HC Deb 22 February 1867 vol 185 cc814-27

said, he rose to call attention to the Estimates for the designs of the New Courts of Justice. He thought it his duty in the last Parliament to bring before the House on two occasions the unsatisfactory mode in which it was proposed that the New Law Courts should be built. It appeared then to be the opinion of Her Majesty's Government that by some proceeding or in some mode the House had parted with its jurisdiction over the subject, and handed it over to the Commissioners. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) in the last discussion expressed himself to the effect that, as an independent body had been chosen to exercise an economical control over the work, the House ought to abstain from interfering with those to whom that charge had been committed. That view was so irreconcilable with the facts of the case that, coming from so great an authority, it required satisfactory explanation. It was for the purpose, therefore, of raising this question that he had placed his Notice upon the Paper. If the subject was a matter of interest last Session, it was now a matter of urgency, because they had the estimates of the competing architects before them. The scheme of a concentration of the Law Courts had been many years before the public, and had led to much adverse criticism, not because any one doubted that concentration was desirable, and that the officers of the law should have a proper place for carrying on their business, but because there was a strong opinion among high authorities that it was not right to appropriate the Suitors' Fee Fund to such a purpose, and that this was the beginning of an expenditure of which no human being could see the end. The Government of the day, therefore, when proposing their measures, were very strictly questioned, and their answers were most frank and explicit. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer), in his capacity of Attorney General, had charge of the Bill, and in introducing it in February, 1865, and on other occasions during the progress of the measure, stated that the estimate was one on which the utmost reliance might be placed. That Mr. Pennethorne had estimated the cost of the site at £703,000, and the cost of the building at £750,000, so that the entire expense would not exceed £1,500,000. His hon. and learned Friend added that with proper superintendence there was no reason to expect any great excess over the estimate. In the other House of Parliament a statement was made to the same effect by Lord Westbury, but that did not satisfy their Lordships, and, so desirous were they that there should be no mistake upon the matter, they inserted a clause in the Bill and sent it down to the House of Commons, where it was in principle adopted—that no notice for the purchase of the property should be given until it had been certified by the Commission to the Treasury that the cost of the building was not to exceed the sum provided by Parliament. So much for 1865. In 1866, during the repeated discussions on this subject, it was never suggested by the late Government that the estimate would be exceeded, and on the 5th of July last the certificate required by the Act was given to the Treasury, signed by his right hon. Friends the Members for South Lancashire and Hertford (Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Cowper), his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, and by several other distinguished persons. It was therefore with great surprise that he had observed the amounts of the estimates of the competing architects now made public. Eleven architects competed, and of the estimates sent in two amounted to about £1,100,000, four to £1,250,000, one exceeded £1,300,000, two exceeded £1,400,000, one was nearly £1,600,000, and last, not least, one exceeded £2,000,000. Now, he thought it hardly possible that such estimates should have been furnished had not the architects received an intimation that the Commission would not adhere to the sum to which they originally bound themselves. Indeed, it was reported that the Commission had applied to the Government for a further grant, and that they actually proposed to make use of the Common Law Fee Fund as security for the money to be thus raised. Considering, however, the animadversions which were passed on the appropriation of the Suitors' Fee Fund by the present Prime Minister and by the Home Secretary, he could hardly believe that the Government would entertain the proposal. The funds provided by the Act were £900,000 from the Suitors' Fee Fund, £200,000 from the sites of the present Law Courts, and £400,000 to be advanced by the Government on the security of taxes on the suitors. If, however, the costs of the building were to be doubled, he should like to know how the additional sum was to be provided. The Suitors' Fund was exhausted, and it only remained to tax the suitors further. Would the House permit this? It was said that this was a mere lawyers' hobby, with which the Government had nothing to do, and that the suitors were well able to bear the burden, but he hoped the House would not take that view, and would extend to suitors the same consideration as to any other section of the community. The true explanation of so grave a breach of faith consisted, as in the case of the Vote for the Paris Exhibition, in the existence of an irresponsible body acting behind the scenes and pulling the wires, and to whom the taxation of British suitors was of no account, and who had no motive for economy. It was, then, high time that the House should assume the responsibility of the works, and assert its own jurisdiction in matters of finance. There was another point to which he would advert—the defective tribunal which had been appointed to select the design. The Commission had named only five gentlemen as judges of the designs, and to these certainly no exception could be taken. There were the right hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) and the late Commissioner of Works (Mr. Cowper), who represented the Government; the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer), and the Chief Justice of England, who represented the law; but there was only one Member who represented the general public. Architecture and art were without representation. Hence the country has had an insufficient choice, for no design in the modern style had been exhibited. Of ten bonâ fide competitors named, seven were "Goths," and from this unfair appointment as well as for other reasons, the three "Non-Goths," and the artistic public inferred that no design, except one in the "Gothic" style would have any chance of success. The designs exhibited were very curious, no doubt, as illustrations of Gothic cathedrals, feudal castles, and other mediaeval monuments, but they were most extravagant in their character, costly in their estimates, and barbarous in their details. He was satisfied that had the responsibility rested with the Government, a liberal-minded tribunal would have been appointed, as had been done by the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) in the case of the National Gallery. The Civil Service Estimates had always appeared to him to be the plague-spot of our expenditure, and he had brought forward this question as one of economy, in which hon. Members of all parties ought to co-operate.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is expedient that all arrangements respecting the building of the New Courts of Justice should be effected under the sole responsibility of Her Majesty's Government,"—(Mr. Bentinck,) —instead thereof.

