HC Deb 15 May 1868 vol 192 cc362-71

said, he rose to call attention to the delay in completing the arrangements for the erection of the New Courts and Offices of Justice; and to ask the First Commissioner of Works, What are the reasons of such delay, and what is the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown upon the questions submitted to them relating to the legality of the choice of a design for such Courts and Offices? It became apparent ton years ago that the present dispersion of the Law Courts gave rise to enormous expense to suitors, and to great inconvenience to counsel and attorneys, and in 1861 Parliament took the matter in hand. A Bill passed through Parliament in 1865, and a site for the New Law Courts, in which the various Courts of Law should he centralized on one spot, having been adopted, and the necessary funds provided, nothing remained but to carry out the plan agreed upon. On the 29th June, 1865, a Royal Commission was appointed to advise and confer with the Commissioners of the Treasury upon the plans and arrangements for the Now Courts. In referring to the delay that had taken place, he did not mean to complain of the Commissioners, who set to work in a business-like way, and had actually paid the money duo to the persons whoso property had been taken in almost every instance. They appointed seven Judges of Designs to consider the plans prepared by the various architects for the building. Eleven architects competed, and in July, 1867, the Judge of the Designs reported that they were unable to select any one of the plans sent in as the best in all respects; but they recommended the designs of one architect for the exterior, and of another architect for the interior of the building, advising that the work should be given jointly to the two so recommended. He believed that there was nothing in the Instructions to the Committee to compel them to select any plan; and the terms on which the architects competed, so far as he was aware, gave none of thorn the right to complain of being dismissed. The two architects so chosen consented to act togeher; but another difficulty arose as to whether the sum required for the building, according to their plans, would not exceed the original Estimates. The Report of Mr. Gardiner, the surveyor, upon that point, showed that none of the architects had come within the estimated figure. He should be glad to know what was the cause of the dead-lock which appeared to have raisen in the matter. When the House met in November, questions were asked on the subject, and it was stated that a hitch had arisen. The Judges had made their Report, and it was referred to the Law Officers of the Crown. Questions were again asked in February as to what was the real difficulty; but it was only last night, as he understood, that the Opinions of the Law Officers had reached the Treasury. He hoped, therefore, that now some information would be given as to the cause of the delay. Private individuals occupying houses adjoining the site of the proposed building had been put to considerable risk and inconvenience by the uncertainty in which the subject was involved. As far back as the year 1866, the inhabitants of Bell Yard had received notice that their premises might be required for the purpose of that structure; but they had no means of knowing whether any U3e would be ultimately made of that notice; and they were in consequence carrying on business at a loss, which could not be made matter of compensation, except by special legislation. The Suitors' Fee Fund, out of which the money would ultimately come, also suffered, as the money was, in the first instance, advanced by the Treasury, and large amounts of interest were accruing, which would have to be repaid by the Suitors' Fee Fund. A notion was gaining ground that the Government had some intention of abandoning the proposed site, between Carey Street and the Strand, and of erecting the building at some other and less convenient spot. It was rumoured this was a hobby of the late Prime Minister and the present Lord Chancellor, and that there was some desire to take advantage of the difficulty which had arisen to throw the whole matter over and get some new site. He should be glad to receive some distinct assurance that there existed no ground for such an impression. The vacant site would be a disgraceful spectacle if there were any undue delay in occupying it; for the purpose for which it had been turned into was for the present no better than a wilderness.


