolis were felt and complained of by everybody. There was a universal feeling of disgust, at least of disapprobation, of the way in which the public works of the metropolis were conducted. But, while he complained that metropolitan government was at present conducted in a most expensive and unsatisfactory manner, he desired to bear testimony to the zeal and ability displayed fey his right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works, whose good taste in connection with the management of the parks he highly appreciated. Still, it was, in his opinion, quite impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to perform the very multifarious duties his office imposed upon him. They were so many that he doubted whether the right hon. Gentleman himself was aware of their number and description. He found from a pamphlet which gave a detailed account of them that he had to maintain and repair all the Royal palaces and public buildings, and to take charge of all the parks in the metropolis and the parks at Greenwich, Richmond and Bushy, and even the Phoenix and Holyrood Parks; he had also to see to the public gardens, such as Kensington, Kew, and Hampton Court; and was an Inclosure Commissioner for England and Wales, a Commissioner of Greenwich Hospital, a Commissioner for the Erection of New Churches, and the President of the Board of Health. Still, as the hon. Member for Stoke had said, the First Commissioner of Works was but "a semi-Minister." All the clerks and officers connected with his Department were appointed by the Treasury, and not by him; and he was without such powers as should be conferred upon a Minister for the government of the metropolis. When, however, it was remembered what large sums were annually voted for public works in London, and the enormous sums of money which were continually being raised by rates in the metropolis, and how many complaints were continually arising on all sides with respect to their management, it was clearly incumbent upon Parliament to see whether something could not be done to remedy the evil. The question had been brought forward twice during the present Session. On the Motion of one hon. Member a Committee had been appointed to inquire into the subject, and the Report of that Committee, as he understood it, recommended that some comprehensive scheme should be devised to secure the proper government of the metropolis. Then Sir William Frazer, not now a Member of the House, had spoken upon the subject. He had since published a pamphlet in which he described the minor miseries which landowners were subjected to, and which were not unlike those described in one of the satires of Juvenal, as existing in ancient Rome. In 1851 the separation of the Public Works Department and the Department of Woods and Forests took place, and in 1855 the state of things was so bad that Lord Llanover introduced a Bill which resulted in the establishment of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and as far as that Board had power, it had discharged its duties in an admirable manner, so that they owed much to Sir John Thwaites, as well as to the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works. But neither of these gentlemen had sufficient authority in his hands to control the vestries and to secure the good government of the metropolis. From the evidence given before the Committee of which he had spoken, he found that the Metropolitan Board of Works was continually in conflict with the Crown. It was partly in consequence of the bad way in which the present system worked that a saving of something like £700,000 had not been made by building the new Courts of Justice upon a portion of the ground secured by the Thames Embankment scheme, and Sir John Thwaites lamented that this was not done. Had a proper understanding existed between the Government and the Board of Works some arrangement would have been come to with reference to the proposal to make a road through Northumberland House before it was introduced to the notice of Parliament. Lack of unity of purpose on the part of the Board of Works and the Government caused the failure of many a good scheme. To what expense was the public put from the want of a general and well-digested plan for the purchase of those houses in Parliament Street which at present blocked the way to the new Government offices! It was absolutely necessary that those houses should be purchased before very long, and, notwithstanding procrastinations engendered expense the matter was put off from time to time, or only proceeded with piecemeal. It was the almost universal opinion that something should be done, and although it might be thought presumptuous in him, he would suggest that a remedy was to be found in the creation of a new Department of State for public works, which should be perfectly independent of the Treasury. The Minister representing that Department of State should move his Estimates in Parliament every year in the same comprehensive way as the Army and Navy Estimates were moved. He would not discuss the detail as to whether the Minister whose appointment he suggested should go out of office when any change in Government occurred or be independent, but he would offer one reflection to the House upon that subject, and that was that the House of Commons would, as a matter of course, more highly esteem a Minister whose position was affected by a Parliamentary vote. He would also suggest that the Minister should have two Under Secretaries attached to his office, one of whom should be permanently appointed, and that every proposed metropolitan railway should have the approval of the suggested Department of State before it was brought under the notice of Parliament. The Minister would see all the schemes and would judge which was likely to be most beneficial to the metropolis. He would, however, in no way deprive the Metropolitan Board of Works of any control over the vestries; indeed, he would increase its power in that respect. He did not see that if the two offices were amalgamated they would clash one with another. The head of one