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


was sorry that his hon. Friend should, in bringing the case before the House, have prejudiced it by giving an opinion on the merits of the designs, and so lending a colour to the supposition that there were some artistic or personal objection on his part to the designs underlying the general subject. The somewhat entangled and unconsequential statement of his hon. and learned Friend divided itself into four points, with some of which he agreed, but not with all. The hon. Member complained of what he called the sequestration of the Suitors' Fee Fund; he complained of the responsible Government of the country having delegated its duties to a Commission; he complained of the absence of the artistic element in the body of judges, and he complained of the castellated, monastic, et cetera, et cetera, character of the designs. These four objections stood on different bases, some of which would hold water, while others certainly would not; but to attempt to raise the question on all these issues would be to bring about utter confusion in the end. In the first place, as to the so-called sequestration of the Suitors' Fee Fund, he must say that, looking at that enormous sum of money which had gone rolling on, year after year, of no use to any one, simply a sort of "no man's land," a fund that seemed to be grinning and mocking in its own gigantic exuberance—to take that money and appropriate it to the real use of the suitors, to the service of justice, and to modifications in the system of our judicial administration, the benefits of which no one as yet, in all probability, adequately appreciated, would be a reform of a most salutary and satisfactory character. [Mr. BENTINCK: I did not complain of the sequestration of the Suitors' Fund.] Then the hon. Member gave the House a very good imitation of so complaining. He felt a personal interest in this question, for he had had the honour, when in the House, about nine years ago, of obtaining, on behalf of the Incorporated Law Society, that Royal Commission, on whose recom- mendation all that had since taken place had been effected. As to the second point—the personal superintendence of the Government—he also agreed with the hon. Gentleman. If we were to have a Minister of Works he ought to superintend the construction of all great works of the nation. He thought there was no worse feature of our political hierarchy than the subordinate position to which the Department of Works was reduced. Sometimes the head of this Department was in the Cabinet, and sometimes he was not; and he did not think there was any country in the civilized world, except England, where the Minister of Works was not ex officio a Member of the Cabinet. The Ministry of Works used to be called the Woods and Forests. He was a sort of land agent of the Crown. Some thirty years ago the superintendence of the national buildings was intrusted to him; but with the usual half policy of this country he was only set up as a sort of three-quarter Minister, while, true to the British feeling of setting two men to do the work of one, our reformers shortly after supplemented him with a half-Minister, the Vice President of Education, on whom they heaped duties of an artistic nature far more appropriate to the Commissioner of Works. As to the third point, the composition of the Board of Judges, he, as representing the architectural profession of the country, was the instrument through whom a memorial was presented to the Treasury on their behalf, suggesting certain changes; but the answer he received from the Secretary of the Treasury was simply—"You are too late," without any attempt being made to meet his arguments. In all these three points he thought his hon. Friend had established his case. But the great grievance of his hon. Friend was the barbarous mediaeval Gothic of the designs, which to him seemed to have the same effect as a scarlet cloth had on a certain most useful and meritorious inhabitant of our fields. There he (Mr. Hope) owned that he did not go with his hon. Friend. He did not go with him as to £750,000. Architects could not make their bricks without straw; and the arbitrary sum set down as the price of the building became inadequate when provision was required not only for Equity as well as Common Law, but for Probate Courts and Record Chambers, passages, and meeting rooms, and refreshment-rooms, and all sorts of arrangements to enable lawyers to get in and the clients to be kept out, and the general public to be civilly and quietly bamboozled. These additions did not come within the original £750,000 estimate, and when the architects were required to carry out these extra works, it was not right to blame them for producing plans which exceeded that estimate. Then as to choice of style, it was a remarkable thing that in the voluminous instructions to the architects not a single word about style was mentioned, directly or indirectly. His hon. Friend said, "Leave the matter in the hands of the Government," and then he went on to explain what he meant. The Government had now ordered the designs to be prepared in what he (Mr. Bentinck) called the "simple modern style"—that was, he (Mr. Hope) supposed, in the style which we all admired in Harley Street and Baker Street. They would have had a repetition, on a large scale, of 73, Upper Baker Street; but it so happened that the list of architects was not framed by the Commissioners but by the Government, by the late First Commissioner of Works; and in that list of architects, as originally drafted, about half the number were admirers of the simple modern style, and only the other half were Goths and Vandals. But two or three of the Italian architects withdrew, and their names had to be filled up. Still, the second names were chosen very impartially, and yet, when it came to the scratch, not a single Italian architect was found to stand to his gun. With one consent, but with no mutual deliberation, each man for himself came to the conclusion that for the temple of traditionary British law, the law that produced a Lyttelton, and a Bracton, and a Gascoigne, an Italian or Grecian edifice would be a startling anachronism. Every one of the architects, without any concert, came forward with a Gothic design. He pitied his hon. Friend. He knew what Affliction sore long time he bore since the designs had been hung up; but he (Mr. Hope) ventured to say that neither Government nor Commission would have made any difference in the matter. English Law Courts, built in English architecture, was what English common sense dictated. In conclusion, the hon. Member expressed a hope that his hon. Friend would not press his Motion to a division.