said, he would take upon himself the duty of answering the Questions of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Denman), as the noble Lord the First Commissioner of Works would have to answer another Question. The subject had been mooted in the House so often during the last few months, and he had answered so many Questions upon it, that he hoped to be excused from following the hon. and learned Member in all that he had said. In the explanation he was about to give he must speak from memory. The Judges of Designs were appointed jointly by the Treasury and by the Courts of Justice Commissioners. If he remembered rightly, the Treasury were to select the design, with the advice and concurrence of the Commissioners, and it was thought by the late Government that such a concurrence could be best obtained by the appointment of a Committee of Judges of Designs. After the Committee was appointed, and chiefly in consequence of representations made in this House, two professional gentlemen, Messrs. Pownall and Shaw, were added to the Judges. It was expected by the Treasury and the Commissioners that the Judges of Designs would have selected one architect, and the memorandum relating to the competition rested upon that supposition. The change of Government occurred after the Judges were appointed and the Instructions framed. When the Judges of Design sent in their Report to the Treasury, they stated that they had been unable to select any one architect, and they recommended that Messrs. Barry and Street should be employed to prepare a joint plan, considering that the design of one of them was best in point of arrangement, and the other in point of external architecture. It had been previously agreed upon between the Treasury and the Judges that a gentleman should be appointed to go through the estimates submitted by the architects, and give a professional opinion whether they were correct. It appeared that when the Judges of Designs prepared the Report which they submitted to the Treasury, they had not before them the Report of this professional gentleman as to the estimates, and, accordingly, the Treasury thought it desirable that the Judges of Designs should re-consider their decision with reference to that point with the Report of the professional man to guide them, and that they should endeavour to see whether they could not select one architect. Owing to the time of the year, the gentlemen composing the Committee of Judges were scattered, and some time elapsed before they could be got together. When they had met, however, a letter was received from them, stating that they had re-considered the matter with the aid of the Report of the gentleman who had examined the estimates, and, notwithstanding the Report, they were unable to come to any other than their original conclusion. It was then represented to the Government by some of the competing architects that each had entered into the competition under the impression that he was competing with any other architect singly, and not with the combined abilities of two. The question, then arose whether, if the recommendation of the Judges were adopted, legal proceedings might not be taken by some competitors, who would endeavour to make out that they had been wronged by the selection of two instead of one; while it also became a question whether the two gentlemen named as joint architects might not have a legal claim against the Government, if they did not act upon the recommendation. The Government were thus placed in a position of considerable difficulty, because—and he said it with all respect—the arrangement had broken down through the Committee of Judges being unable to decide the question submitted to them. The House would be of opinion that, in a case of such difficulty, the Government were bound to exercise great caution. They were anxious to have the opinion of their Legal Advisers, and then arose another difficulty, which was quite peculiar to this case. It had been laid down in the Memorandum of Instructions for the guidance of the architects, that if there were any dispute as to their meaning the Attorney General must be the referee; and so it became a question whether he, was to be asked his opinion as a Legal Adviser of the Government, or as referee named in the Instructions. Under all circumstances it was decided to take the opinion of the Attorney General as the Law Adviser of the Government, and not as referee, because that might have prejudiced the case of the competing architects; but a case prepared by the Solicitor to the Treasury was submitted to the Attorney General, and the competing architects were told that the case had been submitted to him and that they might also submit their views to him if they thought proper; and some of them did so. These proceedings of course led to a considerable loss of time; but the delay had been unintentional, and had arisen from a desire that the competing architects might have every opportunity, if they wished it, of presenting their case fully. He had not seen the opinion of the Attorney General, though he had just learnt that it had come officially before the Treasury. He was therefore unable at that moment to explain the views of the Government. But in one respect the delay had been fortunate, for since the Court of Law Commission had been appointed to consider what buildings should be erected, the Judicature Commission had been appointed to inquire what Courts should sit in these buildings. The latter Commission had not yet reported; but the House would, no doubt, be of opinion that, before they decided on the buildings, they should decide on the Courts which should sit there. In this way out of evil had come good; for if a successful competitor had been named, Law Court might now have been in process of erection which the recommendations of the Judicature Commission would show to be quite inapplicable. He hoped, therefore, that, even when the opinion of the Attorney General was before him, the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Denman) would not press for an immediate decision in the matter, but would wait for the Report of the Judicature Commission. The hon. and learned Gentleman had alluded to the rumoured transfer of the site of the Law Courts from Carey Street to (he Thames Embankment. Till last night he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had heard nothing of these rumours; the matter had never come before the Government, nor had he heard any Member of the Government suggest such a change. He hoped he had said enough to satisfy his hon. and, learned Friend that the delay which had; taken place in the erection of the building had not been intentional on the part of the Government, and that they were not an- awerable for the circumstances in which it had originated.


said, the delay had not been justified on the part of the Government. He admitted that the Government, as well as the Judges of Designs, had been placed in some difficulty by the course which the competition had taken. The designs showed great excellence, originality, and some sparks of genius. But the difficulty the Judges felt was in deciding which of these designs, under all the circumstances to be taken into account—internal arrangement, exterior design, and appropriateness—was absolutely the best. At last, finding themselves unable to agree upon the superiority of either of the designs which they specially favoured, the Judges thought it best to bracket the two architects and make a double award. He admitted that the Treasury were thereby placed in a difficulty; but he could not admit that this difficulty was one which it required four months and a half to solve. As to the expected Report of the Judicature Commission, he did not think that was a reason why an architect should not at once be appointed and a beginning made. Great efforts had been made to hasten the purchase of the ground, to clear the site, and to urge forward the competing architects, and he hoped that there would now be no further delay.


wished to say a few words on behalf of the architects who had entered into that competition. With some almost infinitesimal exceptions, the voice of the educated architects and amateurs of England united in praise of the remarkable architectural talent, the broad conception, and the admirable execution which characterized that noble series of drawings. There was no doubt it would be felt as a cruel wrong by the architects and the public if the difficulties and delays were to have the effect of throwing aside those designs. He appealed to that (the Ministerial) Bench, or to the Bench opposite, whichever of them ultimately should have the carrying out of the plan, that when the time came the architect should be chosen out of that noble eleven that had competed, and that he who had long been fielding, should hold the bat and have the innings which he deserved. Otherwise there would be a controversy to which the present Pugin controversy and other controversies would be but a trifle.