department might consult the head of the other department with advantage to the public, for in that way improvements might be carried out in a larger and more comprehensive manner, and with greater economy. He would for a moment direct the attention of the HOUSE to the way in which things were conducted in Paris. France was a despotic country, and he admitted that a despotism had an advantage over other Governments in making public improvements. The House, however, was under a mistake if it believed that the improvements in Paris were carried out by a despotic Government. On the contrary, the Prefect of the Seine consulted the authorities of all the districts when any improvement was proposed, and then the plan was submitted to the Emperor; afterwards an appeal was made to the different interests affected by the proposed improvements, whilst the plan must lie in a public office for so many days for the inspection of the public, after which the scheme was drawn up again and once more submitted to the Emperor. One thing was undeniable; there was a great contrast between London and Paris, and the latter city possessed an advantage not only in the magnificent appearance of its streets, and in all matters affecting the taste of a great people, but in the more practical items of convenience, comfort, and health. The right hon. Gentleman was perfectly aware of this, and had borne strong testimony to the costliness and the extravagance of the system adopted in this country, stating that "nothing short of a revolutionary reform would ever bring it to an end." He therefore hoped that he should receive the support of the right hon. Gentleman in the Motion he was about to make. Mr. Baring, in his evidence before the Committee, stated that the number of persons run over and killed in the streets of London in one year was 142, and that the number of persons maimed or otherwise injured was 1,707. Now, he contended that improvements might be made which would diminish the risk of pedestrians in the metropolis. It was not therefore from dilettante feelings on matters of taste and refinement that he introduced this subject to the House. It was because of the enormous expenses at present incurred, with very inadequate results, and because he believed the present state of things was injurious to the comfort, health, safety, and even morals of the people, that he asked the House to support him in moving for this Royal Commission.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty, that she will be graciously pleased to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the constitution of the Metropolitan Board of Works, the Office of Public Works, and the Office of Woods and Forests, with the object of seeing whether some means may not be devised by which the improvements of the Metropolis may be carried out in a more comprehensive and economical manner, and with greater unity of purpose."— (Mr. Baillie Cochrane.)


said, he was unwilling to introduce any obstacle to the fulfilment of the wishes of his hon. Friend opposite. But, however anxious he might be to improve the condition of the metropolis, the course he proposed was by no means one that was likely to accomplish the object he had in view. So far from his making progress by the suggestions he had made, he was rather moving backwards. The hon. Member had proposed to amalgamate three distinct Departments. Now, formerly those Departments were practically united to the extent his hon. Friend proposed, and a Committee was appointed to consider the expediency of there being one Department to administer the estates of the Crown and to conduct the works which were now placed in charge of the office of the Chief Commissioner of Works. The result of the inquiry was a recommendation that the Crown estates should be placed in the hands of one officer, and that the public works in connection with the metropolis and the public buildings which were used for the administration of the affairs of the country should be placed in charge of another officer of the Crown. Since then a Committee had been appointed for the purpose of reconsidering the question, and, after a great deal of evidence had been taken, it was determined to adhere to the course the House previously sanctioned. Consequently the two Departments had continued separate. If the hon. Member had sufficiently re-fleeted upon the subject, he would have seen that there was nothing in common between the office of the Commissioner of Crown Estates and the office of the First Commissioner of Works, and that each was fully employed. The Crown estate was scattered all over the kingdom, and the Commissioner stood in fact in the place of the Sovereign in the general administration of the territorial property of the Crown. What had this to do with the construction and supervision of all the public buildings required for carrying on the affairs of the nation? Again, what had those Departments to do with the Metropolitan Board of Works? That Board attended to the wants of the metropolis, imposed local taxation for local purposes, and must, therefore, be under the control of the representatives of the metropolis. There was no difference in principle between the municipality of the metropolis and that of Manchester or Liverpool as far as the levying and expenditure of money for local objects was concerned. How could a scheme be carried out by which a Minister of the Crown was to tax the inhabitants of the metropolis, and to make an expenditure on their account? If the view of the hon. Member (Mr. B. Cochrane) prevailed, it would be necessary that the expenditure should be levied on the whole nation, and subjected to the control of the House in the ordinary manner. And was the House prepared to revert to that old and confused system of expenditure from the national Exchequer for the convenience of the metropolis, which they were supposed to have been emancipated from by the establishment of the Metropolitan Board of Works? If, on the other hand, no interference with the Metropolitan Board of Works was contemplated, what was the object of this