said, he hoped that the hon. Member for White- haven would not think it his duty to press his Motion, because it would put an end to the possibility of proceeding with other Notices on the Paper. No doubt, the responsibility in this matter must rest with the Executive Government, and could not be thrown upon any other person. The late Government in their Bill did not originally ask that this responsibility should be shared by any other body. That was a suggestion from independent Members on the opposite side of the House, who thought that it would insure the satisfactory prosecution of the work. He believed it was the present Attorney General who made that suggestion. The clause in the Act requiring the Treasury to consult with a Commission to be appointed for that purpose was introduced at his instance. That, however, was not a clause that took from the Treasury their control and responsibility: and no excess of the original estimate, or extension of the buildings beyond the site originally proposed, could be agreed upon by that Commission, without rendering it necessary to come again to Parliament for further powers. The hon. Member for White haven had correctly quoted his (Sir Roundell Palmer's) statement to the House that the late Government had done the best they could to ascertain for what sum the buildings could be erected. They had obtained the advice of Mr. Pennothorne and Mr. Hunt, who both thought that the estimate of £750,000 might be sufficient for the cost of the building. He (Sir Roundell Palmer) had, however, added at the time that, when a building was begun it was possible to exceed any estimates that might be made; but he stated that the Treasury were determined to watch narrowly over and check the expenditure, and to prevent any extravagant outlay upon ornament and decoration as distinguished from useful work. When we got into the region of architectural beauty it was impossible to impose any limit, and it was for the House to consider and determine what should be expended for the sake of architectural beauty. The primary object was to obtain practical utility, and there was reason honestly to believe that if no unnecessary ornament were adopted the buildings originally contemplated might be erected upon the site, and for the sum originally proposed. It was the duty of the Commissioners, at the outset, to inquire, and they did inquire, into the question of the probable sufficiency of the site, and of the outlay, provided for by the Act. They did so; and upon the evidence laid before them, they signed the necessary certificate upon that subject; but they had not, and could not have, before them, any definite plans; and they did not, and could not, take into account, for the purpose of that preliminary estimate, any excess of cost, or any extension of the site, which might result from any subsequent enlargement of the original design, or from any regard to considerations of architectural beauty. It was quite consistent with this, that the Commissioners might afterwards recommend the execution of the work, for the sake of greater perfection and public convenience, in a manner which, if sanctioned by Parliament, might involve greater space and increased cost. It was true that the Commissioners thought it would be an advantage to have additional land, not that the land was absolutely necessary for the work, but that the work would be made more perfect and the results more satisfactory if it were taken, of course, with the consent of Parliament. The Commissioners did not change their minds as to the practicability of erecting courts and offices on the site originally proposed for the sum that had been named; but they believed that if the opportunity of taking additional land was now lost that land would consequently acquire an increased value, and when it ultimately had to be taken the public would have to pay a great deal more for it. The Commissioners recommended, therefore, that an application should be made to Parliament for taking additional land; but the execution of the work would not necessarily depend on that land being taken. He could confirm the statement of the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. Beresford Hope) that neither directly not indirectly did any suggestion emanate from the Commissioners to any of the architects as to the style they should adopt in their designs, or the estimates they should make. They were simply told what were the practical requirements of the building, and no doubt this information was given in an ample and detailed form. The result was that the architects had produced designs and estimates according to their own taste and judgment, and the designs they had produced were doubtless of a highly decorative, ornamental, and expensive character, going (it might be) far beyond what would be absolutely necessary for the completion of the work, even with some reasonable regard to architectural beauty. Neither Government nor the House was obliged to adopt any of those designs or estimates. Of all this decoration and ornament a great and expensive part might doubtless be cut off, and the designs might be modified in any manner which might be thought proper; but when the architect was selected, it would be for the House to consider how far it might be expedient to expend, for the purpose of adorning the metropolis, more money than was absolutely required to carry out the practical object in view. He had no intention to say a word that would prejudice that question whenever it might arise; but he thought nothing could be more unjust than to say that the original project was one that had proceeded on insufficient grounds merely because the Commission had invited plans which were not to be limited to the exact area at present authorized to be taken, or because the architects had produced designs of a highly ornamental character and great beauty and extent, and had estimated their cost at very considerable sums. If it were thought desirable to accept one of these designs Parliament would be asked to sanction that step; if it were not thought desirable, the work might be executed on a scale of less completeness, and inferior architectural beauty, but still to the great practical benefit of the administration of justice.


