HC Deb 28 March 1867 vol 186 cc798-804

moved for a Select Committee to inquire into the allegations of the petition of Francis Webb Sheilds, C.E., presented on the 8th instant. He said, that the case he had to call attention to, in the absence of any answer to the allegations made, appeared to be one of considerable hardship. In 1861 a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate the propriety of the embankment of the Thames between the Westminster and the Blackfriars' bridges; and that Commission issued this advertisement— Thames Embankment Commission, 2, Victoria Street, S.W., the 6th of March, 1861.—Parties desirous of submitting plans for embanking the River Thames within the metropolis, which will provide with the greatest efficiency and economy for the relief of the most crowded streets, tend to the improvement of the navigation, and afford an opportunity of making the low level sewer without disturbing Fleet Street mild the Strand, are requested to forward them without delay.—By order, HENRY KINGSCOTE Secretary. That seemed to him to be a plain invitation to engineers to send in plans, and it certainly implied that the person who in the best manner satisfied the wishes of the Commissioners would receive some sort of reward or remuneration for his services. That this was the construction put upon the advertisement might be gathered from the fact that fifty-nine persons sent in plans, and among them some of the most distinguished members of the profession of engineers, who certainly would not have given their valuable time if they had not been perfectly assured that, in case their plans met with approval, they would receive some compensation. Among the competitors were Messrs. Bidder, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Harrison, G. R. Stephenson, J. Fowler, Fulton, Hemans, Bazalgette, Page, Rendel, Captain Moorsom, Sheilds, and forty-eight others. The Commissioners received the plans of the competitors, and, after a good deal of consideration, they reported that— The main features of the majority of the plans are an embanked roadway on the north side of the river, and the formation of docks with the view to retain all the existing wharves; in others, railways in addition to the roadway and docks have been proposed; while in a few a solid embankment and roadway without either docks or railways have been suggested. Among these latter is a plan submitted by Mr. Sheilds, some of whose suggestions appear to us to afford, in a greater degree than in any of the other designs, the basis upon which an efficient and economical scheme may be founded. We desire, however, to express our high appreciation of the great engineering skill and ability that have been displayed in many of those designs which contemplated the construction of docks and railways. Upon that the scheme was handed over to the Metropolitan Board of Works, who employed their own engineer, Mr. Bazalgette, to carry the design out. Mr. Sheilds applied both to the right hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Cowper) and the Metropolitan Board of Works for employment as engineer, having been the person whose plans had been adopted by the Commission. He received civil answers stating that they could do nothing for him. He stated, in his petition, that he was put to considerable expense and trouble in preparing plans for which he had received no remuneration whatever. That a gentleman should have succeeded as Mr. Sheilds did in a competition with fifty-nine of the most eminent engineers in England, and should have received no compensation whatever, appeared to indicate a state of things most undesirable to the public interests. If gentlemen were to be called upon to give valuable time and services, and to make plans for works for the public advantage, and were to receive no compensation, the necessary result would be that in future men of the first talent would decline to compete, and the public must be content with second-rate or third-rate plans. Mr. Sheilds went on to state that he could prove that a very great public saving had been effected by the adoption of his plans. In 1862 a Committee of the House sat on the subject of the Thames Embankment, and it summoned several of these Commissioners. Mr. Cubitt, late Lord Mayor, and a Member of that House, said— After we had been for a considerable time studying the matter, and examining plans, and hearing evidence, we came to the conclusion that none of those elaborate designs would do. We made up our minds that what was wanted would be a simple roadway; that we should best comply with what we had to do by a simple compliance with the terms of our instructions, and one of the Commissioners said, 'There is a plan which is very nearly what you are talking about.' Mr. Sheild's plan was then brought out again, and we felt that that did nearly meet what we thought we required. Captain Burstall, R.N., a member of the Royal Commission, said that they had between fifty and sixty plans, that they were passed carefully under review, and— They came to a conclusion that a plan after a certain form was best suited for the purpose, and the plan that most agreed with their views was a plan drawn by Mr. Sheilds. The general features of the scheme were such as met with the general approval of the Commissioners. It was with reference to his scheme—a solid embankment, the general line which it took, and the mode in which he communicated with the embankment and the main thoroughfares.

Mr. J. R. M'Clean,

a member of the Commission, said that the Commissioners in their Report alluded to the plan of Mr. Sheilds as having had more points of which they approved than any of the others. Mr. H. A. Hunt, a well-known land agent, and member of the Commission, said that Mr. Sheilds made a plan which was very much like what the Commissioners wanted, and that they improved upon it. Mr. Sheilds added in his petition that if he had supposed that he would neither have been employed to carry out his design, nor receive any remuneration for it if successful, he would not have competed. He (Mr. Lowe) did not ask the House to pronounce an opinion on the petition of Mr. Sheilds; but let it send this matter to a Select Committee for inquiry. There were many points for inquiry—whether the plan of Mr. Sheilds was approved as the best, whether it had effected a saving to the public, and whether he had reasonable grounds for supposing that he would be remunerated for it. If these things were so, let the Committee make whatever recommendation it might think proper. Mr. Sheilds could have no claim against the Metropolitan Board of Works. It was not the Board but the Royal Commissioners that issued the advertisement. If Mr. Sheilds were to receive any compensation it must come from the Government, which appointed the Commission. He thought he had made out a primâ facie case to justify him in moving for a Committee.


seconded the Motion. He said that the case was important on public as well as on individual grounds. He trusted, therefore, the Government would assent to the Motion.