Commission; for what purpose had his hon. Friend developed his scheme of a First Commissioner with two Under Secretaries? The House had already appointed a Committee to consider the propriety of maintaining the Metropolitan Board of Works and to investigate the mode in which that Board discharged its duties. The first Report of the Committee, he was happy to say, had proved satisfactory to his hon. Friend. That Committee, he trusted, would prosecute its inquiries and be enabled to arrive at results which would put an end to the grumbling—for after all, it was nothing more than grumbling respecting the conduct of the Metropolitan Board of Works. He was bound, however, to say that there had been a great deal of exag- geration as to the mismanagement and shortcomings of both the Metropolitan and Local Boards. His hon. Friend appeared to lay at their doors the slaying of thousands of persons annually, and his suggestion was that the appointment of Secretaries of State would prevent these people being killed. He remembered once reading the travels of a Frenchman, who, having visited most of the capitals of Europe, came eventually to London, and thanked God that he had at last entered a city where there was a way for. those that walked on foot and another for those that rolled in their carriages. And the force of that observation must occur to any one who, having been abroad and turned out of a leading street—perhaps one of half-a-dozen in the whole city—found himself in danger of being run over by any conveyance that happened to be driving along the road, foot passengers being put upon an equality with horses and condemned to go along the common street. In London, indeed, the effect of our admirable footways had been to make passengers somewhat incautious, and now there was an outcry for subways or flying bridges along which they might stroll in the same listless, careless fashion, that now exposed them to danger on the carriage ways. The existing difficulties arose to a great extent from the enormous increase of conveyances in the metropolis, and also from the influx of visitors from country districts, accustomed, perhaps, to see a carriage once an hour. How a Secretary of State and two Under Secretaries were to diminish the danger caused by the throng of omnibuses, vehicles, and Hansom cabs, compelled for the gratification of Members of Parliament and others to drive at a rapid rate, his hon. Friend had entirely omitted to explain. The question —the traffic—was being investigated by the Committee, and it was intended as far as possible to diminish the present risk. He did not know that it was possible to prevent accidents of this description. He had suggested some years ago the construction of a subway at Westminster, for the convenience of Members of Parliament, in order that they might reach the House with less difficulty or danger than at present; and he was glad to know that there was at length a possibility of the suggestion being carried out. Similar subways might be constructed at some of the other principal centres of traffic; but further than that it was not easy to suggest any means by which accidents in the streets could be prevented. His hon. Friend complained that particular localities were in a state dangerous to the health and prejudicial to the morals of the community. A Minister of the Crown, intrusted with arbitrary power to carry out his decrees, might possibly be able to bring about a state of things that would satisfy the most refined observer or the most scientific medical practitioner. But in this country, after having passed a law, there was a point beyond which the feelings of the people would not tolerate interference in compelling compliance with its provisions. The Local Boards were most anxious to grapple with existing evils, but their efforts were defeated when they had to deal with a population deficient in a sense of decency and propriety. There were undoubtedly some points on which the present law had proved to be defective, and if in these particulars improvements could be devised, they would be recommended to the favourable consideration of the House. But his hon. Friend was very much mistaken in supposing that he would advance this question by withdrawing it from the House and placing it under the administration which he proposed to create. On the contrary, the hon. Gentleman would interpose very considerable difficulties, and much retard the consummation which he desired to bring about. He could see no necessity whatever for a Royal Commission. The House had already intrusted the prosecution of the inquiry to a Select Committee, and it would be inconsistent with the usages of the House, as well a slur on the Committee itself, to interfere by a new arrangement with the investigation they had entered upon. The analogy his hon. Friend had attempted to set up between London and Paris entirely failed him, because the system of finance which prevailed in France was totally different from that of this country. In Paris they adopted the plan called the octroi, by which a large taxation was raised on the necessaries and luxuries of Parisian life, and as foreigners from all parts of the world visited Paris to spend money and dissipate their resources, there was a great deal of contribution extraneous to that taxation. Gentlemen on seeing the magnificence of Paris, with its houses of splendid exterior, jumped to the conclusion that London ought to be the same; but if they entered those imposing looking mansions they would find that they were inhabited in a manner which was not favourable to morality or to anything which was desirable in social relations. A much bettor condition of things was to be seen in the small houses of London. In these every family was to be found under its own roof. He thought his hon. Friend had entirely failed to make out a case for special interference, and he therefore hoped that he (Mr. B. Cochrane) would be satisfied with the exposition of his views that he had offered to the House, and at all events he trusted that the Government would not consent to carry them into effect.