said, he trusted that before the debate came to a close the House would be satisfied that the expense of the site for the New Courts of Justice would not be so much in excess of the original estimate as the expense of the building seemed likely to be. With reference to the source from which the money was to be obtained, he must remind the House that it would be raised by means of a charge in the nature of an annuity upon the fees; but the question for the House to consider was whether, for the sake of erecting a handsome building, it would consent thus to increase the cost of litigation of Her Majesty's subjects. As far as the excess of the cost over the original estimates was concerned, it could not fail to be remarked that the estimates of the architects, whoso calculations were based on prices ranging, say, from 9d. to 13d. per cubic foot, were far from extravagant, yet it appeared that they never expected anything else; for one of them had recorded the opinion that, considering the large space to be covered, the building could not possibly be raised for £750,000; while another indulged in a sportive vein, declaring that "he never expected that the building could be erected for anything approaching to £750,000, and he supposed every one else who knew anything about it felt the same." No one for a moment doubted the high character of the judges of the designs; but it was a fair ground for apprehension that six gentlemen, engaged in active life, and not all of them accustomed to the consideration of large questions connected with Art, might find some difficulty in supplying themselves with all the information that was necessary for arriving at a sound conclusion. He knew that some anxiety was felt that those who had to supply this information to the judges should be without any prejudice in favour of any particular architect or any particular style; and if there was any hesitation in arriving at a decision, he trusted that it might not be thought objectionable to appoint two or three architects to make a report more fully illustrating and explaining the nature of the designs. He did not agree with the unfavourable criticisms of the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Bentinck) upon the designs. Fault might perhaps be found with some of the details; but their general conception was eminently creditable to the architects; they showed the high degree of architectural skill now existing in the country; and if preserved (as he understood they were to be), they would prove hereafter that we do not live in an age of degenerate Art, but in one in which Art had attained great nobleness and richness, in proportion to the increase in the national magnificence and splendour.


said, there could be little doubt, from what had been stated, that some of the architects had disregarded the instructions that had been given with regard to the cost of the building. They reminded him of those troublesome tradesmen who, when asked for a particular commodity, would insist in offering another and more expensive article, which they said was a great deal better. He hoped the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bentinck) would persevere in his Motion. The designs might be very beautiful, but they were not the things that were ordered, and he hoped they would only be regarded as so many advertisements of the skill of the architects.


said, he quite agreed with the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Bentinck) that some responsible Minister of the Crown ought to undertake the control of such a large expenditure as that which was contemplated for the New Law Courts. This was another illustration of the practice, which could not be too severely watched, of the House being asked to vote hundreds of thousands of pounds without any satisfactory explanation from any responsible Minister.


