HC Deb 22 July 1869 vol 198 cc515-9



said, he must again refer to the recent changes in the establishment of the Office of Works, and would base his remarks on the correspondence between the Chief Commissioner of Works and the Treasury, which had been presented to Parliament on his (Mr. Selater-Booth's) Motion. It appeared that the original proposition of the Chief Commissioner had not worked well, and the net result seemed to be that a valuable public servant had been exchanged for a gentleman of reputation and ability, with an increase of the establishment and not an increase in efficiency. Then it appeared that Mr. Pennethorne's office had been abolished; but, while his salary appeared on the Estimates for twelve months only, it was understood he was to receive £3,000 for work done, which did not appear on the Estimates in any shape. Mr. Hunt, a most able surveyor, appeared on the Estimates as drawing a salary of £750, but in some way this was to be made up to £1,000. He trusted the Government would be able to offer some explanation of these points.


said, the hon. Gentleman had given a singularly unfair version of the matter. The arrangement which he at first proposed was not carried out. It was that the distri- bution of coals, candles, and furniture should be taken away from the Department, that the assistant secretary should be dispensed with, and that there should be a financial secretary and one for works and buildings. The Treasury, however, thought it right not to take away the distribution of coals, candles, and furniture from the office, and the amount of business, therefore, thrown on the secretary led to an inquiry by a Committee, who recommended the continuation of the appointment of an assistant secretary. It would have been well if the hon. Gentleman, who had so suddenly appeared in the character of a financial reformer, had done something when in Office to check reckless and scandalous expenditure on the new Foreign Office, Burlington House, and other buildings, for it appeared there was not a single person in the Office of Works to check any part of the enormous outlay on those buildings. Mr. Pennethorne was a practising architect, and was receiving 5 per cent on every 1s. which he expended. The system was a bad one which led to the employment of Mr. Pennethorne to check the expenditure upon buildings which he himself was erecting for the Government. Thinking it necessary to have some disinterested person attached to the office to give advice to the Chief Commissioner, he selected Mr. Fergusson, whose appointment had given general satisfaction, who had already effected a large saving to the public, and who, if appointed some years ago, would have prevented much scandalous and extravagant expenditure. With increased efficiency in the Office there was no addition to the expenditure. Mr. Pennethorne would be able to compete like any other architect for the erection of public buildings, and would be remunerated by a percentage.


said, that in Committee of Supply he remarked that the circumstances of the case were very peculiar, correspondence which had been promised three months not having been produced, and the production of the correspondence had borne out the remark he made. In so simple a matter there never were so many blunders made by two Departments. When the right hon. Gentleman (the Chief Commissioner of Works) came into Office there were a secretary, an under secretary, and an assistant; and Mr. Austin, the secretary, an old public servant, was anxious to retire. Before he had been in Office many days the right hon. Gentleman recommended that there should be a Secretary of Works and Buildings, but the right hon. Gentleman and the person appointed had different opinions as to what were the duties of the office. Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer found the new arrangements would not work, and recommended a Committee of Inquiry; and no doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right. The Committee recommended that the arrangement so harshly interrupted should be restored; but the new Secretary of Works and Buildings could not be got rid of, and as there was an officer too many, Mr. Pennethorne, a valuable public officer, must be made the victim. He was to be discarded to make room for this new Secretary of Works and Buildings imported by the right hon. Gentleman. It was proposed that he should be discarded at the end of six months, and that his salary should be taken only for that term on the Estimates; but it was found that Mr. Pennethorne had works in hand which would occupy him much longer than six months, and. it was felt that it would be treating him unhandsomely to give him less salary than he had been receiving. How the money was to be found to pay Mr. Pennethorne for his services he was at a loss to know. The Committee was scarcely treated with frankness when it was told that Mr. Henry Hunt's salary was to be reduced from £1,000 to £750, and it was not stated that he was to be recouped by commission. [Mr. LAYARD: I stated it the other night.] All he understood the right hon. Gentleman to say was that Mr. Hunt had handsomely waived a quarter of his salary. He did not understand the official reply then given in the sense in which it was now interpreted. There was no intimation, certainly, that Mr. Pennethorne's services were to be retained for a year and a-half at a cost of £3,000. The correspondence ended with a request from Mr. Pennethorne that it would be stated that he left the service with honour. The answer given to that request had not been communicated to Parliament, but he hoped that Mr. Pennethorne would be satisfied, and that testimony would be borne to his official services. The right hon. Gentleman had sought to turn upon the Con- servative Government responsibility for the expenditure upon the Foreign Office. But when the plans for that building were under consideration, and the nation was practically committed to the expenditure, who were the Ministers at the Foreign Office? Why, Earl Russell was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and the right hon. Gentleman now the Chief Commissioner of Works was his Under Secretary. Even supposing that the officials primarily interested in the character of the new building had favoured extravagance of design, whose business was it to check them and keep them within reasonable compass? Why, the right hon. Gentleman the First Minister of the Crown, who then was the Chancellor of the Exchequer. To hear the right hon. Gentleman opposite endeavour, under these circumstances, to fix responsibility for this expenditure upon the Conservative Government, was a proposition so extraordinary that one could hardly refrain from laughter. Before the right hon. Gentleman sanctioned other changes in public Departments, he hoped they would be preceded by careful inquiry, so that they might not again have such an exhibition as was contained in this correspondence.


said, he hoped the discussion would not be carried on with any acrimony. The Government had laid upon the table all the details affecting an important and useful change in a public Department, but naturally a minute history of any such change must disclose the fact that views from day to day had changed or modified. Economy and advantages were expected to follow from the change, as well as the removal of much inconvenience that was now felt, for without reflecting upon Mr. Pennethorne, or any other gentleman, the fact remained that a state of affairs existed which prevented the Department from being efficient for its purpose. It was the price paid for all improvements in the public service that there was always at first considerable difficulty, as well as apparently an increase of expenditure. There had not been the slightest desire to keep back anything from the House of Commons. The Papers could not be produced at an earlier date, and the discussion upon the Vote itself had been taken expressly upon the condition that those Papers would be produced upon the Report, a pledge which had now been fulfilled.


said, he wished to ask what were the intentions of Her Majesty's Government with reference to filling up the vacant appointment of Queen's Remembrancer in Scotland? It was often said that Scotland was governed by the Lord Advocate and the Queen's Remembrancer, and he was sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate must have been greatly inconvenienced by the vacancy which had existed in the office of his Colleague for so many months; and he trusted that the intentions of the Government in reference to the appointment would be made known to the House.


said, he wished to state that Her Majesty's Government were fully alive to the great importance of this office, and that had been the reason why no step had been taken to fill it up; because it had been necessary to consider very carefully what should be done in regard to it, with a view to a number of questions which are now pending, and have reference to the future administration of affairs in Scotland. As soon as Her Majesty's Government had arrived at a conclusion on the subject, they would deal with the office; but he must remind the hon. Member that there had been subjects of great moment engaging the attention of the Government for some time past, and they had not. in consequence, been able to arrive at a conclusion in regard to this office.


said, he did not wish to cavil at the answer just given by the hon. and learned Gentleman, but the right hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) had stated distinctly that, on the Report, he would be prepared to say whether Her Majesty's Government would fill up the vacant office or not.


said, his hon. Friend was perfectly right; and if the Prime Minister was in his place, he would be prepared to make the statement, because it was upon his instructions that he gave the answer he had referred to.

Resolutions agreed to.