said, he felt greatly obliged to his hon. Friend for having brought under the notice of the House the condition of our public works and public buildings, which appeared to be failures from beginning to end. He did not concur in the views of the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets as to the system of taxation in Paris being so different from that of London. There was an octroi here also in the shape of the coal tax, by means of which much more might be done than was now effected in the way of metropolitan improvements. A more efficient system of central control was required in London. Our public buildings and other public works were anything but satisfactory; and the conduct of the street traffic was very defective. It might not be easy to make London as handsome as Paris, but at all events we had a right to demand that some attention should be paid to convenience. He did not suppose that the Home Secretary had yet had time to read the evidence taken by the Traffic Committee. [SIR GEORGE GREY: Oh, yes.] But if the recommendations of that Committee were carried out, and if the different Police Commissioners agreed on general regulations for the traffic, a great improvement might be brought about. Everybody knew that what were called "refuges" were every day being increased in number; but owing to vehicles not being compelled to pass those "refuges" on the proper side many of the latter were little better than traps.


said, that although the hon. Gentleman who had introduced the Motion had dealt with an important subject in an interesting manner, it was open to the double objection that it was inopportune in point of time, and that the changes which he had suggested were impracticable. A Committee of that House was already inquiring into the local government of the metropolis, and it would be neither conformable to the usage of Parliament, nor respectful to that Committee, to appoint a Commission to investigate the same subject before they had made their final Report. He concurred with all that had been said as to the defects and deficiencies of the metropolis, and it was only astonishing that the imperfect organization of the metropolis had been endured for so long a time. Though Englishmen were famous for comfort, London was the most uncomfortable of capitals. The pavements of one side of a street often differed from the other, because the jurisdiction of parishes ended in the middle. The crushing of the macadam was left to the carriages, instead of being done by rollers; the gas was dim and sulphurous; the water supplied to one of the public baths had recently been so yellow that working men would not bathe in it; and even now, when so much attention was given to sanitary matters, the vestries hardly ever enforced the recommendations of their medical officers, and declined to spend money for what was necessary for the preservation of the public health. The administration of the Poor Law was seriously open to criticism. What was the reason of all this? The ancient municipality had not been extended as London grew, and the rest of the metropolis had no better form of government than villages or country towns. The first step taken with a view of changing that state of things was the appointment of the Committee of which Mr. Labouchere and the late Sir George Lewis were members. One part of their recommendation was adopted, but the public was hardly prepared for the adoption of measures that might have been fully satisfactory. The time was approaching when attention might well be directed to the making of such improvements in the local government of the metropolis as might result in its being possible to traverse the streets with rapidity and safety. He did not admit that it was only country people who were exposed to danger, and were run over by carriages, or that nothing could be done to prevent such accidents. He thought that much might be effected by having proper traffic regulations, by providing refuges at proper places, and by widening the great thoroughfares, so that they might accommodate the enormous traffic which passed through them. This was not to be done by any revolutionary or despotic change, such as making the First Commissioner of Works a despotic ruler over the Metropolitan Board of Works. At present he introduced into Parliament the Estimates required to be voted by Parliament, but it was not to be apprehended that he could have any control over local taxation, and without such control, he could hardly control the representatives of the people who constituted the Board. Practically, a good deal of control was exercised over the Board of Works in regard to all public improvements of a larger character which required the assent of Parliament. He could not admit the justice of the complaint that land reclaimed by the embankment of the Thames had not been appropriated for public buildings, because, as was well known, it was not additional buildings, but open spaces that were wanted in the centre of London. How, practically, the House controlled the Board of Works was shown by the history of the Thames Embankment. When it was proposed to make the low-level sewer, the Chairman of the Board communicated with him, and a Committee of the House was appointed and recommended the extension of the coal dues for the purposes of the Embankment. Next year a Commission was appointed to examine plans and select one from them; in the following year a Bill was introduced by himself, and subsequently he framed two other Bills, one for the streets and the other for the Southern Embankment, opposite to the Houses of Parliament. Although the Commission had recommended that a special body should be appointed to execute that Embankment, yet he felt that, as the funds were to be found by London, its representative body ought to be vested with the execution of the work. In this way more efficient control had been exercised over the Board of Works than could have been exercised in the way his hon. Friend suggested. Whenever the Board of Works required legislative powers for the compulsory purchase of land, they were obliged to submit their scheme to Parliament. He concurred in the admiration which had been expressed for the results of the organization of the French, and he thought that we should do well to inquire how they contrived to make their administration so perfect. They certainly did not manage it according to the plan recommended by his hon. Friend who had moved this Re- solution. The Imperial Ministers had no more control over the municipal affairs of Paris than Her Majesty's Ministers had over those of London. The person who directed improvements in Paris, the Prefect of the Seine, was a municipal officer and head of the Municipal Council. He disposed of money which was raised by the people of Paris, and he must not be confounded with the Minister of the Interior. The admirable organization existing in Paris seemed to indicate the direction which our reforms ought to take. We wanted in London a municipal officer who should possess many of the functions discharged by the Prefect of Paris. One of the causes of the want of efficiency in the Board of Works was to be found in the fact that it was a deliberative body, consisting of forty-six persons, who were expected to attend to administrative work in detail. The House of Commons was the best deliberative assembly in the world; but it would find itself incapable of exercising Executive functions. As the Board had no paid Executive no one was responsible for what was done, and the responsibility seemed to be equally divided among all the members. True, they had at their head an efficient chairman, who received a salary; but his time was chiefly occupied in presiding over the deliberations of the general body and of the Committees. They might, perhaps, look for improvement to the action of a paid and responsible executive, but the problem was not likely to be solved in the manner which had been suggested. The Minister who had charge of the property of the Crown and of the State, and was not concerned with local taxation, local expenditure, or local rates, would be in a false position if he should have to interfere with those who represented the ratepayers. He did not think that the suggestions of the hon. Gentleman were likely to facilitate the solution of the problem which he had put before the House, and therefore he hoped that he would not press his Motion to a division.


