HC Deb 20 February 1867 vol 185 cc683-90

Vote £50,000, Universal Exhibition at Paris.


said, he trusted that before the House adopted this Vote they would have some distinct promise from the Government that the whole details of this most extraordinary grant should be laid upon the table. The Vote came before the House by surprise the other night, and there was some discussion, a desultory discussion; but still it was sufficient to show the feeling of the House. He had taken part in it as a Commissioner; but be believed that the occupants of the Treasury Bench and of the ex-Treasury Bench were all in the same boat as Commissioners of the Exhibition. The Commission originally consisted of the Ministers of State, heads of the art and scientific societies, of which he was one, and what were called "representative men." The change of Government led to the new Ministers being put on, while the old ones did not go off, and so they had become a very numerous body. But what had they done? They had been summoned half-a-dozen times to pleasant meetings in the Sheepshanks Gallery, where they sat round a horse-shoe table, admirably presided over by an illustrious personage, and where resolutions cut and dried had been submitted to their notice. These might be divided into two classes; some were too simple for consideration at all, while others were altogether ridiculous. In fact, they were treated by the authorities at South Kensington, whenever the latter wanted to smother some monstrous suggestion from Paris, as the cats that were to pull the chesnuts out of the fire. But there was no intelligible account of what the Executive did or did not do in concert with the authorities of France. No balance-sheet or any intelligible general report had ever been placed before them. What the Executive did was done in correspondence with the Imperial Commission at Paris, and the matters were not brought before the Commissioners in London. [Mr. OSBORNE: Who is the Executive?] Why, the Secretary of the Science and Art Department—he was the Executive. As an instance of the way things were done he had, as President of the Institute of Architects, and feeling interested in promoting an exhibition at Paris of the best architectural works of our eminent English architects, written in November, 1865, begging that they might be placed in relation with the Commissioners. It took three months before the matter was taken notice of—namely, in February, 1866, and the time for giving effect to the scheme had then almost passed by, and nothing had occurred since but trouble and vexation. The Commissioners would, no doubt, be spoken of as wasters of £116,000 on this Paris Exhibition; but they were no more responsible than was that honourable House. He trusted that before another farthing was voted to the Paris Exhibition the House would have a full statement of the appropriation of the £116,000 laid on the table.


said, that probably the Secretary of the Treasury would lay on the table of the House what he had on a recent occasion volunteered to produce—namely, the correspondence relating to the expenditure of that additional £50,000. Perhaps he would also give there an assurance that the £116,000 would cover everything, and that there would not be a future demand for £50,000 more.