said, he wished to assure his hon. Friend that there was no question at issue as to relieving the Government from responsibility with respect to the erection of the buildings to which the Resolution related. The Commission had been appointed simply to consider and Report on the subject, and to collect information, which they had done with great accuracy and success, for the preparation of detailed instructions in reference to the plans. On that Commission all branches of the legal profession, including several Judges, were represented; for no persons, it was thought, were likely to arrive at a sounder conclusion as to the requirements of the New Courts than those who would have to occupy them. It was quite true that when the Commissioners came to consider those requirements with regard to the future, they took a more enlarged view of the extent of accommodation which would be necessary, than entered into the contemplation of the Government when the Act was passed. The estimate of £750,000 was, he still maintained, quite adequate to secure the amount of space which it was then intended to provide. The Commission were, however, of opinion that as a great structure was to be erected in which all the Law Courts were to be concentrated, it would be a pity to lose the opportunity thus afforded of going beyond the immediate wants of the hour, and providing for those of some years hence, as well as of combining with the building offices which were not absolutely required, but which they deemed it desirable to have concentrated. The schedule, consequently, on which the architects had to proceed embraced a much larger number of rooms than was at first proposed. Next arose the question whether the Government or the House were committed to the expenditure involved in the estimates of these designs? His answer was that it would be quite open to the Government, after an award had been made on the designs, and an architect appointed, to determine that the building finally to be erected should contain no more accommodation than was originally intended. The excellence and talent of the designs would be admitted by almost every one, except the hon. Member for Whitehaven, who, although very fond of talking about Art, and claiming taste and knowledge, had showed himself on all occasions to be quite incapable of seeing any merit in the style best fitted for this purpose. The Motion of the hon. Member for Whitehaven, therefore, merely endorsed the adoption of the course that it had been intended to follow from the beginning; and as far as the complaints of the hon. Gentleman regarded the expense of the designs, he would remind the House that not a farthing of it would be paid out of the Imperial revenue. For the £200,000 to be advanced from the Consolidated Fund, a full consideration was given in the unused buildings—the value of which was believed to be in excess of that sum, while the balance would be obtained partly from the Surplus Interest Fund hitherto invested in Government securities, and partly from the Court Fees, which it was very properly proposed to levy upon the suitors who would have the benefit of the new building.


said, that as the appointment of the Commission had been decided upon before the present Government came into office, he thought it right to allow a Member of the late Administration to explain the circumstances of the case before he ventured to speak on the subject. Having heard from the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down that explanation, he had no wish to add to it a single word. One or two remarks had, however, been made in the course of the discussion to which he thought it right that he should reply. It had been stated that recourse had been had to the advice of two gentlemen of great eminence—Mr. Pennethorne and Mr. Hunt—and that, in accordance with their advice, the sum of £750,000 had been fixed on as the cost of the new buildings. That, no doubt, was so; but subsequently to the making of that estimate a very considerable addition to the building was proposed, and it was quite clear that a sum which might be adequate to the carrying out of the plans of 1865 might be totally insufficient for the execution of those of 1866. It was therefore unfair, under those altered conditions, to charge either those two able gentlemen with having submitted inadequate estimates, or the distinguished architects who entered into the competition with having produced in the latter year elaborate designs which, if adopted, would involve the expenditure of £1,000,000 or £1,500,000. He gathered from what fell from the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) that, in his opinion, a considerable saving might be effected by diminishing the amount of ornamentation. He thought, however, that that was to a great extent a fallacy, for he could not think that any very considerable reduction could be made in that way. The Secretary of State for War had often said that if the House would let him know the number of soldiers to be voted he would state what would be the cost of maintaining them. The same rule might be applied to buildings, for if they told the architect or builder how many cubic feet of building was required, he would be able to arrive at a pretty accurate estimate of the expense. Of course, everything would be done with a view of keeping the expenditure within reasonable bounds; but he must say that any Motion which at the present moment would intercept altogether the action of the Commission would be a great misfortune. He was not there to defend the origin of that Commission; but as it had been intrusted with this immense work, and had sustained all the weight and labour of the preliminary stages of this gigantic undertaking, and as they had, in a manner certainly abnormal, but with sufficient reason, appointed judges who were actually on the point of commencing their important labours, it would not be right for the House of Commons to turn round and throw the whole responsibility upon Her Majesty's present Advisers. Under these circumstances, he joined in the wish expressed by several hon. Members that the present Motion might be withdrawn.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."