wished to notice one statement of the right hon. Gentleman, as it might create some alarm if not contradicted. The right hon. Gentleman said that the vestries of London were not in the habit of attending to the recommendations of their medical officers. He himself had been a member of the Vestry of St. Margaret's, Westminster, and he never knew it disregard the recommenda- tion of a medical officer. He was now a member of the St. George's Vestry, and the very day after the possible approach of cholera had been mentioned in the House of Commons, he called attention to the subject in the vestry, and orders were immediately given to the Sanitary Commissioners to continue and extend in every possible way their inquiries into the state of the parish, with the view to the adoption of any measures that might be necessary to prevent or to mitigate the disease.


said, he did not believe that the Board of Works was defective in its administration; that its work was not well done, or that the ratepayers of London would tolerate a paid Executive. If its administration were defective the compliments that had been paid to it in that House were untrue. In vindication of the Board he pointed to the works it had executed, such as the great drainage works and the street improvements in Southwark, and in regard to the Thames Embankment, he asked if the scheme was not well worked out, if the contracts were not sufficiently cared for, and if, on the whole, sufficient control had not been exercised? He was quite at a loss to conceive how the Board could be improved as an Executive body; but he thought it possible that the number of its Members might be advantageously increased. The Board was constituted only seven or eight years ago; it immediately made a complete series of plans of London and of improvements that it desired to see carried out. The estimated cost of these improvements was £23,000,000;£10,000,000 or£l 1,000,000 had been already expended; improvements were still being gradually effected, and those who exercised a little patience would still see London considerably changed. It must be remembered that while the octroi of Paris produced £3,500,000 a year, the coal dues of London did not produce £300,000. Formerly there was a Minister of the Crown in this country —Lord Lonsdale—who carried out various public improvements in the metropolis, and amongst them the construction of Regent Street; but those improvements were charged to the Consolidated Fund. But the House of Commons had now very properly determined that the metropolis should pay for its own improvements, as it was only fair that those who raised the money should control the spending of it. He hoped his hon. Friend would not press his Motion for a Committee, more especially as the Committee now sitting was very hard at work inquiring into the working of the present system. As to the vestries, he believed that in the main they worked extremely well; but they were very new to their duties. As far as he could judge, it was entirely untrue that the vestries expected the medical men to make things pleasant. The Chelsea Vestry, for one, would be ashamed if these gentlemen, who were well paid, did not give their honest opinion, whatever it might be, upon matters which came before them. The improvements in Paris had been referred to, but he had been astonished to find on inquiry that in that city a very wide discretion was in each particular case left to the architect, that in fact there was very little difference in that respect between the mode of carrying out improvements in Paris and in London. The beauty of the new buildings in Paris was, he believed, attributable in a great extent to the beauty of the material of which they were composed. If the House and the people of London would have but a little patience, most of the objections which were now advanced with regard to metropolitan improvements would be removed. Meanwhile, he hoped that the Motion would not be pressed.


said, in reply to a question put to him by the hon. Baronet (Sir William Jolliffe), that he had read the Report of the Committee upon the London City Traffic Bill, as well as the evidence, which was exceedingly interesting and instructive. Legislation upon this subject was certainly necessary, and a Bill would be prepared founded upon the principle suggested—namely, to lay down certain regulations which would not be universally applicable throughout the whole of the metropolitan police district, because circumstances varied, but which would be made as far as possible applicable to different times and different places. The Police Commissioners would be empowered to make subsidiary regulations, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. The Bill would also provide additional police for the metropolis and the City; and would be brought forward, he hoped within a few days, by his hon. Friend the Under Secretary, who had paid great attention to this subject.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.