could assure the House that he quite sympathized with the feeling which that Vote had excited. Indeed, he had experienced all the phases of feeling which the House had exhibited, with some additional symptoms of vexation. His first sensation had been surprise; his next indignation; then he got to protestation; and for some time he had endeavoured, rather ineffectually, to settle his mind in a sentiment of Christian resignation. But he wished to correct a misapprehension which prevailed as to a former expression of his about the responsibility of the Government in this matter. Objection had been taken to his remark that neither the present, nor the late, nor hardly any, Government was responsible in regard to it. Perhaps his expression had been rather too vague. If they took the term "re- sponsibility" in the conventional sense in which it was ordinarily used in that House, no doubt a Government which proposed a Vote was responsible for it. But he ventured to say that if their responsibility was held to be confined to those things as to which they had the liberty of a choice, neither the present nor the late Government were responsible for that expenditure. For, supposing the offers made of space for the Exhibition at Paris of the arts and manufactures of this country to have once been accepted by the English Commissioners, the Government could not then help themselves. He might remind the House that the British Commissioners were appointed in 1865. It was not until May, 1866, they learnt the whole of the conditions imposed by the Imperial Government upon foreign exhibitors. It then became a matter for consideration whether those conditions should be accepted or not. The correspondence would not show the whole of the communications that took place, but it was decided, with one or two exceptions, that the principles laid down by the Imperial Commissioners should be accepted. In May or June of that year officers attached to the Science and Art Department at South Kensington were sent over to Paris by the President and Vice President of the Council in the late Government to make estimates for these works. Before those estimates were completed the change of Government took place, and one of the first things he heard when he became Secretary to the Treasury was that about £90,000 would be required for the French Exhibition. He was much surprised, and protested against the amount, but was told that, the Royal Commissioners having accepted the terms imposed, no less a sum would be sufficient. The first item was for internal fittings £16,100. He was informed that the building, being divided into apsidal compartments, required more expensive buildings than if the edifice had been a square or parallelogram. The remaining items were:—Supplementary buildings and park, £23,065; ancient and modern art, £11,050; management, watching, and cleaning, £14,755; [An hon. MEMBER: It costs more than art, ancient and modern] house and office expenses, £17,190: freight, £8,250; Royal Commission expenses, £2,750;—making altogether £93,160. When the Estimate was presented to his noble Friend the President of the Council he reduced it to the above sum, but he found that not more than £2,000 or £3,000 would be taken off. The difference between the above sum of £93,160 and the Vote of £116,650 was caused by the additional items of £11,490 for the exhibition by Government Departments, and £12,000 for the jurors. With regard to the exhibition by Government Departments, it had been decided that this country would do what other Governments did in this matter. The President of the Council, the Secretary for War, and the First Lord of the Admiralty of the late Government determined, after due inquiry, that the manufactures connected with the army and navy should be exhibited, and since that time some additions had been made by including the department of the Trinity House. These expenses might, no doubt, be slightly reduced, and he was bound to say that the present President of the Council was responsible for the plan by which it was proposed to compensate the jurors for their services; but, as he said before, neither the present nor the late Government were either technically or morally responsible for the expenditure. The hon. Gentleman had asked whether he (Mr. Hunt) could assure the House that this Vote of £116,650 was all that would be asked for. It was impossible for him to give any pledge of that sort. All he could say was that the fault would not rest with the authorities of the Treasury if the expenditure were exceeded, for every means had been taken to urge upon those who had the spending of the money, the necessity of not going beyond the limits of the Vote.


wished to know whether he was to understand that the War Department intended to exhibit the arms made at Enfield out of the funds supplied by that House? The small-arm manufacturers of Birmingham always wished to compete with Enfield, and it would hardly be fair to them if Enfield were to exhibit as a manufacturing establishment at the expense of the public.


complained that the House had not yet had explained to it who really was responsible for this expenditure. His hon. Friend (Mr. Beresford Hope) had told the House that he was a Commissioner and attended the meetings. He (Mr. Bentinck) believed that he also was a Commissioner, although he had never attended a meeting. It was highly desirable the House should know who was responsible for this outlay.


Early in the course of last year the question had to be considered whether the Departments of the army and navy should exhibit at Paris; and on the 19th of February the Royal Commissioners recommended that the Government of this country should follow the example of other countries; and as it appeared that Austria, Prussia, and other States were going to exhibit munitions of war, it was settled that Great Britain should do so likewise. It was necessary to provide accommodation for these articles, which were of a very bulky character. It was arranged that buildings should be erected for their reception and display—a boiler-house, a testing-house, a building for barrack articles, for munitions of war, and another large building for agricultural machinery, and various other buildings. The principle that all these buildings should be erected at the expense of this country, in the same manner as similar buildings were to be erected at the expense of other exhibiting countries, was sanctioned by the late Government, and when the present Government came into office all they had to do was to determine what sum to ask for the construction of these buildings. The Duke of Buckingham took the greatest pains to reduce these Estimates, and but for his exertions they would have been considerably higher than the amount now asked for. The late Government had either to do what they did or withdraw from the competition altogether. In his opinion, they wisely determined not to withdraw, and the present Government had done no more than come to a similar decision.


said, that no answer had yet been returned to the simple question, where did the responsibility for this expenditure lay, since it was disclaimed both by the present Ministers and by the former ones? He wished to know who the subordinate officer was who had conducted the correspondence on the subject, and had thereby incurred this expenditure; who was the man, what was his name, and how was it that all the responsibility rested upon him?