said, he did not doubt that Mr. Sheilds was an able engineer, and that the plans he submitted to the Royal Commission met with deserved approval. There was a wide difference, however, between the case referred to by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) and an invitation by the Government asking architects or engineers to engage in a public competition. Whenever the Government invited architects or engineers to compete they did so under stringent conditions. If the competition were unlimited, as in the case of the Foreign Office, two or three large premiums were awarded. If limited, as in the case of the National Gallery and the New Law Courts, every architect who was invited to compete took a certain sum, and the plans sent in became the property of the Government. But in the advertisement read by the right hon. Gentleman no mention whatever was made respecting any employment, remuneration, or engagement. The Royal Commissioners simply invited the public to send in any idea or scheme they pleased, and there the matter ended. Not a word was said about employment, premium, or remuneration. In answer to the advertisement, fifty or sixty gentlemen sent in their ideas, which were taken into consideration by the Royal Commissioners, who expressed a favourable opinion respecting the main portion of the scheme proposed by Mr. Sheilds. He did not understand that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper), on the part of the Government, employed Mr. Sheilds to prepare any of the designs submitted to the Metropolitan Board of Works, and if Mr. Sheilds had no claim upon that Board for compensation he did not see what claim he could have upon anybody else. The Government, it was obvious, never intended to offer premiums, or they would have expressed such intention in the advertisement issued by the Royal Commissioners. Mr. Sheilds competed on the same terms as the other fifty or sixty gentlemen. If a case like the present were set up as a precedent the door would be opened to considerable inroads on the public purse. He hoped, therefore, that under the circumstances the House would not assent to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman.


said, the Royal Commission examined all the plans, and recommended Mr. Sheilds' as the best. One of the competitors of Mr. Sheilds, however, was Mr. Bazalgette, the architect or engineer employed by the Metropolitan Board of Works. The noble Lord (Lord John Manners) had said that Mr. Sheilds was not called upon to give any drawings or plans after the Royal Commission had sat. There was no necessity for any such course, as he had placed his drawings before the Royal Commission, and they were also placed before the Metropolitan Board of Works. It was very hard that Mr. Sheilds should be deprived of the result of his labours, and that Mr. Bazalgette, the paid engineer of the Board of Works, should be enabled to take advantage of them, as he had also taken the credit. The plan adopted, with very slight alterations, was the plan laid down by Mr. Sheilds. That gentleman, he believed, had a claim against the nation, and certainly against the ratepayers of London, as the expense of carrying out his plan was to be defrayed out of the coal dues. He thought it would be most unjust and unfair if there should be no inquiry into the case.


said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had conclusively proved that the House ought not to assent to the Motion. The hon. Gentleman said these plans had been made use of by the Metropolitan Board of Works. There was an old maxim— Cujus est commodum sentire debet et onus. If that were the case, Mr. Sheilds ought to apply to the ratepayers of the metropolis, or their representatives, and this was not a case for Government compensation.


said, that if no inquiry was made into the mat- ter a gross piece of injustice would be done.


said, his right hon. Friend (Mr. Lowe) had altogether failed in making out a case on behalf of Mr. Sheilds for a grant of public money. Mr. Sheilds had no ground whatever for expecting any remuneration even if his plan had been adopted. In fact, however, it was not adopted, although the Commissioners said it might form the basis of a plan which could be carried out. In the advertisement none of those matters were mentioned which were invariably inserted when a public competition was intended. If the Commission had adopted Mr. Sheilds' plan, no doubt he would have had an equitable claim for employment or remuneration; but, according to the terms of his own petition, the Commission did not adopt his plan.


said, that if the inquiry was refused and the treatment received by Mr. Sheilds was sanctioned by the House, the confidence of professional men in advertisements issued from public departments would be entirely shaken. The plan actually carried into effect was identical with that sent in by Mr. Sheilds, with only two inconsiderable alterations.


said, he wished to ask whether the House were prepared to vote any payment which the Select Committee might recommend. On the ground of trouble the other forty-nine professional gentlemen had an equal claim with Mr. Sheilds.


said, he had heard with shame pleas and quibbles put forward on behalf of this great and wealthy country which those who had employed them would not make use of in their private transactions. If the advertisement did not bear the construction put on it what did it mean? When gentlemen were asked to send in their plans without delay what did that mean? Did it mean, according to his right hon. Friend (Mr. Cowper), that they were to send in their plans, that their plans were to be investigated and their ideas stolen, and then that they themselves were to be sent away without getting anything. Did they mean to say that this was what was meant, because the contrary was not stated in so many words in the published advertisement? The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper) had admitted that Mr. Sheilds had an equitable claim, and that, had the selection of an engineer rested with him, he would have chosen that gentleman. And why had he been unable to do so? Because after that equitable claim had arisen the Government, by an Act of Parliament, transferred the management of the Embankment to the Metropolitan Board of Works. That Act, however, did not release the Government from their obligation towards Mr. Sheilds. If they were bound originally they were so now. Much as he wished to succeed in his Motion, he thought it of far more consequence that the House should signify its reprobation of the miserable plea which had been put forward to oust Mr. Sheilds' claim. There might, indeed, be conclusive reasons against the claim; but he contended that, strengthened by the admisions of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper), he had made out a primâ facie case for inquiry. If the House refused it, it would be doing what no honest man would think of doing, and what would degrade the Government before the country.

Motion made, and Question put, That the Petition of Francis Webb Sheilds, C.E. [presented 8th March], relative to the Thames Embankment, be referred to a Select Committee to inquire into the allegations thereof, and to report their opinion to the House."—(Mr. Lowe.)

The House divided:—Ayes 29; Noes 49: Majority 20.

House adjourned at half after One o'clock.