said, that a number of his constituents in Bell Yard had got notice that their premises would be required, and they had to carry on their business without knowing when they should have to leave their houses. What he had to ask was, that the noble Lord the First Commissioner of Works would say a word of comfort to those poor people, and let them know when their premises would be required, and compensation given them. They ought not, in order to do a public good, do a great private evil, and he hoped the case of the occupiers of shops would be considered at once, so that they might know what position they were really in.


said, he had only one remark to make in reference to an observation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. His right hon. Friend had said that he was not aware until last night of the growing feeling that a mistake had been committed in the proposed site of the Law Courts. He could assure his right hon. Friend that that was a growing feeling, and that it was very generally felt that the proper site was the Thames Embankment. He would put it to his noble Friend the First Commissioner of Works whether, as a good deal of money was to be spent, it ought not to be laid out in the most judicious manner? One thing was certain, that on the embankment the Courts would occupy a most beautiful site, quite near the Temple, and one which was far prefer-able to the site now selected. It was not yet too late to change the plan.


said, he did not think that the answer given with respect to the competition was a satisfactory one. None of the eleven competitors had been successful. He ventured to say that there had been too much inclination of late years to make captivating plans, and he thought that the origin of that error was to be found in the choice of a captivating plan for the Houses of Parliament, which had greatly deceived the profession. The honest competing architects who exhibited their plans in Westminster Hall had been unjustly treated. The sum originally proposed to be spent on the Houses of Parliament was £750,000, and architects who honestly confined themselves within the prescribed limits of expense, and prepared their designs according to that Estimate, were placed at a disadvantage. Every architect who saw the plans said at once that the captivating and admirable design of Mr. Barry could not be executed for the amount proposed. He could only suppose that that plan was put forward for the purpose of creating a general desire to have it adopted, notwithstanding it must cost more than the specified sum. The result was that public competition was really a snare to architects, and when they heard of a limit being put on the cost, they at once said that it was all nonsense. The great object of these attractive plans was to secure the approbation of admiring ignorance; but the result was the corruption of architectural honesty. He did not set himself up as a critic upon architectural designs; but his opinion was that if they did not check the exhibition of designs, characterized by extreme ornamentation, they would vitiate the public taste. He thought a design ought to be in character with the use to which the building was to be devoted. He agreed with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that it was a happy accident; the building had not been begun, since it was probable a smaller number of Courts would be required, and this would affect even the external elevation. He thought it was unjust to the other competitors, that none of them having been successful, two; architects should be selected to produce a joint design. Such a combination was an experiment unprecedented in the profession, and was by no means likely to lead to the erection of a suitable structure. If there was to be a difference in the character of the building, with reference to the; number of Courts, it by no means followed that the architects who had designed a very large building should be chosen to construct a smaller one. He denied that they could with propriety adapt the internal arrangements of one design to another building, merely because it possessed a handsome exterior. It would be well that there should be a pause, not only before erecting the New Courts, but before selecting an architect, until the Commission on the constitution of the Law Courts had reported. In explanation of his remarks last night, he wished to say he had heard no rumours that the Government intended to change the site, but he had heard it discussed in conversation that, as all the designs had failed, they bad a blank sheet of paper before them; and, finding that it was impossible that the buildings could be erected, unless they took down the whole of one side of Chancery Lane, he suggested whether, as it was said that they could dispose of the land at a profit, it would not be better to avail themselves of the land which had been reclaimed in consequence of the construction of the Thames Embankment, as the most appropriate site for the New Law Courts. There they might have a magnificent building, with access by water as well as by and. He hoped also that some arrangement might be made which would put an end to the uncertainty and unpleasant state of feeling among those whoso business had been interfered with by what had already been done on the site originally proposed.


said, he regretted that one of the largest competitions offered to the public had altogether failed, and he hoped that, in the interests of art, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government would come to a speedy determination on this important subject. It was due to the public as well as to the profession that the matter should be brought to a decision, otherwise it would be difficult to induce architects to compete on future occasions.


said, that as he was one of those who were appointed to judge of the designs, he could not but feel that involuntarily and innocently he, with others, had been to some extent the cause of the delay which had arisen. The statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was a frank, plain spoken, and, on the whole, a true description of the conditions under which they were appointed. Under the Instructions, they had broken down—not being able, taking into account all the points which had to be kept in view, to recommend anyone plan. In these circumstances they naturally asked themselves whether, having failed in their principal duty, they could not offer a suggestion which would be better than a result perfectly blank and null. It was with that feeling his colleagues and himself tendered a suggestion—which they had no power to clothe with authority—to combine the internal arrangements of one plan with the exterior design of another. The duty of the Judges of Designs was rather to select a plan than a man; and he thought it would only be an act of justice to the profession, and especially to the distinguished gentlemen who had entered into the competition, that the Government should, without acting hastily or precipitately, lose no time in discharging that important portion of their functions—the selection of an architect from among the competitors, and that afterwards the architect should take time to consider the various questions connected with the plans.


said, that the opinion of the Attorney General on the matters referred to him had only just been received at the Treasury, and the Government had as yet had no opportunity of considering it. All he could say was, that the suggestions which had now been made should be carefully considered, and that no time should be lost.