There is no great difficulty in answering the question of the hon. Baronet. The incurring of the expenditure depended upon whether England should or should not, like other countries, exhibit in the French Exhibition. When that was once determined in the affirmative, England was of course put upon the same footing as other countries with re- gard to expenditure. As long ago as February, 1866, it was determined, on the part of the French Government, that certain expenses should be incurred by exhibitors, and when it was determined that this country should exhibit, the question of amount depended upon the conditions imposed by the French Government. Well, this being settled, the precise amount of the Estimate was, of course, to be determined by the Ministers for preparing the Estimates to be laid before the House; and this was done by the late and not by the present Government.


hoped that the French Government would duly appreciate the generosity of the English Government on the present occasion, which was a strong contrast with the spirit displayed in 1862.


observed, that the question put by the hon. Member for Dundalk (Sir George Bowyer) had not been answered—namely, who were the responsible parties for the proposed expenditure?


remarked, that not only had no answer been given, but the House had been told that neither the present nor the late Government were responsible. The House had a right to know by whom the expenses had been authorized. It was a contradiction to say that when the English Government determined to exhibit they necessarily incurred this expense. One of the Commissioners had stated that whenever he attended the meetings there was no practical business brought before them. It appeared that there was some one behind the scenes who was spending all this money. Another question was, who was to be responsible for the future? He hoped the House before voting such an enormous sum would be satisfied on these points.


said, he had already stated that the late President and late Vice President of the Council sent to Paris officers of the Science and Art Department. [Mr. OSBORNE: What officers?] He believed they were engineer officers, and they were sent to make estimates for certain works in accordance with the conditions imposed by the French Government. These estimates were submitted to the President of the Council (the Duke of Buckingham) after he had accepted office, and who accepted them subject to certain modifications. The estimates were prepared on the authority of the late Government, and, with some modifications, accepted by the present Government, who did not shrink from the responsibility they had incurred.


said, it was clear that if this country exhibited at all a certain amount of expense must be incurred. It was not to be expected that we should exhibit according to the conditions laid down by the French Government and then refuse to pay. He thought that the answer given by the Secretary of the Treasury was satisfactory as to the course that bad been pursued. Officers had been sent over, not to spend the money, but to prepare Estimates, and their Estimates had been approved, subject to certain modifications. It was not said that, looking to the objects to be attained, these Estimates were extravagant. [Mr. OSBORNE: Yes, I say so.] The item for fittings could not be said to be extravagant. [Mr. OSBORNE: No; the item for management.] With regard to any future expenditure, the existing Government would not authorize any outlay without first approving the Estimates for such expenditure.


said, it was clear that no future expense could be incurred except under the responsibility of the Government, and he trusted that they would defer to the feeling of the House by giving an assurance that they would not allow any further expense to be incurred beyond the present sum of £116,650. He considered the item of £14,755 for management enormous. Then, with regard to the charge of £12,000 for jurors. No such charge was made for the Exhibition of 1862, and he wanted to know why £12,000 should now be paid when our own jurors received no remuneration. It appeared that part of the money had gone for planting trees and laying out gardens. He did not understand that this was part of the necessary expense of an Exhibition, any more than gilding the stalls or enamelling the counters would be, and could not see why such charges should fall on the taxpaying people of this country.


hoped that it would not go forth to the country that the House had asked Her Majesty's Government to give any pledge on the subject. How was it possible to know whether the Estimates might not be exceeded? Those who had given the orders were bound to pay for carrying them out.


hoped the Government would give an answer to the question which had been put respecting the £116,650. The request was a most rea- sonable one, and it was high time some stop should be put to the expenditure.


said, it was difficult to give the assurance asked for. The Government had revised the Estimates with the greatest care. They had cut them down as low as possible, and he did not expect there would be any excess beyond what would be covered by the present Vote. It was an unusual course, however, that they should be bound by any specific pledge that the Estimate should not be exceeded under any circumstances; and all they could say was that so far as it was in their power the Estimate should not be exceeded.

Vote agreed to.

Resolution agreed to.